The Centennial of Mormonism:    A Study in Utopia and Dictatorship

from Forays and Rebuttals, 1936
expanded from The American Mercury, January 1930


Authorities disagree about the exact date of the withdrawal from the Christian Church of the divine authority once vested in it.  Corruptions of its spirit, misuses of its gifts, and perversions of its doctrine following the death of the last Apostle suggest to some that God then took back His holy priesthood.  Others set other dates but all agree that by the fifth century the Church was altogether heretical and the ministry of Jesus, more properly called the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time, had come to an end.  From that time forth no one held the keys of the spirit, no priests had authority to perform the ordinances of God, and no church had the organization, ritual, sacraments, government, theological authority or legal succession that God had established.  During that period, which is known as the Great Apostasy, the Church of God was altogether absent from this earth.  The whole world labored in darkness.  Everyone was a heretic.

Mathematical computation establishes April 6, 1830, as exactly eighteen hundred years after the Resurrection of Jesus.  On that date, in fulfillment of prophecies contained in Holy Writ, God restored His Church, reëstablished the holy priesthood and the ordinances of salvation, and in doing so opened the Dispensation of the Fullness of Time.  On April 6, 1830, therefore, the millennium began.  For this was the final Restoration: henceforth the keys and the priesthood would never be withdrawn, and the orderly working out of man’s salvation would continue without interruption to the full establishment of the Kingdom of God.  The Restoration was clearly the most important event in human history, and its date is obviously more significant than that birthday of Jesus from which heretical Christendom reckons its time.

The scene divinely appointed for the Restoration was an obscure village named Fayette, between Lakes Seneca and Cayuga, near the edge of settlement in New York State.  Since 1830 it has been remarkable for nothing whatever, and at that time it was a primitive settlement surrounded by semi-wilderness, a mere dot in the expansion of frontier New York State that followed the construction of the Erie Canal.  But the last and greatest of God’s prophets happened to be staying there at the time.  Ten years before, when the prophet was just short of fifteen years old and while he was living at Palmyra, a similarly primitive community, Jehovah and Jesus Christ had appeared to him and informed him of his consecration.  Thereafter he had been in communication with the Angel Nephi (whose name later became Moroni) and with many other personages of heaven — archangels such as Michael, prophets such as Elijah and John the Baptist, and the Apostles Peter, James and John.  Nephi had conducted him to a hill near Palmyra and shown him the secret repository of certain miraculous sheets or “plates” of gold, which contained a record of the Church of God in America.  This was a history of certain Israelites who, in two different migrations, had left Jerusalem, had colonized the American continent with great cities, and at last had fallen from grace and degenerated into the Lamanites, erroneously spoken of as “Indians.”  Nearly three years before the Restoration, the prophet had been commanded to take the plates from their hiding place.  Since then he had translated them (from a language known as “the reformed Egyptian”) by miraculous means.  The translation had been finished and was being printed at Palmyra, as The Book of Mormon, when the Restoration occurred.

The Restoration was less dramatic than a number of events that had preceded it.  The setting was the house of Peter Whitmer, who probably came from frontier Pennsylvania but about whom practically nothing is known.  Two members of the Whitmer family were present.  So was Oliver Cowdery, a native of Wells, in frontier Vermont, who had been the prophet’s amanuensis.  So were two brothers of the prophet.  Joseph Smith, Junior, the prophet himself, was the sixth.  It was just such a group of countrymen as might gather at a crossroads store to discuss the price of mink skins or the rumors about Andrew Jackson that filtered through the backwoods from Washington.  After prayer and blessings, Joseph and Cowdery ordained each other as elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It was a simple ceremony, consisting of no more than the laying-on of hands and the pronunciation of the appropriate words.  But it brought back to the world the priesthood that had not existed here since the defection of the apostolic church.  And with that priesthood came “the keys of authority and the power to bind, to loose and to seal on the earth and in Heaven, according to the commandments of God and the revelations of Jesus Christ.”  Thus simply did the millennium begin.

That was the actual Restoration.  Following it, the six members of the true Church blessed the sacrament and partook of it.  The Holy Ghost was poured out upon them.  Some prophesied, all praised the Lord and rejoiced exceedingly, and the prophet Joseph received a revelation from Almighty God.  This exaltation began a period of miracle in the restored Church.  As new elders were ordained and as converts were made through the surrounding countryside, all the gifts of primitive Christianity were displayed.  The elders healed the sick and the blind, they conversed in the holy languages of Heaven, they suspended the operation of natural laws, they had prophetic visions and they raised the dead.  All this had been predicted, not only in Scripture but in the revelations of Joseph, and so they confidently began the proselyting that was to make Mormons of all mankind.

Only one who is unacquainted with American history will find anything amazing in these scenes, or think it strange that God should select an ignorant frontier-drifter, dowser and treasure-hunter as His greatest prophet and a handful of backwoodsmen as the first elders in His restored Church.  The year 1830 was well past the halfway mark in our national Pentecost.  The breakdown of Calvinism and the rise of the evangelical churches, the subdivision of sects that followed the Great Revival, the repeated outbreaks of hysterical phenomena that created the “burnt-over district,” the spread of expansive humanitarian ideas and their degradation by the vulgar — all these encouraged American Protestantism to work itself out to its logical extremes in a territory peculiarly favorable to their development, frontier New England and New York.  In the ten years preceding 1830, the True Church of Christ had appeared or reappeared many times; it would reappear many times again in the next twenty years.

A secret expectation that the terrible Day of the Lord would occur within the living generation had, of course, crossed the Atlantic in the Arbella and even in the Mayflower.  Belief in it had, however, formed no part in the Puritan teaching and its occasional irruption among the mystical or the hysterical had been curtly dealt with, so that it found little expression except as a hypothesis elaborated in occasional, abstruse metaphysical works.  Nevertheless the mystical and the hysterical exist in all churches and this idea, with its corollary of the establishment of the Kingdom of God, could be easily aroused by such a ministry as George Whitefield’s.  In fact, millennialism probably became an effective idea in America as a result of Whitefield’s preaching; at least, the fires which he lighted never died out.  It remained, however, for the mutilation of his ideas and the Wesleyan conflagration on the Kentucky frontier to bring on an era of apocalypse.

The passage eastward of the Great Revival occupied a number of years — and it fertilized the soil with piety, religious argumentation and nervous disease.  There is no way of estimating, and probably no likelihood of overestimating, the amount of supernaturalism that flourished in the burnt-over district during the first thirty years of the Nineteenth Century.  It affected, of course, various orders of intelligence.  On the lowest level it produced such squalid ventures in theophany as the one which William Dean Howells described in The Leatherwood God.  But the same energy found expression in higher levels, and millennialism was not the only shape it took.

For years before the establishment of Joseph Smith’s church, for instance, Alexander Campbell had been proselyting among the border Presbyterians and Baptists with a theology based on the literal interpretation and application of the Bible and growing steadily more concerned with the Second Coming of Christ.  At the very moment when the True Church was restored at Fayette, William Miller completed the fifteen years of mathematical analysis which enabled him to determine 1843 as the year of Christ’s return.  Miller was then living in Hampton, New York, a few miles from the Vermont border, and a year later, in 1831, God not only spoke to him out of the heavens, commanding him to make his results public, but also sent a messenger to open the way.  In that same year, 1831, another great revival flared up from the embers of the old one.  Onondaga Lake makes the third point of an equilateral triangle whose other points are Fayette and Palmyra, and the skies above Onondaga filled with battalions of angels.  At Putney, Vermont, young John Humphrey Noyes labored to resist the spirit and did resist it through one protracted meeting, but before long he too was hearing God speak.  From Onondaga to New Haven to Putney, by way of Brimfield, spread another doctrine that had been debated in the Puritan metaphysics but now had acquired living force: Perfectionism, the idea that living men might attain sinlessness and might thereafter dwell in the Kingdom, as Saints.  This doctrine was also part of the Shaker creed.  The Shakers antedated Pentecost and in fact had originated in England.  But they too made their greatest gains at this time, they too lived as Saints, they too were the Church of Christ, and it is not without interest that Joseph Smith had lived in a New Hampshire town where one of their communities was established.

These, it should be made plain, are only a few of the religions generated in the New England hills and the lake country of New York during the days of our apocalypse.  Sects rose, flourished or did not flourish, divided, were amalgamated with larger bodies, broke up from dissension or the failure of grace, were snuffed out.  An anonymous Frenchman had already remarked that although America had been able to devise but one soup, it had invented a hundred religions.  His was a moderate estimate.  Some subtlety of climate, racial stock or social organization on the frontier of New England and New York made the air fecund.  A circle described on a radius of one hundred and fifty miles around such a center as Pittsfield, Massachusetts, would include the birthplaces of ninety percent of the American sects and of an even greater percentage of their prophets.  Many prophets before Joseph Smith revealed God’s will within that circle, and many more came after him.

But if there was nothing singular in the Restoration and the ensuing birth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, there has been something very remarkable in its survival.  When on April 6, 1930, the sixth successor of Joseph Smith, Prophet Heber J. Grant, addressed his flock in Salt Lake City, his voice went out by radio to Latter-Day Saints all over America and the seven seas besides.  And the prophet Heber, announcing that the first century of the millennium had been rounded out, could show that the promises which God made to the prophet Joseph, alone of all His promises during the Pentecost, had been fulfilled.  Pentecost had been over for nearly ninety years, and of it only the Mormon revelation had completely succeeded.  The Saints had come into the inheritance promised them, their rivals had fallen away, their enemies had been trodden under foot or converted into business partners, their wars were ended forever, Israel was secure, the stake of Zion had been driven fast.

Consider.  Of the scores of True Churches that the four millennial decades produced, hardly a handful remain today.  Of that handful, all but two or three are so insignificant that only specialists have heard of the.  The Shakers about the farmsteads that were once pleasant in the sight of God, but in a few years more the last of them must die.  The Adventists, in various schisms, still retain enough vitality from the visions of William Miller to operate sanatoria and preach the wrath to come, but they are miserably poor and affect no one.  The Church of Christ Scientist, which flowered with the same planting though it was only indirectly Pentecostal, has achieved a social prominence beyond any other, but it has passed its zenith.  The rate of increase slows down, revelation is closed, and mighty interior strains threaten collapse.  Alexander Campbell’s church has some five times as many communicants as Mother Eddy’s, but the stigmata of a True Church have long since faded from them, they show few vestiges of Pentecost, and they are to-day hardly distinguishable from the Methodists or the damned.  Here and there along the Great Lakes or the Ohio, in interior Missouri, Iowa or Texas, the student will find other microscopic survivals of the True Churches that came down from the heavens to the high places of New England during the generation of the striving — but they are wretched and pitiful.  They came in sudden glory, the sky opening to the immemorial thunderclap, the awful Voice proclaiming that the hour had struck and summoning all kindreds, tongues and people unto judgment.  They end with a group of graybeards kneeling while a priest of the eternal mysteries prays for a miracle that will pay off the mortgage on the meeting house.

Why has one True Church survived while scores of others have perished?  What in the Mormon revelation has made it victorious over its myriad competitors?  The answer is intricate, not to be glibly pronounced in these few pages.  But one may shorten it somewhat by setting down an axiom: Mormonism is a wholly American religion, and it contrived to satisfy needs which are basic with a good many Americans and which none of its competitors managed to supply.  Otherwise, one may be sure, 1930 would have found it as dead as the creed of the Icarian communists who took over its deserted city at Nauvoo.


The 1870’s were the great decade of anti-Mormon agitation among the Protestant churches.  As soon as the Union Pacific was built missionaries swarmed westward to the Kingdom of the Saints, and swarmed eastward again to write books denouncing these uncouth, godly, and rather prudish folk as sinners of imperial magnificence.  What the missionaries could not stand was polygamy, as dull and heaven knows as laborious an institution as humanity has ever  evolved, and the scores of books they published painted Mormonry in lurid colors that exhibited both their authors’ skill at concupiscent fantasy and their total failure to use their eyes.  The tide receded when Methodism had its way and, in the ‘Eighties, Acts of Congress finally began the suppression of polygamy.  When Mormonism again broke into popular literature, in the first decade of this century, it was as big business and a target of the muckrakers.  Although several professional Mormon-baiters flourished as late as the World War and one (I believe) still roams the far Chautauquas, and although evangelical congregations deep in the canebrakes still occasionally raise funds to cure the Saints of lechery and free their houris, the surge of the ‘Seventies has never been repeated.  America will crusade no more against polygamy.

