to the MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
In the eighteen twenties, in the state of
New York, a man named Joseph Smith started the Mormon religion. Smith based it on
what he said were God's words to the ancient people of America.
Many people became members of the new
church. Others, however, laughed at some of the beliefs of the Mormons. This
led to trouble. Smith had to move his people many times. For a while, they
settled in the state of Illinois, in a town they built and called Nauvoo.
The church split when Joseph Smith said
that Mormons could have more than one wife. The split led to violence and public
opposition to the Mormons. Smith was arrested and put in jail. A mob attacked
the jail and killed Smith and his brother. The governor of Illinois ordered the
Mormons to leave the state.
This week on our series, Sarah Long and
Richard Rael discuss relations between the Mormons and the federal government.
Brigham Young became the new leader of the
Mormons. He told his people that he had seen their new home in a dream. He said
it was a wide, beautiful valley in the West. He said he would recognize it when
he saw it.
The Mormons left Illinois in the spring of
eighteen forty-six. There were more than fifteen thousand people, and many
wagons and farm animals. The trip west was hard. Many of the people died. After
months of slow travel, they stopped to make their winter camp.
Explorers visited the camp. They told
Brigham Young about a great salt lake in a wide valley on the western side of
the Rocky Mountains. From the way they described it, young believed it was the
valley of his dream.
He started to move his people toward the Great
Salt Lake as soon as the winter snows melted. They arrived in the summer of
eighteen forty-seven. Brigham Young looked out over the valley.
"This," he said, "is the right place."
The Mormons wasted no time. Two hours after
arriving, they began to prepare the ground for planting. The lake water was too
salty to use. So they built a system of canals to bring water down from the
The first few years were difficult. Cold
weather and insects destroyed their crops. Yet the Mormons continued to work
hard to make their settlement a success. They refused to think of leaving.
At first, the Mormons were ruled only by
the laws of their church and by their leader. Then gold was discovered in
California. Many non-Mormons passed through the Salt Lake area on their way to
the gold fields. Some of them stayed. It soon became clear that new laws were
needed to govern the growing population.
The Mormons asked Congress to approve a
territorial government for their land. They called the land Deseret. That was a
Mormon word meaning honeybee.
The Mormons claimed a large area. It
stretched from the mountains of Colorado west to the mountains of California;
from Arizona north to Oregon.
Congress rejected the large claim of Deseret
and made it a much smaller territory. It also refused to accept the name Deseret.
Instead, Congress called it Utah, after the Ute tribe of Native American
Indians that lived there. As a compromise, Brigham Young was named governor of
the new Utah territory. Most of the new territorial officials were Mormons,
too. Four were not Mormon.
Governing the territory would not be easy.
There were disputes during the administrations of several American presidents.
As a result of one dispute, the four non-Mormon officials returned to
Washington. The Mormons then formed their own territorial government with a
legislature and courts.
Other federal officials were sent to Utah.
Some of them were not prepared for the job. Usually, they did not stay long.
Some of the officials made many charges
against Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders. They said Mormons refused to
recognize the power of the federal government. They said Mormons put the words
of Young above the laws of Congress. They said the church had a secret
organization to take the lives and property of those who questioned the power
of the church.
There were charges that Mormons had burned
the papers of the Supreme Court of the territory. And there were charges that
Mormons were responsible for Indian attacks on some officials.
President Franklin Pierce decided he should
make someone else governor of Utah. The man he chose, however, did not want the
job. Instead, he urged the president to let Brigham Young remain. President
Relations between the Mormons and the
government did not improve in the next three years. Territorial officials
resigned. They charged that the Mormons were in open rebellion against the
The next president, James Buchanan,
dismissed Brigham Young as governor. He ordered more than one thousand soldiers
to go to Utah to put down the rebellion. He also sent a new governor, Alfred
Cumming, with the soldiers. The Mormons prepared to fight.
A small group of Mormon men attacked and
destroyed the army's supply wagons. They forced the soldiers to stop for the
winter before reaching the Salt Lake Valley. The soldiers could do nothing
In Washington, efforts were made to settle
the dispute. A man named Thomas Kane asked President Buchanan to let him go to
Utah. Kane was an old friend of the president. He also was a friend of the
Mormons. He had spent much time with them during their long trip to Utah ten
Kane feared what might happen to his Mormon
friends if fighting started. He told President Buchanan that he did not want a
job or money. He only wanted a chance to be useful. The president agreed to let
him try to settle the dispute.
Thomas Kane arrived in Salt Lake City, the
territorial capital, early in eighteen fifty-eight. He found that the Mormons
had decided not to fight. Instead, they were preparing to search for a new
home. They talked of moving to Mexico or perhaps to an island in the South
Kane talked with Brigham Young. Then he
went to the army camp to talk with Governor Cumming. The governor agreed to go
to Salt Lake City with Kane. The two men went alone, without any soldiers.
The Mormons welcomed Cumming, but continued
their preparations to leave. Cumming called a public meeting.
He said he was in Utah to represent the
federal government. He said he was there to make sure the people of the
territory obeyed the constitution and the laws of the United States. He said he
would not use military force until every other way had failed.
Above all, said Cumming, he would not
interfere with the Mormon religion. He urged the Mormons not to leave the land
they had worked so hard to build.
Brigham Young agreed to stay.
Governor Cumming returned to the army camp.
He told the commander that the Mormons had accepted him. He said military force
would not be needed. A few days later, two representatives of President
Buchanan arrived. They brought news that the president would not act against
Mormons who accepted the rule of the United States government.
Brigham Young and the other Mormon leaders
made a statement. They said they wished to live in peace under the Constitution
and the laws of the United States.
The dispute was over. Brigham Young
continued to lead the Mormon church. But the governor ruled the territorial
government. The two jobs were separate and would remain that way.
Congressional elections were held in the
United States in eighteen fifty-eight. One political race created national
interest. It was for one of the two Senate seats representing the state of
Illinois. The candidate of the Democratic Party was Stephen Douglas. He was
running for re-election. His opponent was a lawyer and member of the Republican
Party. His name was Abraham Lincoln.
That will be our story next time.
Our program was
written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Sarah Long and Richard Rael. Transcripts,
MP3s and podcasts of our programs are online, along with historical images, at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an
American history series in VOA Special English.
is program #87 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION