A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VII, Chapter 81." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 81
BUCHANAN–THE STORY OF THE MORMONS

THE President whom Douglas defied over the question of Kansas was not Pierce, for in 1857 his term of office came to an end and James Buchanan was elected as President. Like Pierce, he was a "Northern man with Southern principles," and he threw his lot with the slave-holders.

 

Like Pierce, he was a lawyer, and in ordinary times might have made a good President and have left an honoured name behind him. But he came into power at a most difficult and dangerous time. He was not big enough or strong enough for the task. And so his name is less honoured perhaps than that of any other President.

 

Besides Kansas, two more states were admitted into the Union during Buchanan's term of office. These were Minnesota in 1858 and Oregon in 1859. They both became states while the struggle over Kansas was going on. For in them there was no trouble over the slavery question, and they were both admitted as free states. Minnesota was part of the Louisiana Purchase together with the last little corner of the North-West Territory. Oregon was part of the Oregon country. These with Kansas now made thirty-four states. So there were now thirty-four stars in the flag.

Minnesota admitted to the Union, in 1858; Oregon, 1859

It was at this time that what is known as the Mormon War took place.

 

Mormonism was a new religion founded by Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was a shiftless, idle, jovial fellow, one of a large family as shiftless and idle as himself. He was very ignorant, but he had a wonderful imagination, and he could never tell the simplest happening of his everyday life without making a great story out of it.

Joseph Smith, 1805-44;

When he grew to be a man he began to dream dreams and see visions, and at length he declared that a messenger from heaven had shown him where to find a golden book. No one else saw this golden book, because Smith had been warned by the angel that great punishment would fall upon him if he showed it to any one. He was, however, allowed to make a "translation" of what was written in the book. This he did, publishing it as "The Book of the Mormons" or "The Golden Bible." But it seems very likely that part of this so-called translation was really copied from a story written by a man named Spaulding which had never been published. A great deal of it was, however, copied from the Bible.

finds "The Golden Bible," 1827;

it is published, 1830

Smith, who was at this time living in the State of New York, now declared that the religion which had been revealed to him was the only true religion. He founded a Church of which he was head or "prophet" and under him were twelve apostles and other dignitaries. A few people soon joined him and gradually their numbers increased until at last they numbered several thousand.

 

They now became a community by themselves, they moved about from place to place, and at length settled in Illinois where they built a city called Nauvoo.

 

Smith had many revelations. If he wanted a horse or cart he had a revelation saying that it was to be given to him. If he wanted his followers to do anything, again he had a revelation saying it was to be done. So he ruled like an autocrat and did whatever he chose. And while at Nauvoo he had a revelation which said it was quite lawful for men to marry as many wives as they wanted.

Smith's Revelations;

Soon the people of Illinois began to dislike the Latter-day Saints, as they called themselves. For they stole horses and cattle and all sorts of things belonging to other settlers. And once anything was stolen by the Mormons, it was impossible to get it back. For if a stranger went to their city, and showed by his questions that he had come to look for something he had lost, he soon found himself followed by a Mormon who silently whittled a stick with a long sharp knife. Soon the man would be joined by another, also whittling a stick with a long knife. Then another and another would silently join the procession, until the stranger could stand it no longer and hastily departed homeward.

The whittlers

So as time went on the people grew more and more angry with the Mormons. And at length their anger burst into fury, and Smith and one of his brothers were lynched by the mob.

Smith killed, 1844

The Mormons were greatly cast down at the death of their Prophet, but they soon found a new leader in Brigham Young, one of the twelve apostles.

Brigham Young

But this change of leader brought no peace between the Mormons and their neighbours. Complaints of theft grew more and more frequent. Both sides went about armed, murders were committed, and the settlers burned many of the Mormon farms.

 

At length the whole of the Mormons were expelled from Illinois, and one March day a great caravan started westward. Slowly day by day they moved onward through unknown wildernesses, making a road for themselves, and building bridges as they went, and only after long trials and hardships they reached the Great Salt Lake.

Mormons expelled from Illinois

The land around was treeless and desolate, and the ground so hard that when they tried to plough it the ploughshare broke. Yet they decided to make their dwelling-place amid this desolation, and in 1847 the building of Salt Lake City was begun.

Salt Lake City founded, 1847

At the beginning, troubles and trials were many. But with hard work and skilful irrigation the desert disappeared, and fertile fields and fair gardens took its place.

 

The Mormons now laid claim to a great tract of land and called it the State of Deseret. And over this state Brigham Young ruled supreme.

Brigham Young, Governor of Utah

In 1850, however, the United States organized it as a territory and changed the name to Utah. Utah is an Indian word meaning Mountain Home. Of this territory Brigham Young was Governor, but other non-Mormon officials were sent from Washington. Very soon there was trouble between the Mormons and these non-Mormon officials and, one after another, they returned to Washington saying that it was useless for them to remain in Utah. For with Brigham Young as governor it was impossible to enforce the laws of the United States, and that their lives even were in danger.

 

But when there was talk of removing Young from the post of Governor he was indignant. "I am and will be Governor," he said, "and no power can hinder it until the Lord Almighty says, 'Brigham, you need not be Governor any longer.'"

 

The Mormons were indignant at the false reports, as they considered them, of their doings which were spread abroad in the East. So they asked the President to send one or two visitors "to look about them and see what they can see, and return and report."

 

But instead of sending visitors President Buchanan appointed a new Governor, and sent a body of troops to Utah.

 

Thus began what is called the Mormon War. But there was never a battle fought. Although at first the Mormons prepared to resist, they changed their minds. And the Government troops marched into Salt Lake City without resistance. They found the city deserted, as nearly all the inhabitants had fled away. They soon returned, however, and "peace" was restored. But the submission was only one in form, and for many a long day there was trouble between the Government and the Territory of Utah.

The Mormon War, 1857

Besides the main body of Mormons who founded Salt Lake City there is another band, followers of Joseph Smith's eldest son also called Joseph. They broke away from the first Mormons because they did not think it right to marry more than one wife, nor could they believe in all that "the prophet" taught his followers. Their chief city is Lamoni in Iowa where they live quiet industrious lives and are greatly respected by their neighbours.

 

This religion, founded so strangely, has spread very rapidly. In 1830 the church had only six members. To-day there are more than three hundred thousand Mormons in the world, most of whom are in the United States.

 

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom