The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South

Oxford University Press
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"It incarnates every unclean beast of lust, guile, falsehood, murder, despotism and spiritual wickedness." So wrote a prominent Southern Baptist official in 1899 of Mormonism. Rather than the "quintessential American religion," as it has been dubbed by contemporary scholars, in the late nineteenth century Mormonism was America's most vilified homegrown faith. A vast national campaign featuring politicians, church leaders, social reformers, the press, women's organizations, businessmen, and ordinary citizens sought to end the distinctive Latter-day Saint practice of plural marriage, and to extinguish the entire religion if need be. Placing the movement against polygamy in the context of American and southern history, Mason demonstrates that anti-Mormonism was one of the earliest vehicles for reconciliation between North and South after the Civil War and Reconstruction. Southerners joined with northern reformers and Republicans to endorse the use of newly expanded federal power to vanquish the perceived threat to Christian marriage and the American republic. Anti-Mormonism was a significant intellectual, legal, religious, and cultural phenomenon, but in the South it was also violent. While southerners were concerned about distinctive Mormon beliefs and political practices, they were most alarmed at the "invasion" of Mormon missionaries in their communities and the prospect of their wives and daughters falling prey to polygamy. Moving to defend their homes and their honor against this threat, southerners turned to legislation, to religion, and, most dramatically, to vigilante violence. The Mormon Menace provides new insights into some of the most important discussions of the late nineteenth century and of our own age, including debates over the nature and limits of religious freedom; the contest between the will of the people and the rule of law; and the role of citizens, churches, and the state in regulating and defining marriage.
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About the author

Patrick Q. Mason is Research Associate Professor at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and Associate Director for Research of an interdisciplinary research initiative entitled Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim, Secular.
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Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Feb 16, 2011
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Pages
264
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ISBN
9780199792870
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / Christianity / Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)
Religion / Christianity / Denominations
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This content is DRM protected.
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The 1893 Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World's Fair, presented the Latter-day Saints with their first opportunity to exhibit the best of Mormonism for a national and an international audience after the abolishment of polygamy in 1890. The Columbian Exposition also marked the dramatic reengagement of the LDS Church with the non-Mormon world after decades of seclusion in the Great Basin. Between May and October 1893, over seven thousand Latter-day Saints from Utah attended the international spectacle popularly described as the ''White City.'' While many traveled as tourists, oblivious to the opportunities to ''exhibit'' Mormonism, others actively participated to improve their church's public image. Hundreds of congregants helped create, manage, and staff their territory's impressive exhibit hall; most believed their besieged religion would benefit from Utah's increased national profile. Moreover, a good number of Latter-day Saint women represented the female interests and achievements of both Utah and its dominant religion. These women hoped to use the Chicago World's Fair as a platform to improve the social status of their gender and their religion. Additionally, two hundred and fifty of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's best singers competed in a Welsh eiseddfodd, a musical competition held in conjunction with the Chicago World's Fair, and Mormon apologist Brigham H. Roberts sought to gain LDS representation at the affiliated Parliament of Religions. In the first study ever written of Mormon participation at the Chicago World's Fair, Reid L. Neilson explores how Latter-day Saints attempted to ''exhibit'' themselves to the outside world before, during, and after the Columbian Exposition, arguing that their participation in the Exposition was a crucial moment in the Mormon migration to the American mainstream and its leadership's discovery of public relations efforts. After 1893, Mormon leaders sought to exhibit their faith rather than be exhibited by others.
"Why," an exasperated Jonathan Edwards asked, "can't we be contented with. . . the canon of Scripture?" Edwards posed this query to the religious enthusiasts of his own generation, but he could have just as appropriately put it to people across the full expanse of early American history. In the minds of her critics, Anne Hutchinson's heresies threatened to produce "a new Bible." Ethan Allen insisted that a revelation which spoke to every circumstance of life would require "a Bible of monstrous size." When the African-American prophetess Rebecca Jackson embarked on a spiritual journey toward Shakerism, she dreamt of a home in which she could find multiple books of scripture. Orestes Brownson explained to his skeptical contemporaries that the idea drawing him to Catholicism was the prospect of an "ever enlarging volume" of inspiration. Early Americans of every color and creed repeatedly confronted the boundaries of scripture. Some fought to open the canon. Some worked to keep it closed. Sacred Borders vividly depicts the boundaries of the biblical canon as a battleground on which a diverse group of early Americans contended over their differing versions of divine truth. Puritans, deists, evangelicals, liberals, Shakers, Mormons, Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists, and Transcendentalists defended widely varying positions on how to define the borders of scripture. Carefully exploring the history of these scriptural boundary wars, Holland offers an important new take on the religious cultures of early America. He presents a colorful cast of characters-including the likes of Franklin and Emerson along with more obscure figures--who confronted the intellectual tensions surrounding the canon question, such as that between cultural authority and democratic freedom, and between timeless truth and historical change. To reconstruct these sacred borders is to gain a new understanding of the mental world in which early Americans went about their lives and created their nation.
While Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist government was persecuting Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses and driving forty-two small German religious sects underground, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continued to practice unhindered. How some fourteen thousand Mormons not only survived but thrived in Nazi Germany is a story little known, rarely told, and occasionally rewritten within the confines of the Church’s history—for good reason, as we see in David Conley Nelson’s Moroni and the Swastika. A page-turning historical narrative, this book is the first full account of how Mormons avoided Nazi persecution through skilled collaboration with Hitler’s regime, and then eschewed postwar shame by constructing an alternative history of wartime suffering and resistance.

