2005 Thomas, Scott K
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Thomas, Scott Killian Migration, Resistance, and Counter-Hegemony: Mormonism's Final Attempt at Securing the Kingdom Faculty Mentor: Grant R. Underwood, Professor of History Students of America’s western history are familiar with the region’s most dominant ethnic group, the Mormons, which migrated in mass during the middle of the nineteenth-century from Illinois due to external pressures. This migration to the West has received much attention both academically and institutionally and is a well-known historical event. After a handful of turbulent decades in the Great Basin region a much more complex, arduous, and strategic exodus to Mexico occurred in 1885 which has not been as well documented (in published or unpublished sources) as the previous one. Unlike the move to the Great Basin (where the entire Church migrated to the West) this migration was selective in nature and transpired for different reasons. It was the purpose of my research to explore the Mexico migration’s composition and then to scrutinize the reason behind it. It has been generally accepted by historians (both inside and outside the Church) that the migration was simply the result of the United States government’s campaign against the LDS Church’s polygamous marriage system. As logical as this assumption sounds it does not stand up when weighed against the historical evidence available to historians. In fact, the LDS turn into the twentieth-century is an era that is lacking in historical interpretation altogether. These were tumultuous times that impelled the hierarchy of the Church to take drastic measures in order to maintain their autonomy; both socially and religiously. Previous historians have correctly detailed the governmental pressures that bore down on the Church and its membership during the infamous era of the “polygamy raids;” and rightly so. However, the reasons for the migration failed to calculate the hierarchal motives as demonstrable in the composition of the migration, the method in which it worked, and the migration’s intrinsic ties to high-ranking Church officials. These factors combined with Mormonism’s aversion to the U.S. government’s encroachment on their lifestyle sheds new light on this historically misunderstood era. Rather than depicting a Church being coerced and crushed by the State, we are able to understand and appreciate the methods employed by the hierarchy to stave-off incorporation into bureaucratic American culture (as directed by the powers-that-be in the East). Resistance tactics had be semi-successful during the 1860s and 70s and the hierarchy’s proposal to transplant many of the most ardent and loyal members (and their families) to Mexico was an audacious effort with high expectations. This type of opposition goes beyond resistance as it typified a counter-hegemonic disposition. The concept of hegemony is not that employed by Michel Foucault and other postmodernists; rather, the usage is drawn from its originator Antonio Gramsci, the Italian political philosopher whose writings while imprisoned under Mussolini contain the most articulated description of the concept and reality of hegemony in its political, social, and religious context.1 Accordingly, hegemony is the machinations of the state (i.e. government) to rein all peoples, enterprises, and social structures under their dominance and 1 Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, eds., Selections form the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (New York: International Publishers, 1971). control. This encroachment by the U. S. government has been outlined by C. Van Woodward and Alan Trachtenberg who have demonstrated the inherently hegemonic ideologies and structures that were imposed upon the southern and western states during the Civil War and Reconstruction with particular verification in their detail of the systems imposed on Americans during the Post-Reconstruction era.2 Although no previous studies have included the nineteenth- century Mormons as a demonstrable case study their opposed situation to the government provides very significant conclusions and context to both American and Mormon history. The predicament of the Mormons and their rebellious spirit combined with documented counter- hegemonic actions during the latter-half of the nineteenth-century is (as argued by my research) further evidence of the hegemonic nature of the turn-of-the-century government. Similarly, the examination of the Mormon approach assists us in understanding the most misunderstood period in the history of the Church while at the same time demonstrating a different and more historically correct picture of the LDS relation to the U. S. government. Subsequently this study raises important questions regarding the definition and understanding of treason, loyalty, and religious freedom during a very important period in U. S. history. The LDS Church’s decision to extract a large number of their most dedicated men and women in order to maintain their core doctrines is relevant to understanding not only the LDS ideological history but more importantly demonstrates their proclivity to take action against any institution seeking their transformation. The research conducted contends that this movement—initiated by the hierarchy and directed under their close supervision—was the last volitional attempt at maintaining their autonomy. The reality of the struggle for (religious, social, and political) independence was intrinsically tied to the success of the Mexico project, however, the grueling conditions imposed on the migrants upon their arrival in Mexico eventually proved insurmountable. The Church’s future loomed in the balance. Whether to continue opposition or begin work on strategic concession was an answer to be determined only after many years of struggling to maintain a stable hold in Mexico. Over time the migration and settlement in the northern regions of Mexico afforded more difficulties then planned and the hierarchy’s decision to resist the government pressures lessened and moved towards the reality of concession. The prominence of the Mexico migration in these defining decisions of the late nineteenth-century can no longer be neglected and my research hopes to provide a starting point for those interested. 2 Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New York: Hill & Wang, 1982); Comer Van Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877–1913 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, rev. ed. 1971).