Political Order in the Modernizing Mormon Kingdom, 1887-1896

Mark Denninghoff, Purdue University


What was the function of political parties in colonizing the American West? How did the arrival of national party politics impact the public lives and lived religious experience of everyday Mormons? How did the Latter-day Saints disaggregate their hierarchal religious communities and re-aggregate them into party affiliations that pitted co-religionists against one another? Mormons had endured coerced adoption of secular public education, industrialization, a hostile military presence and legal battles threatening the existence of the church. The introduction of national political parties served as tipping point that precipitated the integration of this religiously constituted community into the American polity at an astonishing pace. Interpreting Utah Territory as subnational illiberal regime, this dissertation provides a new way of apprehending the Mormon West. This dissertation highlights a period when religious identity was highly politicized in subnational American politics. Latter-day Saint church hierarchs actively attempted to reverse this trend in their region. Church hierarchs strategically divided the Mormon voting bloc equally to simultaneously ensure access to political patronage from either party and to de-escalate the salience of religion as a political identity. This strategic division of Mormons into the parties allowed religious insiders to interact with religious outsiders and to begin working together toward common political goals based on party identity and not religion. Since the impact of the party divide was not felt the same in every region, I trace the impact of party divisions on Mormon communities in northern, central and southern Utah. Finally, I flesh out how the church sought to mediate between the political parties to mitigate the contentious nature of party politics in the region. Using archival materials from politicians on the national stage, the subnational Mormon elite and local church officers as well as the political experiences of local Mormon women and men, this dissertation provides further evidence that state intervention into subnational regimes can be understood as potentially reinforcing subnational regimes.




Boling, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Political science

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