In a recent post, the question was asked, “how significant is Mormon history to the larger narrative of American history?”
I think there are several ways it is significant, and I will just touch on one of them here. In Sarah Gordon’s book, The Mormon Question, she states that the Mormon situation helped re-define how the government interacts with local conflicts. She says that
For the first time in issues involving law and religion, the constitution in question was federal. Not only were the stakes arguably raised by the national (versus state) forum, but the contours of the challenge were enlarged and reconfigured in a more profound, more organized form of dissent. The Latter-day Saints, more effectively than other contemporary utopian sects of earlier freethinkers, achieved a degree of independence and influence that demanded attention. (pg. 77)
While there may have been similar issues before, this situation brought the idea to a new level.
Kathleen Flake, in her wonderful book on the seating of Reed Smoot, also points out that it was through the Smoot trial that America began changing their toleration towards religion. By the end of the trial, the government was ready to accept “the Latter-day Saints on the same denominational terms as other American religions: obedience, loyalty, and tolerance defined in political, not religious terms” (pg. 157).
So how else is Mormon history important in terms of American legal history? Is it important at all? Am I, along with these two authors, over-playing these historical events? Or, is this just hinting at a deeper significance?