Unhappily, the pornographic bilge then written settled the ideas of the general public.  So far as that public thinks of Israel at all, it thinks of sinister, bearded men who have taken fearful oaths to destroy the United States Government, who are Sons of Dan (Destroying Angels) and so slip out of town by night to do a little murder for the faith’s sake, and who maintain harems of luscious girls snatched from their true loves or kidnapped from the Gentiles.  Not years of patient publicity work by the Saints, not the regiments of Mormons whom Reed Smoot put into the Civil Service, not even the appointment of a Mormon to the Chairmanship of the Federal Reserve Board and the publication of an article about him in Fortune has been able to alter this conception in the least.  The fact that the Mormons are polytheists and will eventually be gods ought to provide an attractive popular symbol, but seemingly to the Americans at large they will be polygamists forever.

At least the public view has some basis in fact, for the Saints did practice polygamy for many years.  Whereas the treatment of the Mormons by our intellectuals has never been contaminated by fact and is a mass of complete nonsense altogether divorced from reality.  My profession requires me to read al the books that explain America to itself (I study the genre in “Thinking About America” in this volume), many of them discuss Mormonism at some length, and I have never yet encountered in them any statement of fact that would hold water or any interpretation that made sense to a person who has lived among the Mormons and studied their history.  You will find some beautiful ideas about the Mormons in the books of our liberal thinkers, but you will find no idea that touches the reality at any point.  Let the rhapsodic Waldo Frank serve as a type-specimen.  When Mr. Frank wrote Our America he apparently had not heard of the Shakers or the Oneida Community (or, so far as I can see, any of the sects or communities that grappled with the problems he was discussing), but he was sure that Mormonism was an attempt to achieve a more expansive, more dynamic spiritual expressions — by means of echolalia and polygamy.  Polygamy is susceptible of several explanations, but to call it a deliberate effort to solve any question, whether spiritual or sexual, is a blunder possible only to a man who has read nothing whatever in Mormonism and knows nothing whatever about its contemporaries in Pentecost.  And when Mr. Frank calls Mormon doctrine a revolt against Puritanism he not only reveals his complete ignorance of Mormonism but calls into question his knowledge of puritanism — on which his book was based.

The public may be excused for misconceiving Mormonism, and it is the nature of the intellectuals to derive their ideas about anything from contemplating the imperatives of their own souls.  But there is no acceptable explanation of the long neglect of the Saints by scholarship.  The only aspect of Mormonism that has been adequately treated is the doctrinal one, and even here the student has to dig his information out of many professional journals, no single inclusive treatment having yet appeared.  Apart from the doctrinal aspect, everything is rudimentary, infrequent and mostly wrong.  The story of the Mormons is one of the most fascinating in all American history, it touches nineteenth-century American life at innumerable points, it is as absorbing as anything in the history of the frontier, it is probably the most important chapter in the history of the trans-Mississippi frontier and certainly the most varied, and it is treasure-house for the historian of ideas, institutions and social energies.  Yet no qualified historian has ever written a comprehensive treatise on Mormonism, and very few have even written monographs on minute aspects of it.

Search the indexes of historical publications and you will find stretches of many years when no title relating to Mormonism is listed.  You will come out at the end with a handful of brief articles, some of them about the Reorganized Church and other heresies, most of them by antiquarians writing for local history societies, and practically all of them devoted to specialized, unimportant inquiries.  It is an absurd and even shameful condition, and it indicates a rich opportunity for young historians who want to make a splash in their profession.  Economics and sociology, however, have done even worse.  A complete bibliography of articles by qualified scholars would not fill this page.  Yet Mormonism is the only large-scale social experiment in American history tat has lasted a hundred years, it developed institutions of its own of the utmost complexity and the greatest interest, it defied many of the social and economic trends of the nineteenth century, and it is a perfect field for social inquiry, since it is sharply differentiated and securely fenced in.  That it has been so long ignored is a disgrace to sociology.

Clearly we cannot answer our question about the survival of Mormonism by appealing to scholarship.  The immense literature about Mormonism is even less helpful.  Hardly more than a dozen books are worth the time of a serious student, and of these only four or five have much to tell him.  W. A. Linn’s Story of the Mormons remains the best history of the Church; it is invaluable, but it was written thirty-five years ago, before the history of the frontier had been investigated, and it is the work of a man who had no historical perspective.  M. R. Werner’s Brigham Young has a much better grasp on American history, but Mr. Werner did not master the Mormon point of view, was not able to look at the Church from within, and so seriously misconceived his subject at vital points.  A more recent book, Revelation in Mormonism, by George B. Arbaugh, is in some ways the most sagacious treatise on the Church ever written.  In spite of the fact that Mr. Arbaugh is committed to the untenable thesis that The Book of Mormon is based on Solomon Spaulding’s novel, his book will be indispensable to students from now on.  But even he studies Mormonism in a vacuum, quite without relation to the frontier or to the Pentecostal years.  The best way to understand Mormonism is to read its holy books and periodicals, and the best way to answer our question, to determine why Mormonism has survived, is to read the sermons of Brigham Young.


I have said that the answer to that question is complex, and even a superficial outline of it invokes vital forces of history.  Such an outline would mention: the frontier environment in which Mormonism arose and developed and in which it took refuge at the time of its greatest crisis; a succession of powerful leaders, not all of them in the Presidency; a series of historical accidents whose outcome might well have been otherwise than it was, but whose issue has attested God’s providence to generations of the Saints; the inclusiveness of the Mormon doctrines, which managed to incorporate most of the beliefs agitated during the Pentecostal years and provided a rebuttal to those it did not incorporate; and the martyrdom of the prophet Joseph.

Of these, three forces are much more important than all the rest, the frontier environment, the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and the leadership of Brigham Young.  There is in fact no intelligent way of looking at Mormonism except as a frontier movement.  It began as a frontier religion, it developed as a frontier social organization, and the institutions which it has evolved and which are what has survived as Mormonism, could be brought to a vigorous maturity only on the frontier.

I have already suggested how the burnt-over district was ripe for the sickle.  It had been evangelized to a turn, it had been sown with the seeds of religious hysteria, marvels and miracles and supernatural manifestations were its daily bread, it heaved with millennial fervor.  Talk of the terrible Day of the Lord, of the Second Coming of Christ — of literal interpretation of the Scriptures, of reversion to the primitive church, of the renewal of revelation and apostolic gifts — was as common, as much a matter of course, as talk to-day of the next war or the imposition of the sales tax.  And now came a religion which restored the primitive Church of Christ, stood foursquare on a literal interpretation of the Bible, re-opened the channel of revelation, announced the coming of Christ, provided a harbor against the imminent Day of Judgment, and practised apostolic gifts.  More than that, it resolved a speculation which was as old as Protestantism in America, (having been tirelessly debated by the Puritans) and which was a living issue in the new York country of Indian antiquities and recent Indian wars; it identified the Indians as descendants of a migration from Jerusalem, and so ended an ancient mystery and harmonized it with the American heritage and the frontier experience.  And even more: it was a magnificent catch-all of the dogmas and doctrines which had agitated the devout ever since the Great Awakening and which had most actively flourished on the frontier.  It was at once millennial, restorationist and perfectionist.  It combined in one daring blend the frontier’s three favorite avenues to salvation: salvation by the Last Judgment, salvation by return to apostolic Christianity, and salvation by perfect and present identification with the will of God.  It had a determinism as tough as any in Calvinism; it had an optimism as attractive as any in Arminianism.  Its name tells most of the story: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It was the Church of Christ, now restored.  It was restored in the Latter Days, just before the Last Judgment.  And its members were Saints: they were becoming perfect.

But although such a mélange of doctrines and such a confusion of theologies, eschatologies, and metaphysics, or their acceptance, are hardly conceivable apart from a frontier society, that is not the most important part of the frontier’s conditioning.  What the frontier did was first of all to provide the necessary recruits for and toleration of the original Church; then to provide the opposition necessary to transform the Mormon feeling of peculiarity, of being a people chosen of the Lord, into a coördinated body of sentiments which animated the organization and social system that grew up; then to enormously step-up the power and fervor of those sentiments by persecuting the Saints and martyring their prophet; and finally to provide a distant, secure refuge where the system could expand unmolested till it was strong enough to repulse every attack made on it.  If you alter that sequence of reactions at any point, the survival of Mormonism becomes inconceivable.

For it must be understood not only that frontier society supplied the illiterate, the credulous and the dissociated to whom Mormonism first appealed, but also that almost from the beginning Mormonism ran counter to sentiments, ideals, institutions and ways of life that were fundamental forces of the frontier.  These were not so much the religious teachings: there was room enough and toleration enough for any vagary that got into the Mormon creed until polygamy violated an ancient taboo.  Rather they were economic, and especially social.  The difference can be seen as early as Kirtland.  The Mormon real-estate speculations and wildcat banking of that period could have occasioned no such antagonism if the peculiar people had not also been a unified people.  Ohio at that time was, heaven knows, well acquainted with both activities.  But the Mormons could bring to them the communal and corporate power of a society governed by one man who was answerable to no one but God and who was little short of omnipotent in the management of his people’s property.

The principle thus established was proved to the hilt in Missouri and Illinois.  Into Mormonism, by way of the Disciples of Christ and Robert Owen’s experiments and a dozen agitations, had come those principles of communistic association which were, in the Forties, to give a new channel to the evangelical energies that in the Thirties had gone to the production of sects.  The United Order, or Order of Enoch, was established by revelation from God as early as 1831, and was the immediate cause of the friction in Missouri.  This communism did not last long and the Mormon practice of coöperations was fluctuant and changeful.  But at the minimum, and in spite of dissension and occasional rebellion, the Mormons were much more coöperative, much more united for their own purposes under a single control, than any society with which they came in contact.  The Middlewestern frontier of those years is the classic frontier of Turner: the frontier of individual effort.  Its coöperation was purely neighborly and, beyond roof-raising and township road-building, its entire force was against combinations, and especially combinations in real-estate development and finance.

The Mormons thus encountered the strongest energy of the time head-on.  The two kinds of society could not exist side by side; they were necessarily at war and it was necessarily a war of extermination.  The Mormons antagonized the Missourians and Illini, of course, by the overbearing smugness that characterizes every chosen people, and disgusted them with outlandish terminologies, doctrines and ceremonies.  A more important offense was their political unity, the certainty with which their leaders could turn any election, and thus secure any privileges desired, by voting thousands of men as one.  But the decisive offense was the economic power that could be wielded by a coöperative hagiocracy — a people who held a great part of their wealth in common, undertook collective enterprises, excluded the ungodly from their businesses, and obeyed the orders of their leaders.  The frontier could not tolerate it — and did not tolerate it.  The sixteen years of the Missouri and Illinois settlements were marked by a continuous hostility which was institutional at bottom though expressed in religious terms, which frequently flamed into mobbing and lynching, and which ended in expropriation and expulsion.  Those years proved conclusively that Mormonism could not exist in the American system.

But also they were of first importance in that they confirmed the Mormons to themselves.  Attacked for peculiarity, singularity and coöperation, they became more peculiar and singular and their group effort became more vigorous.  Their system evolved and developed and the fiery sentiments that gave it vigor were tremendously increased.  They experienced the unifying force of persecution.  To this period must be traced the characteristic Mormon state of mind, that of the Lord’s chosen persecuted by the children of evil.  It was reinforced for seventy years.  The Mormons were, in cold fact, systematically opposed (if with uneven intensity) by their neighbors, by the other churches, by rival businesses, and by the national government down to the Edmunds-Tucker act of 1887, and on past that till a typical hotel-room bargain grafted the minority report of the Smoot Investigating Committee on the policy of the Republican Party, and so recognized the importance of the modern Church and ended persecution forevermore.  Throughout all that time the Saints had a sense of present martyrdom, and it was the most important single fact about them, the strongest single force in their survival.  They have it to-day, though the occasion for it as been over for a full generation; they will have it for many generations to come.

And of this, the most decisive element was the actual martyrdom of Joseph and his brother Hyrum.  That it came when it did come and was not delayed for as little as two years more is one of the providential accidents I have mentioned.  For there were already portents of dissolution.  Joseph’s megalomania had produced a formidable rebellion, in the Church which up to then had sustained no rebellion — it was the immediate cause of the events that ended in his murder.  He was giving unmistakable evidence of psychic disintegration and it seems certain that is Church must soon have broken up into warring sects, which is the historic outcome of Protestant heresies in America.  But the Carthage mob rose at exactly the right time.  The blood of the martyrs became once more the seed of the Church.  Thereafter the Mormons were not only a persecuted people: the seal of blood sacrifice had been put upon their faith.

