Writing, it was once said, is an instrument of power. Abolitionists used novels to combat slavery, as did anti-polygamy crusaders. Writers have tremendous power to shape images, whether of perceived dangers, or of past wrongs that need to be made right. As Yale theologian Miroslav Volf argues, “to remember a wrongdoing is to struggle against it.” For the Latter-day Saints after the expulsion of 1838 writing was one of the few ways that they could fight back against the Missouri vigilantes and government officials that had expelled the Saints from the state. Parley P. Pratt was keenly aware of the power of writing to shape how the American public understood what had happened in Missouri. While in prison, Pratt wrote an 84 page pamphlet describing the Missouri persecutions entitled History of the Late Persecution Inflicted By the State of Missouri Upon the Mormons, In which Ten Thousand American Citizens were Robbed, Plundered, and Driven from the State, and Many Others Murdered, Martyred, &c. for Their Religion, and All This By Military Force, By Order of the Executive.
Pratt believed that his captors were desperate to stop him from writing. In the preface to his history, he wrote:
The fact is, a goose-quill in our fingers was more terror to the guilty authorities of Missouri, than the sling-stone of the stripling son of Jesse…who, even in that age of wonders, would have believed that a quill, plucked from the wing of a silly goose, and sharpened at one end, when aimed a Republican State, would have made its rulers and people tremble like a Belteshazer, when weighed in the balance and found wanting. Yet so it was in Missouri…They dreaded our pen more than the swords of a legion of Sampsons; they were well aware that this little scribbling goose quill would, if unchecked, work more mightily against their awful proceedings, than the sling stone in the hand of David, or the jaw bone in the hand of the mighty Nazarine against the Philistines.
Pratt believed that through his writings “[t]he world shall know the unparalleled proceedings of this state.” Ultimately, the Mormons lost (they had to leave the state and never regained their possessions), but through Pratt’s and others’ writings the Latter-day Saints succeeded in a remarkable way in shaping how later generations have understood what occurred in the Missouri during the 1830s. A friend of mine recently told me that after reading Pratt’s Autobiography, he hated the Missourians for what they did and wanted desperately that justice should be served.
The ways that we understand the past is filtered through the language used by historical actors to describe what they witnessed. Pratt comprehended the great power of labels and words to construct images of people, as he had experienced this in Missouri himself.
This murderous gang when assembled and painted like Indian warriors, and when openly committing murder, robbery, and house burning, were denominated citizens, white people, etc., and in most of the papers of the State, while our society who stood firm in the cause of liberty and law, were denominated “Mormons,” in contradistinction to the appellation of “citizens,” “whites,” &c, as if we had been some savage tribe, or some colored race of foreigners.
Here Pratt described two competing representations of social relations. In the first, Missouri newspapers constructed the anti-Mormon vigilantes as “white people” and “citizens,” while designating Mormons as “some savage tribe” and “some colored race of foreigners,” thereby robbing the Mormons of not only their whiteness but also their Americanness. In the second set of social relations, Pratt subverts these representations by highlighting their underlying irony. In Pratt’s view, the vigilantes, dressed as non-white and non-citizen Indians, are guilty of committing murder, robbery, and house burning, while the Saints “stood firm in the cause of liberty and law.” One implication is that for Pratt the Mormons are white American citizens, while the vigilantes forfeited their claim to being Americans. Another is that the inhabitants of Missouri condoned the illegal actions of the vigilantes, suggesting that law and order was at an end in the state.
In the remainder of the narrative, Pratt constructed the Mormons as “citizens” while designating the Missourians as “Robbers,” a possible use of the Book of Mormon image of the Gadianton Robbers, and therefore denied the Missourians their identity as citizens and Americans. This is a typical passage:
Several messages were also sent to the Governor, but he was utterly deaf to every thing which called for the protection of our society, or any of the citizens belonging to it. But on the contrary, he hearkened to the insinuations of the robbers.
Through the medium of writing, Pratt claimed the power that was denied him in Missouri to define himself and his enemies. His message to America was that the Mormons were Americans, denied their rights by the barbaric Missouri robbers, a message that would be challenged in 1841 when the Missouri legislature published legal documents describing “the recent difficulties between the people called Mormons, and a portion of the people of this State.”
 Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006), 11.
 During the early 1840s Latter-day Saints produced a tremendous amount of literature describing the Missouri persecutions. Much of this was spurred by Joseph Smith’s directive from Liberty Jail: “And again we would sejest
 History of the Late Persecution Inflicted By the State of Missouri Upon the Mormons, In which Ten Thousand American Citizens were Robbed, Plundered, and Driven from the State, and Many Others Murdered, Martyred, &c. for Their Religion, and All This By Military Force, By Order of the Executive (Detroit: Dawson and Bates, 1839), iii-iv, 66. The History was reprinted (with, to my knowledge, no alterations, except for a new doctrinal and historical introduction) a year later as Late persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints : ten thousand American citizens robbed, plundered, and banished; others imprisoned, and others martyred for their religion : with a sketch of their rise, progress and doctrine (New York: J. W. Harrison, 1840). Slightly revised, Pratt also used the History as his text for the persecutions in his Autobiography.
 Parley P. Pratt to Mary Ann Pratt, June 8, 1839, Parley P. Pratt Collection, Harold B. Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 History, 28; Auto, 191.
 The relationship between whiteness and minorities has received considerable attention in recent decades. David R. Roediger’s The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class is generally seen as a seminal work in whiteness studies. Whiteness has been applied to studies of Irish, Italians, Mexicans, among other minorities. Paul Reeve is currently pursuing a book progect applying whiteness studies to Mormon history.
 History, 30.
 Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &C. in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; and the Evidence Given Before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, At the Court-House in Richmond, In a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, On the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Others, for High Treason and Other Crimes Against the State (Fayette, Missouri: Boon’s Lick Democrat, 1841), 2.