Monday, December 6, 2010

Elizabeth Hayward Causes: Uncle Jesse for Governor

Uncle Jesse for Governor

Who was "Uncle Jesse"? I can't remember a governor of Utah named Jesse off the top of my head. Did he run and lose the election?

It looks like it is time to turn to Google.

Okay. The governors during the time that Elizabeth Hayward was involved in politics were:

Heber Manning Wells (1896-1905), John Cutler (1905-1909), and William Spry (1909-1917), all Republicans. [William Spry was a close associate of John Morgan in the Southern States Mission and throughout his life, so he has been mentioned on this blog a number of times.]

Simon Bamberger (1917-1921), Democratic.

Charles R. Mabey (1921-1925), Republican.

George Dern (1925-1933), Democratic.

And that's probably late enough. More on Bamberger, Mabey and Dern in future posts.

So, Uncle Jesse was not a governor. Who was he?

The first Google search points to a character on Dukes of Hazzard. Nope. Too late, and Elizabeth Hayward didn't seem to treat her political involvement with humor. (As far as I can tell.)

Adding "Utah" to the search string reveals the obvious answer: Uncle Jesse was Jesse Knight. He was a son of Newell Knight, a well-known character in Mormon history. 

Jesse Knight was one of the few Mormons involved in mining, and he was hugely wealthy, and amazingly philanthropic. He was well beloved in Utah and helped to save the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from financial difficulties in the late 19th century. The Utah History Encyclopedia notes that:
Essentially more sensitive and modest than most business leaders during this age of ruthless capitalism and conspicuous consumption, he probably deserved the endearing nickname of "Uncle Jesse"—a rich but giving uncle. In fact, he believed that his money was for the purpose of doing good and building up his church; he regarded the matter as a "trusted stewardship." As he once said, "The earth is the Lord's bank, and no man has a right to take money out of that bank and use it extravagantly upon himself."

The article also notes that he never sought high political office. So why was he running for governor?

The answer: he wasn't. According to an article by Diane Mangum, "Jesse Knight and the Riches of Life," which is well worth reading:
Jesse was not only at the economic hub of the community but active in civic affairs as well. He was a lifelong Democrat, and in 1908 his party asked him to run for governor. Jesse declined. He felt that he was too uneducated for the job. [Gary Fuller Reese, “Uncle Jesse: The Story of Jesse Knight, Miner, Industrialist, Philanthropist,” master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, June 1961, p. 85.]

Gary Fuller Reese's thesis is available online (see link above, and if you want to read the entire thesis, scroll down on the left, and download the printing version).

Here is what the New York Times said about the event:
Jesse Knight, Named by Democrats for Governor, Won't Accept.

LOGAN, Utah, Sept. 23.—The Democratic State Convention which adjourned late last night did not adopt the plank favoring the absolute separation of Church and State, as was first reported.

Jesse Knight, who was nominated by acclamation for Governor, said to-day that he would refuse to accept the nomination, as his age and varied business interests made it impossible for him to give the proper attention to the duties of the office should he be elected. [September 24, 1908, New York Times.]
Whatever the reason he refused to run, after he declined the nomination, his son J. William Knight ran in his place but lost the election.

One of Knight's business partners, George Dern, served as governor of Utah several years later, and Jesse's grandson Goodwin Jess Knight served as governor of California from 1953-1959.


  1. This is a great report on Uncle Jesse, who he was, and why someone put his name on the ribbon your family saved. I enjoyed it.