So, it’s the middle of the 19th Century. People all around you are claiming parts of the American West, which is in the process of colonisation…and you want a piece too. But, just how do you go about getting your very own slice of the USA? Well, you need to be ambitious – having your own house, maybe a town is simply not enough. Let me share with you how the Mormons got the most out of the deal!
First up! A bit of background on Mormon history. The Mormon movement was started by Joseph Smith in the 1820s. Smith, one day, did a bit of a Moses and climbed up a mountain in upstate New York. He didn’t come back down with any new commandments as such, but he did come down with a book written on golden plates – or so it is claimed. These are thought to have been written by an ancient prophet historian and Joseph Smith published a translated version of these plates as The Book of Mormon. And so, the Mormon movement was founded (and is still going strong today).
Joseph Smith: the father of the Mormon movement.
The Mormons were pretty much persecuted wherever they went, moving from upstate New York to Ohio and eventually Missouri, where the governor declared that they should be ‘treated as enemies’. Owing to such persecution, they moved further and further west, enduring all the hardships that other pioneers encountered, eventually reaching the territory of Utah and settling there.
Despite the persecution, the number of Mormons increased, but their society became increasingly isolated, following their own practices and living by their own rules, including openly practicing polygamy, which was as illegal then in America as it is now. Their argument for polygamy, and a valid one when you think about it, was that it made sound economic sense as single men increased single women in Mormon society, and a lot of these were without fathers or brothers to offer them economic support.
Mormon Pioneers, making their way across America.
From 1857 for approximately 20 years, the Mormon practice of polygamy was used as an excuse for escalating tensions between the Mormons and other Americans in the area.
Eventually, the American Congress ruled that the Mormons’ religious duty was not a valid or legal reason for the practice of polygamy and by hook or by crook, the American government came to an agreement with the Mormons. The church leaders published a manifesto in 1890, outlawing polygamy within the community (although not existing polygamous marriage). In return, the US government recognised Utah as a state, rather than simply a territory as it was before.
Within Utah, the Mormons built Salt Lake City, which was a lesson to other cities in town planning. Every profession was considered and had their own area. For example, artists and arty-types lived close to the centre in smaller houses as they did not need the room that other professions would need. Of course, this is not the case these days.
The first statehouse in Utah, built by the Mormons.
And there you have it, how to get your own state. Simply get your religion recognised by flouting a pretty fundamental law throughout the world, history and the majority of religions. Of course, we won’t mention all the American Indians, who were displaced in this process, and have never recovered.