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Summary and Keywords

The relationship between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—commonly called “Mormonism”—and the politics and culture of the United States is both contentious and intertwined. Historians have commonly observed that Mormonism is in many ways quintessentially American, bearing the marks of the Jacksonian period in which it was born. Its rejection of the denominational leadership of its day, its institution of a lay priesthood, and Joseph Smith’s insistence that revelation trumped scholarship and study all marked it as very much of its time and place, an America in which the authority of common people was exalted and tradition authority was suspect. And yet at the same time, Mormonism was suspect almost immediately upon its birth for those things that made it appear distinctly un-American: the divine power of its prophetic leaders, its rejection of the sole authority of the Bible, its clannishness and separatism, and its defiance of 19th-century sexual morality.

The history of Mormonism in America is in many ways a tug of war between these two impulses. At times the Mormons have embraced what makes them American, have proudly claimed elements of national identity, and have claimed that their faith most truly embodies the American creed. At other times, however, either because of hostility from other Americans or because of their own separatism, Mormons have distanced themselves from the national community and sought a separate community and peoplehood. Through the 19th century, because of the practice of polygamy and the theocratic government of the Utah territory, both Mormons and other Americans perceived a gap between their two communities, but that gap closed by the end of the century, when the federal government used force to eliminate those things Americans most objected to about the faith and Mormons began aggressively pursuing assimilation into American life. By the end of the 20th century, however, Mormonism’s cultural conservatism led both Mormons and other Americans to see that gap opening once more.

Keywords: Mormonism, religion, Second Great Awakening, assimilation, American West, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young

Origins of Mormonism

The origins of Mormonism have attracted more attention from scholars and researchers than any other aspect of the movement, save, perhaps, for the practice of polygamy. It is a contentious subject, of course, on the one hand because of the content of Joseph Smith’s claims to supernatural experiences but also because the sources that document it are plentiful but uneven. Some of the confusion is in part due to Smith himself. In his most widely read account of his own life, produced in 1838, some details of dates and descriptions of his experiences differ from accounts he gave elsewhere. Later in his life he publicly denied some of his more controversial practices, particularly plural marriage. Nonetheless, the 1838 account of Smith’s life remains the most widely read among Mormons today, even as scholars warn that it requires careful reading and occasional qualification. According to the 1838 account, in the spring of 1820 Smith, the fourteen-year-old son of a poor farmer living in Palmyra, New York—the center of what has been called the “burned-over district,” where the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening flourished—was distraught with the emotionalism and passion of the revivalists passing through his town. When he prayed in the woods behind his home, seeking guidance, he received a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

MormonismClick to view larger

Figure 1. Joseph Smith and brother Hyrum Smith, from a portrait by Sutcliffe Maudsley. (Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-31487)

Earlier accounts of this vision closely mirror other evangelical conversion narratives of the day: Smith is forgiven his sins and told that God loves him. Later accounts, dating to 1838 and later, when Smith’s church was mature, emphasize that the divine figures instructed Smith that no church on earth possessed proper priestly authority or correct doctrine and that he should join none.

Ten years later, at age 24, Smith published a work of scripture he called the Book of Mormon. The book claims to be the work of multiple ancient American prophets, the descendants of the family of Nephi, the first prophet to write in the book. Shortly before the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 589 bce, God led Nephi’s family to the Americas, where they erected a new civilization, called the Nephites. The book focuses on the Nephites’ relationship with God, describes the appearance of a resurrected Christ and the establishment of a Christian church among them, and laments their ultimate collapse into wickedness, civil war, and decay. Opposing the Nephites are the Lamanites, an often corrupt faction descended from Nephi’s family who eventually destroy the Nephites, but whom the book declares are still the heirs of the promises God made to Nephi’s family. Early Mormons believed that Native Americans were the descendants of the Lamanites, a belief still common in the church today. The book’s authors pled with their readers to accept Christ and urge repentance and baptism and offer long disquisitions on theology. The book also contains aspects that can be read as reflective of the preoccupations of antebellum America: Native American civilizations, suspicion of secret societies, religious gatherings that resemble revivals, and a general distrust of despotism and praise for freedom. Smith reported that an angel had given him the golden plates on which these prophets wrote. He further claimed to translate them “by the gift and power of God.”1

During the process of translation, Smith and his scribes encountered various other resurrected beings, including John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, who restored to Smith the authority of Christ’s priesthood. Accordingly, Smith began to baptize his converts, beginning with his family, and in 1830 he organized a church. There was no trained clergy in Mormonism; rather, over the course of the 1830s Smith gradually created an elaborate priesthood hierarchy in which multiple offices (like priest, elder, and deacon) were allotted to two orders (the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods). All male members of the Church could be ordained to one of these offices and given responsibilities. Smith himself took the formal title of president of the church and the colloquial title of prophet. According to Smith, these miracles marked the restoration of Christ’s true church, whose doctrine and priesthood had been lost during the centuries since the crucifixion. Already, in the very act of organization, Smith established particular claims about history, marking off the time of his own movement as “the last dispensation,” preceded by periods headed by the likes of Adam, Moses, and Jesus himself, a time in which God was particularly active, related more intimately to the biblical past than to the centuries of presumed darkness that lay between.2

Early Mormonism appealed to antebellum Americans for many reasons. One convert, the schoolteacher William McLellin, heard Mormon missionaries preaching in his hometown of Paris, Illinois, in July 1831. He said that they “expounded the Gospel the plainest I thot that I ever heard in my life,” and that he “made many enquiries and had much conversation with them.” He traveled with the missionaries to the Mormon settlements in Missouri, because “I was very anxious to see them and examine for myself.” During his travels he claimed to have experienced “singular dreams about my journey (which afterward proved true).” When he met with the Mormons, he had a visionary experience while praying with them, which “convinced me that the Elders had the power of deserning [sic] spirits.” All of this in total convinced him that “I was bound as an honest man to acknowledge the truth and validity of the Book of Mormon . . . I wanted to live among a people who were based upon pure principles and actuated by the Spirit of the Living God.”3 McLellin’s experience illustrates some aspects of the religious culture of antebellum America that may seem paradoxical today. He combines empiricism and supernaturalism, a desire for experiential knowledge, for clearly presented truth, and for ecstatic religious experience. To converts like McLellin, Mormonism offered an accessible Christianity, in which evidence like the Book of Mormon and a plainly presented theology combined with supernatural religious experience to make truth available to all people.