The Twelfth Article of Faith and parts of the 134th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants function as Mormonism’s equivalent of the biblical admonition to “render unto Caesar,” a charge to cooperate with civil government, no matter how onerous doing so may be. Resurrecting this often-violated doctrinal edict, ecclesiastical leaders at the time developed a strategy that protected Mormons within Nazi Germany. Furthermore, as Nelson shows, many Mormon officials strove to fit into the Third Reich by exploiting commonalities with the Nazi state. German Mormons emphasized a mutual interest in genealogy and a passion for sports. They sent husbands into the Wehrmacht and sons into the Hitler Youth, and they prayed for a German victory when the war began. They also purged Jewish references from hymnals, lesson plans, and liturgical practices. One American mission president even wrote an article for the official Nazi Party newspaper, extolling parallels between Utah Mormon and German Nazi society. Nelson documents this collaboration, as well as subsequent efforts to suppress it by fashioning a new collective memory of ordinary German Mormons’ courage and travails during the war.

Recovering this inconvenient past, Moroni and the Swastika restores a complex and difficult chapter to the history of Nazi Germany and the Mormon Church in the twentieth century—and offers new insight into the construction of historical truth.
Traditional understandings of the genesis of the separation of church and state rest on assumptions about "Enlightenment" and the republican ethos of citizenship. In The Religious Roots of the First Amendment, Nicholas P. Miller does not seek to dislodge that interpretation but to augment and enrich it by recovering its cultural and discursive religious contexts--specifically the discourse of Protestant dissent. He argues that commitments by certain dissenting Protestants to the right of private judgment in matters of Biblical interpretation, an outgrowth of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, helped promote religious disestablishment in the early modern West. This movement climaxed in the disestablishment of religion in the early American colonies and nation. Miller identifies a continuous strand of this religious thought from the Protestant Reformation, across Europe, through the English Reformation, Civil War, and Restoration, into the American colonies. He examines seven key thinkers who played a major role in the development of this religious trajectory as it came to fruition in American political and legal history: William Penn, John Locke, Elisha Williams, Isaac Backus, William Livingston, John Witherspoon, and James Madison. Miller shows that the separation of church and state can be read, most persuasively, as the triumph of a particular strand of Protestant nonconformity-that which stretched back to the Puritan separatist and the Restoration sects, rather than to those, like Presbyterians, who sought to replace the "wrong" church establishment with their own, "right" one. The Religious Roots of the First Amendment contributes powerfully to the current trend among some historians to rescue the eighteenth-century clergymen and religious controversialists from the enormous condescension of posterity.
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