Unpopular Sovereignty


Unpopular Sovereignty

Mormons and the Federal Management of Early Utah Territory

Brent M. Rogers

402 pages
17 illustrations, 1 map, index


February 2017


$65.00 Add to Cart

February 2017


$32.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

February 2017


$32.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

February 2017


$32.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Charles Redd Center Phi Alpha Theta Book Award for the Best Book on the American West
2018 Francis Armstrong Madsen Best Book Award from the Utah State Historical Society
2018 Best First Book Award from the Mormon History Association

Newly created territories in antebellum America were designed to be extensions of national sovereignty and jurisdiction. Utah Territory, however, was a deeply contested space in which a cohesive settler group—the Mormons—sought to establish their own “popular sovereignty,” raising the question of who possessed and could exercise governing, legal, social, and even cultural power in a newly acquired territory.
In Unpopular Sovereignty, Brent M. Rogers invokes the case of popular sovereignty in Utah as an important contrast to the better-known slavery question in Kansas. Rogers examines the complex relationship between sovereignty and territory along three main lines of inquiry: the implementation of a republican form of government, the administration of Indian policy and Native American affairs, and gender and familial relations—all of which played an important role in the national perception of the Mormons’ ability to self-govern. Utah’s status as a federal territory drew it into larger conversations about popular sovereignty and the expansion of federal power in the West. Ultimately, Rogers argues, managing sovereignty in Utah proved to have explosive and far-reaching consequences for the nation as a whole as it teetered on the brink of disunion and civil war.

Author Bio

Brent M. Rogers is a historian and documentary editor for the Joseph Smith Papers. He is also an instructor of history and religious education at Brigham Young University, Salt Lake Center. 


"An essential part of the library of anyone interested in the American West or Utah and the Mormons."—Richard H. Jackson, Western Historical Quarterly

"Scholar and history buff alike will enjoy Brent M. Rogers' Unpopular Sovereignty . . . a carefully researched and well-written history of the decades-long struggle to bring Territorial Utah to heel."—Rod Miller, TrueWest Magazine

"This excellent interpretation of the causes and results of the Mormon War is presented within the larger context of national events, which, in turn, led to the American Civil War."—M. L. Tate, CHOICE

"Unpopular Sovereignty is a noteworthy addition to both U.S. and Mormon historiography, and will be the vital text on early Utah Territory’s important place in the American Union for years to come."—Thomas Richards, Civil War Book Review

"Rogers's great strength in this thoroughly researched and balanced account is teasing out and analyzing the multifaceted opinions from the original documents to persuasively argue that Utah Territory emerged as a key battleground and hotbed of antebellum debate over popular sovereignty."—Jay H. Buckley, BYU Studies

"Brent M. Rogers has delivered a good book. It is deeply researched, well written, and carefully argued. Best of all, it is constructively provocative and engaging. . . . This is a fine work that will be useful to students of the American West, the run-up to the Civil War, U.S. expansion, U.S. politics, and the development of the American state."—Todd M. Kerstetter, Pacific Northwest Quarterly

"Unpopular Sovereignty: Mormons and the Federal Management of Early Utah Territory accomplishes a number of impressive feats. In the hands of a less-skilled scholar, these objectives might clash and unduly complicate a book and its narrative. Not so in historian Brent M. Rogers's fine study of antebellum tensions regarding the Mormon political and cultural experiment in the Great Basin."—William Deverell, Mormon Studies Review

“Brent Rogers skillfully places the Utah experience at the fulcrum of America’s growing sectional divide in the 1850s and offers important new insights into the deterioration of the Union. This book will force historians of the West to consider Utah Territory alongside Kansas Territory as a hotbed of national debate over popular sovereignty. Beyond that, it should prompt a recalibration of the national narrative to reflect the ways in which religion helped to define what it meant to be an American in the decade leading into the Civil War, sometimes just as much as race.”—W. Paul Reeve, author of Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness

“Balanced and extensively researched.”—Nicole Etcheson, author of A Generation at War: The Civil War Era in a Northern Community

“Popular sovereignty, an influential political doctrine in antebellum America, is generally linked to the question of slavery in the territories. But as Brent Rogers shows in this careful study, politicians, administrators, citizens, and soldiers also applied this concept to events and currents in Utah Territory, enriching our understanding of contradictions and inconsistencies in the relationship between the federal government and its western territories.”—Brian Q. Cannon, director of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University author of Reopening the Frontier: Homesteading in the Modern West 

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1. Imperium in Imperio: Sovereignty and the American Territorial

2. Intimate Contact: Gender, Plural Marriage, and the U.S. Army in Utah Territory, 1854-1856

3. Missionaries to the Indians: Mormon and Federal Indian Policies

4. Confronting the "Twin Relics of Barbarism": The Mormon Question, the Buchanan Administration, and the Limits of Popular Sovereignty

5. The Utah War and the Westward March of Federal Sovereignty, 1857-1858

6. The U.S. Army and the Symbolic Conquering of Mormon Sovereignty

7. To 1862: The Codification of Federal Authority and the End of Popular Sovereignty in the Western Territories






Charles Redd Center Phi Alpha Theta Book Award for the Best Book on the American West
2018 Francis Armstrong Madsen Best Book Award from the Utah State Historical Society
2018 Best First Book Award from the Mormon History Association

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