Filed under: 19th-century Mormonism, Archives, Brigham Young, Memory, Stan, Western History
As certain babblers in Zion shared everything but their testimonies from the pulpit in Church today (we had stake conference last week so this today was fast and testimony meeting), I began flipping through the hymn book, reading some of those obscure old hymns we never sing. I lighted on Orson F. Whitney’s poetic little reverie “The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close” and got a good dose of manifest destiny in the 4th verse:
The wilderness, that naught before would yield,
Is now become a fertile, fruitful field.
Where roamed at will the fearless Indian band,
The templed cities of the Saints now stand.
I leaned over to my wife, and showed it to her. She gasped, “That’s awful.” It reminded me of my reaction to a little vignette I once read in none other than our own namesake, the Juvenile Instructor, titled “The Indian Boy’s Twenty-Fourth” (1898):
“It was a morning in July. At the base of a range of mountains that formed the eastern boundary of a great valley stood an Indian boy. Westward he turned his gaze. The grey sage that lay both south and north here also met his view. Down through its midst a silver band showed the course of a winding river, that, pouring itself into the bitter waters of the great inland sea, sought vainly to make them sweet. In the hazy light of the summer day the gray valley grew more gray in the distance until it touched the dark waters of the bitter sea and the mountains of blue that shut it in.
“The boy turned from all this and looked attentively at the dark spot down in the valley where strange men unlike himself had come and made their camp. Two days before they had come and immediately with appliances strange as themselves had begun turning over the virgin soil, and by some unknown means directing the waters of a near-by stream to cover it.
“As still he gazed, slowly another stranger band emerged from the mountains. It came near his side and halted. In one of the wheeled vehicles lay a man, pale and weak, who as the carriage stopped raised up and looked upon the land and uttered strange words as he beheld it. The boy knew not the man, knew not his words, but in his eyes he saw a strange light and on his face an expression that made him look like some fair god.
“A tremor shook the frame of the Indian child, a thrill went to his very heart. He seemed to feel the import of those words. The land where he was born, where as the old man said his sires had hunted, since the great lake left the mountain side was now by strangers taken and lost to him for evermore.”  (Juvenile Instructor 33, no. 14, July 15, 1898, 520.)
This is an incredible passage, soaked in a characteristically Mormon and yet very American sense of manifest destiny. Several myths are embedded in the narrative: the timelessness of a static pre-European America (“where the old man said his sires had hunted, since the great lake [Bonneville] left the mountain side”); the assumed superiority of agrarian lifestyle; and of course, the sense of divinely sanctioned entitlement to the “virgin land.”
Historian Elliot West refers to such stories—variously labeled as “‘living myths’ or ‘stories lived forward,’” but which he calls “visions”—as ways different peoples explain, quite literally, “who in the world they are.”
“These overarching stories describe how a people fit into the world and what their purposes have become. They argue that certain beliefs and values are natural, self-evident expressions of a people being exactly where they are and nowhere else. Such stories become guides and encouragements for living out a newly dreamed existence. Almost invariably they justify possession. When people look back, the stories become proof to them that they have been summoned by fate or history or God into their rightful homes.”
So if such tales have been so useful to Latter-day Saints and Americans for so many years—they were in full swing in 1898 and still in currency whenever Whitney wrote his hymn (pre-1931)—what has become of them now? Do Mormons (and Americans) still have a sense of manifest destiny, even if it has been toned down a little? (Whitney’s hymn is still in the book, long after W. W. Phelps’s “O, Stop and Tell Me Red Man” was been removed). Have we simply removed those that cringe upon our PC sensitivities? Or has the entire vision been altered and recast by the experiences and historical revisionism of the past century?
 My wife commented that this line is not too charitable; so I reminded her that after a certain individual’s preamble today she leaned over to me and whispered, “This is going to be long.” (She was right.) But to cede her point, I really don’t mean do denigrate any person’s experiences or testimony, so please consider this only playful banter by an insider (and thus one entitled to such quipping by the eso/exo factor).
 To those unfamiliar with Mormon history, July 24 is when the Latter-day Saint pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. A few vanguard Saints arrived a few days before to plow up a small plot, plant crops, and may have begun irrigating. According to legend (and Wilford Woodruff’s journal), when Brigham Young entered the valley, sick and laying in a wagon, he raised up on one elbow and said, “This is the [right] place, move on.”
 Elliott West refers to this idea of European exploration and colonization as “the start of history itself” as a perceived “breaking of a slumbering spell” (The Contested Plains [University of Kansas, 1998], 33).
 Elliott West, The Contested Plains, xxiii.
A friend of mine mentioned to me last week that he hoped that the John V. Long documents would be sold for a million dollars…and then prove to contain nothing of worth, just to prove the conspiracy theorists wrong. The discovery of two original and unpublished Eliza R. Snow poems in the collection may not shed light on Long’s mysterious death, but they do begin to confirm the tangible historical value of the collection. ABC4.com reports that the two poems were found in the scrapbook of Sarah Long, wife of John V. Long.
Like many of Snow’s poems, these treat spiritual topics. It will be interesting to see how these new poems compare with the rest of Snow’s nearly 500 poems, which are being edited for publication by Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson. I have been informed by a reliable source that Derr will be stepping down from her position in the Family and Church History Department, in part to continue work on the Snow papers. She will be replaced by Max Evans, formerly of the National Archives. Davidson continues her work as an editor for the Joseph Smith Papers, History Series.
Modern Mormons, it seems, are quite fond of “romanticizing the Reformation,” meaning that Mormons often portray Luther, Arminius, and other Protestant Reformers as being sort of proto-Latter-day Saints. In my experience, this tendency is not limited to seeing Reformers as such, but often extends to Christopher Columbus and America’s Founding Fathers. However, this is far from being a recent development in Mormonism’s worldview. Parley P. Pratt, noted apostle and editor of The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, included the following in the June 1841 (Vol. 2, No. 2) issue of that periodical.
JOHN WESLEY A LATTER-DAY SAINT,
IN REGARD TO THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND THE APOSTACY OF THE CHURCH!!
Extract from the 94th Sermon of John Wesley, on “The More Excellent Way.”–“It does not appear that the extraordinary gifts of the spirit were common in the church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian, and from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian religion, heaped riches, power, and honour upon the Christians in general From this time they almost wholly ceased. Very few instances of this kind were found. The cause of this was not, as has vulgarly been supposed, because there was no more occasion for them, because all the world had become Christians. This is a miserable mistake! Not a twentieth part was then nominally Christians. The real cause was because the love of many waxed cold–the Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens! The Son of Man when he came to examine his church could hardly find faith on the earth.–This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church, because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left.”
A couple of things, I think, are noteworthy. While this may indeed be just another example of Mormons’ romanticizing the Reformation, I find it interesting that in early Mormonism, there seems to have been a special affinity for Wesley in preference to other Reformers. This particular sermon included by Pratt suggests that one reason is that Wesley emphasized an apostasy and the need for spiritual gifts–two of the features many early Mormons used in establishing their identity as God’s true church. It is also perhaps telling that this was published in the 1840s, suggesting that despite some evidence to the contrary, Methodist practices and beliefs continued to influence Mormon thought until near the end of Joseph’s life.
 The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star (Liverpool: June 1841), Vol. 2, no. 2, 23.
In 1986, the Pacific Historical Review published an article by Grant Underwood entitled, “Re-visioning Mormon History.”  Challenging the traditional portrait of 19th-century Mormonism as a countercultural, radical response to democratic politics, capitalist economics, and Victorian marriage ideals, Underwood argues that “upon closer examination, the nineteenth-century attitudes and behavior of most Latter-day Saints may prove to be less countercultural and the influence of communitarianism, plural marriage, and theocratic politics more superficial than transformationists generally assume” (412).
Underwood also takes to task historians of 20th-century Mormonism who have exaggerated the Americanization of the Church. He points to the size of Mormon families, the Word of Wisdom, the Church’s welfare system, and contemporary politics to show that “Latter-day Saints continue to be a ‘peculiar people’” (412-413). He warns against “attribut[ing] everything that the Saints said or did to the fact that they were Mormons,” and argues that if “doctrines and beliefs are traced to their ultimate refuge in the mind of the common individual, there may be found, even within the institutional boundaries of the LDS church, a kaleidoscopic pattern of Mormonisms” (420-422).
In his view, the “transition of Mormonism” that scholars have suggested occurred in the period of 1890-1920, is not quite as black-and-white as made out to be. While admitting that a transformation certainly occurred, Underwood suggests that it was neither as drastic nor as instantaneous as previously suggested.
Overall, the essay is well-argued, carefully-documented, and somewhat convincing. However, few historians, if any, have followed Underwood’s suggestion that “monolithic Mormonism on either side of 1900 needs to give way to a more fine-grained analysis.” (414-415). The reasons why deserve further discussion. Thomas Alexander’s excellent (and highly influential) work, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930 appeared just after Underwood’s article had been sent to the printer. Alexander’s work, noted by Underwood as “the most detailed and sophisticated treatment of this period to date” (406, n. 6), was probably convincing enough to most readers so as to negate Underwood’s article altogether. But should it? I’m not entirely convinced one way or the other. The historical interpretations Underwood critiqued continue to dominate the literature of Mormon studies, but is this because that interpretation is most convincing? Is it because many Mormon historians (myself included) find expression of personal ideals in 19th-century Mormon radicalism? Or is it because polygamy, communalism, and theocracy are more mysterious and consequently more interesting than the moderate Mormonism Underwood suggests?
 Grant Underwood, “Re-visioning Mormon History,” Pacific Historical Review 55 (August 1986), 403-26.
A news report aired tonight about the recent surfacing of the diaries of one of Brigham Young’s personal secretaries that died under mysterious circumstances. If authenticated, this promises to be an important discovery. However, I was disappointed at the angle of the broadcast and in comments by both Mr. Bagley and Mr. Sanders in alluding to Brigham Young as a murderer.
That being said, I’m ecstatic at this discovery and ones like it. New documents shed new light on the past and in many cases lead to new and richer interpretations of history.
Are there any other Mormon-related recent documentary discoveries that anyone is aware of?
In Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, Michel Foucault revealed that as early as the 18th century, individuals in Europe were being institutionalized for religious enthusiasm and what was seen as too strict of devotion. Doctors went so far as to recommend “solitary confinement for religious persons who believe themselves to be inspired and who seek to make proselytes.”1
Subsequent studies have shown that this was far from uniquely European, and the American hospitals and asylums likewise identified religion among the various causes of insanity.2 A few weeks ago, Spencer Fluhman presented a lecture at the BYU American Studies Lecture Series entitled, “‘A Perfect Hallucination of the Mind’: American Encounters with Early LDS Spirituality.” The research and conclusions of the lecture are part of Fluhman’s larger study of “Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Antebellum America” that he completed as a PhD dissertation at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006.
Among other things, Fluhman explained that doctors of 19th-century American Insane Asylums would query the individuals accompanying (and committing) new patients the following, “Is the patient a professor of religion? If so, of what denomination?”3, and that it was not uncommon for the answer to be “Mormonism.” In his dissertation, Fluhman summarizes one such case:
[One] superintendent … seized upon on the preponderance of what he regarded as troublesome religious movements to explain spikes in admittance to the asylum. “Of the 87 cases admitted during the past year,” he wrote, “13 were attributed. with as much certainty as can ever be obtained on this subject, to religious excitement.” The “unusually large” proportion of cases with a religious connection, he surmised, was due “no doubt, to the extraordinary variety and vehemence of the religious movements that have characterized the past year.” Not only had the year  seen a “remarkabl[e] awakening of enthusiasm among the older and more regular sects” but “Mormonism, Millerism, and other eccentric manifestations” had “agitated the public mind” to an “alarming” degree. With “such moral epidemics” sweeping “over the face of society,” he concluded, it was no wonder that so many predisposed to insanity had been “overthrown by their restless force.”4
A few other interesting conclusions drawn by Fluhman’s study:
1. Generally, Asylum patients who were identified as Mormon were diagnosed with “monomania,” or “partial insanity.” Fluhman points out that this “remains as curious explanation in the reports because it apparently describes those who were by all accounts mentally fit except for a particular obsession or preoccupation.”5
2. It wasn’t only physicians and psychologists who identified Mormons as mentally ill. Fluhman points out, for example, that E.D. Howe, author of the early anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed, “defined any Mormon as necessarily a monomaniac at very least.”6
3. Occasionally, patients committed to an Asylum would be identified as Mormon, even though the “symptoms” of their insanity and the evidence presented in legal trials against the accused insane reveal that they were often more likely to be Millerists or spiritualists.7
4. “Mormonism’s ‘extravagences’ … forced tough questions to the fore” for American Protestants because Mormons used the Bible as their justification for enthusiastic and visionary religious culture of early Mormonism. Walking the difficult road of Biblical interpretation, “Protestant skeptics” were forced to present paradoxical arguments against the Latter-day Saints as being both “too Biblical” and “not Biblical enough” at the same time.8
1 Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1988), 215.
2 See Teresa Lynne Hall, “Religion, Madness, and the Asylum: A Study of Medicine and Culture in New England, 1820-1840” (PhD Dissertation, Brown University, 1991); William Sims Bainbridge, “Religious Insanity in America: The Official Nineteenth-century Theory, ” Sociological Analysis45, no. 3 (1984), 223-240; and Lawrence B. Goodheart, Mad Yankees: The Hartford Retreat for the Insane and Nineteenth-Century Psychology (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003).
3 See The Twenty-Second Annual Report of the Officers of the Retreat for the Insane, at Hartford, Conn. May, 1846 (Hartford: Printed by Case, Tiffany and Burnham, 1846), 49.
4 J. Spencer Fluhman, “Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Antebellum America” (PhD Dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006), 112. Fluhman is quoting Third Annual Report of the Superintendents of the Main Insane Hospital, (Augusta: Severance & Dorr, Printers to the State, 1842), 14-15, 17-20.
5 Fluhman, “Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Antebellum America,” 116.
6 E.D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio, 1834), 73-74.
7 One such case is detailed in the dissertation. See Fluhman, “Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Antebellum America,” 117-119.
8 Fluhman, “Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Antebellum America,” 120.