Responses: The Blythes Take on Succession

By August 22, 2013

First of all, we hope you enjoy JI’s new look. And yes, we are aware that the “music notes” can easily catch your attention.

If the recent resurgence in Mormon schism studies did nothing more than give room for John Hamer's phenomenal images, then it has served a noble purpose.

If the recent resurgence in Mormon schism studies did nothing more than give room for John Hamer’s phenomenal images, then it has served a noble purpose indeed.

But the blog is not the only thing that was in need of a facelift recently–so was the historiography surrounding the “succession crisis.” One of the popular topics that was repeatedly researched during the rise of New Mormon History, the story of how Mormonism became/remains so prone to schism has received a lot of attention. Historians like Michael Quinn, Andrew Ehat, Ron Esplin, and many others laid the archival groundwork for much of the narrative—and that’s just for the period immediately following Joseph Smith’s death. The John Whitmer Historical Association, which sponsors an annual conference as well as a biannual journal dedicated to the various traditions that race their roots back to Joseph Smith, continues to pump out fascinating scholarship year after year. And most of the major works in Mormon history now realize they must address these schism issues—think of the recent biographies of Parley Pratt and Brigham Young—it has begun to infiltrate the mainstream of Mormon studies.

But just like any topic within the wild and still inchoate (sub)field of Mormon history, its approaches have continued to evolve. In the beginning, very few works, besides that of Danny Jorgensen, invoked a theoretical methodology in tracking what Jorgensen called “Mormon Fissiparousness.” Rather, most narratives, while grounded in ground-breaking archival research, relied on basic teleological trajectories and focussed on seemingly objective tools like facts, dates, names, and words.

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Responses: Patrick Mason on David Pulsipher on Mormon Civil Disobedience

By August 14, 2013

This post continues the JI’s occasional “Responses” series and contributes to the August theme of 20th Century Mormonism. Semi-regular guest and friend of the JI Patrick Mason, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont, contributes this installment.

Review of David Pulsipher, “Prepared to Abide the Penalty’: Latter-day Saints and Civil Disobedience,” JMH 39:3 (Summer 2013): 131-162.

Pop quiz: Which group maintained the longest civil disobedience movement in American history, and the first such movement not to descend into violence? Since you’re reading a Mormon history blog, the question is a bit like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb. Yet even with the prodigious output of scholars working on Mormon related topics in recent years, there are relatively few offerings that not only give us new details but also really help us see Mormonism through a new perspective. David Pulsipher’s recent JMH article is one of those.

I should reveal my biases up front: David is a good friend, and the two of us are (slowly) working together on a book-length treatment of a Mormon theological ethic of peace. So I’m naturally inclined to say nice things about him and his work. This post will be no exception. The basic historical trajectory of Pulsipher’s article, covering the twenty-eight years from the first federal anti-polygamy legislation until the Manifesto, doesn’t cover any particularly new ground for students of Mormon history. It’s what Pulsipher does in covering that ground that is innovative. In a subfield that is always striving for relevance to broader themes and narratives, Pulsipher shows persuasively that Mormon polygamists (mostly the male priesthood leadership) anticipated many of the strategies that would be employed in the twentieth century by nonviolent civil disobedience movements led by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The Mormon case demonstrates how nonviolent social movements can “emerge from unexpected quarters” (134). More significantly, I think, the article shows how Mormon history profits from engagement with political theory–plenty of John Rawls here, in easily digestible form–and that Mormonism can contribute to and substantially nuance established political theory.

Pulsipher begins with definitions. The Latter-day Saints’ nineteenth-century civil disobedience, like that of later theorists and practitioners, had three key characteristics: “(1) a fundamental distinction between just and unjust laws, (2) a conscientious, public, and nonviolent breach of an unjust law, seeking to change that law either through moral suasion or by frustrating its enforcement, and (3) fidelity to the rule of law generally, demonstrated by a willingness to obey just laws and to submit to the legal penalties for disobeying unjust laws” (138).

