Voters elect People's Party candidate William H. Shoudy as mayor of the City of Seattle on July 12, 1886.

  • By Cassandra Tate
  • Posted 9/09/2004
  • Essay 2786
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On July 12, 1886, voters elect People's Party candidate William H. Shoudy (1830-1901) as mayor of the City of Seattle. Shoudy defeats Arthur A. Denny (1822-1899), one of the founders of Seattle, the candidate of the Loyal League. Both of these parties were organized in the aftermath of anti-Chinese riots in Seattle five months earlier. The People's Party supported the expulsion of all people of Chinese ancestry from the city, while the Loyal League opposed it.

Shoudy was an early pioneer in Seattle, traveling with the "Bethel Party" (or "Bethel Company"), a covered-wagon expedition that left Princeton, Illinois, for the Pacific Northwest in 1852. The party was led by Thomas Mercer (1813-1898) and included Dexter Horton (1825-1904) and Daniel Bagley (1818-1905), among other men who came to occupy prominent places in Seattle history. Shoudy was one of about 20 bachelors traveling with the group. He spent the winter of 1852-53 in Salem, Oregon, with other members of the expedition and traveled north to Seattle some time after that.

Like most of his fellow settlers, Shoudy was involved in several different enterprises in his early years in Seattle, including logging. In December 1866, he and a partner, Henry A. Atkins, bought Horton's general store at 1st Avenue and Washington Street. The Puget Sound Weekly described Atkins and Shoudy as "worthy gentlemen, well qualified for the business, which will be continued at the old stand, where they will be happy to attend to the orders of customers." Both men eventually held office as mayor -- Atkins in 1869 and Shoudy in 1886.

Shoudy's other business enterprises included the Seattle Gas Company, a failed effort to provide coal gas lighting for the community's streets, homes, and businesses in 1869. Historian Clarence B. Bagley described this as one of many undertakings of that time that "was a little ahead of the city's development and did not meet with sufficient encouragement to go ahead with the project"  (Bagley, Vol. 1, p. 443).

Closely Contested

The election of July 1886 was one of the most contested in the young city's history. Anti-Chinese sentiment was running high in the aftermath of a riot that had led Territorial Governor Watson C. Squire and President Grover Cleveland to declare martial law in the city. Cleveland sent federal troops to the city to maintain order. Although martial law was lifted on February 22, 1886, the troops remained in Seattle for four months. Meanwhile, virtually all of the Chinese residents were forced to leave town.

Shoudy, representing a hastily organized, anti-Chinese "People's Party," defeated Denny by 41 votes, out of a total of about 2,400. Denny was nominated by the "Loyal League," organized by supporters of the sheriff's department. The parties split the vote for city councilmen, with each party gaining four seats on the council. (Under the city charter in effect until 1890, municipal elections were held on the second Monday in July, and mayors and councilmen served one-year terms.) At the general election held in November of that year, the People's Party made a clean sweep of all the offices throughout the county.

Historian Bagley looked back on this period with undisguised dismay:

"The whole city and county government was by these elections turned over to the sympathizers with, if not actual participants in, the succession of unlawful acts of the preceding twelve months, but the business depression had begun amelioration, the intermeddlers from outside the county, as well as the Chinamen, had disappeared; the handling of city and county affairs was in the hands of duly elected citizens of the locality and no occasion arose for unlawful acts or questionable proceedings" (Bagley, Vol. 2, pp. 476-77).


Seattle City Clerk, "Mayors of the City of Seattle," City of Seattle Website (; Seattle and Environs 1852-1924, ed. by C. H. Hanford (Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1924), 207; (Puget Sound Weekly, December. 24, 1866, quoted in Bagley, Vol. 2, 666); Clarence B. Bagley, History of Seattle From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Vols. 1-2 (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1916).
Note: This essay was corrected on January 21, 2015.

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