Mormonism grew quickly. It expanded along familial networks, as Joseph Smith’s parents, siblings, friends, and their families in upstate New York were baptized into the new church. Later, however, the church’s missionary efforts paid off. In late 1830 and early 1831, the church relocated to two “stakes of Zion,” to use the Mormon parlance: one in Kirtland, Ohio, and one in Far West, Missouri. In late 1830, the entire Ohio congregation of Sidney Rigdon, a Christian restorationist minister and educated theologian impressed with the Book of Mormon, joined the church. These conversions greatly increased the size of Smith’s flock, and he moved its headquarters to Kirtland. The same year, missionaries sent to Missouri to convert the “Lamanite” Native American tribes brought Joseph Smith to the state, and he proclaimed that God had revealed to him that the site of the New Jerusalem, a holy plat of land where Adam and Eve had lived and where the millennial city would be built, was in Jackson County, Missouri. Mormons began moving there in order to convert the Native Americans and soon began laying the foundations for the promised city.

They were eventually driven from both Ohio and Missouri, but through the 1830s, Joseph Smith’s primary missionary force, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was preaching in Europe and converting thousands. Nauvoo, Illinois, where the Mormons settled after fleeing Missouri in 1838, was a city of immigrants, but it was also a thoroughgoing example of Mormon community building. It was laid out according to the “plat of Zion,” a city plan Joseph Smith drew for the New Jerusalem, featuring large lots for urban agriculture centered on a temple.

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Figure 2. An 1855 steel engraving of Nauvoo, Illinois. By that time the Mormons had left but the ruins of the temple remain visible on the bluff. (Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-77636)

It was also run largely as a theocracy. The state legislature granted the city a broad charter. Joseph Smith and his associates were repeatedly elected to the mayorship and city council and had the right to operate city courts and a militia. For five years, from 1839 to 1844, the city filled with Mormon converts, but the specter of Mormon power again haunted their neighbors. In the early 1840s Joseph Smith began trading the bloc of Mormon votes for political favors, attracting political enemies, and in 1844, in his capacity as mayor, he ordered the destruction of a dissident newspaper, which whipped those enemies into a frenzy. He was arrested for the latter act and was killed while in prison by a mob on June 27 before he was brought to trial.

Each of these settlements contributed something to the evolution of Mormonism. The encounter with Rigdon in Kirtland was critical to the young prophet, who quickly made the older minister his right-hand man. With Rigdon’s help, Smith began a revision of the Bible, claiming to offer restoration of lost texts and prophetic clarification of obscure passages, and a slew of new doctrine came forth. From this revision emerged new scripture: revelations in the voice of God, new ancient narratives in the voices of Abraham and Moses, and new commandments for organizing the church. In Ohio, the Mormons began experimenting with economic communalism, learned of a new revelation promising universal salvation for all humanity in various degrees of heaven, and, perhaps most grandly, began the construction of a temple in which Smith declared divine “endowments” would be given. Mormon meetings were overcome with charismatic expression—speaking in tongues, bodily contortions, and prophecy—but Smith put a stop to it. He promised his followers that they would have spiritual experiences, but he also insisted they be channeled through the priesthood and rituals he created. Indeed, when the Kirtland temple was dedicated in 1836 and Mormons began using it for washing and anointing rituals in imitation of the ancient Israelite temples, a spate of Pentecostal experiences followed: visions, prophecy, and healings.

In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith introduced many practices central to Mormonism today: baptism of the dead by proxy and temple rituals, including the endowment, an initiation ceremony centered on a sacred drama featuring Adam and Eve, and sealing, in which marriages were solemnized for eternity. His most famous innovation was polygamy, which Smith explained as a means by which various Mormon families could be bound together in a vast and expanding kinship network that would persist into heaven. The Mormons rejected the terms polygamy and polygyny (the more precise term for a husband having multiple wives), instead favoring “plural marriage” or “celestial marriage.” Smith was aware that the practice was explosive, and as such he pursued his own plural wives in secret. Often they remained with their families after a sealing, and occasionally he was sealed to women already civilly married to other men. He also introduced the practice to a handful of other Mormon leaders and initiated some of them into the endowment. Neither of these practices was made public until after Smith’s death. In Nauvoo Smith also introduced what is sometimes called the “Nauvoo theology,” a set of doctrines that made Mormonism distinct among Christian religions. Among them were the notion of a Mother in Heaven, the idea that human beings are eternally existent and are progressing toward divinity, and the belief that God is an exalted man. In Nauvoo these ideas were new and tentative, mostly taught in public sermons only weeks before Joseph Smith’s death, but in Utah Mormon leaders would elaborate and extend them.4

In all of their early settlements, Mormons evinced an optimism about human nature and a powerful sense of community, expressed in economic communalism and religious rituals designed to bind the religious community together. Mormon missionaries urged converts to join the flock in Kirtland or Missouri or Nauvoo, because one could not be fully Mormon outside the economic and social world the Mormons were building. In Nauvoo, the Mormons seized upon baptism for the dead and the idea of sealing in order to sacramentally actualize the cultural and economic community they had constructed. Moreover, that the first missionaries Smith sent were to the “Lamanites” in Missouri reveals Mormonism’s distinctively 19th-century racialism: Mormons believed that through the power of their religious faith, a new humanity could be created from the divergent branches of the human tree. Smith and other early Mormons believed that Native Americans were heirs to particular divine promises and that if they were converted they could claim those promises and be made white. Similarly, in Kirtland, Ohio, at least two African American men received priesthood office, and by 1847 there were some 17,000 British Mormon converts. Nearly 10 percent of Mormon leadership in the period from 1848 to 1890 was born in Scandinavia and 29 percent was born in Britain.5 By the 1850s, Mormon missionaries had reached New Zealand, Hawaii, and other Polynesian islands.6 Mormonism had forged a powerful identity from what was becoming a global religion.

However, at the same time many of these things attracted intense opposition from the Mormons’ neighbors. A number of historians have recently explored the reasons why Mormonism engendered such hostility, and most have concluded other Americans often perceived Mormonism as an invalid religion, a political and social threat rather than simply another Christian denomination.7 In Kirtland, Joseph Smith ignored the wishes of the state legislature, which warned him he had insufficient capital and experience, and opened a bank designed to offset the great cost of building the temple. The bank quickly collapsed, and its failure cost many church members dearly. Some of Smith’s followers turned on him, the church splintered, and he, his wife Emma, and Rigdon fled to Missouri, where those Mormons loyal to him still gathered. Missourians in turn were suspicious of their fraternization with Native Americans, and when a Mormon journalist wrote an article advising free black Mormon converts about the slave state of Missouri, the Mormons’ neighbors reacted violently. The Mormons presented their neighbors with other problems as well; in both Missouri and Ohio, their tight economic communalism made them difficult for non-Mormons to deal with, and they tended to vote in blocs, which alarmed Americans protective of their democracy. Soon after Smith arrived in 1838, a mob attempted to prevent Mormons from voting in Gallatin, Missouri, and fighting broke out. The Mormons mobilized a militia; the governor called out the state militia and ordered the Mormons driven from the state or exterminated. Several dozen were killed before Joseph Smith surrendered and the Mormons fled to Illinois. Similarly, Illinoisans in towns neighboring Nauvoo also found the continuing practice of Mormon bloc voting discomfiting, particularly given the large numbers of European immigrants settling there, and rumors of polygamy horrified them. The very practices that contributed to Mormonism’s communal strength also made other Americans wary.8