A typically telling illustration of the Mormons’ approach is offered by John Taylor, who relates being brought into court to give evidence in a polygamy trial: “I was asked if I believed in keeping the laws of the United States. I answered Yes, I believe in keeping them all but one. What one is that? It is that one in relation to plurality of wives. Why don’t you believe in keeping that? Because I believe it is at variance with the genius and spirit of our institutions–it is a violation of the Constitution of the United States, and it is contrary to the law of God.” Taylor then said that he was “prepared to abide the penalty” of taking such a stance. (144)

Pulsipher also traces the Latter-day Saints’ twentieth-century retreat from the civil disobedience and in some ways their own history. He offers several compelling reasons for why the heritage of civil disobedience didn’t take hold in twentieth-century LDS culture: its failure to achieve its explicit purpose (to preserve plural marriage); the wide unpopularity of that proximate purpose, increasingly among the Saints themselves; Mormons’ shift to emphasize loyalty to the nation and their excellence in Victorian moral virtues; the continued use of the rhetoric and strategies of civil disobedience by Fundamentalist LDS groups; and the church leadership’s conservative reaction to the “disrespect for law and order” characteristic of the late 1960s.

But not all is lost: Pulsipher intriguingly provides an extended quote from a 2009 speech at BYU-Idaho in which Elder Dallin H. Oaks glowingly approved of a “national anti-government movement” led by a Mongolian woman (161). The lesson here is that Mormons are just like other Americans–we like civil disobedience, especially in retrospect, when it achieves goals we deem worthy, and castigate it as unpatriotic and dangerous when applied toward goals we don’t share.

I take minor exception to one small point made in the article. Pulsipher demonstrates persuasively how the Latter-day Saints relied upon biblical, not American, precedents in justifying their civil disobedience–Daniel, not Thoreau, was their archetype. Their remarkable persistence in the face of increasingly overwhelming pressure was rooted in large part in their millennial faith that Christ would rescue them from their oppressors. It is true, no doubt, that nineteenth-century Mormons had a more robust premillennialist outlook than did Martin Luther King, as Pulsipher points out. But black civil rights workers at the grassroots level–those without doctorates from liberal northeastern seminaries–carried their movement out in prophetic, ecstatic biblical tones.”[1] Twentieth century southern black millennialism no doubt looked different than nineteenth-century Mormon millennialism. But both the Mormons’ resistance to federal anti-polygamy law and grassroots southern blacks’ resistance to Jim Crow arguably drew more deeply from the Hebrew prophets than from the American liberal tradition.

For those of us who know David, this article displays the quality of his mind and his character. It is expertly researched, with strong documentation. It is perceptive and measured in tone. It is fair-minded, fully acknowledging the twentieth-century critique of civil disobedience but gently suggesting that those critiques were shaped by a particular historical moment. And the article reminds us, in the grand tradition of the vaunted southern historian C. Vann Woodward, that the past is strewn with “forgotten alternatives” for our (re-)discovery and (re-)consideration.[2]


[1] David Chappell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 102.

[2] See C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002 [1955]), chap. 2.

Responses: Rich Answers Ricks on Utah Servitude/Slavery

By June 1, 2012

Christopher Rich’s response to Nate Ricks’ review of “The True Policy for Utah: Servitude; Slavery; and ‘An Act in Relation to Service,'” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 80, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 54-74.

I was very happy to learn of this forum for discussing LDS History, and jumped at Nate’s invitation to have lunch and discuss the history of servitude in Utah. I found his master’s thesis to be invaluable when I first began to research this area, and thoroughly enjoyed speaking with him about this nuanced and highly interesting topic.

At this point, I should make a confession. I love history. I love LDS history. For this reason I studied history as an undergraduate and have continued to do so ever since. But for better or for worse, I have been professionally trained as an attorney. And as an attorney, I have been taught a simple rule: when interpreting a law, one must first look to the statute. If a court is interpreting a law, the court will always look first to the plain meaning of the text. Thus, when interpreting a statute, what a legislature subjectively meant to say, or what private individuals later perceive the legislature to have meant, is far less important than the actual words that the legislature put to paper. When I originally became interested in Utah’s history of servitude, I read many interesting treatises by a variety of talented historians. Yet I was shocked to see that not one of these had really wrestled with the text of “An Act in Relation to Service.” Nevertheless, each of these historians had come to a legal conclusion: that the act created a system of chattel slavery in Utah.

