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To Transform History: Early Mormon Culture and the Concept of Time and Space

  • Robert Flanders (a1)


The literature of the current generation treating the Jacksonian period of American history suggests persuasively that although the citizenry of that time enjoyed widespread consensus about many important matters, many remained about which there was profound disagreement. American life abounded in antithetical and unresolved issues: tensions between pastoral and urbane, the unrequited yearning for a simpler way of life in a time when Americans were beginning to embrace more complex modes of economic, political, and social life; the conflict between an exuberant, secular American optimism about the promise of life and the often hysterical anxiety of the religious over a ripeness of sin and the approaching destruction of the wicked and the end of the world. And the slavery dilemma began to shake American society in the 1830–1850 generation. The idea of counter culture in early nineteenth century America should be considered against the background of such cultural tensions.



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1. The concept of a great debate about time and space is formulated and explored with insight in MajorWilson, L., “The Concept of Time and the Political Dialogue in the United States, 1828–1848,” American Quarterly, 19 (Winter, 1967).

2. Lewis, R. W. B., The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (University of Chicago Press, 1955), propounds such a thesis about the American dialogue concerning values.

3. The thesis that the religiously radical of New England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were often the economically unsuccessful who fled the orthodox towns and churches to settle in the “sticks” of New England is developed by East, R. A., “Puritanism and Settlement,” New England Quarterly, 17 (06, 1944).

4. Mormon teleology and other aspects of Mormon philosophy are summarized in Thomas, O'Dea, The Mormons (University of Chicago Press, 1957), particularly chapters II and VI, and passim.

5. The climate of the time and place where Mormonism was bred—and other unorthodox social and religious movements rooted in chiliastie fervor as well—has been described by many authors. Classic statements are Whitney, Cross, The Burned-Over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800–1850 (Cornell University Press, 1950), chapter 8 and passim, and John, Humphrey Noyes, History of American Socialisms, (Philadelphia, 1870), chapter XXII.

6. Millennial Star, VI, 140142 (1845), quoted in Hansen, Klaus J., Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom, of God and the Council of Fifty in, Mormon History (Wayne State University, 1967), p. 15.

7. See for example Smith's vision in the Kirtland Temple, April 3, 1836, in The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, section 110.

8. Joseph, Smith Jr,., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Period I, Roberts, Brigham H., ed. (Salt Lake City, 19481951), 3:260, 261.

9. The basic work on Mormon communitarianism remains Leonard Arlington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Mormons (Harvard University Press, 1957).

10. In an interesting echo of this feeling, Lewis Mumford, writing about mid-nineteenth century American culture, says, “The period from 1830 to 1860 was in America one of disintegration and fulfillment: the new and the old, the crude and the complete, the base and the noble mixed together … genuine statesmen like Brigham Young organized the colonization of Utah whilst nonentities like Pierce and Buchanan governed the whole country.” The Golden Day: A Study in American Literature and Culture (Beacon Press, Boston, 1957 [original copyright 1926]), p. 41.

11. An original and provocative treatment of Mormon imperial thought is Klaus J. Hanson, Quest for Empire (cited above). See also my Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (University of Illinois Press, 1965), Chapter 10, “The Kingdom as Empire,” and “The Kingdom of God in Illinois: Polities in Utopia,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 5 (Spring, 1970).

12. See Mircea, Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion (Harper Torchbooks, 1961 [original copyright, 1957]), Chapter 2 and passim.

13. See Nauvoo, Chapter 7, “A Dwelling for Man and a Dwelling for God: the Nauvoo House and the Temple.”

14. A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ, organised according to law, on the 6th day of April, 1830, (Zion: Published by W. W. Phelps and Co., 1833), pp. 36. This revelation was received in 1830; Smith's vision of the penultimate kingdom was not vet formed, but the foundations are here.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
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