The latest issue of Mormon Historical Studies (10:1, Spring, 2009) just recently arrived and has a lot to offer. Here is the first part of my synopsis of its contents. I don’t have a table of contents to link to as the MHS site is still accepting manuscripts for the Spring 2006 issue. What does appear there, however, is excellent, including full issues of past issues of Mormon Historical Studies and its predecessor the Nauvoo Journal. I hope that the website will be able to get more attention and continue to be a great resource for students of Mormonism.
First Brian Cannon’s “‘Long Shall His Blood…Stain Illinois’: Carthage Jail in Mormon Memory” observes that though historians have explored the place of the martyrdom in Mormon memory, little has been written about the place of the jail itself in Mormon memory. Former Illinois Governor Tom Ford, writing just a few years after the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum predicted that the event would turn the jail into a sacred place to Mormons. Cannon’s article walks the reader through the changing place of the jail as a cursed place to a holy place of building testimony and references our own David G.’s MA thesis in one of the footnotes. Cannon also discusses the famous blood stains of the prison floor.
Alexander Baugh’s brief “The Haun’s Mill Massacre and the Extermination Order of Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs” summarizes an argument from his dissertation that the Haun’s Mill Massacre was not the result of the infamous Extermination Order. It’s publication here will hopefully help his argument gain wider exposure.
Next is Susan Easton Black’s “James Adams of Springfield, Illinois: The Link between Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Smith.” If Isaac Hale was “Antagonist to Joseph Smith” then James Adams was “Father Figure to Joseph Smith.” This article was interesting. While acknowledging that there is no known time when Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln met, Black argues that the closest it gets is James Adams. She opens by juxtaposing two statements about James Adams’ character, one by Abraham Lincoln and the other by Joseph Smith. Abe Lincoln did not like Adams for reasons that Black will discuss. Joseph Smith did like James Adams, also for reasons she will discuss. I was struck by her subsequent assertion that “Without the juxtaposition of these two men, the life of Adams may not be worth much mention except as a side note.” This reveals some interesting things about Black’s methodology, pursuing the “Great Men” style of historical writing. Of course, the greatest man in these writings is Joseph Smith (Honest Abe less so, but still Great), and the details are how other men related to him. The article has four purposes: 1) discuss Adams’ life before his conflict with Lincoln, 2) discuss Adams’ partisan fight with Lincoln, 3) discuss Smith’s reasons for feeling affection for Adams “as a father figure”, and 4) try to assess the true character of Adams by comparing Joseph Smith’s and Lincoln’s statements about him. Black provides a useful summary of Adams’ life and his difficulties with Lincoln, though I found her declaration of Adams as “father figure to Joseph Smith” overwrought. When Joseph Smith first meets Adams he says that Adams “took me home with him, and treated me like a father.” Later Adams begins a letter to Joseph with “Dear Son.” These two instances surely show an intimacy between the two. Black points out that Adams was in the group of the first 9 men to receive the endowment, again suggesting a great trust. However, beyond these two “father-son” moments, there is just not enough, in my opinion to warrant such an overarching title. And why the need to define people in this way anyway? With regard to the fourth purpose, Black asks, “Was Honest Abe or the Mormon Prophet the truth sayer?” I have to ask, Is it really the best approach to pit two statements from completely different contexts in two different decades against each other to find out which one is “truer”? What is the purpose of such an exercise, even in a devotional setting? To try and show that Joseph Smith was a better judge of character than Abe Lincoln? It reminds me of S. Michael Tracy’s approach to Joseph Smith portraits (“Which of these portraits is true, or are they all wrong together.”) To save you the suspense, since Joseph Smith liked him and he had his endowments, etc, Black seems to think he was a good guy, but never directly comes out and takes a side. The article ends in a whimper, restating only that there is no known connection between Joseph Smith and Lincoln, but that this is as good as it gets.
Richard E. Bennett follows with “We Know No North, No South, No East, No West”: Mormon Interpretations of the Civil War, 1861-1865.” Bennett offers what he calls a preliminary examination of the public rhetoric of Mormon leaders about the causes for the Civil War. Themes discussed: the Civil War as fulfillment of the prophecy of a desolating scourge, as retribution on the United States for past persecution of the Saints. Some seemed to soften in their words and pity the nation. John Taylor saw the Civil War as the beginning of a vexation of all nations leading to the Second Coming rather than specific retribution for persecution. Others followed this line of thinking and saw the Civil War as preparing the way for a return to Jackson County, Missouri. When the War ended, it slipped quickly from public speech and Church leaders geared up to defend polygamy. Bennett offers these observations and invites further interpretation.