With Nate, I agree that this was a highly complex law and the Saints created it for a variety of complex reasons. Some of these had to do with theology, some with the Jacksonian worldview with which most early LDS leaders had been raised, and some with the pressures of contemporary American politics. I must also admit that many of the statute’s most important sections are not as clearly written as one would hope. For this reason, I spent hours parsing each word and clause, then going back and reading the law as a whole. I then expanded to the marginal notes included with the published text, other contemporary statutes and court decisions, the statements of interested parties such as Brigham Young and Orson Hyde, and many excellent secondary sources of both law and history. When it was over, I determined that while the law certainly created a system of involuntary servitude and gradual emancipation for previously bonded African-Americans, it did not create a system of chattel slavery, nor did the Utah Legislature intend it to do so.

People are certainly free to disagree with my conclusions. Nevertheless, I believe that valid criticism of my position must be grounded in the text of the statute. Now, as I have stated, this text is at times unclear. Furthermore, no contemporary court ever interpreted the law, save for the incomplete probate court decision in the case of Dan which I mention in my article. Thus, I believe that it is legitimate to look to contemporary statements about the law (in addition to court decisions and statutes from other states and territories) in order to fully understand it and its impact. Nevertheless, one must be careful to not let subjective impressions of the law by private individuals override the text of the statute. That is to say, when interpreting “An Act in Relation to Service,” (and thereby determining if slavery was legal in Utah) one must start with an objective reading of the text and then move outward rather than the other way around. Certainly, variance between the text and people’s later interpretation of the statute can provide valuable insights into servitude in Utah. Indeed, I think that any such variance is an incredibly important topic of study if we are to understand the entire picture of African servitude in the Territory. Still, it must be remembered that what people perceived about the law and what the law actually said are in fact two different issues, and it is the text of the law which is paramount.

Nate has brought up many interesting points in his review of my article. I appreciate his suggestion that I look to the Territorial library to find possible sources for the law. I readily acknowledge that that the connection I have created between “An Act in Relation to Service” and other contemporary Northern laws is circumstantial rather than direct. While a review of books in the Territorial library would only create more circumstantial evidence, the more evidence the merrier.

Nate has also brought up a number of questions about how the law was perceived and implemented. These can be placed in three categories; 1. What legislators meant the law to accomplish, 2. How the law was actually put into practice, and 3. How individuals perceived the law afterwards. For instance, it is indisputable that many individuals in Utah continued to refer to African servants as slaves, including the servants themselves! I must confess that this fact has troubled me, although I did not have the space to fully address it in my article. However, I do not believe that it is impossible to harmonize these statements with the text and purpose of the law as I have interpreted it.

As I stated above, if one is trying to determine the legality of chattel slavery in Utah, the text of the law must take precedence. Of course, from a historian’s standpoint, the subjective intent of the legislators is also a vital question, and is to a certain extent entwined with an objective interpretation of the law considering its sometimes vague wording. For this reason I tried to explore both issues in conjunction in my article. Nevertheless, there is certainly more to learn although documents about the drafting of the law have so far proved elusive. I also highly encourage further research into each of the above categories in order to give a broader picture of African servitude in the Great Basin. At this point, rather than definitively answer the questions posed by Nate, I would like to list several considerations which I believe are important for anyone attempting to investigate these questions and harmonize them with the text of “An Act in Relation to Service.”

  1. In the law, words have objective meaning while everyday language is often subjective. In my article, I have given the term “slave” a distinct legal definition as it was understood at the time: an individual who is owned as a piece of personal property or a chattel, and whose status is hereditary. This does not mean that everyday people used this term in such a precise manner. Indeed, the difference between a “slave” and an “involuntary servant,” although real, was highly nuanced, and was perhaps not readily apparent to the average person. For example, as I point out in the article, Brigham Young was confused about the legal status of African servants in New York, and some Mormons may have been similarly confused about the status of African servants in Utah. Further, “involuntary servitude” was certainly “slave-like” when compared to the freedom enjoyed by the average citizen. Indeed, any form of employment outside of “free labor” (such as indentured servitude) may appear “slave-like” even though it is not actually slavery as previously defined. Even today, people will often refer to a particularly onerous employment situation as slavery when they actually mean that it is “slave-like.” Thus, the Saints, many of whom detested slavery anyway, may have continued to refer to African servants as slaves in order to make a point. Or, they may have continued to use a short and familiar term in order to describe a similar though legally distinct status.
  2. The expansion of African slavery in the Territories was THE main source of national conflict from the end of the Mexican War through the 1850s and resulted in the Civil War. Beginning with the Compromise of 1850, the Territories had enjoyed the ability to make decisions in regard to slavery for themselves thanks to the Popular Sovereignty ideology of Lewis Cass and Stephen Douglas. Yet this did not end the struggle and in some ways intensified it.

