Terror and Faith: Part I

“The feeling of Mobocracy is rife in the “States” the constant cry is kill the Mormons. Let them try it.”

Brigham Young July 24, 1857[1]

In the period between the American Revolution and the Civil War there was a great excitement and religious revivalism in the United States.  Immigrants were shifting from Europe, mostly from the United Kingdom, seeking freedom from religious persecution and economic prosperity which they thought they would find in the United States.  From the upheaval of the revolution came two groups who would have influence on the greater society of America and test the ideals of the Revolution which saw form in the Bill of Rights.  The two groups were the Catholics and Mormons. A contrast and study of the effects of the migration and foreign nature of these groups in Antebellum America is the focus of this essay.  Also it will look at the historiography of the two groups and compare their experience in the face of violence and other forms of persecution.

The Catholics from Ireland were escaping the devastation of agricultural failures, and the lack of representation in the politics of the United Kingdom.  Their arrival in the new world during this period changed the Protestant make up of the United States. With their arrival created an anti-immigration response which created the political force known later as the Nativist Party of America (also called the Know Nothing Party).

Yet as the Irish Catholics arrived on the shores of Boston and New York other British immigrants were arriving, as members of the one of the first major American religions called by the followers of the faith the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The “Saints” or “Mormons”[2], as they were commonly known, baptized thousands of converts from the poor and middle class English and Welsh during the 1840s.  This influx of new members also helped to create the firm divide that would see the Church be forced to move into Mexican territory to avoid persecution.  Both the Mormons and the Catholics faces difficulties due to their perceived foreignness as they settled in Antebellum America. 

In the early period of settlement across the United States some Irish and German Catholics began to arrive.  The some of the first Irish settlers were indentured servants who had originally been bound to Barbados. Their role was to act as cheap labour for the colonies. The Irish, while not a major population in the colonies for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, began to flood in as economic and political problems began to rise back in Ireland.  This flood according to Alex De Tocqueville began in the 1780s.  Estimates of the Irish population in the United States before the famine are around 318,000 in 1830 most of whom were Protestants from the Irish county of Ulster.[3]   After the famine over twelve years from 1846 to 1859 nearly 1.5 million Irish Catholics moved to the United States.[4]  In the small population of the antebellum Republic this number was significant.  This flood of poor people arriving to the urban centres of the east created friction as the problems of English cultural bigotry and anti Catholic feeling began to grow.
In Ireland during this period the population had increased dramatically and the scramble for land between the Irish Catholics and Protestants created tensions and unrest.  In 1798 the Irish revolted from English rule, the United Irishmen Movement a conglomerate of varying interests in Ireland sought to wrest control of the island from England.[5]  The result of the rebellion was the creation of the Act of Union 1801 which united England, Scotland and Ireland into the United Kingdom and gave the English greater power in Ireland.  It also acted as a catalyst for a population shift.  The numbers of Irish Americans doubled from the revolutionary period to 1830 as vast numbers sought escape rather than conflict. [6]

The people leaving Ireland were first led by tradesmen, educators and religious teachers all of whom easily assimilated into the American society.  This created no noticeable change on society and while the numbers increased there was a sense of community amongst the new republic as their anti English attitudes would be welcomed rather than rebuffed by the former colonists.  In this early period this sense of equality created an image of America, as described by Irish-American Bishop John Carroll in a letter to George Washington, “[W]hilst our country preserves her freedom and independence, we shall have a well founded title to claim from her justice [and] equal rights of citizenship… rights rendered dear to us by the remembrance of former hardships.”[7]

At this stage in early gestation the progress of early American treatment of Irish Catholics was as fellow travelers on the road to independence.  As the migration turned to exodus and the poorer part of Irish society began to move it changed the way both sides perceived each other.

