The Mormon Question |
Popular Sovereignty |
Power and Control in the Emerging American West |
Less than ten years following the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War, where the United States absorbed a tremendous amount of territory in the West, the conquering country found itself in another battle for control in that region. Acquiring the West became central to that era, shaping the course of United States history as much as any event of the 19th century. While much history of the 1850s concentrates in the east on the growing sectional problems, Americans were also extremely concerned with the West and its character. Americans thought it their destiny to control the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, yet the Mormons, perilously parked in an immense western territory, blocked that progress. From their arrival in July 1847, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons, maintained complete political, cultural, and social control of the vast Utah Territory. In Utah, Mormon religious law blended with, and often took precedence over, civil law. Knowing little about Mormon policies and beliefs, most assumed that the Church leadership, particularly their President Brigham Young, controlled the opinions, actions, property, and lives of its members. Fusing Church and State, the Mormons established what most viewed as both a theocratic and monarchical empire in the West, which posed a direct threat to the expansion of American democracy and ideals.
The Mormons comprised a significant domestic threat in the minds of most Americans and public opinion became such that President James Buchanan made perhaps the only decisive move in his presidency; to send the federal army to Utah to enforce submission to the United States and claim power in that land. The Utah Expedition followed. It was meant to escort a new governor and government officials to Utah Territory with the army serving as the federal government's mode of eliminating the Mormon form of governance and ensuring that republicanism would flourish in the West. This battle would test some core American principles, particularly popular sovereignty and the power of the federal government, and simultaneously strengthen an imperial ideological framework that has defined American history. This framework concerns subordinating and dominating a people that do not fit the American paradigm. In the Utah Expedition and the extension of United States political control one can see the continuity of this ideology throughout that remains visible in today's foreign affairs.
Where scholars have examined the Utah Expedition, it seems isolated from other events and focuses strictly on the impact on the Mormon population, thereby marginalizing it in broader United States history. "What Shall be the Character of this Vast Western Territory?: National Expansion, Imperial Ideology, and the Utah Expedition, 1857-1858," seeks to re-center this event as one with national scope that defines the shaping of the American West and demonstrates United States expansionist imperialism. The argument will demonstrate that during the 1850s, the prestige and growth of the United States remained threatened by the Mormon existence and geographic placement, unease demonstrated in texts, discourses, and public rhetoric at a time when the use of the written word was paramount. Further, the argument explores the idea that the Utah Expedition marks an important chapter in the national story of empire as the United States government sought to expand its sphere of influence over the West to gain political, economic, and geographic control over important resources, markets, and passages to the Pacific and beyond.
Transcribing each of the documents has provided a deeper familiarity with their level and type of discourse. During the transcription process alone, many different facets of imperial ideology arose. These will be indicated in the argument with hyperlinks to the individual document from which the information came. Once transcribed and made digitally accessible into HTML and/or XML files, text-analysis tools opened new realms of inquiry. Word clouds generated using Wordle where those word clouds were particularly useful in enhancing the argument, they will be included in the section as a thumbnail with a caption of their usefulness, on which readers can click and view the image in a different and larger window. TokenX, text-analysis software, helped visualize some of the keywords found in the word clouds in their context within and across the documents. Through textual analysis tools, the argument reveals a deeper meaning to the use of the written word and the movement of ideas that stimulated modes of American imperial thinking surrounding the Utah Expedition. Finally, the timeline tool illustrates print media coverage of the events and through it readers may visualize better the movement of ideas.