An historical study of the Mormon movement, 1844-1862



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Purpose: In 1847, the Mormon colony at Great Salt Lake was founded. In many respects this was the most unique of the many strange settlements in this country. Although the Mormons had difficulties and met opposition they succeeded in making the area one of the most prosperous in the nation, and, therefore, made a great contribution to the development of the West. There seemed to be a need for a fair and impartial study of their efforts, since according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “no impartial and critical history of the … [Mormons] yet exists.” The purpose of this study, therefore, is to analyze the growth of the Mormon Church and its movement to the Great Salt Lake region; investigate the economic, social, and political structure established by the Mormon leaders; and to study the efforts of the Mormons to set up a separate state of their own design. Methods: Material was obtained from both primary and secondary sources. A study of material relative to the history of the Mormons was made in order to ascertain how the subject had been previously presented. A survey of biographies of leaders of the Church, especially Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and histories of Mormon activities revealed that the subject had not been studied impartially. Material used includes periodicals, books, pamphlets, and material from the Government Printing Office in Sam Houston State Teachers College library. The most helpful periodicals were Harper’s Magazine and Atlantic Monthly. Books found to be most reliable were: J. H. Beadle’s, Western Wilds; H. H. Bancroft’s, History of Utah; D. G. Morgan’s The Great Salt Lake; George Smith’s, The Rise, Progress, and Travels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; and M. R. Werner’s, Brigham young. Material taken from the publications of the Government Printing Office was largely from the Annual Reports of the American Historical Association, the most helpful of which were the issues for 1916, 1917, 1919, and 1926. Most of the material used is in the Shettles Collection, purchased by the College from Mr. E. L. Shettles. This collection contains much material on the Mormons, and although largely religious in nature, there is much that is of value from the historical point of view. Findings: Springing from the teachings of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Church, led by Brigham Young, migrated to the Great Salt Lake region. They felt that in this isolated area they could develop a society in which they were free to practice their religion without fear of molestation. To reach this last place of refuge these people wandered through the Mississippi Valley from Ohio to Missouri, finally settling in Illinois, in an attempt to establish a community among the Gentiles. From Illinois, they migrated to the Great Salt Lake Valley in one of the most successful migrations in American history. Upon arrival in the Great Salt Lake region the Mormons discouraged profiteering, and each family was allotted a share of land. In spite of the individual allotments, almost a pure state of communism existed for a few years. This ended, however, when certain leaders of the Church began to build up their own personal holdings at the expense of other members. The economic system established by Brigham Young made the Mormon settlement one of the most prosperous in American history. There was little to no poverty, and crime was almost non-existence, as it was not tolerated. The life of the community was directed by the Church leaders to enhance their positions and to increase their strength. Whether internal development would have upset the system established by the Mormons was never determined, as they were set upon by the Federal government soon after they established a system of government. They remained in a state of conflict, sometimes violent, until the Civil War began. After the organization of a provisional government for the State of Deseret in 1849, the Mormons appealed for admission to the Union as a state. Congress rejected their appeal and created the Territory of Utah in 1850, instead. This action by Congress brought the Mormons under the supervision of the National government. The appointees of that government were resented by the Mormons, and an effort was made to get rid of them. This lead to open conflict during 1856-1857, which ended after the government sent in armed forces. The Mormons then became obedient to the laws of the United States, and with some few exceptions went about their affairs unmolested. Although driven from the borders of the Unites States, and with considerable economic losses, the Mormons were successful in setting up a community on the barren wastes of what became Utah. Through thrift and industry the Mormons not only regained their losses, but developed a vast section of the West into a prosperous area. In time Mormon communities were spread from Iowa to California; the Church grew rich; individuals amassed fortunes; communism vanished; and the Mormons became as worldly minded as the descendants of the Puritans, who had a similar background. Wherever the Mormons settled, they continued to look to Salt Lake City for leadership.



Mormons--History, Western migration, Religious movements, history