While the Irish were still in a friendly coexistence with their neighbours another group was going through trouble.  In 1816 New England was suffering under a cold summer which left a number of people looking to migrate.[8]  The farmers settled in upper state New York.  Among these resettled Americans was the Smith family from Vermont. The Smith arrived to an area caught up in a revivalist aura which created the so-called “burnt over district”, referring to the number of spiritual fires set by revivalists in the region, in the state.[9] In the spring of 1820 one of the Smiths, Joseph Jr., claimed he had seen a vision of God, one in which Jesus Christ also appeared.  Smith, in 1838, recalled that he was told not to join any of the Protestant faiths in the area. He was also told that he would translate a new of sacred book which would help to establish another form of Christianity.[10]

Accordingly as Joseph Smith sought his own spiritual experience and “conversion” he certainly was a product of the area.  Yet in 1820 when he came out of a grove of trees near his farm in Manchester County in 1820 and claimed to have seen a vision of God he would create a great stir, according to Smith a Methodist pastor, “treated my communication [of his vision] not only lightly but great contempt saying it was all of the devil”.[11] 

During the period from 1827-29 Smith translated and published his Book of Mormon, a purported translation of ancient American aboriginals book of scripture like the bible, he also began to gain followers outside of his small circle of friends and family.  The publishing of the book led to many people passing copies around as farmers in the area read the book they began to be “converted” this led to the next step as Smith began to form a church in April 1830. 

These converts saw themselves returning the primitive church, or the one of the time of Jesus and the Apostles rather than forming a new organization. It was simply a latter day version of the Church of Christ.  Using the Book of Mormon this restoration church immediately set about sending missionaries to other fellow Americans to hear of this new religion.  Some of these newly baptized followers were sent to American Indians who bordered the Ohio territory.  These missionaries would find a Campbellite Baptist group[12] very ready to hear the preaching of a restored church of Christ.  As this group added to the church it became a centre for the church in Kirtland, Ohio. [13]

In 1831 Joseph Smith and his followers moved from New York and Pennsylvania to Kirtland Ohio.  In this early period a group of Saints moved from Colesville, New York and were sent to a second central location in Jackson County, Missouri near the present site of Kansas City.  Both Kirtland and Jackson County would be places where the oddity of the members and the hostility for that oddity expanded.

In 1830s the Ohio section of the Church suffered a period of fluctuation in membership and splintering over doctrine began to create animosity within the members.  These problems led to the public suspicions of this religion.  From the beginning people splitting from the church were some of the leaders of the movements against the church.    Ezra Booth was one of the first to leave the church in Kirtland.  Booth, like many former followers used his disagreement with the church to publish material which would be directly attack the Mormons as different, caught in the sway of a charlatan in Smith.[14] This internal division was only one factor that would play against the church.

Another factor facing the Mormons during that early period was the movement of many into Missouri.  Most of the Mormons in the 1830s were abolitionists and New Englanders, they were now moving into an area which was not only a slave state but very much unhappy with the arrival of so many “Yankees” to their area.[15] The Mormons were perceived as ignoring local shops and tradesmen as they buy and sell with others economically as often as they did amongst themselves.  Due to their beliefs in a United Order, an idea of keeping all things in common, property and goods were communal. This would become a problem where the Church would keep an insular approach to purchasing or trading for goods and services. The impressions of separation were not lost on area residents who in a document called The Manifesto of the Mob in it they said, “We believed them deluded fanatics… they brought into this country little or no property with them and left less behind them…they have been tampering with our slaves, and endeavoring to sow dissensions and raise seditions amongst them.”[16]

The final major factor in early problems for the church during the period was a massive integration of converts which led to the size of Mormon communities ballooning over night.  In the United States where so much of the local political offices were voted on, such as judge, sheriff and town councilors, the Mormons as a group would not integrate within the community but would rather block vote for one candidate creating a perception of control from other settlers in the area.[17]

As these two groups, Irish Catholics and Mormons were developing in the early part of 1830s much of the conflict that would come was beginning to take shape.  This foundation created a symptomatic situation where isolation created more foreignness for these groups. This also created an animosity which created further violence which again will reinforce this sense of separation.

The early United States of the 1830s was still a largely agrarian society.  Religious debate in the north led to further hostility to the ideas of slavery but at these points they were just barely forming in the minds of most.  In the west after the Louisiana Purchase the old colonies doubled in size[18]. Conflicts with American Indians were developing as the American Removal Act of 1830 sought to force them across the Mississippi.[19]  This created an area of settlement for the mobile population and increasing immigration which were acting as push forces for expanding the American frontier.

In the east the northern cities of Boston, New York and Philadelphia were beginning their expansion to major metropolises as they began to see more and more industrial construction as the Industrial Age started to turn the United States into a massive economic powerhouse.  As these cities grew their access to the Atlantic made them popular places for the new immigrants coming looking to make a good wage.

