This week, a second member of the Mormons announced his candidacy for the nation's highest office. What does this have to do with my blog, you might ask. Well, I'm about to go into that. In looking at the History Book Club website's religion section for new books, I came upon a title that piqued my interest.
The book is not even available yet, but the title hearkens back to a time in which Mormons were not just looked at as a unique religious group, but rather as a threat to the established order of a civil society. In their early days, many Americans viewed the Mormons not with curiosity, but rather with animosity. Hence, the subject for Brandon G. Kinney's book. Kinney's book discusses The Mormon War: Zion and the Missouri Extermination Order of 1838. Basically no one in nineteenth-century America welcomed the Mormons (for long, anyway) when they came to town, hence their move to many differing locales in the Midwest until they came to an area that no white men claimed--the Salt Lake Valley of Utah. After some clashes between Mormons and Missourians, the governor of Missouri actually issued an executive order calling for the extermination or removal of Mormons from the state.
This is not a topic that seems to get much play in the discussions in American history classes. I remember the first time that I heard about another Mormon conflict that happened in 1857. I was in a graduate class on the Civil War and Reconstruction at Marshall University in about 2005. One of the required books for the course was Kenneth Stampp's 1857: A Nation on the Brink. This book discussed the military conflict between US government forces and those of "King" Brigham Young. There was quite a bit of public outcry to keep order against the polygamous Mormons. President John Tyler's son, Robert, encouraged sitting President James Buchanan to go after Young, arguing that "the eyes and hearts of the Nation may be made to find so much interest in Utah as to forget Kansas!" (Stampp, 200-208) This is a pretty bold statement considering that he was referring to the period known as Bleeding Kansas with the Sack of Lawrence and John Brown's slaughter on Pottawatomie Creek.
Although the 1857 "conflict" had little in the way of military engagement, other than a couple of raids, it did result in the Mountain Meadows Massacre in which several non-combatants passing through on their way to California. This massacre was a reaction against a non-Mormon government coming in to take over Utah and was the biggest bloodshed in the whole event.
With the upcoming presidential primary, these topics have a bit of increased interest in my opinion. The situation with the Mormons in the 1800s, in spite of their unorthodox beliefs, still illustrates some serious tension in the idea of religious liberty and church/state relations in American history. Contemporary Americans would do well to look into the issue.
FYI--You can purchase either of these books by clicking on the Amazon link at the top of the page.