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.
Early Latter-day Saints saw the world through martyrological lenses. To suffer persecution was the ultimate sign of chosenness and the Saints themselves used the memory their persecutions to draw distinct boundaries between themselves and their neighbors that had not suffered. Given this persecution discourse, many Nauvoo Saints that had not been in Missouri in 1838 yearned to be persecuted as had been their brethren. The following excerpt from a letter written by Bishop Alanson Ripley, who had been in Missouri, shows how the Saints negotiated these boundaries to include those that had not actually suffered persecution.
The appeal of the church to the American people, clearly and understandingly sets forth the outrages practised upon the saints by the mob in the State of Missouri, a parallel of which cannot be produced in the annals of history since the days of our saviour; for we were stoned, we were whipped, we were robbed, we were imprisoned, and plundered, of all we possessed, and many of the saints sealed their testimony with their blood. But thanks be to our God, we take the spoiling of our goods[,] and the wasting of substance joyfully, knowing that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens, and being expelled as we were from our homes, and plundered of all our property, renders us almost destitute of means to carry on the works which the Lord our God has commanded us to do…
[W]e firmly believe that the brethren who have funds will notice this appeal and come to our aid, and give us influence, so that they may be heirs with those who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this obtain a knowledge that the course of life which they pursue is according to the will of God.—See book of covenants, lecture 6, 9th paragraph.
It is vain for persons to fancy themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith with God and favor with him, so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain a knowledge that they are accepted of him.
 Historian Stephen J. Fleming argues that “Mormonism gave the particularly romantic the potential opportunity to suffer for conscience sake. [Edward] Hunter felt that he had missed out on something by joining Mormonism after the Missouri expulsion. Shortly before his death, Joseph Smith asked Hunter to go talk to the governor of Illinois, explaining, “‘You have always wished to have been with us from the commencement. If you go to Springfield and do this business for me now in this time of danger, it shall be as though you had been in Missouri and had always been with us.'” [HC 6:492] In this way, Mormonism allowed these converts to live out their romanticized heritage” (Stephen J. Fleming, “‘Congenial to Almost Every Shade of Radicalism’: The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism,” Religion and American Culture 17, no. 2 [Summer 2007]: 149).  Times and Seasons, July 1840, 137.
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.
Mormon forays into the Delaware Valley in the late 1830s yielded scores of converts, prompting Protestant ministers, in particular Presbyterian Henry Perkins, to respond against the growing Mormon presence. In the following excerpt from a May 1840 speech, Perkins denounces the Mormon belief in pre-existence. As Charles R. Harrell has shown, seminal references to pre-existence first appeared in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, and Mormon periodicals began printing references to pre-existence as early as 1835. This statement by Perkins is the first known public anti-Mormon denunciation of the doctrine.
We will now proceed to examine some of the doctrines of the “Mormons,” or as they call themselves, “Latter day Saints.” Whether they are saints or not, remains to be seen.
Let me here premise, that to avoid the uncertainty of hear-say evidence, I took the pains to visit one of their accredited preachers lately in this neighborhood, Mr. Sidney Rigdon, who gave me the articles of the Mormon faith, as preached among you by himself and others. We shall have time only to consider some of the more striking of these articles….
3d. Another article of their belief is this, viz: “That the spirits of all men had a pre-existence, and lived in a state of intelligence in some part of God’s dominions, before their bodies were born, and before the foundation of the world.”
“This article (Mr. Rigdon says,) was revealed to him immediately from God.” We will bring the word of God to bear upon it.
But first let me say, that if the article be true, we have all been most egregiously deceived as to our ages. Instead of our age being “an hand breadth,” according to the Bible, we are according to the Mormons, older than the world which we inhabit. Moses must have been wide of the mark in his account of the lives of the patriarchs. He puts the age of Methuselah at nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and that of Noah at nine hundred and fifty, but the Mormons make them older by some thousands. What appears also remarkable is, that we lived all this while in “a state of intelligence,” we should have no knowledge or remembrance of what we were doing, or others were doing around us, but be as entirely ignorant of one another, and of our pursuits, and of the creation of the world, as if we had not been alive. But what says the word of God? We are told, . . . dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” This looks very much to me as if Adam were created, body and soul, at one and the same time. Again, we are told that “God created man in his own image.” Now as God is a Spirit, it must have been Adam’s spirit, and not his body merely, that was created in the image of God. Hence, it appears again that he was created body and spirit, at the same time. In Zech. xii. 1, are these words: “Saith the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him.” If God, “formeth the spirit of man within him,” it is manifest that he did not form his spirit without him. Man’s body is the tabernacle in which his soul or spirit dwells during this life. Paul is speaking of his soul or spirit, when he says, “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better; nevertheless to abide in the flesh, is more needful for you.” We see then that the flesh or body is that part of man, within which the spirit abides, and within with also, according to Zechariah, God formeth it. Therefore a plainer contradiction of Scripture cannot be conceived of than the assertion, that the spirit of man was formed without, or before his body….
Mormon missionary Benjamin Winchester responded to Perkins in An Examination of a Lecture Delivered by the Rev. Henry Perkins, which is too long to excerpt here, but will perhaps be included in a later installment of From the Archives.
 Charles R. Harrell, “The Development of the Doctrine of Preexistence, 1830-1844,” BYU Studies 28 (Spring 1988): 75-96. “The Mormons,” The State Gazette(Trenton) 22 July 1840. Portions not immediately relevant have been deleted. This newspaper was found and transcribed by historian Stephen J. Fleming, in the Elmer Tindall Hutchison Collection, Special Collections, Alexander Library, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Religion and American Culture recently published an article summarizing Flemming’s research on the Delaware Valley.Copy in LDS Church Archives.
This post marks the first post in what aims to be a regular feature of The Juvenile Instructor, “From the Archives.” Each post will feature an interesting quote or entry from an early LDS journal, periodical, sermon, or letter. This first installment features Wilford Woodruff’s journal entry for May 15, 1842. At this time, Woodruff was in Nauvoo, Illinois working as editor of the Times & Seasons.
Vengance is mine. I will repay saith The Lord.
May 15th 1842 Sunday True information has just reached us that the Noted Governor Boggs of Missouri who By his orders expeled ten thousand Latter Day Saints, Has just Been assassinated in his own house & fallen in his own Blood. Three Ball wer shot through his head two through his Brains & one through his mouth, tongue & throat. Thus this ungodly wretch has fallen in the midst of his iniquity & the vengance of God has overtaken him at last & he has met his Just deserts though by an unknown hand. This information is proclaimed through all the papers & By dispatched messengers & hand Bills through the land. Thus Boggs hath died as a fool dieth & gone to his place to receive the reward of his works.
* * *
*Boggs was shot but did not die but has sinc recove[red] from his wounds. 
What strikes me about this passage (aside from Woodruff writing such a detailed entry about a death that didn’t happen) is that the entry before it Woodruff is busy preaching and the entry after it simply notes “I spent in the printing office.” What does this reveal about the culture of early Mormonism? Was this seeming attitude of divine vengeance typical of Mormons? Was it at all typical of early 19th-century American culture? Is this attitude at all prevalent in Mormonism today? I imagine most Latter-day Saints today don’t see God’s vengeful hand in others’ deaths, but are we still inclined to see the fate of others as a sign of divine involvement and judgment?
 The entry can be found in Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Typescript, ed. Scott G. Kenney (Midvale: Utah, Signature Books, 1983), 2: 176; It is also included in Waiting for the World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodfruff, ed. Susan Staker (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1993), 55-56.
*The last sentence was inserted after the initial entry.