The frontier at once rendered its final, indispensable service.  No matter how unified the Mormons might be, it had been proved that they could not exist in the increasingly complex society that was developing in the Mississippi Valley.  Brigham Young took Israel to the Far West and so saved it.  He probably hoped to escape from American jurisdiction — the Mormon sentiment here was ambivalent and pragmatic, prepared to profit from either patriotic service or expatriation — but that was a subsidiary consideration.  Mexican or American, the desert would, and did, secure isolation.  At more than a thousand miles from the frontier of settlement, the Mormons were safe from opposition.  Their isolations slowly yielded to the expansion that followed the discovery of gold in California and was ended by the building of the Union Pacific.  But the twenty-two years thus gained were enough.  In the occupation of the desert, in the increased coöperation necessary to survival there, and in the freedom from outside interference and the opportunity thus secures to deal in its own way with internal dissent, the Church perfected its organization and worked out the way of life that has survived.

Mormonism was an outgrowth of religious and social movements on the New York frontier, which stemmed from the New England frontier.  It was given its shape by conflict with the Middlewestern frontier.  And it survived by adjusting itself to the conditions of the Rocky Mountain frontier, in the isolation which was essential to it and which could have been obtained nowhere else.


Students have always regarded the personality of Joseph Smith and the authorship of The Book of Mormon as the crux which must be resolved in the history of Mormonism.  They are related problems but the second is much less important than the first.  What is significant about The Book of Mormon is not its authorship but its acceptance by thousands of people as an addition to Holy Scripture.  Furthermore, that acceptance, though the basis of the appeal which Mormonism originally made, was already losing its importance by the time the Saints reached Utah.  Since then the Church has venerated its Bible but, in the main, has paid little attention to it: it is there for the doctrinally inclined and the apocalyptic, but Brigham Young believed that the building up of the Kingdom on this earth was more important than the inheritance of splendors promised hereafter — and he held the Church to his belief.  Even in Smith’s time, moreover, the immediate revelations of The Doctrine and Covenants were more accommodated to the needs of the Church than The Book of Mormon, and they have retained their priority.  The Book of Mormon was a storehouse of arguments for proselyting among the other sects; it has had only a small influence on the development of the social institutions which resulted from that proselyting.

The question of its authorship, however, is inseparable from one’s explanation of Joseph Smith.  No interpretation of the first prophet of Mormonry has been satisfactory throughout, and none ever will be.  Vital evidence is lost in the obscurity of his early life, and there is no way of appraising with absolute finality the evidence that exists.  One hypothesis, of course, accounts for everything, is a complete explanation of the known facts, and contains only such small contradictions as must appear in all analyses of human affairs.  You may decide that God sent an angel to prepare Joseph for his mission, that Joseph translated the golden plates and organized the Church under divine guidance, and that The Book of Mormon is a record of actual events on this continent which was written under the same infallible direction that Joseph received.  That is the Mormon explanation.  It does not satisfy me.

Once you have discarded that hypothesis, you get into difficulties.  The opponents of Mormonism have usually adopted one almost as simple: that Joseph was a complete and consummate charlatan, that his story of his visions was a cumulative imposture, and that the Church resulted from a conspiracy which was deliberate at every step and which used the imposture of the visions and the plates as a basis for one more elaborate still.  Other hypotheses, however, suggest themselves.  Joseph may have been sincere and self-deceived: his visions may have been the delusions of insanity and The Book of Mormon and the framework he gave the Church may have issued as a whole from a psychosis.  Or he may have been partly sincere and partly a charlatan: he may have suffered from delusions and, at the same time, been forced to amplify and organize them in cold blood as a result of the momentum which they created.

I have studied the available evidence and arguments, and only the last of these hypotheses has ever seemed tenable to me.  I cannot believe that so elaborate a conspiracy as the first one assumes could be maintained or could succeed.  And I cannot endow Joseph or Sidney Rigdon, who is sometimes credited with the villainy, with such heroic powers of imposture.  They are inconceivable as geniuses of imposture, and the success of such an imposture on such a scale is also inconceivable.  It would be unique in history, a greater miracle than the descent of Jesus Christ in Fayette.  Nor is a finding of complete sincerity as the result of unvarying delusion any more acceptable.  There is too much evidence against it and in theory also it is absurd.  The line between religious ecstasy and religious insanity is sometimes impossible to determine, but it seems impossible that anything which was altogether on the wrong side of it could endure and prosper for the fourteen years of Joseph’s life following the establishment of the Church.  In fourteen years, if he were not in some degree a religious leader of sound mind, he must certainly have been recognized as a religious madman.  We are forced to assume both insanity and lucidity of mind — in some proportion and rhythm of alternation which can never be precisely determined.

The Solomon Spaulding theory, the one usually adopted by those who accept the hypothesis of complete imposture, is ingenious and persuasive but, I think, untenable.  According to this story, Sidney Rigdon, an unfrocked and contentious minister of the Disciples of Christ, who had been an ally, but had become an enemy of the Campbells, stole or otherwise came into possession of a historical novel in manuscript by the Reverend Solomon Spaulding.  The novel, called The Manuscript Found, purported to be an account of the emigration to America of certain Israelites and was strikingly like the narrative thread in The Book of Mormon — so strikingly that when the latter was published many of Spaulding’s friends and neighbors recognized the source.  Working on this manuscript, alone for the most part though sometimes in collaboration with Joseph Smith, Rigdon incorporated in it his controversies with the Campbells and all his doctrinal, ecclesiastical, eschatological and economic notions.  For reasons which remain unintelligible in any interpretation of them ever made, instead of establishing his own church on the basis of the book thus produced, instead of making himself the prophet and governor of the ideal society which he had conceived, he somehow selected Joseph Smith as the best instrument to achieve his ends.  Then, working secretly with Joseph over a period of nearly four years, he prepared the detailed imposture that followed.

This theory asks us to believe that Rigdon’s notorious subservience to Smith was not only voluntary — and he was a man of intense ambition — but even a fundamental part of the scheme. That is a pretty stiff assumption, but that a conspiracy could have been kept secret which involved not only Smith and his family and a number of his neighbors, but also such unknown go-betweens and assistants as Rigdon’s activity must have required, is  much stiffer one.  And, even disregarding the assumptions, the evidence is unsatisfactory.  The Manuscript Found has never been exhibited, or knowledge of it comes entirely from affidavits made by people many years after they were supposed to have heard it read, and the discovery of another and quite different manuscript by Solomon Spaulding (though it does not overturn the hypothesis) is an awkward fact to explain away.  Worse still, no description of it in any detail has ever been offered.  Modern students have analyzed it at such great length and so minutely that they seem to have the written page before them as they wrote.  But what they have had, and what they have so ambitiously analyzed, is only a few general statements about it — vague to an extreme and made long after it was written.  But the most awkward fact is the inability of anyone to prove that Rigdon and Smith met before The Book of Mormon was published.  The affidavits which support the theory of their collaboration are too vague, ambiguous and contradictory for history to accept.  And the Mormons have had no trouble in controverting them with affidavits, quite as plentiful and rather more specific, which prove the opposite.  At this distance there is no way of choosing among affidavits.

Moreover, the hypothesis of Rigdon’s priority cannot be harmonized with what we know of Smith and fails to explain his dominance, which is established when the Church makes its appearance and grows steadily more marked from then on.  Mormon testimony and Gentile accusations agree that from the first he was the personal, despotic leader of his sect.  The fact that, crazed or sane, sincere or hypocritical, he had a dynamic faculty of leadership is proved beyond dispute; it is the one fact that no one has ever challenged and the only one which can explain the early rise of the Church.  Other facts must, of course,be taken into account, especially the development of a supporting oligarchy, but that the oligarchy was only a supporting one and completely accepted his dominance is clearly established.  His ability to win men and to control them was responsible for the Church.  Nothing suggests that this vigorous leadership rested on an oblique and secret control by Rigdon; nothing suggests that Smith was capable of accepting such control.  On the contrary, he seems to have used Rigdon for his own purposes from the first, freely at all times, disdainfully a good part of the time, and sometimes contemptuously.

The appearance of this essay in The American Mercury marked the first time that Joseph had ever been pronounced a paranoid.  The finding has been accepted in the only general treatise on Mormonism published since that time, and in more specialized articles.  It has been vigorously disputed by Mr. Arbaugh in the book previously referred to.  No one knows better than I the unreliability of retrospective diagnoses or could be more reluctant to explore the past by means of a psychological instrument which requires the response of a living subject in order to be verified.  But the nature of the evidence makes any interpretation of Joseph Smith unverifiable, and history must use an unsatisfactory instrument where all others fail.  Moreover, the psychological instrument is most satisfactory when, as here, we are dealing with clearly aberrant behavior.  The psychoses, which show themselves in obvious insanity, are on a different basis for history than the psychoneuroses, whose end-product in behavior cannot be even qualitatively determined.  A finding that Caligula was crazy can be checked against experience; a finding that Jefferson’s philosophy of state originated in his aggression toward his father is uncontrolled.

Suppose a man tells you that he has seen and conversed with God the Father, Jesus, various personages of the Old and New Testaments and various angels and archangels.  He has been attacked by demons and other supernatural if vaguely described beings.  Unearthly messengers visit him daily supernatural portents attend the smallest details of his daily life, the heavens are always opening to give him guidance and new truth, and he has acquired knowledge approaching omniscience as a limit and power approaching omnipotence.  He has been selected to reëstablish the Church of Jesus Christ which was withdrawn from the earth eighteen hundred years ago, every act of his life divinely inspired, he is set part from all other men as the repository of truth and the channel of revelation.  His behavior over a period of many years forms a pattern which accords with these assertions, and as time goes on his eccentricity intensifies….What do you decide?  That he is just a gifted liar?  More likely, I think, that he has delusions.

Take a single incident.  When, in 1834, Israel’s outpost in Missouri was being harried by “mobocrats,” Joseph organized Zion’s Camp.  As general he led this expeditionary force of about two hundred armed men from Kirtland, Ohio, to Missouri.  As prophet he revealed to them the Lord’s intention to avenge the injuries inflicted on their brethren, destroy their enemies and pour out His wrath on the unrighteous.  The revelations steamed with apocalyptic frenzy.  Angels accompanied the expedition and miracles attended it, but it never came to grips with the enemy and the Almighty’s vengeance was deferred to another day.  Few undertakings so grotesque can be found in American history as this attempt to overcome an entire State with a handful of extemporized militia and the promises of God.  As the act of an impostor, be he never so vainglorious, it is inconceivable.  It can be read only as an enterprise that began in delusion and when forced to meet reality was compensated by the delusional promises which God at once vouchsafed Joseph.

It is characteristic of the mental construction which psychiatrists call the “paranoid reaction type” that the personality is transformed rather than impaired.  It is organized in support of certain dominant ideas which cannot meet the test of reality, but the mental energies involved need not be in the least diminished.  Native shrewdness, intelligence, will power, logic, imagination, whatever qualities you will, may be retained — and in fact may be given a complete harmonious expression in the service of the dominant ideas.  Paranoia is a great mother of achievement.  The paranoid is essentially the man who will not down, who will go on, who will be heard — whom no opposition and no derision, discouragement or failure can deprive of his belief in his mission.  As one psychiatrist has remarked, much of the progress of the human race has been a by-product of paranoia — paranoids whose obsessions are socially useful are simply called “geniuses.”  In the eyes of history, however, not everyone who has heard God speak is a genius.

The finding that Joseph Smith comes somewhere within the wide limits of the paranoid reaction type does not attempt to appraise the degree of his insanity nor the regularity and duration of its attacks.  That its rhythm was uneven, that for long periods he was free of it, that at other times his delusions did not affect his behavior apart from the dominant ideas — all this seems to me to show plainly in the record.  But that some form of the paranoid constitution is the explanation of him seems necessitated by all the available facts.