As I argue in my article, the Mormons were keenly aware of this ongoing rift between the North and South and understood that taking a firm position in regard to slavery either way could materially affect their drive for statehood. “An Act in Relation to Service” created a system that tried to bridge the gap. In it, African Americans slaves did not continue as legal chattels, but neither were they immediately freed. At the same time, people in Utah (particularly those in leadership positions) had an incentive to keep the status of bonded African-Americans somewhat obscure in order to play upon biases back East and gain support for statehood from both sides. Consequently, it is entirely possible that the language used to describe African servants in the aftermath of the law’s passage was part of a deliberate political calculation. However, in 1857, the situation became even more complex.

Early that year, the Supreme Court handed down the infamous Dread Scott decision. Among other things, the decision ostensibly forced all U.S. Territories to legally recognize the institution of slavery within their borders. Two years later, this was compounded by attempts by Congress to create a federal slave code. It is currently unknown how the Saints reacted to these seismic shifts in national policy. For instance, in New Mexico Territory, the legislature created an explicit slave code in 1859 despite the fact that there were fewer than 20 African slaves in the Territory. It seems likely that this was meant to avoid greater oversight from  Congress in the form of a national slave code. In contrast, the Utah Legislature made no changes to “An Act in Relation to Service.”

But that same year in a famous exchange, the newspaperman Horace Greeley asked Brigham Young if there were slaves in Utah, and Young replied that there were. Greeley then asked an interesting question. He asked Young if the laws of the Territory recognized the institution of slavery. This may have been in recognition of the fact that there were small numbers of African slaves in many places where slavery was illegal, such as Oregon Territory. To this, Young cryptically replied “Those laws are printed…you can read them for yourself. If slaves are brought here by their owners in the states, we do not favor their escape from the service of their owners.” But when asked if Utah would be a slave state or a free state, Young clearly stated that Utah would be a free state when admitted to the Union.1

I do not have time in this response to fully explore these statements. In fact, I am considering writing an article on the subject. Yet certainly this interview reveals the knife edge upon which Young and the Latter-day Saints walked in regard to slavery, particularly after Dred Scott and the evisceration of Popular Sovereignty. It is possible that this exchange reveals a fundamental change in Utah’s policy towards slavery in the wake of Dread Scott. But considering the skill with which Young dodged the question of slavery’s legality, it may not. Indeed, Young’s statement that the Mormons did not favor the escape of slaves could refer to a system of involuntary servitude as well as slavery, or may just have been a way of saying that Utah would comply with the Fugitive Slave Law. In either case, considering the enormous change in both local and national circumstances from 1852 until 1859, it should not be used to interpret “An Act in Relation to Service” as originally written. All uses of the word “slave” after 1852 to describe servitude in Utah should likewise be subjected to such contextual scrutiny.

  1. People do not always follow the law the way that it has been written. Nevertheless, this does not change the content of the law nor its meaning. It simply means that people do not observe the law. It is therefore entirely possible that individuals continued to keep African slaves in a state of slavery once they reached Utah despite the requirements of the law. This would not be at all unusual and occurred in many other places throughout the United States.
  2. Each legislator has his own reasons for supporting a piece of legislation, and even in Territorial Utah under the leadership of Brigham Young, there was such a thing as compromise.

Again, I appreciate this opportunity and forum for discussion.

Christopher Rich


1 Horace Greeley, An Overland Journey, from New York to San Francisco, in the Summer of 1859, 1860, pp. 211-12.

Responses: Ricks critique of Rich’s UHQ Article on Utah Servitude/Slavery

By May 31, 2012

Nate Ricks’ response to Christopher Rich Jr.’s article “The True Policy for Utah: Servitude; Slavery; and ‘An Act in Relation to Service,'” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 80, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 54-74.

When JI introduced the “Responses” series a few weeks ago, Amy T. suggested that someone review Chris’s fascinating article. David G. invited me to give it a go, since I examined the same topic in my master’s thesis in 2007. When I looked up Chris’s contact info, I was delighted to find that we currently live in the same city. We arranged a lunch date and had a great time discussing slavery in Utah while devouring Mexican food.

