24 June 2011

Upcoming Book on the Mormon War--Wonder if Romney Will Read

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.


  1. Your statement that "no one" welcomed the Mormons is incorrect, though politically correct if your a Mormon or Mormon sympathizer. As a history major, you're task is to look a little deeper, and if you do that you'll find that they were welcomed in each location with open arms at first. What went awry was the "revelations" by Joe. David Whitmer warned Joe not to publish the revelation that said they would have the Missourian's land - "by blood or by purchase" and Joe published it anyway.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I must first say that I am definitely not a Mormon, and am far from being a Mormon sympathizer (with the exception that I believe they should have the same religious freedoms as anyone else). I will concede that "no one" was not the best terminology to use. That being said, within a short amount of time, the Mormons basically left everywhere they settled before they got to Utah, often with help. Within the first 15 years of the sect's existence, they had settled in no fewer five different states (if Utah is included). They first attempted to obtain statehood for Utah in the 1840s, but were denied, as they continued to be for about fifty years, mostly a result of their polygamous ways. (http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/statehood_and_the_progressive_era/struggleforstatehood.html) Public opinion against the Mormons was so evident that Robert Tyler encouraged James Buchanan to play upon it to get people's minds off of Kansas and the whole slave question. So, while the idea that "no one" welcomed the Mormons at first is technically incorrect, I would still argue that most people viewed the sect with a great deal of suspicion at the very least. Well, since this reply is getting nearly as long as my parent post, I will end it here.

  3. Very interesting subject matter. As a semi-history buff I am woefully ignorant of many events in our American past. With two mormons running for President it is a great opportunity to learn more about their history. But there is one problem - neither Romney nor Huntsman are eager to discuss their mormonism, which is itself curious. And worrisome.

  4. Sorry about the delay in responding...I was actually out of the country when you wrote this. Don't feel bad about not knowing everything that there is to know about American history. No one can know everything because there's just so much to learn. Thanks for reading.

  5. I read, "The Mormon War" and did some research on the Mormon website. I'm finding it very hard to believe that Mormonism wasn't founded as a Cult lead by Joseph Smith Jr.. The fact that they see him as a Prophet and not the manipulative dictator that he was kind of astonishes me. He used fear tactics and justified everything he did by claiming it was a prophecy of God. As for his Prophecies themselves they were stated in such a way that he couldn't be wrong. As in this example off of the Mormon.org site....

    "I read about Joseph Smith's visitation by the angel Moroni. Moroni told him that his name would be "had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken among all people."

    Naturally everyone isn't going to like the non-sense he is saying. That's the equivalent to when kings would talk to oracle's before going to war and would be told, "A great nation will fall" .... If two groups go into battle obviously someone's going to lose. They're stating the obvious.

    After doing my research I find Mormonism to be founded on cult like principles that have been disregarded from they're teachings to their followers.

  6. In light of the recent controversy, I just posted another post on Mormonism.