A Wheelbarrow Parade in 1888 Helped Bring Political Parties to Provo.
Political parties evolved slowly in the Utah Territory. There was little need for them during the first three decades, since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints controlled elections. Local church authorities selected a slate of candidates, and only one man’s name appeared on the ballot for each office. Little anticipation existed about who would win the election.
As more non-Mormons came to Utah, they demanded an expanded roll in elections and two political parties farmed in 1870: The People’s Party (Mormons) and the Liberal Party (non-Mormons and disaffected Mormons). Since Mormons vastly outnumbered non-Mormons, there was still little doubt about who would win each office.
Elections became more interesting in the 1880s after a large number of non-Mormon miners came to Utah and the federal government passed a law that took the right to vote away from all polygamists. Interest in national political parties gradually increased. The growing appeal of these parties led to an interesting event on Provo’s Center Street in November 10, 1888.
Two budding Democrats, W.A.C. Smoot and Utah County Sheriff Thomas Fowler, bet two fledglong Republicans, Alexander Wilkins and John W. Brown, that incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland would defeat Republican Benjamin Harrison in the 1888 presidential election. When Harrison won, the losing Democrats paid their debt by wheeling the two Republicans down Provo’s unpaved Center Street in wheelbarrows.
The Provo Silver Band provided music for the unique parade. The route ran from University Avenue to 500 West. The occasion drew the largest parade crowd since the last circus had come to town.
After the parade, a crowd gathered in front of the bank and listened to impromptu speeches from three Republicans and three Democrats. The popularity of party politics received a boost from this event, and by 1891 both political parties had been officially established in Provo.