Liberty to the Downtrodden

By February 22, 2009

kane-yaleMany readers have no doubt heard of Matt Grow’s new book, Liberty to the Downtrodden: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer, and most have probably seen Matt’s posts over at Big Brown. But, it’s not every year that a book written by a Mormon scholar, that treats Mormon history prominently, gets published by Yale University Press. This is a big deal, folks, so there really is no such thing as too much promotion in this case. We expect to have a full review of the work posted at the JI within the next few weeks. But here’s a “tide over” from Joe Cannon’s review of the work in the Mormon Times:

Who was Thomas L. Kane? Why did he come to the aid of Mormons? What in his background prepared and motivated him to choose this battle?

Happily, Matthew J. Grow, assistant professor at the University of Southern Indiana, has filled in what turns out to be the rich tapestry of Kane’s life.

This exceptional biography locates Kane in his native Philadelphia, as well as gives readers a deeper understanding of the 19th century and the larger canvas on which Mormon history was drawn.

Though Grow is a careful and exacting scholar, he is also a gifted writer, drawing us into Kane’s life such that we feel Kane’s motivations and passion. Grow makes Kane come alive.

Article filed under Announcements and Events Biography Book and Journal Reviews


  1. Plus, I get a kick out of how Joe Cannon manages to turn the review into a discussion of George Q. Cannon, and finished the review by pointing out that he’s (Joe) a great-grandson of GQC. Way to insert yourself into someone else’s story!

    Comment by David G. — February 22, 2009 @ 11:53 pm

  2. Thanks for the link to the review, David. And never underestimate the ability of a Cannon to bring up GQC in a conversation that really has nothing to do with him.

    Comment by Christopher — February 23, 2009 @ 11:06 am

  3. I wrestled a lot about whether to include anything in the review about GQC exactly for fear of comments or thoughts like these. One cannot, however, understand Kane’s relationship with the Church, especially at the end of his life without some sense of his relation to Cannon.

    Comment by Joe — February 24, 2009 @ 9:03 pm

  4. Well, now we know that Joe Cannon reads the JI. Thanks for the review and for stopping by and taking time to comment. My comment above is best understood as an on-going joke with Christopher (who is a Cannon himself) about the family’s propensity to idolize George Q., and the way you ended the review and constructed your biography, it was too good an example of this to pass up.

    Comment by David G. — February 24, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  5. I once gave a paper at MHA on GQC and his experience publishing the Western Standard in San Francisco. During the Q & A I was asked why I thought GQC didn’t become the prophet (he died six months before Lorenzo Snow). My answer was that aside from the obvious fact that God controls who becomes the prophet, that our family has so much hubris that if GQC had become the prophet it would have been even more unbearable. Everyone laughed. I have told this story to some of my family members, most of whom don’t see the humor in it.

    Comment by Joe — February 25, 2009 @ 11:05 am

  6. David-

    Thanks for the heads up on the book. Will have to pick it up.

    I imagine the book deals, at least to some extent, with Kane’s wife Elizabeth and their joint visit to Utah in 1872. The letters she sent home from Utah, coupled with her journal of the experience, became the manuscript for her book, Twelve Mormon Homes, which was published in 1874. As an outside observer of Utah culture, Elizabeth shed light on a variety of important subjects including frontier social customs, Mormon-Indian relations, polygamy, Latter-day Saint worship, the territory?s natural environment, and pioneer Utah architecture.

    I did a piece about Elizabeth Kane and her book on the radio show I do. Twelve Mormon Homes is an enlightening book for anyone interested in frontier Utah.

    Comment by Brandon — February 27, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

  7. Thanks, Brandon. I think you’re right that Matt covers Elizabeth a bit in the biography. I’ve never read her book, but I’ve heard she was a great writer.

    Can you post a link to your Kane piece?

    Comment by David G. — February 27, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

  8. David-

    I just posted the script for the story I did on Elizabeth Kane on the companion blog to my radio show, Beehive Archive. You can see the script here.

    The weekly show is only two minutes long, so I really only scratch the surface with my stories. But maybe it will inspire listeners and readers to embark on some research of their own.

    After doing my research on Elizabeth Kane, I remain intrigued by her.

    Comment by Brandon — March 2, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

  9. To continue further in an already derailed thread: Elizabeth is most known for her Twelve Mormon Homes published originally at the instigation of her father William Wood, but more of her (consistently superb) writings are available. When Bowen edited Twelve Mormon Homes for UofU/Tanner he made the comment that sadly her journal during the three-month stay in St. George was not extant. That journal does exist, however, and along with some of her other unpublished journals is owned by the Harold B. Lee Library. It has since been published (also by UofU/Tanner) as A Gentile’s Account of Life in Utah’s Dixie, and aside from the unwieldy title is an excellent piece of work–easily equal in my mind to her Twelve Mormon Homes.

    A number of our Mormon History scholars have turned their interests toward Elizabeth at times, but I know of no-one who has more thoroughly researched her extant writings than Matt. Her treatment in his wonderful biography of Thomas does not betray the amount of time he has spent combing through her documents.

    Congratulations to Matt on this important publication, and thanks David for the notice.

    Comment by Alex — March 2, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

  10. Maybe Dave would be kind enough to rewrite my first sentence, which was originally supposed to be in English. “Elizabeth is most known for her Twelve…”

    Mod: Fixed

    Comment by Alex — March 2, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

  11. All right, I really am going to stop before I dig myself in deeper. One final correction: Bowen edited the EWK’s St. George journals (published posthumoustly–after his death as well as hers–obviously). Cooley published the UofU’s edition of Twelve Mormon Homes, and was the one to make the unfortunate statement about her St. George journal not being extant.

    Comment by Alex — March 2, 2009 @ 1:18 pm

  12. Thanks for the link, Brandon. Thanks for stopping by, Alex, and for the information on E. Kane’s other writings. I think you’re right that she deserves more attention.

    Comment by David G. — March 2, 2009 @ 1:28 pm


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