Schism and Settlement of the West

Smith’s death triggered a crisis. His clearest successor, his brother Hyrum, was killed with him, and it was unclear who might come next. The major claimants offered differing visions of Mormonism. Emma Smith, Joseph’s widow, opposed plural marriage and supported a regent of sorts who would do the same until her oldest son, Joseph III, came of age. Sidney Rigdon had fallen out of favor with Smith several years before and had neither entered polygamy nor participated in the full temple endowment, but he lay claim based on his position close to Smith. Alternatively, a young convert named James Strang, tall, with a commanding presence, claimed that Smith had named him his successor in a secret letter. He claimed visitation from angels, who gave him an ancient record which he translated: in short, he was Joseph Smith in miniature. Finally Brigham Young, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Joseph Smith’s chief missionaries and closest friends, returned to Nauvoo in early August of 1844. Young and the Quorum of the Twelve had accepted polygamy and participated in the entire temple rites. Moreover, many of the British Mormons in Nauvoo had been converted by the Twelve and naturally looked to them for guidance. While Emma Smith and Rigdon called for a return to a pre-Nauvoo Mormonism and James Strang offered to continue Joseph Smith’s charismatic leadership, the bulk of Mormons accepted the authority of Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve, whose claim was based on institutional stability. With the accession of Young to Joseph Smith’s office of president of the church, and his own replacement by another apostle on his death in 1877, Mormonism completed the classic transition from charismatic to institutional authority described by sociologist Max Weber.

Though Young’s church, today officially called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is by far the largest and most prominent of the churches of the Latter Day Saint or Mormon movement, it is far from the only one. Other churches have also laid claim to Joseph Smith’s legacy. The largest of these is the Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Organized in 1860 in Illinois, this church brought together several factions of Mormons who had not accepted Young, including Emma Smith, under the leadership of the slain prophet’s grown son, Joseph Smith III. Rejecting the practice of polygamy and the temple endowment, as well as much of Smith’s Nauvoo theology, but accepting the Book of Mormon and many other of Smith’s revelations, this church remained based in the American Midwest and today claims a quarter of a million members. It offers a socially and theologically progressive version of Mormonism, embracing social and economic justice, the ordination of women, and same-sex marriage. James Strang initially attracted many prominent Mormon leaders, but he grew erratic and in 1856 was assassinated; most of his followers drifted to the Reorganized Church. Similarly, when the LDS Church abandoned polygamy at the beginning of the 20th century, a small but sturdy faction determined to preserve the practice embraced the term “Mormon fundamentalism” and left the church. The best known of these groups—for its traditionalist dress and persistent allegations of child abuse—is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered on the rural Utah–Arizona border, but other fundamentalist churches, such as the urban Apostolic United Brethren, also exist; there are also many independent practitioners of polygamy. All these churches have in some way distinctively adapted the legacy of Joseph Smith and demonstrate the plurality possible within the larger Mormon movement.9

Joseph Smith’s death convinced Young of something that many Mormons had already concluded: there would be little peace for Mormons within the borders of the United States. Young considered settling in Texas and California before fixing on the Great Basin near the Great Salt Lake, land in the mid-1840s nominally claimed by Mexico but populated only by Ute and Piute Native American tribes. In February 1846, Young and the first party of Mormons left Nauvoo for the West. Over the next two years, a steady chain of Mormon wagons lined the trail across Iowa and Nebraska and Wyoming, as some 15,000 Mormons from Nauvoo and Europe crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. The stream continued after the Nauvoo migration, as converts continued to cross the plains by wagon and, occasionally and less successfully, by handcart until the transcontinental railroad reached Utah in 1869. In July 1847, Young reached the valley, and for the next thirty years until his death in 1877, he directed the Mormon colonization of the American West. By the time he died, church membership in Utah stood at roughly 70,000, scattered in settlements as far south as Mexico and as far north as Canada, including Las Vegas, Nevada, San Bernardino, California, and many colonies in Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and New Mexico.

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Figure 3. Snowville, Utah, a Mormon settlement photographed in 1940. (Library of Congress, LC-USF34- 037253-D)

Brigham Young’s settlement plans extended what had been a tightly knit, single community of Mormons across the expanse of the American West, and as the church was established in each community it took on the structure that it largely follows today. Mormons were divided geographically into congregations called “wards,” each supervised by a lay leader called a bishop, who was expected to support himself in addition to directing his congregation. Each ward was home to several hundred Mormons. A dozen or so wards were collectively called a “stake” and presided over by a lay leader called a stake president. Stake presidents reported to a group called the General Authorities. In Brigham Young’s day, this meant the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency, made up of the president of the church and two counselors; today there are others, called Seventies, who serve as liaisons between the apostles and stake presidents. General Authorities alone serve for life; upon his death the president of the church is replaced by the longest-serving member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Young’s relationship with the United States was contentious. The end of the Mexican American War in 1848 meant that the land the Mormons settled had fallen under the control of the United States almost as soon as the Mormons arrived. Despite Mormon aspirations for statehood, Congress created the Utah Territory in the Compromise of 1850 but mollified Mormon disappointment by appointing Brigham Young as Utah’s first governor. However, Young consistently antagonized the various federal officials sent to aid him, preferring to run the Utah territory as a theocracy. The territorial legislature was filled with church officials, duly elected by the Mormon populace and generally compliant with Young’s wishes, and territorial courts often stood empty because Mormons preferred to resolve disputes through ecclesiastical mechanisms.

More, the transcontinental railroad brought American capitalism with it when it arrived in Utah in 1869, but Young and other Mormon leaders pressed against it. Young commanded Mormons not to do business with non-Mormon merchants because he hoped he could make the Mormons a self-sufficient community with no need for the outside world. Instead he attempted to implement economic communalism in Mormon settlements. Some Mormon towns disavowed private property entirely; others created joint-stock corporations, which owned every business in town and were in turn owned collectively by the citizens of the community. In total, Young hoped that the Mormon settlements could collectively produce all they needed, and he created the Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institute (a business that still exists as a department store in Utah today) to distribute goods throughout the Mormon colonies.10

Exacerbating a tense relationship with the federal government, in 1852 the apostle Orson Pratt publicly announced that the Mormons were practicing plural marriage, and eventually some 20 percent of Latter-day Saints came to be involved in polygamous families. Mormons themselves praised the practice for setting them apart from the world, eliminating prostitution, and even fostering a more vigorous and vital race. Historians have explored the ways in which the practice developed in Mormon society and have concluded that it was strictly regulated by the church, that most polygamist marriages featured only two or three wives (while high leaders of the church often had a dozen or more), that polygamy was particularly emphasized among religious and economic elites, and that living and courtship practices could vary. Polygamy encouraged widely varying reactions among Mormon women: many publicly defended the principle as divinely inspired, and female leaders such as Eliza Snow and Emmeline Wells took advantage of the relative social independence it provided to revitalize the Relief Society, the church’s organization for women.

