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Managing popular sovereignty: Federalism and empire in Utah Territory, 1847--1862

Brent M Rogers, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Utah Territory was a contested place, wherein a cohesive settler group, the Mormons, sought to establish their own sovereign space. They behaved with imperial ambition competing with American ideas and actions for expanding United States national sovereignty. The Utah-federal territorial relationship needs to be, and is here, understood as a conflict structured by and around competing imperial interests, agents, and attempts to manage the protean concept of sovereignty, especially its 1850s version of “popular sovereignty.” Both the Mormon leadership and the United States federal government constructed ideologies and policies to exercise their sovereignty through government, Indian affairs, and marital structure simultaneously, and often, in reciprocal relationship to one another. In order to extend republican institutions to the Pacific coast, in line with American imperial goals, the federal government had to confront an undesirable settler population in the antebellum West—the Mormons—a confrontation that forced the United States to reconsider the prominent political doctrine of popular sovereignty. The Mormons had established a new sovereign order perceived not to be loyal to American interests in the West. The federal government decided to promote republican institutional expansion at the expense of the political realities of popular sovereignty to secure its hold on the Great Basin lands and to demonstrate that a territory was indeed the extension of American national sovereignty. The tension between local and national sovereignty in this episode led to a consolidation of national power as the U.S. President sent a military force to occupy, control, and assert national sovereignty in Utah Territory thereby clarifying the relationship of the federal government to its territories. With insights from digital textual analysis tools and a wide variety of primary sources, this dissertation examines the complex relationship between sovereignty and territory along three main currents: implementation of a republican form of government, administration of Indian policy, and the foundation of marital structure. ^

Subject Area

History, United States

Recommended Citation

Rogers, Brent M, "Managing popular sovereignty: Federalism and empire in Utah Territory, 1847--1862" (2013). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3589776.