Utah Governments

Many Peoples, Many Forms of Government 

A government is a system for making rules, laws, and decisions on behalf of a community. Governments can also pool resources to provide services that benefit the larger community, such as a fire department, clean water, garbage collection, and parks.

The peoples who have made Utah their home over the centuries have had many different forms of government. 

Indigenous Governments 

Utah is home to eight sovereign Native nations who have lived here continuously for many hundreds of years. Each Indigenous group has had its own form of government, and these have changed greatly over time. Today’s tribal governments have similar structures as state and national governments.

Theocracy

When members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settled in Utah, their government was a theocracy. That is, church president Brigham Young was also the head of the civil government. Church members were happy with this, because they believed they were establishing a religious state they called the Kingdom of God. They formed a government called the State of Deseret, which was the region’s government for almost two years. The State of Deseret was not recognized by the federal government, however.

Territorial Government

Congress made Utah a territory in 1850. A territorial government is recognized by the federal government, and was at the time considered a temporary status. In a territorial government, the President of the United States appoints the governor and other leaders. The President could remove the leaders, too. Often, the governors sent to Utah Territory disagreed with LDS church leaders and members. This led to conflicts between the territorial government and the church. Utah had a territorial government from 1850-1896, much longer than other territories in the American West.

A gavel presented to Albion Emery, Speaker of the House, by members of the 1894 Territorial legislature.

State Government 

In 1896, Utah became the 45th state in the Union. Utah’s State Constitution defined the new state government, which is modeled on the United States government. Utah’s state government includes a Governor, Senate, and House of Representatives, all filled by elected leaders.

Today, Utah’s state government does a lot for Utahns! In addition to passing laws and levying taxes, there are many agencies and departments that provide services to people all over the state. Here are some of them:

  • Agriculture and Food
  • Health and Human Services
  • Cultural and Community Engagement 
    • State History – home of I Love Utah History!
    • State Historic Preservation Office
    • State Library
    • Indian Affairs
    • Multicultural Affairs
    • Arts and Museums
    • STEM Action Center
  • Environmental Quality
  • Natural Resources
  • Public Safety
    • Driver License Division
  • Highway Patrol
  • Transportation (UDOT)

Local Governments 

Local governments, such as cities and counties, play an important role in the lives of Utahns. They provide local services for the community, such as snow removal, community sports, and libraries.