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chapter 6 “The Foulest Ulcer on the Body of Our Nation” Race, Class, and Contagion in Anti-Mormon Literature In 1866, a writer for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper called Mormonism “a great anomaly in American history.”1 Plural marriage, this writer contended, madeMormonismananomalyinnationalculturethatAmericanssimplycould not tolerate. In their unrelenting attempts to cast the Mormon anomaly out of the American body politic, anti-Mormons most often turned to some of the mostpowerfullychargedsourcesoffearandprejudiceinthenineteenthcentury, raceandclass.Nativistattitudesalongwithprejudicetowardimmigrantpoorer classes came with a ready-made set of tropes, images, analogies, and allusions toapplytoMormonismandmanufacturedeeplyrepellingdifferencesbetween Mormons and “true” Americans. In the course of this decades-long literary and political campaign, anti-Mormon discourse articulated for all Americans the boundaries beyond which they could not go and remain truly American. PaintingMormonismwiththe stripesofrace and class difference, however, had built-in limitations. The origins of Mormonism were inextricably bound up with American institutions, and the Church’s early membership shared similar ideological legacies and European gene pools of the nation at large. As Terryl Givens states, “Mormons were Americans, and in a most vexing way at that.”2 What was truly offensive to national sensibilities was the emergence of Mormondifferencefromanoriginalsameness.Inanattempttodistancethemselves from plural marriage, anti-Mormons invested the practice with negative racial and class meanings. Talbot_Text.indd 129 9/5/13 8:49 AM 130 chapter 6 “Turkey is In Our Midst”3 : Orientalist Anti-Mormonism Orientalism was perhaps the most popular and widespread technique of racializing Mormons. The mindset that Edward Said has labeled Orientalism emerged in the context of European imperialism that framed the Orient as backward,underdeveloped,andinneedofthecivilizinginfluenceofEuropean rule. Said’s influential treatise, Orientalism, argues that beginning in the late eighteenth century, Orientalism emerged “as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.”4 Broadly speaking, Orientalism “wasultimatelyapoliticalvisionofrealitywhosestructurepromoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, ‘us’) and the strange (theOrient,theEast,‘them’).”5 SincebeforetheAmericanRevolution,American Protestants have “used the knowledge of Islam that they produced both to reinforce their brand of Protestantism over its challengers such as Deism or Catholicism, and to delegitimize Islam and Muslims religiously, morally, and racially.”6 In the decades following the Revolution, American presses flooded thenationwithbooksabouttheMuslimworld.AccordingtoRobertJ.Allison, those captivity narratives, histories, novels, and poems “conveyed a consistent pictureoftheMuslimworld,aninvertedimageoftheworldtheAmericanswere tryingtocreateanew.”ForAmericansintheearlyRepublic,“theMuslimworld was a lesson . . . in what not to do, in how not to construct a state, encourage commerce,orformfamilies.”7 Inthisearlyliterature,“awickedreligion[Islam] hadfosteredbadgovernment,andbadgovernmentthwartedsocialprogress.”8 Moreover, Muslim rulers were reported to have kept harems full of beautiful women, “slaves to the tyrant’s lust.”9 Anti-Mormons no doubt drew on this early literature as they cast Mormons as Oriental, and one does not have to look far to find Orientalist binary reasoning in anti-Mormon thought.10 To anti-Mormons, Mormonism looked suspiciously like the religious, domestic, and political despotism transplanted onto American soil that Orientalists believed characterized the cultures of the Orient. Orientalist metaphors could account for the Mormon marital, religious , and political structures that anti-Mormons found so heinously antidemocratic . Although Orientalism was not a dominant trope for understanding Mormonism until the 1850s, the comparison between Joseph Smith and the prophet of Islam had been made as early as 1831, and Smith himself made the comparison in 1838.11 In his 1842 The History of the Saints, John C. Bennett rehearsed connections anti-Mormons made between Mormon polygamy and Islam. Bennett claimed that Joseph Smith “closely resembles his master and Talbot_Text.indd 130 9/5/13 8:49 AM 131 Race, Class, and Contagion in Anti-Mormon Literature model, Mahomet, [sic] [in] the secret regulations he has formed for directing the relations of the sexes.” For anti-Mormons, Mormon polygamy was worse than “Muhammedan” polygamy and would appear incredible even in “those licentious Oriental courts” of the “modern Turkish and Moorish sultans.”12 AfterPratt’s1852announcementofpluralmarriage,comparingMormonism to Catholicism (see chapter 4) became a much less useful analogy because, as anti-Mormon Utah Judge John Cradlebaugh would point out eleven years later, “Mormonism repudiates the celibacy imposed by the catholic religion upon its priesthood, and takes in its stead the voluptuous impositions of the Mohammedan church.”13 The practice of polygamy offered anti-Mormonism a unique opportunity to transfer many of its early anti-Catholic claims into a much more comprehensive set of accusations attached to ideologies of race and racial progress. Orientalism proved particularly useful to anti-Mormon strategies because it allowed more of Mormonism under its tent than did associations with Catholicism—it could account for both polygamy and theocracy and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780252095351
Related ISBN
9780252038082
MARC Record
OCLC
862745819
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-27
Language
English
Open Access
No
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