I published 2 interview this week with Dr. Paul Reeve of the University of Utah. Both were awesome! In the first, Paul told me that Mormons were actually considered a new race in the 1840s!
Even immigrants from northern and western Europe were being racialized as not fully white. There was a racial hierarchy that animated 19th century thought about where people fit in, and Anglo-Saxons were at the top of that hierarchy, and then Irish immigrants or Italian immigrants were seen as less than fully white somewhere down that racial ladder, and obviously you have Native Americans, Asians, African Americans at the bottom of the racial ladder, and 19th century observers were trying to figure out where to situate Mormons.
It’s really by the 1840s that outsiders are referring to a Mormon race and you have medical doctors who visit Utah Territory who suggest that there is a new race emerging out of the Great Basin. There’s actually a conference held at the New Orleans Academy of Sciences in 1860 where medical doctors gather and they have a conference about the supposed new race that’s emerging in the Great Basin. All the doctors present at the conference buy the argument and actually push it forward except for one. One doctor argues against that. He simply says that, Look, it’s only been thirty years since this religion has been around. We should really engage in an empirical study for thirty more years before we can conclusively say that Mormonism is giving rise to a new race. Everyone else just simply said that polygamy because it’s degraded, is producing degraded offspring. Therefore a new race is emerging in the Great Basin.
In part 2, we discussed the persecutions in Missouri back in the 1830s. Why were Mormons so persecuted? It turns out that the people of Missouri were concerned that Mormons were trying to start a Slave Rebellion. On the other hand, Joseph Smith was known to be against the abolitionist movement. Could both positions be true? Here are a few excerpts from my interview with Paul.
Outsiders, non-Mormons in Missouri read that article and get up in arms really quickly. They suggest that the Mormons are inviting free blacks to the state of Missouri to incite a slave rebellion. Beyond that they also argue they are inviting free blacks to the state of Missouri to steal our white wives and daughters. Fear of race mixing is always bound up in these charges leveled against the Mormons almost from the beginning, that somehow they are inciting a slave rebellion is one argument, but also race mixing was the other argument. You’re inviting free blacks, and black men. There was the myth of the black beast rapist that animates white people’s concerns of who black people are, especially black men. All black men just simply want white women, and that charge is leveled against the Mormons.
Mormons are labeled as abolitionists who are in favor of amalgamation—amalgamation is the pre-Civil War term for race mixing, then Joseph Smith finds it politically expedient to speak out against the immediate abolitionists and amalgamation, race mixing.
I also wondered if there any modern parallels, such as the LDS Church’s current position on abortion.
Yeah, that might work as an analogy. I mean if you go with the church’s position on abortion in the 21st century, abortion has to be legal for its position to be valid, right?
Finally, I found this particular quote enlightening.
The interesting thing is that almost every protestant denomination in the 19th century also speaks out against the radical abolitionists and against amalgamation. So they’re all speaking out: Presbyterians, Methodists, even the Quakers denounce radical abolitionists. Quakers are in favor of gradual emancipation. They’re against slavery, but what’s the process for doing it? They are also fearful of the immediate abolitionists and the anti-abolitionist backlash and they also come out against the immediate abolitionism. It situates Joseph Smith I think within a bigger context where religious leaders are fearful of the immediate abolitionist movement, and Joseph Smith is right on with the rest of those religious groups.
Are you surprised that Joseph Smith was anti-slavery and anti-abolitionist? Do you think abortion is a modern-day equivalent to slavery in terms of the LDS Church walking a fine line between supporting legal abortion in certain cases, but against it in most?