We recently had a stirring discussion over at BCC concerning the causes of the 1838 conflict in Missouri. Much of the discussion concentrated not on the historical evidence that has survived, but on the role of bias in determining what gets included and what gets left out when individuals narrate the past. For example, when Latter-day Saints began committing their stories to paper in the late 1830s and early 1840s, they framed their presentations to highlight their place in the grand narrative of God’s persecuted peoples, situating themselves alongside the ancient prophets, the early Christians, and other peoples that suffered at the hands of God’s enemies. In other contexts, Latter-day Saint authors also framed their recollections within the grand narrative of republican virtue in American history, presenting themselves as the true defenders of the American revolution against the corruption of mobs that threatened the downfall of the Republic. These two frameworks are not contradictory, but they do illustrate that the construction of identity is situational, with individuals choosing to portray themselves differently according to the audience appealed to. The first framework illustrates how Mormons sought to represent themselves to potential converts, while the second provides insights into how the Latter-day Saints hoped the American nation and its officials would understand the conflict when the time came to determine whether federal or state aid would be given to the Saints in their efforts to reclaim their lands.
The Missourians of course also had a stake in how the past was understood by others. Elected officials such as Lilburn Boggs needed to justify their actions to the citizens of the state, as well as to the nation at large. As the following 1840 statement from Boggs illustrates, the Latter-day Saints had succeeded rather well in spreading their version of the conflict throughout the U.S. and even in Europe, which caused Boggs great concern. In the statement Boggs calls for the publication of documents produced during the conflict and during the resulting legal proceedings as a means to counteract Mormon narratives, documents which were published the following year. How does Boggs represent the causes of the conflict, the parties involved, and Mormon religion? What frameworks and discourses does he rely on to paint a picture that would eventually intervene in the public debates over the Mormons?
Since your last session the unpleasant difficulties between a portion of the citizens of our State and the Mormons have entirely subsided, with the exception of some slight interruptions on our northeastern border. — After that infatuated and deluded sect have left our State they industriously propagated throughout the Union, the most exaggerated details of our difficulties and the foulest calumnies against our citizens. In some of our eastern cities, missionaries of their creed were employed daily in making converts to their cause by proclaiming the cruelty which they alleged they had endured at the hands of our authorities. The report of our alleged barbarities has not been confined to our Union, but even at this day in Europe they are made the ground work of proselyting, and their orators have it to their interest to distort the facts into a persecution, which in every religious excitement that has marked the history of the earth, has always been found the most effective method of conversions.
In all intestine commotions, particularly when mingled with religious fervor, it frequently happens that cases occur of peculiar hardship and unusual distress, and when public sympathy is excited in their behalf, these unavoidable consequences of civil dissension may easily be magnified into barbarous cruelty- that such cases arose in the course of the difficulty, I do not doubt.-But they must be attributed to the excited nature of the contest of the parties and not to any desire on the part of our constituted authorities to willfully or cruelly oppr[ress] them.
These people had violated the laws of the land by open and avowed resistance to them-they had undertaken without the aid of the civil authority to redress their real or fancied grievances [sic]-they had instituted among themselves a government of their own, independent of and in opposition to the government of this State-they had, at an incleme[p. 10]nt season of the year, driven the inhabitants of an entire county from heir homes, ravaged their crops and destroyed their dwellings. Under these circumstances it became the imperious duty of the Executive to [i]nterpose and exercise the powers with which he was invested, to protect the lives and property of our citizens, to restore order and tranquility to the country and maintain the supremacy of our laws.
We owe to our reputation. both at home and abroad, the duty of cleansing every aspersion that may rest upon it. Our State character should be held equally as dear as our individual reputation and we should use the same exertion in maintaining the one as spotless as the other. Full testimony as to all the necessary facts of that controversy has been preserved or can easily be procured. Written evidence, on both sides, has been filed among the papers of your last session, forms part also of the records of several of your courts. The facts, as they occurred, can be presented to the world upon proof perfectly conclusive, and the reputation of our State can be rescued from reproach by an exposition of the true causes and events of these difficulties.
In recommending the publication of this testimony, I have no care about its effect upon the principles of that sect. Our constitution has given us the high privilege of religious independence, and left the worship of the Supreme to the unfettered will of every member of the community. If true, the creed of that sect will ultimately triumph; if false, it will “die amidst its worshippers.” To explain the attitude which we have been made to assume, I would recommend the publication of all the evidence relating to the occurence [sic] and distributing the same to the chief authorities of each State.
 For more on the ways that Mormons constructed persecution narratives during the two decades following the 1838 expulsion, see my MA thesis, available here.
 Indeed, these documents proved to be a crucial tool used by anti-Mormons during the 1840s and subsequent decades to counteract Mormon claims to being innocent victims of persecutions, by representing the Saints as radical and dangerous fanatics intent on using violence to further their designs. Academic historians have likewise in recent decades relied heavily on these documents in their monographs describing the Missouri conflict. However, little work has been done to understand the ideological and discursive backdrop that led to the creation of these documents. Spencer Fluhman analyzes some of these documents within his larger discussion of nineteenth century anti-Mormon discourses in his dissertation.