First, I want to point out that Chris’s article is another great example of the contributions made to Mormon history by scholars with primary training outside of the historical field. In his case, he studied law at the University of Virginia and is currently working as an army JAG. His article, on the 1852 Utah Territorial Legislature’s adoption of a law defining the legal status of black slaves in Utah society, adds invaluable contextual perspective to a fascinating time in territorial Utah’s development.

The subject of Mormons’ practice of slavery, while by no means unexplored, is often subsumed by investigations into the origins of Mormonism’s “racial policy”–focusing on the denial of priesthood authority and temple ordinances to later African American converts and their descendents. The lasting and influential studies of race and Mormonism, while seeking to contextualize Mormon racial attitudes within the larger trends and attitudes of Jacksonian America, largely ignored the development of state and territorial laws that illustrated shifting attitudes toward the institution of slavery–laws that, Rich convincingly argues, had bearing on how the Utah Mormons used in 1852 their recently-won “popular sovereignty,” or power for the territorial legislature to decide whether or not Utah would be open to slavery.

Following the Revolutionary War, New England and Middle State laws facilitated a transition from perpetual, hereditary black slavery to lifetime, non-hereditary “involuntary servitude,” as Chris labels it, with the end goal of phasing out bondage altogether in most Northern states. This led legislatures to pass gradual emancipation laws creating what Rich labels “a kind of hybrid status….not slavery, but neither was it a traditional form of indentured servitude or apprenticeship” (57-8).

As numerous historians have noted, Northerners sought to abolish slavery only partly because of a belief that it was religiously or morally wrong, or because of a commitment to the universality of Revolution-era freedom–widespread abolitionism was hardly popular until the turbulent 1850s. An additional major reason leaders supported limiting slavery was the desire to preserve or move toward a whites-only “free labor” system by excluding black slave labor. Further, by ending slavery, politicians could remove the (for them) a glaring inequity perpetuated by the Constitution’s notorious “Three-Fifths Compromise” that awarded states additional representation in Congress, additional electoral votes, and additional sway over nearly every other aspect of government. Offended by this “Slave Power” conspiracy during the democratic fervor of the Age of Jackson, Northerners sought to remove any trace of it from their respective states.

For Mormon Utah, I believe the motivations were no less complex, though its religious, political, social, and economic realities differed greatly from antebellum New England in many respects. I’ve already treated this topic pretty thoroughly in chapter 3 of my thesis, so would refer interested parties there. Chris’s answer to my emphasis on complexity is to hearken back to the Northern laws: “the true policy for Utah” in dealing with the reality that Southern LDS converts had brought their slaves to Utah, was to redefine their status as that of “involuntary servant,” as nearly every Northern state had already done (64-5). Chris goes on to compare the similarities between Utah’s “Act in Relation to Service” and other servitude laws (67ff). This is, I believe, Chris’s greatest contribution. As he mentions in his article, Newell G. Bringhurst refers in his book Saints, Slaves, and Blacks to Illinois policy, but that is the most any scholar had previously attempted (67n47).

As we discussed the problem of identifying influences, I suggested to Chris that John M. Bernhisel, Utah’s delegate to Congress, spent a good deal of effort in 1850-51 using the $5,000 appropriated by Congress for a Utah Territorial Library. Among the books purchased or donated were numerous legal volumes, many from Northern states. Catalogued in October of 1852, it is likely that the legislators responsible for drafting and revising the “Act in Relation to Service” consulted these volumes and perhaps even borrowed language from printed servitude laws. (See a full list of legal volumes in the Territorial Library, transcribed by Ardis Parshall at Keepapitchinin). This may shed additional light on why legislators chose to include the specific provisions in the Act.

Other questions might be asked: Should the “Act in Relation to Service” be construed as only applying to African Americans who were already under the status of “involuntary servant,” perhaps having acquired that legal condition while in Illinois, or could the law truly be seen as the first step toward emancipation for slaves held by Mormons? Did the entire legislature, the slaveholding minority in Utah, the slaves themselves, and the larger Mormon population all view this transition from slavery to “involuntary servitude” as a real, permanent change in legal status, and a step toward general emancipation in Utah? The scant evidence that survives suggests a complicated and imperfect application of the legal redefinition for which Chris argues. The fact that the “Act in Relation to Service” was only in effect for about ten years also complicates the issue, because both slavery and involuntary servitude were prohibited by Congress in 1862. In our lunch discussion, we agreed that the law was written in such a way that just about anyone could read in the law what they desired. I’ll treat briefly each of the four categories of people I mentioned.

