Sunday, January 10, 2010: 8:30 AM
Manchester Ballroom A (Hyatt)
My comments will introduce the foundational Mormon impulse to withdraw from the wider society into a sectarian “Zion,” alongside the paradoxical necessity of political involvement to protect this Zion project. Smith’s initial vision was to leave the United States and join with the American Indians in building a New Jerusalem at the center of the North American continent. When federal agents cut off contact with the Indians, he attempted to build Zion without Indian collaboration just across the border in Jackson County, Missouri. That undertaking was halted after the religious nationalism and isolationism of the Mormons alienated the Jackson County citizenry, culminating in forcible ejection. Having lost all the capital they had invested in land and improvements, the Mormons appealed to the government for redress. They were drawn into politics as part of their effort to escape the American polity. Political involvement even received divine sanction. Smith delivered a revelation to his people in which the voice of the Lord commanded them to seek redress. When the Mormons were driven out of the state of Missouri, Smith took his case to Washington. Eventually he ran for President thus involving himself and his people more deeply in national politics than ever. At the same time. he organized a secret Mormon government and made plans to build a new Zion farther west. This project, carried on by Brigham Young, initiated another half-century of struggle between the Zion dream of purity and isolation and the inescapable necessity of political engagement.
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