Anyone who will read a standard treatise on psychiatry and bring it to bear on the biography of Smith must be struck by the amazing agreement of the two.  I quote from Henderson and Gillespie, A Textbook of Psychiatry,a paragraph which shows some of the correspondences:

He [Kraepelin] defined “paraphrenia systematica” as characterized by the extremely insidious development of a continuously progressive delusion of persecution to which later are added ideas of exaltation, without disintegration of the personality.  This condition is usually ushered in by sensitiveness and irritability, with ideas of reference.  Gradually the persecutory ideas are more freely expressed, and are of the most varied nature.  [From bearded Spaniards to the Prince of Darkness.]  After a period of years auditory hallucinations begin to show themselves, and, to a lesser degree, hallucinations of the other senses also occur.  [God speaks from the heavens or in dreams, and then is materialized in blinding light.]  Gradually the ideas of persecution may be replaced by ideas of grandeur.  Some patients, for example, make claim to large sums of money [or, perhaps, to an ability to find them by means of a peep stone], and others show erotic trends, believing themselves sought in love by titled people [or, perhaps, instructed by God to marry a number of wives].  The patient’s idea of his own importance rises higher and higher [he may see himself as prophet, seer, revelator, translator, mayor, lieutenant-general, and President of the United States] and finally he may identify himself with God [or invent an ascending series of divinities through which he is to progress, all of them greater than the God whom this world knows].  Notwithstanding the deterioration of judgment that such ideas would suggest, the mood does not show any disorder per se, but remains appropriate to the disordered ideas.  The general intellectual faculties of the patient are well preserved, and the patient’s capacity for work may not be interfered with.  The condition is slowly progressive, the delusions and hallucinations becoming more definitely fixed; but usually the personality is well maintained.

Joseph’s autobiographical account of his youth and of the events bearing on the establishment of the Church was unquestionably doctored to fit the needs of propaganda.  Nevertheless it seems to me that it tells an authentic story and is in the main a dependable outline of what he supposed had happened to him.  Certainly it records the development of a paranoid delusion.  His grandfather and certain of his brothers showed symptoms of emotional instability, which he may well have inherited.  Be that as it may, he was a typical product of the burnt-over region, moody, fantastic, acutely sensitive to religious unrest.  This sensitiveness increased with the onset of puberty and the young Joseph is a type-specimen of the “seeker.”  (Is it necessary to point out that a strong anxiety about salvation is not incompatible with an enthusiastic yielding to sin?)  His unrest is fed by the revivals and protracted meetings of the countryside.  At this time the delusions of persecution appear which are attested not only by Joseph’s own account but also by the many stories which the early opponents of Mormonism gather to prove him a charlatan.  (They are especially marked in the early versions of the story which developed into his account of the finding of the gold plates.)  Presently, and as the sequel of a revival, he experiences both auditory and visual hallucinations.  Diverse and unrelated at first, they are eventually systematized into an image of himself as an instrument of God’s will with all the accompanying paraphernalia of gold Bible, revelations, visions, prophecy and priesthood.

Neither the delusions of persecution nor those of grandeur ever left him, though the psychic necessity for the former decreased as the progress of his Church provoked actual persecution.  His lust for ritual and masquerade, for military panoply; his epaulettes, sabres, gaudy uniforms, ornate religious symbols, secret and esoteric societies, dreadful oaths; his pleasure in resounding titles and in the civil offices which he conferred on himself; his lieutenant-generalship in the Nauvoo Legion, his climactic fantasy of himself as President of the United States — is not the total inconceivable except as a paranoid syndrome, organized in obedience to the fundamental drive of his nature?  Mark too the progress of his identification with God till in his last years we get the resplendent but unintelligible doctrines of the creation and evolution of worlds, the myriad phases of godhead, the eternally orgasmic divinity begetting universes of itself upon itself.  Is this development comprehensible as anything but the frenzy of a psychopathic personality at last delivered into stark insanity?  I think not, and I think that the intensification of all his other delusions at the same time supports the finding.  Whatever periods of quiescence and even complete lucidity he may have experienced before, his last two years were an intensifying mania.  As the text I have quoted suggests, the personality was well maintained but the delusions and hallucinations were fixed — and progressive.

Two other data which support the finding of paranoia must be mentioned: Joseph’s sexuality and his faculty of authorship.  Probably no religious sect or social experiment at that time could develop very far without experimenting with the marriage relation.  The period had seen the Rappites, the Shakers, Nashoba and the Oneida Community, as well as a score of less ambitious doctrines of love feasts, spiritual wifery and free love.  The air was vibrant with revolutionary ideas, and polygamy makes its appearance in Mormonism at the very moment when this interest is most intense in the nation at large.  Mormon polygamy, in fact, shows a typical vulgarization by ignorant and inferior people of an idea that on higher levels could work out in such an experiment as John Humphrey Noyes’s “stirpiculture.”  That is what Mormonism did with all the ideas it appropriated — one must constantly think of it as a mechanism by which the forces at work on upper levels of American intelligence were accommodated to the understanding of the lowest level.  Nevertheless, although some experimentation with marriage was probably inescapable, the experiment actually made was polygamy and it was initiated by Joseph.  That he was highly sexed appears in all accounts that have come down.  One need not accept the “hundreds” of seductions that are charged against him by Gentiles and apostates: the record of his marriages accepted by the faithful and the accounts printed by his widows are enough.  His vigor is as obvious here as elsewhere.  One need not suspect that it was pathological but he was conspicuously gifted.  It was part of the paranoid syndrome.  So was his literary activity.  Many a paranoid seizure expresses itself in ink, many paranoids write compulsively and voluminously, much of the world’s literature and a great part of its “experimental” literature flows from this obsession.  In the midst of an incredibly active life — a life filled with ruling thousands of subjects besides speculating in land and money, rearing temples to the Lord, maintaining a huge propaganda, developing the organization of the Church and settling hundreds of civic and religious disputes — in the midst of all this, Joseph still had time to emit countless pages of prose.  The stream never ran out; to the day of his death he was vilifying his enemies, recording miracles in his autobiography, and setting down fresh gospels and epistles from on high.  The paranoid faculty for seizing all the flotsam of thought and converting it to the support of the dominant obsession appears in everything he wrote.

It seems to me that all this evidence requires us to decide that Joseph Smith was a paranoid.  It is possible, of course, to accept this finding — which accounts for the establishment and constitution of the Church — and still believe that he did not write The Book of Mormon.  It is true that he may have assimilated the work of other hands to the needs of his delusion and given the vague body of vision a skeleton which someone else provided.  My opinion is, as I have expressed it in the article on Smith in the Dictionary of American Biography, that The Book of Mormon was in the main Smith’s own composition, though he may well have had the collaboration of the associates who were his amanuenses, bankers and witnesses.  Nothing that is known of him is incompatible with this opinion.  It is claimed that he had neither the intelligence nor the education to write such a book — yet his known writing makes an equal or greater bulk, and it is as imaginative and as literate.  Nothing in The Book of Mormon is foreign to his known interests or to the common emotional and intellectual preoccupations of the country in which he grew up.  Woodbridge Riley’s examination of its autobiographical material is persuasive.  When conclusive proof is lacking, history must adopt the simplest hypothesis that will satisfy all the known facts without controverting any of them.  We must believe that The Book of Mormon was the work of the man who is called its “author and proprietor” on the title page of the first edition.  It represented the impact of frontier religious speculation on a mind fixed in the paranoid cast.  Thus did the aspiration of Puritan divines find a squalid expression on the Hill Cumorah, and thus did the vision of the Kingdom of God broaden down till humble minds could recognize in it the City of the Saints.

For, whether or not Joseph Smith was the author of The Book of Mormon, he was the author of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Mormonism was, doctrinally, ecclesiastically, socially and economically, an evolution, a changing product of many influences, a resultant of many interacting forces.  The structure and organization of the Church at the time of Joseph’s death were far different from what they had been when God revealed them in 1830, and in that change the collaboration of the oligarchy that formed round the prophet was probably as important as the pressure from the outside world.  Such men as Rigdon, Young, Taylor, Snow, Phelps, Hyde, the Pratts, Kimball, Marks, Page and Wight unquestionably had a part in establishing the bonds and constraints that held the Church together, contributing earthly expedients and initiating or clarifying the doctrines that rationalized them.  The functions of Rigdon as exegete and Young as chief fiscal officer were of absolute importance.  Nevertheless these men was banded together in support of Joseph’s vision, and it was his energy and leadership that made them effective.  The Church that existed on June 27, 1844, when Joseph was martyred at Carthage jail, was the personal creation of a prophet of God.


Joseph Smith proclaimed the millennium.  Vision and proclamation, however, were not enough.  The actual achievement of millennium had to wait for Brigham Young.

Smith’s birthplace at Sharon, Vermont, is marked by fine landscaping and a monument which we are told with Mormon unction is “the tallest single piece of polished granite in the world.”  At Whitingham, some seventy miles away, you will find no landscaping, no caretakers, no recital of earthly accomplishments and heavenly splendors.  You will find only an unkempt hillside, a space marked off with barbed wire, and a small white marker which looks like a tombstone and is carved with one of the world’s most poignant inscriptions.  “Brigham Young,” the stone says, “Born on this spot, 1801.  A man of much courage and superb equipment.”  The historian finds it in his heart to agree.  But, he thinks, Brigham is worth more commemoration than that.

The two shrines express the judgment of the Mormons on their first two Presidents.  But in the eyes of history not Smith but Young was Mormonism’s great man.  In 1844, at the time of the martyrdom, the Church was an astounding phenomenon in size, vigor and persistency, but no more astounding than several other fruits of Pentecost.  It was, for instance, no more vigorous than and nowhere near so large as the Millerite church, which at that moment was, in a mounting frenzy, awaiting the coming of Christ on its second, more accurately determined Day of Judgment.  Furthermore, all the indications are that Mormonism had reached its apogee under Smith, was passing it, and must soon have broken up in factions whose contention would have destroyed it.  Apostasies were becoming common and the Church might not have been able to survive many more so hostile as that of John C. Bennett.  That vigorous opposition from within was at last possible had been proved by the rebellion of the Law brothers and the publication of Expositor.  The Church could not have coped with many more such revolts — and more would certainly have come.  Also it seems certain that Smith himself had entered a final period of psychic disintegration.  The fires had begun to consume him; if he had lived much longer he must soon have been recognized as mad.  A few years  more would have seen Mormonism going the way of its competitors, division my mitosis, internecine warfare, bankruptcy, disillusionment and decay.

The death of Joseph and the succession of Brigham did produce a number of schisms — and some of them issued from the very feeling that would have begotten them if Joseph had lived, a belief that he had wandered from the path of inspiration, betrayed his priesthood and made necessary a reversion to the tenets and practices of primitive Mormonism.  Seven or eight factions split off from the parent stock, under the leadership of various Apostles or of prophets suddenly appearing from the ranks with credentials from God.  These doubled by division in the course of a few years, and all told over twenty Mormon churches arose, several of which still exist as organizations or as unorganized millennial dreams.  The largest of these was formed by the combination of several which believed that succession to the Presidency should be in the hereditary line of Joseph.  As the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“Josephites,” to the Utah Mormons), it was held by the courts to be the legal and true Mormonism.  The courts, however, were out of touch with history.  Mormonism survived in the main body of the Saints, whom Brigham Young took to Utah.  Observe that, after he got them there, only one schism occurred.  It was small, momentary and absurd — and it was handled with Brigham’s deftness.  Young’s succession marks a decisive change in Mormonism, one which must be understood for it is finally important in the answer to our original question.  Whatever else Smith was, he was primarily a prophet, a religious leader, a man drunk on God and glory, his head swarming with giddy visions of the end of the world and the proliferation of Mormon triumphs through all eternity.  Young was primarily an organizer of the kingdom on this earth, an administrative and executive genius of the first order, the greatest colonizer in American history.  Under Smith the Church was a loosely coördinated body dedicated to a hodgepodge of dogma so preposterous that the mind rocks contemplating it, a compilation of the worst idiocies that had marked the American Pentecost, a fermenting yeast of nonsense — a mere millennial sect in which the social energies that were to save it were obscured, slighted, left to chance and the conditioning of Gentile opposition.  Under Young it became a religio-economic social system, based on coöperative enterprise, subordinating religious ecstasy to practical achievement, utilizing the energies and sentiments of religious faith for the production of collective wealth — and thus winning its fight against the opposition of Protestant America, the national government and the main current of the nineteenth century.