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Figure 4. “Representative Women of Deseret,” the leading women of the Relief Society in 1883. (LC-LC-USZ62-89018)

In the late 19th century the society became a dynamic and activist organization that pursued women’s suffrage, advocated for female higher education, promoted involvement in national women’s organizations for social and political reform, and represented Mormon women at speaking events across the nation. At the same time, these same women could often experience loneliness and heartbreak at home. First wives often felt displaced by subsequent wives; later wives, particularly of high leaders of the Church, often felt neglected and ignored. Often women relied on the female community of the Relief Society for companionship. Regardless of Mormon women’s complex feelings, much of Protestant America was appalled at the practice. Americans from suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to conservative Protestant ministers like DeWitt Talmage condemned polygamy as barbaric and un-American, violating established social and political norms.11

As before, American government responded to Mormonism with force. The Mormons were not unique. In the Civil War and Reconstruction era, the federal government forced into submission a number of societies it perceived as immoral or dangerous, chiefly, the slave society of the American South and Native American tribes in the Midwest and Southwest. Like these societies, Mormonism appeared to pose a threat to democratic government. In 1857, President James Buchanan decided to remove Young as territorial governor and sent an army to ensure the transition. Young stepped down, but not before a series of skirmishes between the Mormon militia and the U.S. Army and the tragic massacre of an immigrant wagon train by skittish Mormons at a place in southern Utah called Mountain Meadows. After the Civil War, Congress passed a series of laws toughening the federal penalties for polygamy, disincorporating the LDS Church and requiring Mormons to swear an oath against polygamy in order to vote. In 1877, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment did not protect the practice of polygamy, and federal marshals descended upon Utah in force, arresting polygamists and driving the church leadership underground. Finally, in 1890, the president of the church, Wilford Woodruff, announced that the Mormons would renounce polygamy and seek integration into the United States.12

Modern Mormonism

Utah became a state in 1896, but integration was not simple. Historians have explored the painful and complicated processes of extracting the practice and theology of polygamy from Mormonism and reorienting a separatist and communal religious community toward participation in American capitalism and democracy. The practice of polygamy indeed waned after 1890, but it also simply went underground and persisted in more isolated Mormon settlements until 1904, when church leaders renounced the practice for good. When in 1903 the high Mormon leader Reed Smoot was elected to the U.S. Senate, a national controversy broke out over the persistence of polygamy and whether an autocratic religion like Mormonism could indeed participate in American democracy. After three years of hearings and many avowals from Mormon leaders of their faithfulness to the Constitution, Smoot was finally seated. The Smoot hearings dramatically illustrated the shifts the Mormons were being compelled to make: before Congress, Mormon leaders downplayed the control the president of the Church exercised over his followers, thoroughly disavowed polygamy, and began to reorient the focus of the church away from economic and sexual separatism toward Joseph Smith’s claims of restoration of true priesthood and theology.13

Indeed, with the death of Lorenzo Snow, president of the Church from 1898 to 1901, a new generation of Mormon leaders took control. Men like Joseph Smith’s nephew Joseph F. Smith, who replaced Snow as church president, and Heber J. Grant, who replaced Smith upon his death in 1918, were young children or still unborn when Joseph Smith was killed and were more comfortable in American society than their fathers had been. Both Smith and Grant were successful businessmen and navigated the transformation of the LDS church into a financially stable, patriotic, American denomination.

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Figure 5. Reed Smoot, right, and Heber J. Grant, 1918. (LC-DIG-npcc-00715)

Within the church they began standardizing church policy and procedures, regularizing how leadership functioned, and transforming church-owned communal economic institutions into private businesses. Without, they encouraged the Mormons to select allegiance to one political party or another, discouraged church leaders from running for office or making endorsements to avoid the appearance of manipulation, and inaugurated public relations efforts to better the Mormon image.14

At the same time, a group of Mormon thinkers began rethinking what it might meant to be Mormon absent polygamy and given integration into the nation. This period, the late 19th and early 20th centuries, roughly corresponding to the American progressive era, is sometimes called the golden age of Mormon intellectual life. Highly ranked church leaders, particularly the British-born James Talmage and B. H. Roberts and the Norwegian-born John Widtsoe, were intensely interested in the currents of American and European intellectual life and sought to use contemporary science, philosophy, and theology to better understand what Mormonism might become. Absorbing the optimism about human potential, fascination with Darwinian ideas, and confidence in education that drove the progressive era, these thinkers seized upon Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo theology and began to describe Mormonism as a sort of divinely ordained evolution, a religion that would refine and winnow the human soul in its journey to divinity through opportunities for character development. Each human being had “free agency” to choose right or wrong; right choices would ensure progress, while wrong choices led to regression and the degeneration of character. The logical end was a strong endorsement of self-discipline and a strong moral code. Certain church polices were implemented in the 1910s and 1920s that reflected this shift; most prominently, the “Word of Wisdom,” a dietary code Joseph Smith claimed as revelation, was distilled into policy. The revelation Smith dictated discourages the consumption of meat, “hot” and “strong” drinks, and commends fruits and vegetables. Under the presidency of Heber J. Grant, adherence to the Word of Wisdom was made a formal expectation of Mormons who wished to enter temples, and it was defined as avoidance of alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco.15

The much-vaunted Church Welfare System, instituted in the depths of the Great Depression, well captures what it meant to be a Mormon forty years after the end of polygamy. The Welfare System drew on the strong Mormon tradition of community, economic cooperation, and self-sufficiency. It established a system of storehouses, farms, canneries, and other resources that bishops could draw upon to administer aid to needy people in their wards. Mormons were asked to donate money and other resources to the system every month. However, that aid would rarely come without expectations. Recipients were asked to volunteer their time and efforts in those storehouses and farms in order both to keep the system working, but also to ensure that charity would not promote ill habits of laziness and dependency. The imperative to develop character and refine away negative personality traits suffused the welfare system as much as earlier economic communalism did.16

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Figure 6. A Mormon woman canning goods for a church welfare program, 1940. (LC-USF34-037282-D)

