[In which I just share some cool findings from today’s research.]
In a religious movement that is rife with enigmatic characters, Edward Tullidge still stands out among his fellow Mormons. Converted to the LDS gospel in his native England in 1848, at the youthful age of nineteen, his contested baptism was only the first of many changes throughout his life, a voyage that included stops in deism, Godbeitism, Josephitism, and, intermittently, renewed commitment to the Utah version of Mormonism. Importantly, he narrated his many faith transitions through essays, newspapers, books, and plays, leaving a fascinating and eclectic corpus of writing–think of him as the Mormon Orestes Brownson. As I am currently working my way through his work as part of a broader project, I thought I would share some excerpts from one stop of his journey: his proselyting mission to New York City in 1866, with the purpose of defending Mormonism in print to the many “gentiles” on the east coast.
When Tullidge arrived in the Big Apple, Mormonism was certainly in need of a defense. The Civil War was just finished, new legislation on polygamy was starting to be invoked, and the “Mormon Problem” was picking up steam as a dominant story in American newspapers. Tullidge’s duty, supposedly under the sanction of Brigham Young (though I’m not sure on that–Tullidge was known to overestimate official approval before), was to put an “American” face on the faith and to make them appear less hostile. Unlike previous missionary print endeavors, Tullidge sought to be published in the major American periodicals rather than making yet another Mormon press. While he succeeded in finding space in respectable organs–including the literary magazine The Galaxy, which published authors like Mark Twain and was run by the same people who produced the New York Tribune–his message was unlikely to strike a sympathetic cord. Instead of downplaying the power of the Mormon “Menace,” Tullidge seemed to exult in it, and likely caused more problems as a result.
In his first column in the magazine, published the first day of October, Tullidge attempted the reasonable approach of proving Mormonism’s commitment to America, but did so in an unconventional way:
Everybody ought to know by this time, so often has it been repeated, that Mormons would save the Union and preserve the Constitution in its integrity. The people have believed this as much as any part of their religion. It may be one of their extravagances, as strong in its expression as polygamy itself, and quite as objectionable for the Nation to admit, but it shows how radical is the doctrine of loyalty with Mormons…And how can they expect to fulfil it? By disloyalty and rebellion? That is clearly an anti-programme. No, but by their marvellous social outgrowths, yet only in their infancy; the moral weight which they, as a community, expect to obtain in the Nation in consequence, and the conservative and preservative potency which the people of the United States might ascribe to the Brigham Young now, or some Brigham Young to come. Hence thousands of the Mormons have religiously believed and do still believe, that Brigham will be yet President of the United States. It is ambitious in them, it is true. One thing I am assumed, the Nation would be in safe and potent hands. Supposing all this–rather insane, it must be admitted–were to be accomplished, what of treason is there in the program?–rather how much of ambitious fidelity? Could it be accomplished, but by the best faith and most unanimous consent of the Nation? Should the day ever come that sees him in the Presidential chair, it will be found that no man since Cromwell will be so much compare with him, and America, not Mormondom, then would spread empire over the world. It is mad dreaming, this, we know; but it all proves that our mission is radical loyalty, and the glory of America is the culmination thereof.
Sure, Tullidge emphasized that the proposed merging of America and Mormonism would not be accomplished by “disloyalty and rebellion,” but I imagine all the readers would have remembered was probably, “thousands of the Mormons have religiously believed and do still believe, that Brigham will be yet President of the United States.” Not a very comforting take-home message.
In the next issue, Tullidge expanded the inherent power within Mormonism by talking about the religion’s–and Brigham Young’s–reach in Europe:
The immense power Brigham Young holds over Europe is not known. I think the Mormons know it not themselves, but they will find it ere long, not in the carrying out of a defined administrative budget, now in the mind of every elder, but when Brigham comes to that part of his work he will define it for the elders, and it will be seen that he has more power to move Europe and make it palpitate than has the whole United States.
He then concluded what would be his last essay in the magazine with a summary of “Mormondom’s” potential:
[Mormon Utah] has one state religion, a civil organization substantially identical and absolutely harmonious with that religion, a unity of spirit which makes the whole one soul for missions, conversions and emigrations, and throughout an entire subjection of material good to spiritual progress. What more is necessary to insure a great empire in the near future?
Somehow, I don’t think imagining Brigham Young as President of the United States, claiming Young has unknown yet immense power in Europe, and envisioning a future Mormon empire was not the best way to win sympathy.
Besides the quirkiness and humor of these essays, which I mostly share to bring a smile in today’s “let’s downplay our scariness” PR approach, there remains a potent and important point about the nineteenth century Mormon mind and their extensive optimism concerning Mormonism’s potential. Tullidge, like many other Mormons of the period, truly believed that their religion held the possibility–perhaps even the destiny–to revolutionize the world, and weren’t afraid of saying so. Mormonism promised extensive and overwhelming power in their minds, far more than just the religious belief and moral aptitude trumpeted by today’s Mormon messages. The past is indeed a foreign land, but it can still be a riveting, exuberant, and exciting one.
In no way do I think the Church should move back to this overly-bold (and reckless) approach–but it sure makes it much more fun for the historian.
 Tullidge, “Views of Mormondom, by a Mormon Elder,” The Galaxy 2 (1 October 1866): 211.
 Tullidge, “The Mormon Commonwealth, by a Mormon Elder,” The Galaxy 2 (15 October 1866): 354.
 Ibid, 364.