  1. Legislature: Unfortunately, no record has come to light containing proceedings of debates during the 1851-2 legislature. Insofar as I have been able to examine journals, diaries, and personal letters of the legislators (which, honestly, has not been very thorough), I have not found any mention of the “Act in Relation to Service.” For all intents and purposes, the legislature appears to be just as unified as Brigham Young proclaimed at the end of the legislative session. Still, the language of an original draft found in the Utah State Archives indicates that the legislators weren’t originally in sync over what they should accomplish. The earliest version of the bill I was able to locate was titled “An Act in Relation to African Slavery”–though whether it was titled thus intending to establish slavery or simply redefine it is unclear. Additionally, Section 3 of another draft (assumedly the second draft) reads thus:

SEC. 3. That any person bringing a servant or servants, and his, her, or their children from any part of the United State[s], or any other country, and shall place in the office of the Probate Court the certificate of any Court of record under seal, properly attested that he, she, or they are entitled lawfully to the service of such servant or servants, and his, her, or their children, the Probate Justice shall record the same, and the master or mistress, or his, her, or their heirs shall be entitled to the services of the said servant or servants and his, her, or their heirs, until the curse of servitude is taken from the descendents of Canaan, unless forfeited as hereinafter provided, if it shall appear that such servant or servants came into the Territory of their own free will and choice.

The bold text was removed from the final draft, which Chris cites as additional proof that the act was intended to create a form of servitude that was non-hereditary. I see it as additional evidence that the legislature was not originally thinking just of “involuntary servitude,” but was perhaps striving to define religious as well as legal relationships. Who provided the corrections to the final draft, and what motivations guided them, still remains to be identified. And as Chris points out in his article, Brigham Young spoke numerous times on the subject, indicating his own imprecise, if not undefined, feelings on slavery, servitude, and race (65-6).

  1. Slaveholders: Here we also have very few documents to which we can refer for insight as to how they interpreted the law. Some evidence suggests that the master-slave relationship continued unaltered; while other evidence suggests a different kind of relationship. Chris includes in his article the story of a servant named Dan which supports his major arguments (72-3). An additional supporting example may be found in the case of Gobo Fango, a South African slave acquired from relatives by Edward Hunter in 1865 and then “immediately put…on the payroll.” (Another source records that the wages were paid not to Gobo Fango, but to his owner, Lewis Whitesides, either because of Fango’s youth or his slave status.) Although slavery had been prohibited in the territories by an 1862 act of Congress, Gobo Fango’s purchase and subsequent employment illustrate that, at least in Edward Hunter’s case, he interpreted the law roughly in line with Chris’s take.

Mormon slaveholders often did not refer to their slaves by the name of “slave”, often choosing the appellations “colored servants,” “negroes,” or something similar. Of course, as most Southern slave owners did the same, this offers little insight into the Mormon slave owners’ real attitudes.

  1. Slaves: Getting inside the slaves’ heads proves the most challenging aspect of this investigation; as with the lowest classes of all ages, almost no documentary evidence survives from their perspective. (Kate Carter compiled a great pamphlet on black Utah pioneers in 1965; it’s a great starting point for interested parties). One interesting and telling account is found in the Broad Ax, a late 19th Century Salt Lake City periodical for African Americans. During the American Civil War, former slaves later recalled, “joyful expressions” lit up “the faces of all the slaves, when they ascertained that they had acquired their freedom through the fortunes of war.”

They viewed their former condition as one of slavery, not “involuntary servitude.”

  1. Mormons: The general population of Utah described African Americans as both servants and slaves. Charles Nibley, writing in 1934, called it slavery: “It seems like harking a long way back to the days of slavery, but negro slavery was actually the law of the land and practiced to a small extent in 1860 and 1861 and 1862 in Cache Valley.” Nibley worked briefly with the Bankhead family and their two slaves, “big Nate” and “Old Sam.” He also recalled Brother Bankhead becoming furious at his slaves on one occasion, and “he tore around pretty lively and threatened to horsewhip them to death if they didn’t mend their ways.”