This systematization and regularization of Mormonism, however, came at a price. Some groups found themselves isolated and disappointed by this new Mormonism, and their protests reveal much about what the religion was becoming. The first were African American Mormons, who, though small in number, presented a challenge to a religious community desiring inclusion in an American society in the process of accepting Jim Crow. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, African American men were ordained to the priesthood and participated in temple rites. However, by the early 1850s, Mormon leaders were shaken at reports that African American Mormon men were marrying white women. One, William McCary, who claimed supernatural powers and married multiple white women polygamously in defiance of church leadership, was excommunicated. By 1852, Young was declaring that those of African descent were the seed of Cain and thus could not hold priesthood office or participate in temple rites. For several decades these policies went unchallenged, but in the 1880s, two African Americans, a man named Elijah Abel, who had received priesthood office in Kirtland, and a woman, Jane Manning James, who had befriended Joseph and Emma Smith in Nauvoo, requested permission to receive their temple endowments. The General Authorities were uncertain what to do, and after intense debate they concluded that Brigham Young’s statements reflected divine inspiration and formalized them into church policy, which would stand for nearly a hundred years.17

A similar formalization of policy which narrowed spiritual practice in the Church involved the Relief Society. For many decades in the 19th century, Mormon women engaged in charismatic practices, such as prophecy, laying on of hands to administer blessings and healing, and speaking in tongues. Frequently these practices were done in meetings of the Relief Society. In the early 20th century, however, the male General Authorities, seeking to formalize the authority of the priesthood, began discouraging women from such practices. In part, this was because they feared that emotional acts like prophecy or tongues speaking were no longer respectable; in part, they sought to minimize informal loci of female authority separate from the formal power of the male priesthood. Most Mormon women accepted these new policies, though not without disappointment.

The Mormonism that emerged from this process of adaptation in the mid-20th century, then, was well positioned to become what it often served as in the early years of the Cold War: a symbol of American piety, industry, and conventionality. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Mormons embraced this identity in a number of ways. Mormon leaders, like David O. McKay, president of the church from 1951 to 1970, and Ezra Taft Benson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who served as Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture, brought a new public face to the church. McKay was the first Mormon president since Joseph Smith to not wear a beard, symbolism not lost on his contemporaries. He was tall and charismatic and frequently traveled outside of Utah to befriend contemporaries as widely varying as Lyndon B. Johnson and the movie director Cecil B. DeMille. During his time in the Eisenhower administration and through the 1960s, Benson became a vocal leader of the American conservative movement. Like other politically conservative religious leaders in mid-century America, such as the revivalist Billy Graham and the prominent Catholic commentator Fulton Sheen, Benson frequently invoked religious language and ideas to denounce communism and the American welfare state, though his ideas featured a Mormon twist: communism restricted free agency, the human being’s ability to choose good or evil, and hence harmed the soul’s progress back to God.18

Mormon institutions also entered the public eye in the 1950s and 1960s. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, nationally known since the beginning of its 1929 weekly radio broadcast, began extensively touring in the postwar years, visited Europe in 1955, and won a Grammy award in 1959. In 1950, Brigham Young University, then a small institution with roughly 5,000 students, gained a formidable new president, Ernest Wilkinson, who transformed the school into a major research institution. By the end of his tenure in 1971, BYU had 25,000 students, granted PhDs, had aggressively recruited a new high-caliber faculty, and instituted a new student honor code, which regulated student dress, grooming, the consumption of alcohol, and sexual behavior. Wilkinson’s reforms at BYU, particularly the honor code, which mandated conservative dress and forbade facial hair or long hair on men and short skirts on women, are often interpreted as a stand against the student movement of the 1960s, and a sign of Mormonism’s general drift toward cultural, theological, and political conservatism in those years.

Sociologist Armand Mauss has described this process as “retrenchment.”19 He argues that by the 1950s and 1960s, many Mormons were growing uncomfortable with their intimacy with American culture, which by that point had extended for several decades. The student movement, sexual revolution, and rise of the counterculture in the 1960s made many Mormons uncomfortable. Those decades, then, according to Mauss, saw Mormon leaders aggressively reassert traditional moral values and a particularly Mormon form of religious conservatism, which emphasized the exclusivity of Mormon truth claims and the authority of Mormon leaders and scripture. Retrenchment’s primary advocates included two longtime apostles who briefly served as president of the church in the early 1970s; Joseph F. Smith’s son Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B Lee. As prominent was the apostle and prolific author Bruce R. McConkie, whose many works served as a blueprint for retrenchment, particularly his Mormon Doctrine (1958), a text organized like a dictionary with entries covering topics from “Aaron” to “Evolution” to “Priesthood” to “Zoram.” Many interpreters have attributed to these men a basically Mormon version of Protestant fundamentalism, and it is true that the two groups shared many ideas. McConkie’s entry for “Evolution” in Mormon Doctrine condemned it in no uncertain terms and advocated for young earth creationism, and he and his fellow leaders advocated for a high view of the authority of scripture and took Biblical miracles at face value. And yet, the years in which retrenchment emerged also marked the appearance of the evangelical countercult movement, which assailed Mormonism (and other faiths, like Christian Science and the Jehovah’s Witnesses) as un-Christian cults. McConkie and Lee and Fielding Smith were delighted to return the favor, blasting Protestant Christianity as apostate and strongly asserting the authority of Mormon prophets. They also rejected the notion of salvation by grace alone, reasserting Mormon ideas about the importance of moral discipline and the refinement of character.

The retrenchment movement’s greatest achievement was the massive bureaucratic, cultural, and theological reorganization often called today simply “correlation.” By the postwar era, Mormonism had grown rapidly. By the time David O. McKay assumed the presidency of the church in 1951, there were a million Mormons—mostly in the intermountain West, but increasingly spread across the globe, as Mormon leaders had ceased encouraging converts to join the rest of the church in Utah after the end of polygamy. By the time of McKay’s death in 1970, there were 3 million Mormons. More, a plethora of auxiliary church programs had appeared: a Sunday school, youth programs, the Relief Society, a children’s program. Combined with the church’s various other departments, for missionary work, buildings, and so on, McKay headed an increasingly unwieldy religion. The various auxiliaries rarely exchanged curriculums or programs, and member participation across them all was uneven. In 1960, McKay asked Harold B. Lee to head a correlation committee intended to streamline and standardize curriculum across the auxiliaries. Lee ended up doing far more. Over the next ten years, he reorganized the lines of church authority, placing all the auxiliaries and departments (which had once reported only to the president of the church) under the control of committees of apostles. Lines of authority were regularized and procedures for supervision and reporting standardized. Lee dissolved the auxiliaries’ independent budgets and shut down their independent publication offices, centralizing all of these things in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Finally, he established a correlation department, which would review all publications of the church for orthodoxy and supervise the publication of church curriculum.