With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 New York became a capital of industry and by the1830s the city had grown to a population of over 240,000.  The immigrant population had grown from four percent to forty-six percent from 1830 to 1850.  Most of these new immigrants were Irish who were starting to grow in the sixth ward in Lower Manhattan as they began to create an identity in the city.[20] 

As the Irish Catholics and Mormons began to grow they ran into serious trouble due to the intervention of the Protestant communities who were becoming concerned about the growing following and settlement each were gaining.  In reaction to the Irish Catholics many Ulster Protestants began to hold their own celebrations of the defeat of Irish Catholics.  These Orange parades became a growing problem for Irish Catholics.[21] For the Ulster Irish they began to re-designate themselves, to show a difference between themselves and the Catholics, Scotch-Irish.[22]

In Ireland the end of the troubles of late 1790s brought a dramatic increase in population.  This increase which began in the 1820s was very noticeable by the end of the 1830s. Bumping against this growth was the outflow of the Irish population, estimated by Professor Cormac Ó Gráda as being 1.5 million people from 1815-1845.[23] 

While this population shift was not massive it did ease the strain on the country which was growing more and more reliant upon potatoes as the staple of their diet.  In 1845 of the 3.3 million labourers in Ireland they consumed nearly 3.9 million tons of potatoes a year.  While this expanded their diet it also made them susceptible to the problem when that staple disappeared.[24]

[1] Everett Cooley ed., Diary of Brigham Young,  (Salt Lake City: Tanner Trust Fund, 1980), 49.  [2] Due to their religious book known as the Book of Mormon.

[3] Steven M. Avella and Elizabeth McKeown ed., Public Voices Catholics in the American Context, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999), Pg 16.

[4] Kevin Kenny, The American Irish, (Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.), 2000, Pg 19.

[5] Thomas Bartlett, The 1798 Irish Rebellion, (London: British Broadcasting Corporation), 2001, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/state/nations/irish_reb_07.shtml (site visited 30 March, 2005)

[6]                       ,  The Making of a Melting Pot: Irish Immigration to America From 1700 to the early 1800s, (Washington D.C.: The American Immigration and Law Foundation), 2002,  http://www.ailf.org/ipc/policy_reports_2001_Irish2.asp (site visited 30 March, 2005)

[7] John Carroll, “Rev. John Carroll et al. to George Washington”,  in Steven M. Avella and Elizabeth McKeown ed., Public Voices Catholics in the American Context, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books) 1999, pgs. 8-9

[8] Carl Carner, The Farm Boy and the Angel, (Garden City: Double Day and Company Inc.) 1970, pg 57.

[9] Klaus J. Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 1981, pgs. 2-3.

[10] Joseph Smith Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Period One, Volume 1 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake: Deseret Book Company), 1971, pg. 6. (hereafter denoted as HC)

[11] Brigham H Roberts., A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Century One Volume One, (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 1930, reprinted 1976, pg. 56. (hereafter denoted as CHC)

[12] Campbellites were followers of a Baptist preacher Alexander Campbell.  His Disciples of Christ were from the tradition of revivalists who believed in the inerrancy of the Bible.

[13] CHC Vol. 1, Pgs. 224-226.

[14] CHC, Volume 1 Pgs. 265-266

[15] CHC, Volume 1 pgs. 334-335

[16] HC Volume 1, pg. 375

[17] CHC, Volume 1, pg. 414

[18] S. Mintz, “The Louisiana Purchase”, Digital History, (Houston: University of Houston), 2005, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=16, (site visited 12 August, 2005).

[19] Vincent Ferraro, “The Removal Act of 1830”, Resources for study in American Foreign Policy, (South Hadley: Mount Holyoke College), 2005, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/other_documents/other_documents.cfm (site visited 12 August, 2005).

[20] Stephen Brier et al, “Cholera in 1832”, Virtual New York City, (New York: Graduate’s Center New Media Lab), 2005, http://www.vny.cuny.edu/cholera/1832/cholera_1832_new.html, (site visited 12 August, 2005)

[21] Kevin Kenny, The American Irish: A History, (Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.), 2000, pg. 81

[22] Kerby Miller, “The ‘Scotch-Irish’ Myths and ‘Irish’ Identities”, article found in New Perspectives on the Irish Diaspora, Charles Fanning Ed., (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press), 2000, pg. 78

[23] Cormac Ó Gráda, The Great Irish Famine, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1995, pgs. 7-8

[24] Ó Gráda, Pg. 18


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