Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Point of Agreement

In 1861 they would find themselves on different sides.  Some decided to remain loyal to the Union and fight to preserve it.  Others would pledge their allegiance to their state and a new Confederacy of states and fight to protect its rights.  However, in 1857 and 1858 in the Utah Territory, they agreed on crushing Brigham Young and the Mormon Church.

The Mormons had fled to Utah to escape religious prosecution and create their own nation.  Things were progressing well under the rule of the Mexican government, but that all changed when the US obtained the area after the Mexican War. As the West was opened to settlers from the East, non-Mormons began to cross the new territory of Utah. The Saints resented the presence of these non-Mormons, who they called Gentiles, in their sanctuary. The Mormons had been treated badly by Gentiles in Missouri and Illinois. Now the Saints returned the favor by dealing severely with the trespassers. After living under the Mexican rule, the Mormons were reluctant to comply with the newly installed Federal officials and obey laws they disliked or conflicted with their religious beliefs. The US government compounded the problem by appointing men with few qualifications and antagonistic attitudes to administer the territory. These Federal officials conflicted with Governor Brigham Young's local government.

In 1848 gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California, producing the California Gold Rush. As a result, thousands of emigrants moved west to the gold fields on trails which passed directly through the Mormons' new home. These emigrants brought opportunities for trade, but also ended the Mormons' short-lived isolation. In 1857, disobedience and crimes against Gentiles reached the stage that President James Buchanan decided to send troops to install a new territorial government.

That  May, the Buchanan Administration concluded that Utah was "in a state of organized and open rebellion against the laws" and this defiance demanded stern measures. Buchanan's first annual message said that "the ecclesiastical despotism, fanaticism, and illegal Indian policy of the Mormons indicated that the people of Utah were in revolt."  The President also listed the expulsion of federal officers, disruption of the courts, and other forms of misbehavior as evidence of "insubordination" in the Territory. 

Albert S. Johnston
An expedition was sent to Utah to quell the uprising and install a Federally-appointed governor and other officials. The command of this expedition eventually devolved to brevet General Albert S. Johnston.  With the clouds of civil war hanging over the country's head, the Buchanan administration wanted to end the insurrection in Utah and impress upon the Southern states that rebellion would not be tolerated. Among officers serving in this command were men who would soon find themselves on the opposite side in the coming battle.  However, for the roughly three years they served in the Utah Territory, the men who disagreed about the spread of slavery were in agreement on their opinion of the Mormons.

The Mormons were held in contempt because they practiced polygamy and the war was more about ending this institution than imposing Federal law. The Mormons announced that they would contest any invasion into their community. They put their words into action by burning grasslands and stealing livestock to impede the Federal troops.  After surviving a harsh winter at Fort Bridger in the Wyoming Territory, the men and officers were even angrier with the Mormons.
Charles F. Smith
Lt. Col. C. F. Smith, second in command of the 10th Infantry regiment, expressed the sentiments of many of his comrades in August 1857.

... the Mormon Prophet and his Elders preached war to the knife against the Gentiles, that the Mormons threaten to attack the Army as it approaches the city of the Saints, in a certain cañon not far from it etc. etc. I fear this is too good to be true. Should they act when the onus would be thrown upon them and we could act without hesitation and with a clear conscience in razing the city of the Saints and sowing Salt on its Surface.
Smith regarded Brigham Young as a "knave" and "imposter [sic] though a clever man."

Captain Jesse Gove of the 10th Regiment wrote his wife that, "They are worse than the banditti of Italy. They say they will not shed blood but if one of the Saints' blood is shed, they will exterminate the Gentile Army. I intend to give them a chance to execute their threat, for if the miscreants come within range of my rifles I mean to fire into them."

A. S. Johnston said,

They have with premeditation placed themselves in rebellion against the Union and entertain the insane design or establishing a form of government thoroughly despotic and utterly repugnant to our institutions — occupying as they do an attitude of rebellion and open defiance connected with numerous overt acts or treason... The time for any further argument is past, and in my opinion, the people of the United States must now act or submit to an usurpation of their territory and the ingrafting upon our institutions, a social organization and political principle totally incompatible with their own.

After the new Governor, Cummings arranged a truce with Brigham Young,  Johnston was still suspicious. "To compromise with these people on any other terms than an unconditional surrender would in my opinion be unsafe, unwise, and impolitic."

Jesse Gove
In the summer of 1858, a peace commission visited the territory carrying a full pardon from Buchanan for those who would "submit to the law unconditionally. Captain Gove was more outspoken in his criticism.
The Mormons have accepted this pardon, but it is no more in earnest than the wind: they are as impudent and villainous as ever ...No trust is to be put in them so you see we have got to give them a sound whipping, hang about 100 of them, and then the rest will submit ... They have only accepted to gain time. The President has damned himself and the country.

One can only wonder what these officers would think of a Presidential election matching a Mormon disciple and descendant of a former slave.

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