Juvenile Instructor

Self-Blame and The Twin Relics of Barbarism by Jared
November 12, 2007, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Jared, polygamy, Uncategorized

Carmon Hardy, in his article “Self-Blame and the Manifesto”, draws a parallel between elements of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy and Mormon explanations for the Manifesto.  After tenaciously clinging to “The Principle”, and after repeated affirmations of the justness of the polygamous cause, the Mormon people had to account for the cessation of plural marriage.  Increasingly, Latter-day Saints looked inward and cited a failure on the part of the Latter-day Saints as the reason the promised protection did not come.  An excerpt from the Anthon Lund diaries illustrates this view:

[October 27, 1901] “…Prest. Jos F. Smith followed and spoke…Said none could have done what Prest. Woodruff did in regard to the Manifesto.  Said: ‘The Lord withheld this principle from the people because 96 pr cent did not obey it and ninety pr cent of those who did obey it had abused it'” (John Hatch, ed.  Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, 1890-1921, 159).

 Likewise, Hardy cites self blame on the part of Southerners as an explanation for the loss of the Civil War.  What are the weaknesses or possibilities of this analysis?


12 Comments so far
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Jared: Interesting argument. I’ll have to read that article now to see what kind of evidence Hardy produces in terms of the parallels he draws. I agree that there are some parallels between how Mormons and Southerners deal with their past, but there are also important differences.

Both Southerners and Mormons would agree that the federal government was overly oppressive and violated local sovereignty. In the little work that I’ve read on the Lost Cause, I haven’t seen a lot of self-blame, but rather a sense of innocence in the face of tyranny. In addition, an integral ingredient to Lost Cause mythology is the belief that a superior civilization was lost to a tyrannical force. I’m not sure how many Mormons after the 1930s would look back with the same type of nostalgia at the polygamy era.

As a friend of mine once said, it’s unlikely that mainstream Mormons will begin chanting “The Cohabs Will Rise Again!” any time soon.

But if Hardy draws isolated parallels, and does indeed produce evidence that Southerners also blamed themselves, then I suppose that the approach works.

Comment by David Grua

Although this feeling of “self-blame” has mostly disappeared, it is not completely extinct. In my research I’m doing right now on folklore surrounding polygamy, there are still a handful a people who say that polygamy was taken away because we were not living it correctly…

Comment by Ben

David, thanks for the comments. This is why I bring it up. I have also only limited interaction with the Lost Cause, but the parallel often feels somewhat tenuous. Hardy himself admits limits with the approach. Though for me, the more interesting concept, if not perfectly applied to the South, is how the Latter-day Saints explained the failure of their efforts to preserve plural marriage in the face of nothing less than the promise of divine preservation.

As Ben points out, though the self-blame angle has not disappeared, I doubt it would be the dominant explanation. That would imply something about polygamy that we are not comfortable with today. What might be the dominant explanation today? My feel is that the “it began with a revelation and ended with a revelation/it was just time” narrative would predominate. That would seem to keep it all comfortably in the past.

Comment by Jared

Jared: Ben’s point is fascinating, but I also agree with you that it isn’t the dominant narrative. The narrative that was used in the October 1890 conference to explain the demise of plural marriage was persecution, citing D&C 124:49 (which released the Saints from building the Jackson County temple due not to transgression, but because of persecution). That narrative was repeated 40 years later in the 1933 First Presidency statement on fundamentalism, but I have yet to hear that as an explanation in my interaction with contemporary LDS.

What I have heard a lot is this narrative: “As soon as polygamy was made illegal, the Church discontinued the practice because we obey, uphold, and sustain the law.”

Comment by David Grua

Interestingly (and perhaps not surprisingly), I’ve heard GQC descendants blame others for not living the Principle correctly or faithfully, but never have heard them admit self-blame.

Jared, it seems to me that the dominant explanation today is no explanation at all, but rather attempts to avoid discussion of Mormons’ polygamous past. Statements like “I can think of nothing more awful” (Mitt Romney) and/or “That’s 118 years ago. It’s behind us” (President Hinckley) seem to be a relatively effective way of ignoring queries into the “why” of polygamy.

Comment by Christopher

David: Yes, I had forgotten that explanation. In fact, in the D&C class that I had last semester, the Church’s reaction to antipolygamy legislation was held up as the quintessential example of Mormon fidelity to the Constitution. Nevermind that the practice continued for over a decade after the Reynolds decision.

Hardy does mention the persecution narrative that accompanied the Manifesto, though he seems to favor the self-blame narrative as a more lasting(at least in the short run) explanation. Personally, this seems to be ground into which it would be profitable to dig deeper.

Comment by Jared

This is quite similar to the reasons given in the D&C for the expulsion from Missouri: back-biting, etc. (I’m too lazy to look it up)–basically a failure on the Saints’ part to live up to Zion principles.

Comment by stanthayne

The same simplistic self-blame explanation is given for the demise of the United Order experiment — “we have the law of tithing because we weren’t righteous enough to live the law of consecration.”

Comment by Ardis Parshall

Good observation, Ardis. As mentioned, this self-blame approach allows for failure, and also implies a return of the failed principle. Hence, this type of approach may have circulated more widely in the years immediately after the Manifesto, but not so much today. However, it seems to me that this narrative of self-blame with regards to tithing is more prevalent, implying a future return of United Order-type efforts.

Comment by Jared

Jared: I think this is due to the fact that the united order is closely linked with the law of consecration, and many conflate the two. After all, the law of consecration is given a very high place in modern lds ritual.

Comment by Matt W.

D&C 101:1-8



Comment by Justin

A few references:
D&C 101:1-8

Comment by Justin

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