Young troubles the biographer with few subtleties and no ambiguities.  He was born four years before Smith in an even more remote and primitive Vermont valley, of the same racial and religious stock.  Like Smith he wandered widely through interior New York, and he was living in the vicinity of Palmyra and Fayette when the Church was founded.  He had a strong interest in religion — in the burnt-over district he could hardly have escaped having one — but it was entirely intellectual, free of soul-searching, agony and dementia of the twice-born Smith.  He was a Methodist when the new Bible came to his hands a few weeks after it was published.  He studied it for two years, argued with its missionary expositors, and was baptized into the faith in the spring of 1832.  What he asked of religion was literal interpretation of the Bible, applicability to daily life and a guaranty that millennial glory could be achieved by hard work.  Mormonism satisfied his requirements.  He accepted the divine inspiration of Smith and the doctrines and destiny of the Church.  That conversion settled all problems and his faith was never thereafter assailed by doubt.  It is absurd to suspect him of insincerity or charlatanism.  He accepted Mormonism in its entirety, and it required of him only to serve its interests.  He did so in the one way he understood, the one way for which he was fitted.

In 1844 there was little to suggest that this glazier, house painter, farmer and handyman could succeed where Owen, Fourier, Cabet and the rhapsodic Yankee experimenters failed.  Nevertheless he had already rendered the Church invaluable service.  He had proved its most successful proselyter and had headed the English mission, which ever since has been the most important recruiting-ground of Israel, sending all told more than one hundred thousand converts to America.  And his assumption of its finances had given the Church such fiscal stability as it possessed.  He was forty-three.  The death of Joseph provided his opportunity.  Campaigning to make Smith President of the United States when the prophet was killed, he reached nauvoo six weeks after the assassination.  He found the Church in a condition of collapse, harried by the Gentile mob, stunned by the murder of its prophet, leaderless and threatened with disintegration.  He proved that he was the strongest personality among the Mormons in a series of dramatic moves which saved the organization and restored the hopes of the faithful.  Israel rallied.  The small, schismatic sects broke away, followed by Young’s magnificent denunciations, and the Church, its fervor immensely increased by the martyrdom, united behind the man who showed it the way to endure.  And from that moment the student perceives a consciousness of what it was doing and what it intended to do that Mormonism had never had before.  Essentially, Smith did not know: he was moving only toward glory.  Young knew: he was moving toward survival on this earth and power which would protect Israel from attack.

The expulsions from Ohio and Missouri, which were now reinforced by expulsion from Illinois, had shown that Mormonism could not exist in the American social organization.  Young accepted that teaching.  One of the original missions of the Church had been to convert the Indians, and from time to time Smith had vaguely promised or threatened to remove it to the Far West, in spite of the fact that its ordained gathering place in the last days must be the site of the Garden of Eden, in Jackson County, Missouri.  Young carried out the removal.  In doing so, he saved Mormonism.

Just why he selected the valley of the Great Salt Lake cannot be determined.  At Independence the Mormons had been in touch for many years with the fur traders, who knew intimately every square mile of the intermountain region.  Frémont’s reports and other Government publications, as well as books by travelers, unofficial explorers, and big-game hunters, were available.  Young may even have had a report on Deseret by an expedition of his own.  The valley was Mexican soil when he started for it, though it came under American jurisdiction two years later, and separation from American control was a lively desire.  It was known to be the most fertile part of the Rocky Mountain region, but was barren and unattractive, and its unattractiveness made it fully as valuable to the Saints as its fertility, since it would keep the Gentiles from following after Israel.  It was well off the road to Oregon by which the main emigration of the decade moved westward; and the favored route to California, whither emigration was just beginning to turn, branched from the Oregon trail far to the northwest.  Deseret, the Territory-to-be of Utah, was in fact the obvious place, if not the only place, for the Saints to go.  Brigham selected it in a clear understanding of the needs of his enterprise.  He counted on profiting from trade with the Oregon migration, and though he could not foresee the gold rush which would occupy California, he understood that, after a sufficient period of isolation, Israel would profitably advance with the western expansion of the United States which he now joined.

Giving the established technique of emigration a religious nomenclature, in the only revelation that he ever issued, Young took his Church to Utah.  He broke no new trails and faced no novel problems (a migration almost as large moved to Oregon at the same time, and numerically greater ones had preceded him), and the enlistment of five hundred Mormons by the Government for a march to California provided financial help without which he would certainly have been delayed at least a year.  His success lay principally in building up the spirit of the Saints, convincing them that they were in fact leaving Egypt for the land of Canaan and the new day, keeping them at a pitch of religious fervor which, in the end, welded them into an instrument magnificently fitted to his hand.  For this two years’ journey to Canaan established Young’s mastery.  The last opposition collapsed or was rooted out; the westward migration confirmed the docility, obedience and malleability of the Saints, and made Young a more effective dictator than Smith had ever been.

The fact that he issued no more revelations is significant.  Smith had produced a communication from God at the slightest exigency — to close an awkward argument or to get someone out of town for a few weeks while the prophet explained celestial marriage to his wife.  Young made it clear that he retained the power of revelation; but his failure to use it, while asserting that God inspired his activities, set Mormonism in a new form.  Progressively, as time passed, he discountenanced all the Pentecostal gifts that had flourished so tropically for sixteen years.  He managed to stamp out private revelation altogether — if the President refrained, doubt was easily cast on the inspirations of the humble — but the other gift of the spirit were not so easily suppressed.  Prophecy , visions, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of signs, dreams and portents had been so long the daily bread of Israel that in spite of the skepticism and denunciation directed at them from the pulpit they maintained an illicit, sub rosa existence, and in fact have continued down to the present.  Young steadily opposed them but was forced to yield to the outbreak of evangelical frenzy known as the “Reformation,” when, after deflation and crop failure and the hand-cart emigration which was his most serious blunder, the old apocalypse flared up.  The doctrine of blood atonement (sacrificial murder as absolution for sin) appeared during this communal hysteria, and the passions then aroused were responsible for the infamous Mountain Meadows massacre.  This period, which ended in Young’s nominal submission to the Government when albert Sidney Johnston’s expeditionary force arrived, was the most serious crisis that he ever had to face.  How far he shared the fierce sentiments of his people it is impossible to determine.  He could not have been altogether free of them, but he conducted himself with a wary understanding of what was happening.  His genius for leadership is nowhere shown more clearly than in his ability to convert even this aberration to his own purposes (and in reality urn dissatisfaction with the priesthood into community penitence), make the Church more than ever responsive to his will, and emerge from conflict with the United States even more unmistakably the master of its fate.

In thus closing revelation and turning the Church from the very practices on which it had been founded, Young’s doctrinal position was clear.  With the mission of Joseph Smith the gospel and priesthood had been restored.  Israel now had the fullness of truth: its obligation was to build up the Kingdom.  Build it up here and now, preparing the glories of the future by making sure of the possessions of the present.  This interpretation of prophecy preserved Israel — and it contains the whole personality of Brigham Young.  He could understand salvation by works and the attainment of eternal glory by means of earthly diligence, but he had no interest whatever in metaphysics.  Having once accepted the vaporizings of Joseph, he devoted himself to providing a mechanism to perpetuate them.  “Live your religion” was his unvarying counsel to the Saints.  And by “Live your religion” he meant: take up more land, get your ditches in, make the roof of your barn tight, improve your livestock, and in so doing glorify God and advance His Kingdom.  At least four fifths of his sermons are altogether free of dogma, and though he did embroider a few variations on Joseph’s themes, he did so with a humor that reads suspiciously like parody.  He let his assistants satisfy the need of the Saints for doctrine.  Orson Pratt, Orson Hyde, Jedediah Grant, Heber Kimball, C. C. Rich — it is in the sermons of such men that you will find the rhapsodies on celestial glory, the planet Kolob or the polygamy of Jesus which fed that insatiable hunger.  Brigham was more interested in irrigation, freight transport and whether a wife in Israel could rightfully require her husband to construct a stand for her washtub.

But if the Apostles worked in the service of hermeneutics, they also had a much more important role.  “Young’s greatest achievement was his transformation of a loose sacerdotal hierarchy consecrated by Smith’s revelations to apocalyptic duties, into a magnificent fiscal organization for the social and economic management of the Church….Accepting Smith’s priestly system, he made it a social instrument and to this realistic revision the survival, the prosperity and the social achievements of Mormonism are due.”  Under Smith the priesthood had been a system of stairways and corridors through the crazy-quilt glories of the Mormon apocalypse, a secret society with robes and passwords and magic rituals that at first was like nothing on earth or in the Bible but began to imitate Masonry when he and his lieutenants joined the lodge.  It was essentially a series of cabalistic “degrees,” attended by litanies and tableaus, through which one rose by piety and divination.  Under Young, however, the priesthood became the commissioned and noncommissioned staff of the social army.  They were the great and the small leaders of Israel, the channel of direction and control, the overseers, the department managers, the adjutants, the deputies and the police.  They were the nervous system of a coöperative enterprise in the occupation of the desert and the development of a commonwealth.  Young established them in that function, which they retain to-day.  That is the change of phase that he gave the Church; it is the principal part of what has survived as Mormonism.

The occupation of Utah must be understood as the accomplishment of a coöperative society obedient to the will of a dictator.  There was precedent and technique for the system of city-building which Young initiated as soon as he reached Utah.  Smith and his counselors had received divine advice on planning cities — the engineering of God corresponding to blue prints drawn by the communistic experiments in New England.  There was also precedent and technique for the system of irrigation which Young began on the very day of his arrival in the valley of Great Salt Lake.  But there was neither precedent nor existing technique for the colonization of the desert.  Young’s genius clearly in his immediate and unhesitating attack.  The word is exact: he retained the theological idiom but the investiture was military.

The positions of strategic importance, the only parts of the desert where settlement was possible, were the mountain valleys and the plateaus at their mouths which are watered by the streams that flow down them.  Young occupied these positions as rapidly as possible, some of them during the first year.  Parties under the command of proved leaders and assigned the right proportion of trades and handicrafts, with every man’s duties allotted him, were sent out to form “stakes” which were branches of the settlement at Salt Lake City and were supported and directed from that headquarters.  In the course of a few years such colonies were set up in every fertile valley of what was to become Utah and a good many in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico as well.  Israel also maintained outposts at positions of actual military importance — desert water holes, river crossings, and mountain passes through which either emigration or punitive expeditions must move.  As a result the Saints acquired a monopoly; they owned practically all the valuable real-estate in the intermountain region.

The occupation of Utah must be understood as the accomplishment of a coöperative society obedient to the will of a dictator.  There was precedent and technique for the system of city-building which Young initiated as soon as he reached Utah.  Smith and his counselors had received divine advice on planning cities — the engineering of God corresponding to blue prints drawn by the communistic experiments in New England.  There was also precedent and technique for the system of irrigation which Young began on the very day of his arrival in the valley of Great Salt Lake.  But there was neither precedent nor existing technique for the colonization of the desert.  Young’s genius clearly in his immediate and unhesitating attack.  The word is exact: he retained the theological idiom but the investiture was military.

The positions of strategic importance, the only parts of the desert where settlement was possible, were the mountain valleys and the plateaus at their mouths which are watered by the streams that flow down them.  Young occupied these positions as rapidly as possible, some of them during the first year.  Parties under the command of proved leaders and assigned the right proportion of trades and handicrafts, with every man’s duties allotted him, were sent out to form “stakes” which were branches of the settlement at Salt Lake City and were supported and directed from that headquarters.  In the course of a few years such colonies were set up in every fertile valley of what was to become Utah and a good many in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico as well.  Israel also maintained outposts at positions of actual military importance — desert water holes, river crossings, and mountain passes through which either emigration or punitive expeditions must move.  As a result the Saints acquired a monopoly; they owned practically all the valuable real-estate in the intermountain region.

Such social planning was effective because it was done at the muzzle of a gun.  The colonization of the desert was quite impossible to individual endeavor.  It could be financed only by the collective wealth of the Saints.  It could be initiated, carried out and maintained only because there was a central authority capable of commanding absolute obedience and able to suppress any dissent that might arise.  The Church had become a coöperative body managed by a dictator (and a developing oligarchy) who had absolute power deriving from the authority of Almighty God.  Only that formula could have succeeded.

Young cut off everyone who rebelled — he had to if the interests of the group were to be served, if the group was to survive at all.  He tolerated no interference from Gentile America — framing, flouting and terrorizing the Federal officials who were sent to Utah, terrorizing and sometimes murdering the private individuals who got in his way.  Almost at once he became a national ogre, vilified as a tyrant who suppressed all the liberties and privileges of the American system.  The line of cleavage, with the line of hostilities, however, is the line of group pressure.  Dictatorships do not arise and cannot endure except in the service of group needs.  Mormonism ran squarely against the main currents of nineteenth-century American life — and naturally the collision generated heat.  What seemed to be a religious warfare, Methodist America upholding the principles of Christianity and Mormonism those of a barbarous Asiatic heresy, was in fact a warfare of economic systems and social organizations violently opposed to each other.  Mormonism was a true dictatorship.  But the word should be quite neutral.  To the Gentile United States it seemed and intolerable tyranny, un-American and repulsive, exploiting religious faith and depriving the faithful of every value that gives dignity and worth to human life.  To the Mormons, however, it not only had divine sanction but was the only means of preserving the way of life for which they had endured persecution and unimaginable hardship, had sacrificed their fortunes and were prepared to sacrifice their lives.  Dictatorship was a form conditioned by group ideals, group desires and group efforts.