In many ways correlation was a success. It ended a cycle of economic booms and busts that had plagued the church for years. It also allowed the church to begin a new wave of expansion overseas and growth in the United States outside of the Utah without fear of decentralization or theological drift. Finally, it discouraged the problem of factionalism; McKay himself had seen public squabbles between church leaders over the issue of evolution in the 1930s and did not want such a thing to occur again.

Correlation was a bureaucratic revolution, but it also exerted a deep impact on Mormon culture. Lee’s emphasis on uniformity and standardization fostered a religious culture that emphasized the same things: Mormons today worship in church buildings that follow one of a handful of regularized architectural plans that hang a selection of approved art on the walls and sing one of three hundred or so approved hymns. Norms of dress and grooming are informal but quite present; men wear white shirts and ties, women skirts or dresses to Sunday worship. These norms follow the mandated dress for missionaries, for whom correlation also generated standardized expectations. Since McKay’s tenure, young Mormon men are expected to serve a two-year mission during their college years; young women may serve but are not expected to. These expectations were instituted with the twin aims of converting more to the faith but also of entrenching the missionary’s loyalty to the faith and forming a cadre of dedicated Mormons who could fill the lay leadership in the next generation. Finally, correlation’s heavy supervision of church curriculum had the twin effect of dulling the importance of formal theology within Mormonism while also entrenching a set of theologically conservative assumptions.

Correlated manuals are the only sources encouraged for use in Mormon Sunday school classes and other venues for scriptural education, and most are written at a basic level. Manuals for study of the Bible or other Mormon scripture evince little knowledge of modern biblical scholarship or the long history of Christian theology. Manuals that cover Mormon history generally offer a long standard narrative of heroic church leaders confronting evil persecutors and avoid contentious issues like plural marriage. Consequently, the influence of the beliefs of leaders like McConkie loomed large in the curriculum produced under the correlation movement. Through the end of the century, most American Mormons took for granted the reality of biblical miracles and the incapacities of other Christian churches and embraced conservative theological stands on issues like evolution.20

Correlation’s successes, however, often gave birth to new challenges, which the Mormons grappled with through the early 21st century. Most pressing was the rise of what has been called the “international church.” In the 1950s, the newly trained and revitalized missionary force of young Mormon men entered the world, and for decades they were remarkably successful. From 1950 to 2000, the church grew from 1 million Mormons to 11 million, and as of 1996, there were more Mormons outside the United States than in it. The standardized curriculum and administrative policy correlation produced allowed the mamagement of such rapid growth, but the staggering numbers concealed some problems. First, it became apparent by the 1990s that many of these conversions were transient. In 2000, the Mexican census included “Mormon” as a category for the first time, and about 205,000 Mexicans designated themselves as such, even though church records counted 850,000. Scholars have credited these problems to a number of causes: for one, for a long time missionaries were quick to baptize, sometimes using underhanded techniques like organizing sports leagues for teenagers and requiring baptism to play or promising welfare aid to indigent people. For another, correlation’s success at standardizing Mormonism inadvertently standardized a very American, low-church style of worship. In Africa, for instance, missionaries encourage converts to dress for church in the same way American Mormons do, to avoid traditional worship practices like clapping, swaying, and stomping feet, and to use organs and pianos rather than drums, the traditional African sacred instrument. As one African convert instructed his congregation, “No more dancing and no more clapping, since our brothers in America don’t do it.”21 In the early 21st century, attendance at Sunday meetings in the global south hovered at around 25 percent of the members on the rolls.22

The strict expectations of American Mormon piety have sometimes caused restiveness. From 1936 to 1946, a large group of Mormons in Mexico broke away from the American leadership of the church, citing dissatisfaction with leadership by white Americans rather than native Mexicans, an event that helped to inspire correlation’s standardization of authority. Similarly, in the early 1950s, a group of several thousand Nigerian Christians discovered copies of the Book of Mormon and other church materials and began to use them in worship. They seemed particularly interested in Mormon ritual worship and in doctrines of prophecy and continuing revelation and began writing letters to Salt Lake City requesting guidance. However, given the ban that restricted African Mormons from temple worship and priesthood, the Nigerian government refused to allow Mormon missionaries into the nation. The church faced similar difficulties in Brazil when missionaries began to proselyte there; determining which converts did and did not have African blood in such a racially diverse nation proved daunting, and McKay eventually issued an order stating that converts were to be given the priesthood and allowed to worship in the temple unless African heritage was evident.

The first major step the church took to address these challenges came in 1978. The church had faced public pressure over the ban since the beginning of the civil rights movement. In the 1970s several universities refused to play BYU’s basketball team, and prominent Mormons, like the governor of Michigan and presidential candidate George Romney, publicly supported the civil rights movement and faced awkward questions about the ban. When he became president of the church in 1974, Spencer W. Kimball began seriously questioning the ban’s history and validity. Finally, in June 1978 he announced that God had revealed to him that the ban should be lifted.

Kimball proved a complex and unpredictable figure while leader of the church. In addition to lifting the ban, he also defied the Reagan administration, which wished to place a MX nuclear missile site in Utah. After plans for the site were announced, Kimball issued a public statement declaring it the church’s responsibility to proclaim Jesus’s gospel, denouncing war as “a denial of the very essence of that gospel” and offering a protest at the construction of the site. The Utah legislature quickly expressed support for Kimball, and the abashed Reagan administration backed down. But at the same time, Kimball proved that the conventional labels of American politics were too simple to describe him; he paralleled the revocation of the ban and the MX affair with the first modern intervention of the church into American politics over gender issues. In 1977, he became worried that the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which would eliminate distinctions in law based on gender, would disrupt traditional gender roles. Kimball and other leaders of the church directed the Relief Society to mobilize against the ERA, and over the next several years, the Relief Society’s grassroots mobilization, organization, and vote-getting efforts stopped passage of the ERA in several states, ensuring that it would fail.23

Kimball’s presidency, which lasted until 1985, presaged many of the developments Mormonism wrestled with over the next thirty years both overseas and in the United States. The revocation of the ban made possible the expansion of the church into Africa; after growth patterns there revealed similar patterns of transient conversion and limited participation, in the late 1990s and early 2000s church leaders began to reorient missionary efforts, emphasizing retention and integration of converts rather than rapid conversion. Similarly, in recent years Mormon leaders have gradually begun to decentralize church authority, granting more leeway to local leaders on issues like music, chapel design, and curriculum.

