Utah Department of Administrative Services

Division of Archives & Records Service

Brigham Young

1851-1857

Brigham Young was the first territorial governor. He served fervently in this position from 1851 to1857. Brigham Young was elected as governor on 12 March 1849, when the citizens of the Provisional State of Deseret held their first election. On 9 September 1850 an act to establish a territorial government for Utah passed the United States Congress and Brigham Young was again the man for the governorship. President Millard Fillmore appointed him on 28 September 1850. The news of the newly created territory did not reach Utah until January and Brigham Young took his oath of office on 3 February 1851. He set to work changing the provisional government to the territorial form of government.

Utah was a pristine, ungoverned area that resulted in vast and various responsibilities with the governorship. The governor had the responsibility of molding and structuring a territory--turning undeveloped land into a settled area with laws. The territory needed a public education system, irrigation, development and many other things to create a successful territory. The governor was also the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and with that came the responsibility of pacifying the Native Americans and protecting the settlers from attacks. During Governor Young's terms in office land was cleared, roads and bridges built, a public welfare system created, a militia organized and a mail service initiated. These are only a few samples of what occurred while Brigham Young was governor.

Governor Young was also the religious leader of Utah; he was the leader of the Mormon Church. This created interesting political dynamics and trouble for the territorial leadership, federal leadership, and citizens. A separation of church and state did not exist in the Utah Territory; the territorial leaders were also the religious leaders. This situation created problems in the territory and left a strong Mormon/anti-Mormon residue. The Mormons felt they were being unfairly treated by the federal government and the non-Mormons felt they had no voice and faced discrimination within the territory. These problems eventually led to the "Utah War" and the removal of Brigham Young from office.

Alexander, Thomas G. Utah, The Right Place: The Official Centennial History. Layton: Peregrine Smith Book, 1995.

Powell, Allan Kent, ed. Utah History Encyclopedia. Territorial Governors, by Miriam B. Murphy. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994.

"The Governors of Utah." Improvement Era. Vol. IV No. 1 (November 1901).

Governor Young  
Indian affairs account book, 1852-1857 Series 2235
Letterbooks, 1851-1857 Series 13844
Special election proclamation, 1853 Series 12353