The country thus occupied had to be filled up.  Every immigrant who could be brought to Utah would increase the wealth of Israel.  The Church already had an effective proselyting system which covered both the United States and Europe, of which Young himself had organized the richest field, the British Isles.  He now increased both the extent and the effectiveness of the mission system.  He was engaged on a large-scale real estate development.  The promise of land which his missionaries held out to the tenant farmers and city unemployed who proved to be their best prospects was an even more effective bait than the heavenly glories which the Church assured them.  Note also that these classes had the native docility which the Mormon system requires.  Missionaries were sent as far afield as Australia, Africa and the Sandwich Islands.  They made converts everywhere but the only field which proved comparable to Great Britain was the Scandinavian countries, whose crofters were a dispossessed class.

Immigration, like colonization, was financed from the common funds.  Young devised the Perpetual Emigration Fund by means of which converts who could not pay their own way might be brought to Zion on their notes of hand.  Converted abroad, you paid your own fare to Utah if you could afford to.  If you could not, the Church would lend you enough to buy passage to America.  Arrived at an Atlantic or Gulf port, you found work if you could and earned a grubstake to take you West.  If you could not get employment, the Church would also charge against you the expense of transportation to Zion, add you to one of its emigrant trains, and employ you on public works in Salt Lake City when you got there, till your proper place in Zion could be determined.  In any event, you were effectively indentured to the priesthood.

A convert’s control of his own movements had a proportional relationship to the wealth he brought with him.  In theory all the possessions of every Saint were consecrated to God under the direction of the priesthood.  The theory could be enforced, however, on only the poorest or the most enthusiastic proselytes, and the wealthiest were certain to be given the freest choice and to begin their service farthest up the scale of spiritual evolution.  Every effort was made to utilize the talent and training of the converts, and they were sent wherever the best use could be made of them.  But since Zion was overwhelmingly agricultural, many a man who had never seen a plow was ordered to the fringe of settlement and spent his life breaking desert land to crops.  Again, only a despotically governed coöperative society could enforce a regimentation that got results.

Young thus established his commonwealth on a landed base and gave it a solidity that has never been endangered.  In doing so he had to restrain the Saints from developing the great mineral wealth of Utah; he understood what he was about and the loss of the mining country to the Gentiles was an inconsiderable price to pay for stability.  He also understood the debtor status of frontier communities — he had spent his life in contact with that reality.  His effort to give Israel financial independence accelerated the development of a totalitarian state.  There can be no doubt that, granted the terms of his religious conception, Young understood the principles of autarchy.  The cost of freight transport by ox team from the frontier (the Missouri River, until the Union Pacific started to lay track) was of itself a powerful conditioner; the drainage eastward of Mormon money was even more powerful.  He embarked on a policy of home manufacture to supplement his colonizing policy.  Manufacture of every conceivable kind was undertaken and though some of the experiments (notably smelting and beet sugar) were premature, an amazing success attended it.

Here enters, however, the force which, after Brigham’s death, was to bring Mormonism considerably closer to the main stream of American development than it had ever been before — the force which tangentially allied the Church with the currents it had opposed.  To support an agricultural colonization with the common funds did not create a division of interest between the Church organization and the people.  The people ere the colonization.  But to support manufacturing and mercantile enterprises in private hands with those same funds or to put the Church itself into either was at once to make possible a division of interest between the people and the organization.  It was an irretrievable first step in a change from coöperation to corporate control.  The Church thus set up financial bodies, banks, corporations and holding companies which had access to and were in part supported by the common funds, and whose interests were frequently opposed to those of the Mormon people.  The step was taken in behalf of Young’s vision of coöperative self-sufficiency.  But he paid in loss of coöperative unity for what he gained in independence from Gentile finance — and in the end Israel had to make terms with that finance.  He understood what was happening and his revival of the United Order, the communism which had been tried under Smith, was an effort to reverse the trend.  Doctrinally the United Order was the system which the entire Church must some day embrace.  But the other energies were too strong and the communism could make no headway.  Young left it, perhaps a little wearily, to perish by itself, and his successor destroyed it.  He had himself evoked the force that killed it.  Endeavoring to deliver Mormonism from exterior debt, he had started it on the path to conformity.

In leaving him, it is convenient to list a few of the parallels between Mormonism and the European dictatorships.  The Mormons had their Aryan myth: they were a chosen people and were destined, after conquest, to dominate mankind.  Dedication to that destiny implied their saying “Liberty, we spit on you,” and cheerfully accepting a rigorous and sometimes savage discipline in which the individual counted for nothing against the group.  Opposition to the priesthood has always been as inconceivable as individual defiance of Hitler or Stalin.  The Saints re privileged to “sustain the Presidency” by a free show of hands in affirmative vote: they believe, precisely as the Russians under the new constitution believe, that they are exercising the democratic right of franchise.  Effective government required the use of an OGPU: the Sons of Dan may never had existed under that name, or any of the other names given them in the Gentile literature, but Brigham had an efficient secret police who kept him informed and, on occasion, disposed of a Saint or a Gentile who stood in his way.  Effective government, too, required a sedulous attention to Israel’s young.  Brigham developed and his successors have maintained a succession of schools, classes, clubs and training corps which operate on the children of the Saints from the age of three until they are admitted to the priesthood, and which condition their reflexes as effectively as the corresponding institutions of Russia and Italy.

Furthermore, a steady necessity was the perpetuation of and appeal to the persecution-neurosis: Israel has always been told that every man’s hand was against it, that it must always work unanimously toward the righting of that wrong, and that any faltering would insure victory for its enemies.  Appeal to that sentiment has also provided the Presidency with a screen for failure and a canal to carry away from its activities whatever curiosity or resentment the Saints might feel.  The “Reformation” under Brigham was a blood purge which got rid of some of the inconvenient and united Israel against the world outside, forty years of Gentile agitation against polygamy served him and his successors in the same way, and the appeal is just as useful to the hierarchy to-day.  The mumbo-jumbo of a ritual symbolizing the common aspirations, and the infinite gradations through which every Mormon is always ascending, correspond to the steps of mythical promotion and reward which Italy, Russia and Germany extend to the orthodox and faithful.  State works have supplemented the central economy, religious courts have usurped some of the functions of civil courts (in varying degree, at various times) and have permitted a convenient secrecy and disregard of legal forms, excommunication has served the immemorial purpose of banishment, and the tests of orthodoxy have always been shaped to reveal economic, political and even intellectual nonconformity.  And finally, Mormonism repeats the experience of all absolutisms: a dictatorship must rest on the interests of a ruling class and comes to be a mechanism by which an élite exercises power over a society.


No one may say whether Brigham Young could have maintained his power if he had broken with the oligarchy which he came increasingly to represent.  Probably he could have, for during his lifetime it did not completely crystallize and its interests had not been differentiated from those of the Church as a whole.  His rule was personal and he could probably have maintained it, even in his last years, against the hierarchy as effectively as he did against the United States Government.  He was, however, the last of the personal dictators, and after his death Mormonism entered a new phase.  It remained a coöperative society but the coöperation was now governed by an oligarchy instead of the prophet, it was governed in the interest of the élite that had arisen, and that interest was sometimes opposed to and even exploitive of the interest of the people who composed the society.  Mormonism was developing not in the direction of Rochdale, New Harmony, the Oneida Community, Brook Farm, the United Order or the Kingdom of God — but in the direction of Standard Oil.

The coalescence of a ruling class was inevitable.  Any kind of government, any kind of colonization, any kind of social planning implies leadership and control, and as the profits begin to come in they must flow through the channels established.  Along with the profits there are opportunities, perquisites and privileges; they must be used by someone; they end by being used by those who are in the best position to use them and have the most shrewdness and the greatest capacity.  Already in Joseph’s time a hierarchy of useful, superior and ingenious men had formed round him.  They composed the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the other sacerdotal bodies of the Church.  Converting them to administrative duties, Young chose his leaders from this caste or speedily admitted to it those outside whose talents signified their fitness.  This hierarchy was the nucleus round whom the ruling class crystallized.  The process is functional in human institutions.

When a Mormon speaks of “the hierarchy,” he refers to the General Authorities.  They are: the First Presidency, consisting of the Prophet and his two Counselors; the Twelve Apostles, who are the principal administrative officers, the vice-presidents, so to speak, in charge of plant, production, distribution and sales; the Seven Presidents of Seventies, the executives through whom the authority of the First Presidency is exercised over the Saints, the heads of the organization which is the nervous system of Israel; the Presiding Bishop, who is the Treasurer of the Church, and his two Counselors; and the Presiding Patriarch, an honorary office hereditary in the Smith family and charged with only sacerdotal duties.  This, however, is merely the official framework.  The true hierarchy is composed of those families which have achieved wealth through the development of the Mormon system, and those whose service to the Church has been conspicuous or whose talent for fiscal or religious administration is marked — augmented in every generation by such newcomers as may conspicuously qualify in any of its requirements.  It is largely a hereditary class, but the avenue of accession is kept open.  It remains devout, lives its religion and derives its vigor from that of the religion it lives, but its interests have always won when any conflict between them and those of the Mormons as a whole has appeared.

The title of President includes that of “Prophet, Seer, Revelator and Vicegerent of God on earth,” but before the Prophet Heber lists those heavenly distinctions in Who’s Who in America he records that he is president of Zion’s Coöperative Mercantile Institution (the firm which Brigham organized to defeat Gentile competition), the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company (carrying with its corporate alliances control of the beet-sugar industry in the United States), Zion’s Savings Bank & Trust Company, the Utah State National Bank, and the Beneficial Life Insurance Company — and director of the Union Pacific Railway Company.  The list shows the final emphasis and values of Mormonism, but it merely hints at the economic power that is vested in the hierarchy.  That power is absolute over the business and finance of Utah, it has a great and probably decisive influence throughout the intermountain region, and it has working alliances with the countrywide network of finance.  It is a banking system, a manufacturing system and an interlocking directorate.  The Church, for instance, is said to own more stock in New York Central than the Vanderbilts, it holds directorates on other railroad boards, it dominates the manufacture of beet sugar, and through such manufactures as those of salt and woolen goods it is linked with many national interests.  In such matters the Church is the hierarchy.  And the hierarchy is a holding company.

The history of Mormonism after Brigham Young is the story of the process which brought the hierarchy into this relationship with the system of commerce and finance that triumphed in America after the Civil War, while retaining the coöperative system from which its power flowed and maintaining the sentiments which animated that coöperation.  There is no need to tell that story here.  The decisive period was that between the Woodruff Manifesto of 1890, which put a stop to polygamous marriages without impugning the doctrine of polygamy, and the adoption by the United States Senate in 1907 of the minority report of its Committee on Privileges and Elections which confirmed Reed Smoot.  During that time the Church learned not only that it must outwardly conform to the requirements of the American system but also that it would lose nothing by doing so.

The generation which had known the prophet Joseph in the flesh died out.  Whatever memories of hardship in Utah might remain, the agonies of Missouri and Illinois became only a tradition.  Meanwhile the businesses of Israel had prospered and, since the United States could seize them, had made Israel vulnerable.  The Edmunds Act and the Edmunds-Tucker Act which supplemented it did in fact confiscate Church property.  They also, in flagrant violation of the Constitution, disfranchised polygamists and attached a test-oath to the franchise — gelding and gutting the organization of Mormondom and threatening it with complete destruction.  They signalized the intention of the Government, after fifty years of compromise, to bring the Church into conformity.  They were directed at polygamy, but in the background was much unresolved matter, such as terrorism of the Gentiles in Utah, political exploitation, disregard of political and legal forms, and Mormon attitudes toward the tariff, the wool and hides industries and corporation law which the party in power could not approve.  Well, Israel’s fire had sunk somewhat and Israel had learned wisdom.  This time not life but property was at stake — so the dreadful oaths to avenge the murder of Joseph and Hyrum, to destroy the United States, to make the ground smoke with the blood and bowels of the Gentiles, were quietly laid away.  The new generation of leaders heard but impatiently the grandsires who preached fidelity to prophecy even though it should destroy the Church.  Israel capitulated to the United States, has never violated the bargain then made, and has had no reason to regret it.