In the United States, Mormonism has confronted different issues, particularly dealing with public perception. Gordon B. Hinckley, church president from 1995 to 2008, was a career public relations official and dealt with the media more skillfully than any church president since David O. McKay. He discarded much of the exclusivity and clannishness of retrenchment Mormonism, urging Mormons to be better neighbors and to deal generously with those of other faiths. He also traveled the world, appeared frequently on the national news media, and generally succeeded in projecting a positive and sunny face for his faith. And yet, the year Hinckley’s presidency ended the church leadership was caught on the wrong side of a rapidly changing public consensus. In 1995, Hinckley’s First Presidency issued a statement called “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which strongly affirmed that marriage was between a man and a women and endorsed traditional gender roles. This was the same theology that had undergirded polygamy: marriage, and particularly the sealed marriages performed in Mormon temples, remained central despite the loss of polygamy, for Mormons believed that no one could enter the highest levels of heaven outside such relationships. For similar reasons, until the 1990s, church leaders tended to treat homosexuality as a temptation that could be resisted and even overcome; in 1995, the apostle Dallin Oaks offered a statement that remains close to the church’s official position: that homosexuality can be inborn but sexual relations outside marriage between a man and a women are sinful. Several times in the 1990s and early 2000s, church leaders had encouraged members to get involved in political campaigns against gay marriage. However, when they followed the same pattern in 2008, urging Mormons to contribute time and energy for California’s Proposition 8, which would make same-sex marriage in the state illegal, it faced criticism unlike anything it had experienced in generations.24

Much of the criticism leveled at the church in the aftermath of Proposition 8 echoed that of the 19th century. Mormonism was authoritarian and clannish; Mormonism was overstepping the bounds of good religion by involving itself in politics; Mormonism affirmed a model of gender relationships unacceptable in the modern world (though, of course, the church had moved from innovation to conservation). This criticism made clear, however, that issues of gender had not vanished after the ERA. Even after the criticism of Proposition 8, Mormon leaders remained committed to opposition to same-sex marriage, though in Utah and elsewhere they exhibited support for legislation making homosexuality a protected class, like race or gender. In a similar strategy, after a resurgent Mormon feminist movement captured national headlines for petitioning church leaders to consider ordaining women to the priesthood, church leaders instead enacted a number of more incremental reforms, and the leader of the Ordain Women movement was excommunicated.

The tumult over gender issues that consumed the church in the early 21st century encapsulates many of the challenges and responses that have characterized Mormonism since its founding, particularly since the end of polygamy. When Mitt Romney, son of George Romney and a governor and stake president in his own right, ran for president in 2008 and 2012, many observers called him stiff, too normal, a caricature of a mainstream American.25 This would have been a remarkable thing to say about a Mormon a hundred years earlier, and it demonstrated the success that the Mormons of the progressive era and retrenchment movement achieved in making of their religion an exemplar of a certain set of American values. And yet, deep in Mormonism’s DNA there remained a sense of separation, a sense that Mormons are special, set apart, not like the world around them, and the zeal with which church leaders defended their understanding of their faith’s doctrines demonstrates that commitment remains. One of the great advantages of Mormon belief that the church is led by a prophet is its ability to turn on a dime, to discard polygamy or the priesthood and temple ban and march forward without looking back. Mormonism’s flexibility is one reason it has flourished. But its stubborn commitment to its own particularity remains another.

Discussion of the Literature

An old aphorism among scholars of Mormonism runs, as one non-Mormon scholar has put it, “Mormonism does not have a theology; it has a history.”26 That is, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints care a great deal about how their history is told, particularly their founding narrative of Joseph Smith’s claims of divine encounters. How to tell that story is a matter of intense debate between academics, religionists, and those who find themselves in both those camps. The “New Mormon History” movement of the mid-20th century marked the entry of professionally trained scholars into Mormon history. Led by figures like Leonard Arrington, the first official LDS historian with a PhD (from the University of North Carolina), New Mormon Historians were often Mormons themselves and usually trained in social or economic history. They were primarily interested in the social history of the Mormon past and intensely studied issues like plural marriage and the settlement of Utah.27 More recent scholarship has focused on cultural history and has worked to contextualize Mormonism within broader historical processes: as a religious manifestation of the individualist culture of Jacksonian democracy or one of many other sexually innovative utopian movements, a remnant of European esoteric traditions or a community tangled in complex 19th-century ideas about race, religion, and civilization.28

But Mormons themselves have told their story differently. Joseph Smith himself wrote and published multiple accounts of his life, and upon his death in 1844, his secretaries boxed up his papers and carried them across the plains to Salt Lake City, where several untrained and ecclesiastically appointed church historians continued to assemble them into a comprehensive history. Scattered excerpts were published throughout the 19th century, until 1902, when B. H. Roberts, an autodidact theologian and historian, took over the project and revised the material into a six-volume History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1902–1912). It remains a basic resource until today, though more recent scholars have found its reproduction of primary sources more useful than its arguments.

Many official LDS accounts recapitulate Roberts’s narrative, because it finalized a ritualized litany of events that mark how Mormons understand their own history to the present day. He begins by linking Mormon history to biblical narratives of prophets and apostles, presenting Mormonism as the restoration of biblical religion after a long “universal apostasy.” Roberts then devotes great space to a heroic narrative of the life of Joseph Smith, presented as a uniquely inspired figure and model of faith, and structures the story of Mormonism in Smith’s life and after as the story of persecution overcome through communal solidarity and divine aid. His story draws sharp distinctions between the Latter-day Saints and the corrupt world around them. These themes are quite different from the Mormonism of modern scholars, emphasizing as they do Mormon uniqueness rather than its typicality and making theological claims scholars avoid.

However, it is notable the extent to which the story of Mormonism scholars tell remains shaped by the long history of Mormon self-creation. For instance, Joseph Smith’s claims, personality, and character remain far more intensely polarizing than those of other 19th-century visionaries and the focus of much scholarship on Mormonism. For many years the best and most popular biography of Smith was Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, which portrayed him as both a storyteller and religious genius, a young man afflicted with a fractured, poverty-stricken childhood who found relief in religion making and came to believe his own tales of visions and ancient civilizations, an interpretation that earned her excommunication from the Church.29 Later work on Smith has backed away from Brodie’s intense and sometimes speculative examination of his psyche and instead explored his world. Scholars have contextualized his religious claims in the frontier world of the Second Great Awakening, where many visionaries encountered Jesus and angels, folk magic and fascination with the Native American and colonial past shaped the daily lives of religious believers, and the ethos of Jacksonian democracy, variously described as romantic, egalitarian, or utopian, provided a language through which Americans understood their faith. Richard Bushman’s 2005 Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder combined a deep contextualization of Joseph Smith’s times with a phenomenological approach to his religious claims and attracted praise for the former and criticism for his willingness to accept that Smith believed his own claims.30

Primary Sources

The primary archive for material on the Mormon movement is the LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, run by the LDS Church. The Community of Christ also maintains an archive in Independence, Missouri. The past two decades have seen increasing professionalization at the Church History Library and the inauguration of a number of new projects valuable to researchers. Primary among these is the Joseph Smith Papers Project, an exhaustive attempt to transcribe, annotate, and publish both in print and online all Joseph Smith documents, either produced by his hand or far more frequently by scribes. Including journals, revelations and translations, reports of speeches, minutes of meetings Smith was involved in, business and legal records, editorials, and so on, the Project is endorsed by the National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission. As part of the papers of Joseph Smith, the Project has published online a vast array of documents relating to early Mormonism of interest to researchers not focusing specifically on Joseph Smith; for instance, the early papers of the Relief Society, the Mormon women’s organization.

