Occasionally we like to provide our readers who may not have the time or inclination to read widely in the scholarly literature of American history or other disciplines with a sampling of what scholars are saying about Mormonism. Today John Demos is in the spotlight. Demos, for many years the Samuel Knight Professor of History at Yale, has recently published a historical survey of witch-hunting that covers two millennia. Demos is a major figure in the world of early American scholarship. He has published a variety books, many of which are regularly required reading on PhD comprehensive exam bibliographies (e.g., Entertaining Satan, A Little Commonwealth, and The Unredeemed Captive were all on my exam list). In his new book, he has a brief section on Mormonism in which he follows the standard historiographical convention of lumping the movement in with Masonry and Catholicism as the major targets of intolerance and violence in antebellum America. Here is what he has to say about the Mormonism from 1820-1847:
Mormonism–a new and wholly indigenous religious movement, founded by Joseph Smith in the 1820s and growing rapidly thereafter–evoked a similar kind of alarm [as Masonry and Catholicism]. Public pressure, up to and including mob violence, soon forced the Mormons to leave their original home ground in upstate New York and New England for the wilderness territory of Utah. en route, Smith was seized and murdered by a lynching party and his followers subjected to repeated harassment.*
I found this passage striking. To quote one of my least favorite persons on this or any other planet, “what say you?”
* John Demos, The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World (New York: Viking, 2008), 255-256.