Splendor dies with that hardheaded decision.  On June 26, 1858, the United States Army under command of Albert Sidney Johnston entered Salt Lake City in order of battle.  It came to assert the sovereignty of the national Government and to raise the flag above a capital where, up till then, only the banners of heave had been acknowledge.  All morning long the troops filed through the city, but the mirth of drums and bugles floated down empty streets.  Here and there the military might see a Gentile watching this assertion of the nation’s will, but they saw no Saints.  The only Mormons in Salt Lake City that day were hidden in designated houses, and they had torches and inflammables with them.  Mormonry itself, thirty thousand strong, was miles to the south, waiting with Brigham Young to see what terms could be made.  Just so far would he go, just so much would he yield to the children of evil — and no more.  By God he would make no peace endangering Israel — and by God he didn’t.  If he had had to, Salt Lake City would have been burned to the ground, all Zion besides would have been laid waste, and Brigham would have led his people on one more migration.  Into the badlands of the Virgin and Colorado Rivers they would have gone, and there the Kingdom would have been set up among the desert peaks and would have resumed its ancient warfare with the damned.  That was the stature of Brigham when, all expedients failing, he had to face submission and decide Israel’s fate.  He won.  The United States submitted.

Things went otherwise in 1890.  Israel’s wealth was saved.  Polygamy was postponed to the celestial state, the Saints were arbitrarily assigned to Democratic and Republican Party organizations, the Endowment House was torn down (as a pretty symbol), and the path to Reed Smoot’s Senatorship opened straight ahead.  Personal leadership waned.  George Q. Cannon was the last great leader of the Saints and, working through the figurehead prophets Taylor, Snow and Woodruff, he was neither President nor a personal dictator.  Cannon’s oldest son, Frank, was much the most brilliant minds of the younger generation.  He played a leading part in the preservation of the Church and the shift to a new basis following the Woodruff Manifesto, then he rebelled against the hierarchy, was cut off and became the most despised apostate of Mormon history.  By that time the government of the Church was openly vested in the hierarchy.  Reed Smoot rising to power in the Republican Party, becoming chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, consulting with his peers to force the nomination of Warren G. Harding — Reed Smoot is the perfect image of modern Mormonism.  Or, if you like, the Vicegerent of God’s directorship of Union Pacific.  The flight of the angel Nephi, the sacred repository of the Hill Cumorah, the temple of God reared secretly by night in the looted city of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith’s visions of the Terrible Day and his murder in Carthage Jail — came in the end to a treasurer’s signature on a dividend check.  God had brought His people into the glory promised them.  His house, it was already recorded, had many mansions; of them the one that had proved most durable was the countinghouse.

The inescapable word on polygamy may be spoken here.  It must be thought of as an experiment that failed.  The Gentile literature has enormously exaggerated its importance.  The institution was fastened on the Church by Joseph’s mania, working aberrantly on this current agitation as on so many others.  It was certain to fail.  Polygamy is not adaptable to American mores and is especially unfitted to an agricultural society.  Its preservation through so many years was a considerable handicap, holding back a development that would have proceeded more rapidly without it.  Young could not be expected to get rid of it: he himself was a polygamist and so were all his lieutenants.  He deliberately used the opposition it aroused outside Zion to keep alive the persecution energies of the Saints, and that realism represented the best he could do.  Polygamy was, moreover, a caste privilege.  Only the well-to-do could afford it, a fact of importance in the linkages that gave the hierarchy power.  The Saints defended it as a vital part of a religion revealed by God Himself, as they defended baptism for the dead and the multiplicity of gods.  But they did not, and could not, practise it very much.  The modern Mormon rationalization of it as a device to take care of surplus women is absurd, for there were never more women than men in Utah.  It affected only a small part of Israel at any time.  The most reliable estimate ever made indicates that at the most active period only four percent of the marriages in Utah were polygamous.  I believe that the estimate is too high, perhaps as much as fifty percent too high.  Polygamy would have fallen of its own weight long before it did, if the Gentile agitation had not kept it alive.  It was falling of its own weight when the Woodruff Manifesto ended it.  It was on its way to join the Deseret alphabet, the United Order and the fiat money of Deseret which was the only currency in history to be secured by the promises of God.


Theologically, Mormonism is a creation of the American Pentecost.  Philosophically it is a solution of a problem which American thought has grappled with for three hundred years: how to identify  spiritual grace with the making of money.  It is interesting to observe that, whereas Mormonism is a complete materialism, Christian Science, a complete idealism, came to the same successful issue.  Mother Eddy provided a means of vulgarizing, of adapting on the lowest level, a mysticism whose highest level may be seen in Emerson and Jonathan Edwards, and in her world-swallowing metaphysics there is no material existence, no external reality, no objective good except cash.  In the Mormon metaphysics everything is real and has an objective existence — even “spirit is matter but more finely divided” — but real things compose an ascending gradation whose climactic value is material prosperity.  Dozens of sects, scores of philosophers, tried to give that principle implements of expression.  The mechanism which developed under Joseph Smith and Brigham Young has a certain permanent importance in the history of thought.

The mechanism required was one which would utilize religious energy for financial ends.  Psychologically, religion is an energizer, an emotional stimulus: it gives its possessor life more abundantly.  Mormonism succeeded in harnessing that power for profit.  Briefly, this is the solution: a coöperation of energized believers working in the name of God for an earthly Kingdom that will persist into eternity, and commanded by an oligarchy of superior persons whose authority is absolute because it originates in God and can be vindicated, whenever necessary, by revelation.

The Kingdom must actually be sanctified in the present, so that the believer may keep a lively sense of grace from day to day.  And it must extend into eternity, so that he will always have stimulus to greater exertion.  He must, that is, be laboring in an industry that is both temporal and eternal, that advances him on earth and in heaven.  Also, he must have a lively awareness of fellowship with others who are set off with him as a people chosen by God and, for greater effectiveness, persecuted by the Gentiles.  He must hold a priesthood not given to those outside the law, so that he may always be aware of his superiority, but it must be one not completely conferred on himself, so that he will not unthriftily waste time in doubt or self-satisfaction but will always press on to advance through the infinite series of degrees open to him.  Granted a society of such believers, granted such a lesser priesthood working toward a common end and controlled by a greater priesthood which has absolute power and immediate communication with God — and the result is not only great wealth but also a religion which satisfies a need that has been constant throughout American history.

That religion has had the fullest expression it is likely ever to have, in the pleasant valleys of Deseret which Israel is content to occupy in place of the lost Missouri Eden.  Jens Christopherson, newly arrived from Norway and set to forking out his bishop’s barn, participates in glories that no Gentile will ever behold.  Ahead of him are dozen of steps which will take him farther and farther into the blinding light; till he dies he will be penetrating deeper into God’s mysteries.  He cannot so much as shingle a woodshed without adding to his spiritual stature, and when his daughter learns how to bake a cake without eggs she confers more glory on him.  He goes on in splendor, his priesthood developing as his savings account grows — and as his priesthood develops it creates increment for Zion.  And Reed Smoot, progressing from Henry Cabot Lodge’s yes-man to the Senate chairmanship that allowed him to write tariffs favorable to Israel’s industries, has always walked in the same glories, and in the greater ones of the Melchizedek priesthood.  No step that Smoot took in the service of Israel’s debentures was without immediate reward in the eternities, for you cannot build up the Kingdom on earth without also building it up in heaven.  And Reed Smoot, if he lives long enough, will come into the greatest glory of all.  The manipulator of tariffs and nominations will, by that fact and along that path, become Prophet, Seer, Revelator and Vicegerent of God on earth, holding the keys of the spirit and the mysteries and gazing into the awful secrets of all time to come.  By the quarterly dividend ye shall come to know God: Mormonism is Jens Christopherson plus Reed Smoot.



But historically Mormonism is the fulfillment of a social ideal, the fructification of a social myth, the achievement of Utopia.  It is what happens when Utopian dreams work out a free society.  It is the actual resultant of the theoretical forces, the vision realized, the hope given flesh.  It is the reality which the dream creates.  That is its importance.  And that is why it justifies study, these days of vision and desire….remembering that Robert Owen’s vision perished, that Fourier and Cabet are only footnotes in the dream book, that Ballou and Lane and Brownson and Ripley and hundreds like them went down to dust while Joseph Smith’s Utopia reached the golden shore.

What is Utopia when you get there?  Make no mistake about it: the Mormon Utopia is a great deal.  Brigham Young founded a state in the desert, the Mormons develops a culture there, and as states and cultures go they are good ones.  The state at least is better than the American average — Utopia is above the median line in civics, which, I take it, is what our prophets promise us.  Nearly any statistical index you may choose — literacy, school system, good roads, public health, bank savings, per capita wealth, business solvency, ownership of land free of incumbrance, infrequency of divorce or infanticide, infrequency of crimes against persons and property — will show that the Saints are better off than the average of their neighbors.  And the state has always taken care of its poor.  Poverty there has always been, but it has not been hopelessness.  Israel has remembered its persecutions and so has helped the widowed, the orphaned and the dispossessed — it has managed to watch over its own.  It has preserved great inequalities of wealth and has been forced to institutionalize its charity as thoroughly as the capitalists and the damned — but that merely says that Utopia remains outside security.  On the other hand, the Church has developed agencies for finding the gifted, the useful, clearing the way before them, and bringing them to a better functioning in Israel.  The agencies and the institutions are there, and the priesthood is there, overseeing the people, going among them and counseling them, sharing their problems, working with them toward the answers.

That, heaven knows, adds up to an impressive total.  But there is something that counts much more: the Saints are members one of another.  They form a community with recognized objectives, in the realization of which every member has an active part.  They share the effort and they know that they have a value in the result.  Before them is the ideal which they are helping to realize; around them is the culture which they have helped to shape.  The slightest of them has more identity of his own because he is identified with the great society and with its dream.  Here is the fellowship of common endeavor, the sense of sharing a social vision, the communion of men bound together in a cause — that is gone from the Christian Church and from the modern world.  It is what Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini have tried to invoke; it is what ardent and generous and despairing people hold out as our only hope, our only defense against chaos.  The Saints have had it from the beginning and they will never lose it.

Yes, Utopia exists in the Wasatch valleys.  And its idiom is completely American.  This is the fulfillment of our prophets’ dreams.  So let us see some of the conclusions it indicates.  Utopia, then, can be achieved.  How?

The first conclusion: that not Brook Farm but Mormonism is Utopia, that not Charles Fourier but Joseph Smith brings it about, that not the highest level but the lowest level is its absolute condition.  Mormonism was first embraced by the illiterate and the inferior, has been recruited from them ever since, and is held together by a body of belief that can satisfy only the most rudimentary minds.  Destroy that body of belief, alter it in the least particular, and Utopia will sink and vanish.  The Mormon ideology springs from dogmas not only preposterous but actually revolting to the intelligence.  In order to share the common effort of Utopia you must accept as holy books some of the most squalid creations of human thought, you must receive as God’s messages to mankind the delirium of insanity, you must believe that ignorant and stupid fools had the answers to all questions and were the channels of all truth.  You must believe that Reed Smoot trading votes with Boies Penrose and Murray Crane was in touch with ineffable justice and the light of the world.  You must believe that the president of your life insurance company is guided by the Holy Ghost, that the cashier of your bank is a son of Abraham and has his father’s access to immortal truth, that the Socony man who sells you a quart of oil gazes down the eternities.  You must believe that you yourself have kinsmen on the planet Kolob and will some day be a god begetting on a herd of brood-goddesses an infinity of other gods who will fill intergalactic space with new worlds to increase your glory.  You must dedicate yourself to an organized body of damned nonsense so beyond-conceiving idiotic that a mind emancipated enough to embrace the dogmas of the Holy Rollers is immune to it.  Touch that belief at any point and you have severed the aorta — Utopia will topple in fragments.  Utopia is not dedication to the humanitarian vision of George Ripley; it is dedication to the hallucinations of Joseph Smith.  The vision perishes, it is the vertigo that endures.