The Joseph Smith Papers are perhaps the most prominent of a number of collections that the Church History Library is making available online. Many such collections reflect the changing interests of historians of Mormonism, focusing on women’s history, the history of the 20th century, and the international church. For instance, the papers of Susa Young Gates, a daughter of Brigham Young and an important leader in early 20th-century Mormonism, have recently been digitized.

Other repositories in and outside of Utah contain valuable resources on Mormonism. The L. Tom Perry Special Collections at Brigham Young University and the Special Collections division at the Marriott Library at the University of Utah both contain significant collections. The Marriott Library’s collection is particularly strong on the 20th century; it holds the papers of Clare Middlemiss, the secretary to David O. McKay, who preserved copies of nearly all of McKay’s papers, for instance. As the Church History Library often restricts the papers of more recent Mormon leaders, collections like the Marriott’s are invaluable to researchers. Yale University holds the papers of D. Michael Quinn, a noted Mormon historian who spent years in the 1970s and 1980s working in the Church History Library and transcribed many documents; the University’s Beinecke Library also contains a significant Mormon collection in its own right, holding the papers of James Strang, Brigham Young associate Thomas Kane, and a wide range of other 19th-century Mormon publications. The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, also holds a significant Mormon collection, focusing on Mormonism’s settlement of the West and missionary work overseas.

Further Reading

Alexander, Thomas. Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890–1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.Find this resource:

    Arrington, Leonard, Dean May, and Feramorz Fox. Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation Among the Mormons. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992.Find this resource:

      Bowman, Matthew. The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith. New York: Random House, 2012.Find this resource:

        Brodie, Fawn. No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet. New York: Knopf, 1946.Find this resource:

          Bushman, Claudia. Contemporary Mormonism. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.Find this resource:

            Bushman, Richard. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Knopf, 2005.Find this resource:

              Daynes, Kathryn. More Wives Than One: The Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.Find this resource:

                Flake, Kathleen. The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot: Mormon Apostle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.Find this resource:

                  Fluhman, J. Spencer. A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.Find this resource:

                    Givens, Terryl. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

                      Gordon, Sarah Barringer. The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.Find this resource:

                        Mauss, Armand. The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.Find this resource:

                          Reeve, W. Paul. Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

                            Shipps, Jan. Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.Find this resource:

                              Shipps, Jan. Sojourner in the Promised Land: Fifty Years Among the Mormons. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.Find this resource:

                                Turner, John G. Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.Find this resource:


                                  (1.) The best studies of the Book of Mormon are Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); and Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

                                  (2.) Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985).

                                  (3.) Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, eds., The Journals of William E. McLellin (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 29, 32–34.

                                  (4.) For an interpretation of the Nauvoo theology, see Samuel Morris Brown, On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

                                  (5.) On early Mormon racialism, see Reeve, Religion of a Different Color, and Armand Mauss, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003). Numbers from Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints (New York: Knopf, 1992), 129–130; and Robert Flanders, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1985), 56–58.

                                  (6.) Numbers from Richard L. Jensen, “Transplanted to Zion: The Impact of British Latter-day Saint Immigration upon Nauvoo,” BYU Studies 31 (Winter 1991): 77–87. See also Conway Sonne, Saints on the Seas: A Maritime History of Mormon Migration 1830–1890 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983).

                                  (7.) J. Spencer Fluhman, A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012); Terryl Givens, The Viper on the Hearth; Mormons, Myths and the Construction of Heresy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); and Patrick Mason, The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

                                  (8.) On Kirtland and Missouri, Stephen LeSeuer, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990); and Mark Staker, Hearken O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations (Salt Lake City: Kofford, 2010).

                                  (9.) On the origins of the Community of Christ, Roger D. Launius, Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1995); on Strang, Vickie Cleverly Speek, God Has Made Us a Kingdom: James Strang and the Midwestern Mormons (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2006); on fundamentalism, Martha Sonntag Bradley, Kidnapped from that Land: The Government Raids on the Short Creek Polygamists (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1993).

                                  (10.) On Brigham Young’s career and Mormon economic and political separatism, see Leonard Arrington, Dean May, and Feramorz Fox, Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation Among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992). There are two good biographies of Young; Leonard Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (New York: Random House, 1985); and John G. Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).

                                  (11.) The best studies of 19th-century polygamy and women’s activism are Kathryn Daynes, More Wives Than One: The Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001); Christine Talbot, A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852–1890 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013); and Carol Cornwall Madsen, An Advocate for Women: The Public Life of Emmeline B. Wells (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2006).

                                  (12.) On federal clashes with Mormons in Utah, the best study is Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

                                  (13.) Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot: Mormon Apostle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).

                                  (14.) Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985).

                                  (15.) Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (New York: Random House, 2012).

                                  (16.) On the welfare system, see Garth Mangum and Bruce Blumell, The Mormons’ War on Poverty: A History of LDS Welfare (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1993).

                                  (17.) Reeve, Religion of a Different Color; see also Russell Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Kofford, 2014).

                                  (18.) On McKay and Benson, see Gregory Prince and William Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005).

                                  (19.) Armand Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994).

                                  (20.) For a survey of late 20th-century Mormonism, see Claudia Bushman, Contemporary Mormonism (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006).

                                  (21.) Quoted in E. Dale Lebaron, All Are Alike unto God: Fascinating Conversion Stories of African Saints (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990) 22.

                                  (22.) This paragraph’s numbers are compiled in Bushman, Contemporary Mormonism, 72.

                                  (23.) On Kimball’s presidency, see Edward Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2007); on the ERA, Martha Sonntag Bradley, Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005).

                                  (24.) For an account of the church’s involvement in these campaigns, see “Six Voices on Proposition 8,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 42.4 (Winter 2009): 99–133; and Jo Becker, Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality (New York: Penguin, 2014).

                                  (25.) See Luke Perry, Mitt Romney, Mormonism and the 2012 Election (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 77–83.

                                  (26.) Jan Shipps, Sojourner in the Promised Land: Fifty Years Among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 381.

                                  (27.) D. Michael Quinn, ed., The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992); see, for instance, Leonard Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958).

                                  (28.) For instance, Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989); Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984); John Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644–1844 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); and W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

                                  (29.) Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet (New York: Knopf, 1946).

                                  (30.) Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder (New York: Knopf, 2005).