Utah History Encyclopedia


By John R. Sillito
Parley P. Christensen, Utah attorney, politician, and presidential nominee of the Farmer-Labor party in 1920, was born on 19 July 1869 in Weston, Idaho, and moved to Newton, Utah, when he was a small child. After graduating from the University of Deseret in 1890, Christensen worked as a schoolteacher and principal in schools in Murray and Grantsville. While living in Grantsville he also served as city attorney and became active in Republican politics. In 1895 he was secretary of the Utah State Constitutional Convention. In 1899 he graduated from Cornell University law school; he then practiced law in Salt Lake City until he was elected Salt Lake County Attorney in 1900, one of the youngest people to ever hold that office.

Between 1900 and 1904 Christensen also served in various capacities as a Republican state officer, including party chairman. In 1902 he was defeated in a bid for renomination as county attorney but was re-elected to that office two years later. Each year from 1906 to 1912, Christensen unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Congress, challenging incumbent Representative Joseph Howell. In 1912, frustrated with his lack of success in Republican politics, Christensen joined the Utah Progressive party then championing Theodore Roosevelt for President, and was an unsuccessful Progressive candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Two years later he was elected to that office as a Progressive, serving one term in the legislature and supporting a number of reforms.

During the period between 1915 and 1920 Christensen became increasingly involved with various left-wing and labor groups in Utah. He helped organize the Utah Labor Party in 1919; and he defended several radicals incarcerated at Fort Douglas, charged with opposition to American involvement in World War I. In June 1920 Christensen was a delegate to the joint conventions of the National Labor Party and the Committee of Forty-Eight (a progressive political group), held in Chicago. The two organizations wanted to merge, creating a new political party, and to nominate a presidential ticket for the 1920 elections. After serving as temporary chair of the convention, and gaining the approval of many delegates, Christensen was selected to be the presidential nominee of the newly created Farmer-Labor party. In the election he polled 265,000 votes, running in eighteen states, including Utah where he garnered more than 4,000 votes. After the election Christensen traveled extensively throughout Europe and Russia, meeting with Soviet leader V. I. Lenin.

After returning to the United States in 1923, Christensen settled in Chicago, where he was chair of the Illinois Progressive party and was its candidate for U.S. senator in 1926. In the early 1930s Christensen moved to California where he affiliated with the EPIC crusade of Upton Sinclair, with the Utopian Society, and with other leftist groups in the state. He served as a member of the Los Angeles City Council from 1935 to 1937 and from 1939 to 1949. In 1936 he was an unsuccessful Democratic congressional candidate. Christensen died in Los Angeles on 10 February 1954.