And an earlier source was reprinted in the Millennial Star in 1855 saying that slaves, not involuntary servants, of a relative number “by no means small” were being held in Utah.

At the very least, the evidence suggests that which Chris and I concluded and I mentioned earlier: anyone could read what they wanted in “An Act in Relation to Service.” I think that Chris did a great job arguing that the intent was to create a policy for Utah that was based in legal precedent. The Utah Mormons were part of an established legal culture, and did not create their laws in a vacuum. Chris has some interesting projects in the works, but I’ll let him explain those to interested parties. Take a look at Chris’s post, and please engage with us in this discussion!

Responses: Joseph Smith’s Holy Ghost and the Messiness of Historical Theology

By May 7, 2012

[The most recent installment of our “Responses” series, in which someone responds to a recent article of interest in Mormon studies.]

As someone interested in the historical development of LDS thought, especially during the first few decades, I was excited to see Lynne Hilton Wilson?s fascinating ?A New Pneumatology: Comparing Joseph Smith?s Doctrine of the Spirit with His Contemporaries and the Bible? (BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 1 [2012]: 119-152). Historical theology and intellectual history can be a tricky field, particularly when contextualizing someone?s ideas with the surrounding culture, though it can be highly rewarding when done right. However, while there was much to enjoy in the article, there were some aspects that made me pause. Besides disagreements with how Wilson presents Joseph Smith?s Protestant culture in general, often in attempt to make Mormon ideas more distinct from antebellum America, as well as disagreements with how she interprets Smith?s theology in particular, often in attempt to make his 1830 beliefs more consistant with those in 1844, there were a few methodological points that I think deserve examination.

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Responding to Christopher Smith on adoption

By April 24, 2012

[The following is Jonathan Stapley’s response to Christopher Smith’s post.]

First, I want to thank Christopher Smith for his critical reading of both my ritual adoption article and my article on last rites. His call for increased clarity and finer argumentation in my work is welcome and surely needed. As an example, the bulk of Smith’s comments relate to what I observed to be a declension in Brigham Young’s rhetoric surrounding adoption ritual performance in Utah, and the possible relationship between this declension and the transformative vision of Joseph Smith that Brigham Young received relating to adoption early in 1847. I’m grateful to respond to these comments as well as some particular questions which Smith raised.

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Responses: Christopher Smith and Jonathan Stapley on Brigham Young’s Vision of Adoption

By April 24, 2012

[This continues our new series “Responses,” which offers a venue to respond to and discuss recent Mormon scholarship, especially journal articles. We are pleased to have Christopher Smith here respond to two articles authored by Jonathan Stapley last year (found here and here), along with Stapley’s own response (posted tomorrow). Christopher Smith is a PhD candidate in Religions in North America at Claremont Graduate University. He is currently living in Provo while he works on his dissertation on Mormon and American Indian relations during the life of Joseph Smith. At least, that’s what he’s supposed to be working on…]

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Introducing a New Series: “Responses”

By April 17, 2012

In today’s age, when the internet fosters a close-knit community with immediate access to news and information, reactions to new scholarship come at a blistering speed. Most academic journals are now available in digital form, scholarly organizations maintain frequently updated websites, and the blogging world makes it possible to discuss new ideas and research within minutes after they appear. In past decades, if one were to read an article in, say, Journal of Mormon History and wanted to write a response or rebuttal, the only option would be to write and mail a letter-to-the-editor and, if it’s accepted, wait several months before it appears. While these letters will still play an important role for many journals, their snail-like pace can often be too slow for today’s twitterworld.

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Ben S on What’s in a name?: “How did you create that display?! I’d love to do something similar. I’ve looked at timeline software, and it’s all either expensive or useless.”

J. Stapley on What’s in a name?: “I'm that same boat as Ardis with the Mules. Fascinating!”

KLC on What’s in a name?: “I'm 65 and the term 'Jack Mormon' was quite common when I was growing up in the 60s and early 70s. I always understood…”

Ardis on What’s in a name?: “Am I the only one who *never* before recognized that "jack" used this way is connected to mules?? That stuns me. And delights me. I also…”

Questions on CFP: 2020 MHA Poster: “Will MHA accept proposals from students who have already sent in a proposal for a presentation or panel? If so should the poster be a…”