And if Utopia is a rigid selection of the inferior it is also a ruthless destruction of the individual.  What European dictators have been practising for twenty years has always been the practice of the dictatorship that maintained Utopia.  It is, of course, an American Utopia — it has had to do but little murder in the faith’s name, has used no castor oil, has flourished its knives but infrequently and then with a native humor.  But at moments of crisis it has had its purges and proscriptions — and day by day the priesthood is there, with powers not only of excommunication from eternal glory but of boycott, espionage, monopoly, price-cutting and the big stick.  Refusal to “sustain the Presidency” in any way is inconceivable.  The Saint in business “accepts counsel” — that is, does what the priesthood tells him to do — quite as inevitably and as thoroughly as he does in matters of doctrinal orthodoxy.  There has never been a time when any Mormon’s business, politics and mind were not as completely at the disposal of the ruling hierarchy as his belief in miracles.  Utopia can tolerate unorthodoxy in behavior or in idea no more than it can tolerate disunion in belief.

This implies that the culture of Utopia, though it be vigorous, must be conformable and mediocre.  What has Israel produced?  Business men, politicians, bankers and men gifted in the elaboration and propagation of doctrinal idiocies.  Its genius finds expression in that kind of man; its élite are a business élite exclusively.  Its scholars, scientists, artists, thinkers, all its infrequent talent, it has plowed back into the Kingdom.  In Utopia the fate of the superior person is tragic.  Consider an anthropologist set to vindicating The Book of Mormon, a musician condemned to write cantatas celebrating the flight of angels above Cumorah, a logician who must resolve the contradictions of The Doctrine and Covenants, a sociologist who must rationalize polygamy, a poet whose lyrics must idealize the Word of Wisdom’s prohibition of hot tea.  In Utopia talent must string along or it must get out.  Actually, not much agony of this sort has been caused.  Israel is the Kingdom, not the spirit, and has given irrigation to America, not arts and letters.  To the Kingdom, not the spirit, such talent as arises devotes itself.  The soprano comes back to Zion to drill “primary” in singing “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”  The painter, if the priesthood has been unable to turn him altogether from his vagary, comes back to do a mural of Joseph and the angel Moroni on a blank wall in the chapel of the Twelfth Ward.  It is that, or it is get out.  The sensitive, the intelligent, the individual, all those not gifted for the increase of kine, have always got out, for Utopia is death to them.  They have not been numerous; the élite reproduces itself in kind.

Again, the classless society must inevitably develop a privileged class.  Remember that Mormonism is a society of just men in process of being made perfect.  It is, that is to say, the exact fulfillment of the common dream out of which it sprang, which launched a hundred experiments in liberty and equality.  It is George Ripley, Robert Owen and Charles Fourier making good their vision of a common endeavor and a common life wherein each should contribute according to his ability and have according to his need.  The liberty Utopia has is the freedom to conform, the equality  it has is a common privilege of “sustaining the Presidency,” and though each contributes according to his ability, each has — whatever he can get from the system that supports the hierarchy.  The great society is one organized to advance the interests of the ruling class.  All that a century of vision and labor has accomplished is to give that class a resounding title and make it more secure.  Whatever benefit the humble Saint may get from the system comes to him and by the permission of his masters as the largesse.  He serves God and will profit exceedingly thereby when he is dead; he serves the hierarchy and profits thereby as may be when the dividends and the sinking fund have been taken care of.

Finally, Utopia does not alter the shape of things.  What is Mormonism in the twentieth century?  A grotesque ideology, a set of coöperative institutions strictly limited and managed in support of an élite, and, beyond that, effectively an identification with industry and finance.  Martyrdom, years of suffering, the colonization of the desert and the dream of millennial justice come out by the same door as any private enterprise in stock-jobbing.  Utopia begins by calling down the lightning and the terrible Day on the corrupt system of the Gentiles, and for some time it dances the carmagnole; but the bloody oaths fade out and the Prophet, Seer and Revelator sanctifies the World War and announces with the power of inspiration that God has blessed the United States, on which the earliest prophet invoked His eternal wrath.  At arm’s length you cannot tell Utopia from anything else.  It has blended with the map, it has joined hands with the damned.

There it is: what has actually survived from the Newness and the Striving.  That is the way the dream and the word are made flesh.  Mormonism is the millennium that comes through.  This is what Utopia is.  Now that the heavens open again and voices speak once more out of the thunder and the whirlwind, now that the vision reawakens and the heart lifts, answering….it is worth scrutiny and meditation.

***** NOTES *****

1.  In the Church, as elsewhere in American thought, the exact meaning of  “millennium” is disputed, and consequently the date of its beginning is variously given.  The strictest canonical interpretation, however, is that the millennium began with the Restoration.

2.  Celibacy was the Shakers’ blunder.  Of all the American religions the student finds theirs most charming.  They had a serenity beyond any other sect, they lived quietly and in the respect of their neighbors, through their orchards and nurseries they greatly improved American horticulture, and they raised the handicrafts to a greater excellence than any of their rivals.  Theirs was a genuine communion and a formidably successful communism.  If they had provided for its preservation by other means than proselyting, they might have had a strong influence on
American culture.

3.  At all levels of intelligence, education, and travel, Utah means Mormon and Mormon means polygamist.  A dozen times a year I am asked, in good faith, if I have more than one wife, and I think I have never had a dinner-table conversation about Utah or the Mormons that did not arrive at the present (mythical) practice of polygamy within five minutes.  It is all a little trying to a Utahn, especially one who was brought up in the Church of Rome.

4.  On the main (Utah) body, that is.  Milo M. Quaife’s The Kingdom of St. James, a history of the Strang heresy, is authoritative and complete.

5.  This deficiency may soon be repaired.  For several years there have been rumors of a thorough study by a grandson of the prophet Brigham, who is a qualified sociologist.

6.  A Mormon exegete claims that more has been written about Joseph Smith than about any other American except Lincoln and Washington.  That is certainly not true but it suggests the size of the literature.

7.  And which had been vigorously renewed in the last fifteen years before The Book of Mormon, the theological arguments being reinforced by scientific thinkers.  The most notable item of a large literature is Elias Boudinot’s A Star in the West, published in 1816.  For other items, see Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism.  Note, however, that The Book of Mormon does not identify its Nephites and Lamanites as the lost tribes.

8.  To meet various criticisms, champions of the Spaulding theory have modified it till in the modern version Rigdon is supposed to have borrowed only the proper names and the outline of the story, and to have written The Book of Mormon himself.  If Rigdon, why not Smith?  Besides, the weightiest evidence for the theory is the assertion of Spaulding’s friends that they recognized his style and mannerisms.

9.  Harry M. Beardsley,  Joseph Smith and His Mormon Empire, Boston, 1931.

10.  See BDeV, “The Skeptical Biographer,” in Forays and Rebuttals, Boston, 1936, pp. 179-203; also in Harper’s, January 1933 .

11.  Third edition, London, 1932.  The passage quoted is on page 231,  Chapter X, “Paranoia and Paranoid Reaction-Types,” should be read entire.

12.  Advocates of the Spaulding theory rule out the evidence of Solomon Mack’s autobiography and Lucy Smith’s sketches of the prophet and his ancestors.  It is not suggested here that they are historical records, but surely they prove the frequency of miracle and hysteria in the Smith and Mack households, and surely Solomon Mack was not assisting the imposture of a grandson who was less than five years old.

13.  I have never seen in print any allusion to an ancient legend of Gentile Utah that Joseph was castrated at Nauvoo by someone — never named — whose wife he had seduced.  My father heard it in Utah as early as 1878.  Its usefulness, as well as its consolation, to the embattled Gentiles is obvious.

14.  Sometimes attaching a symbolic meaning to the colors of the inks and the instruments with which the writing is done.  Cf. Joseph’s corruption of the Urim and Thummim.

15.  Well acquainted with the evidence already, I made another study of it before writing that article.  Until then I had leaned toward the belief that Smith must have got hold of the Spaulding manuscript, whether through Rigdon or someone else.  One had to swallow the difficulties of that theory or those presented by Smith’s known ignorance.  I adopted that idea in the earlier version of this essay, but I hereby withdraw it.  We must be as skeptical as possible, and such a theory must be supported by much more evidence than has been found.  My final opinion is that
the evidence for the Spaulding manuscript is insufficient and unacceptable, and that Joseph’s later, and proved, writing indicates that he was capable of writing The Book of Mormon.

16.  If easily disposed of by the assumption that Smith’s autobiography was a systematic lie composed on no basis of fact and utilizing ex post facto material which someone else had already put into The Book of Mormon.  That is a very helpful assumption when you are proving the Spaulding theory, but the facts do not justify it.  And logic texts call the use of an assumption to prove itself argument in a circle.

17.  It was headed by the prophet Joseph Morris.  (The “false prophet” alluded to by Jonathan Dyer in the first essay in Forays and Rebuttals —  also printed as “Jonathan Dyer, Frontiersman” in Harper’s, September 1933.)  Morris had revelations from God and produced sacred books by inspiration.  So did most of the prophets of the other schisms.  Those of James J. Strang are the most interesting, and his Kingdom in Wisconsin and the islands of Lake Michigan is much the most picturesque of the heresies.

18.  This summary of Young’s religious experience is based on his own statements in sermons.  I see no reason for questioning any part of it.  His sermons, published in the Journal of Discourses, are the most important documents of Mormonism.

19.  The literature of the West contains an occasional allusion to a Mormon party which is said to have been in the Salt Lake valley in the summer of 1846, a year before the advance party of the emigration got there.  I cannot identify it or prove that it existed, and Rosamond Chapman, who has made an investigation for me, can go but little farther.  Note also that, in 1847, Mormons who had gone to California by ship may have come eastward through the valley and joined Young before he got there.

20.  Mormon historians used to claim that the “Mormon Trail” along the north bank of the Platte was used for the first time by this emigration, but it was in fact well marked and had been frequently used.  While traveling it, the Mormons met several parties coming east along it.

21.  A party of Gentile emigrants traveling to California were slaughtered by Mormons, only a few young children being spared. The act must be understood as an end-product of many months of religious excitement begotten by famine, panic, and the threat of invasion.  Israel was harrowed by its own soul-searching, the wrath of the Lord had been made manifest, and the priesthood had been inciting the Saints against the Gentiles — an expedient made sufficiently familiar to this age by European dictatorships.  Young was not directly responsible for it and was genuinely horrified when he learned of it — for reasons both of humanity and of statecraft.  Nevertheless, as I say in the Dictionary of American Biography, he must be charged with the constructive responsibility of all dictators.

22.  My article on Young in the Dictionary of American Biography.

23.  Because they then initiated the Saints wholesale and because their ceremonies were really a parody, they were expelled from Masonry.  I understand that since then no Mormon has been received into a Masonic lodge.

24.  Observe the national Government’s half-century of assistance to settlers elsewhere in the desert.  You may also observe its failure.

25.  See “The Life of Jonathan Dyer,” in Forays and Rebuttals.

26.  The economist who will investigate this question will find a wealth of supporting detail, from a managed currency and efforts to prevent the export of capital down to a purified alphabet to prevent contamination by foreign ideas.

27.  The basis of them has always been the tithes, a ten percent income tax and in theory also a capital levy.  No accounting of them, or of the other financial property of the Church, is ever made.  At Annual Conference an aseptic report is made on expenditures for missions, Church edifices, and charitable organizations.

28.  The revelation which originally established it has never been countermanded, and the Saints have always had a vague expectation that it must someday be obeyed.  During the last few years that expectation has grown livelier.  I greatly regret that I am not qualified to discuss the effects of the depression on Mormonism.  What most impresses one from a distance is the revival of the old millennial fires.  Israel has had a contrite heart and the gifts of the spirit have flourished.  There has been a widespread, if not officially indorsed, belief that the Last Days have begun.  World-wide upheaval, wars, rumors of wars, famine, drought and sun spots have been interpreted (as they have been all through Mormonism’s century) as the fulfillment of Joseph’s prophecies.  When Mr. Marriner Eccles was summoned to the Treasury Department the matter was clinched — Joseph having specifically foretold that in the Last Days a Saint would becalled to save the nation.  There seems to have been a reversion to a much more active cooperation, leading in the summer of 1936 to the Church’s withdrawing all its people from national relief.  Granted enough disaster, it is easy to imagine the restoration of the United Order — with, however, the hierarchy in absolute control.

29.  There was a thin trickle of secret polygamous marriage for some years after the Manifesto.  Then toward the beginning of the century the hierarchy became afraid that the loyalty of its members might be affected by the new alliances with the Gentiles. At that time, according to a Utah rumor of long standing, it required all of its members who were not polygamists to secretly marry plural wives.  If that is true, it was the last flare-up of any importance.  The Mormons to-day are as monogamous as the Presbyterians.