American Mormons faced stereotypes and prejudices despite their involvement in the war efforts. It was a momentous occasion one fall day in 1861, when the completed transcontinental telegraph lines linked the war-torn East with the developing Western territories. In the throes of war, the completion of the telegraph assumed added significance for a federal government that needed to maintain control over the lines of communication between the East and the West. With the transcontinental telegraph line passing through the territory of Utah and Salt Lake City, the first message sent East was penned by Brigham Young, the religious leader of the Mormon Church and de facto political leader of the territory. Young sent a brief, but politically important, message affirming the status of Utah in relation to the Union. In the years leading up to the war and during the war, Young and other Mormon leaders continually made questionable statements about the fate of the nation, which left federal authorities in Washington wary of Young and the Mormon population. The telegraphed message, however, stated, ''Utah has not seceded but is firm for the constitution and laws of our once happy country'' (Arrington 1985, 294). Utah citizens, who were overwhelmingly Mormon, and the territorial government, which was increasingly run by non-Mormons hostile to Mormon-ism, stood by this statement throughout the duration of the war. At the same time, however, Mormons were caught in a contentious relationship with the territorial government and the federal government, exacerbated by questions of loyalty, agitation for statehood, military presence in the territory, and polygamy. Although the issues that contributed to the tenuous relationship between the federal government and the Mormons had no direct bearing on the course of the war, the war provided the catalyst for reevaluating the status of Mormons and the Utah Territory to the nation.
On the fringes of both the American religious scene and the tensions between the North and South, Mormons and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints attempted to exist quietly and independently of the rest of the nation since their overland trek from Illinois to Utah in the late 1840s. From the beginning of Mormonism under the guidance of Joseph Smith in the 1820s, Mormons faced considerable resistance and criticism from the American public. Anti-Mormonism exhibited itself in public policy, in literature attempting to expose the falsehood of the religion, and in violence. This increasing hostility prompted Mormons to migrate to the West, where they continued to experience opposition from the American public and the federal government. By 1860, more than 42,000 people lived in the Utah Territory. The increased presence of the United States in territories of the West, however, drew Mormons and Utah into the orbit of national political affairs. In addition, the country's negative perception of Mormons, particularly their practice of polygamy, caused further troubles for the Church during the war.
Keeping a close eye on the political developments taking place in the east, Young spoke for the Mormon community throughout the war and offered an opinion that simultaneously affirmed and undermined Mormon loyalty. In communicating a Mormon religious interpretation of the war, Young's early opinion did not lend itself to easing the mind of the federal government regarding Mormons' loyalty to the nation. The religious interpretation of the war—an interpretation that lost staying power as the war drew to a close—offered by Young fit within the larger Mormon belief in millennialism, which suggested that the return of Jesus to earth was imminent. Part of Jesus' return to earth included the destruction of the nation. The war itself, as interpreted by Young and other Mormon leaders, would serve as the means by which the political organization of the nation would be destroyed, and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints would be the outlet for the rule of God on earth. In addition, Young and other Mormon leaders believed that the war was an act of revenge on the federal government and the American public for their rejection and hostility toward Mormons.
Prophetic statements made by Mormon founder Smith also pointed to the signs of things to come. Smith prophesied that war would come to the nation starting with a rebellion in South Carolina, and in 1843 he stated that ''[t]he commencement of the difficulties which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man will be in South Carolina. It may probably arise through the slave question'' (Holzapfel 1994, 94). The firing on Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, in April 1861 seemed to provide a solid confirmation of Smith's prophecy. Interpretations and opinions of the war offered by Young and Mormon leaders, and consistent criticism from Utah newspapers of the government over non-Mormon territorial administration, however, did not sit well with the federal government or the territorial officials in Utah. Although Young affirmed the territory's allegiance to the Union in the telegraphed message and Mormon support of the constitution as divinely inspired but imperfect, statements relating to the destruction of the nation threw into question the loyalty of Mormons and their wartime political positions. The greatest anti-Mormon agitation and question of loyalty within the confines of the Utah Territory was espoused by Colonel Patrick E. O'Connor, commander of the Third California Volunteers, who was sent to the Utah Territory to protect the overland mail routes and the telegraph lines.
O'Connor's anti-Mormonism, coupled with Mormon frustration with the territorial and military administration of the Utah Territory, contributed to a tense relationship between Mormons and O'Connor's troops, a tension that reached the brink of violent confrontation. When the war started, the federal government pulled out the military presence at Camp
Floyd near Salt Lake City in July 1861, much to the happiness of Young and the Mormon leaders. Federal authorities did not ask for troops from Utah and Utah did not volunteer regiments, although some individual Mormons chose to go East and fight. In the fall of 1862, however, after a militia was organized by Young at the request of Lincoln to temporarily protect the stage routes and telegraph lines, federal troops from California under the command of O'Connor were sent to Utah. O'Connor was not shy about expressing his opinions about the Mormons to his superiors in San Francisco, California. In an early report to his superiors, O'Connor argued that the Mormons could not be trusted and were traitors, and that they rejoiced in the knowledge that the war could destroy the government. He not only targeted the Mormons as a whole for their disloyalty, but he also railed against Young, whom he believed ruled as a despot. With the memory of the last time the federal government sent troops to Utah, which resulted in the Utah War in the late 1850s, Young and Mormon leaders were wary when O'Connor opted to locate his 750 soldiers at Camp Douglas on a bluff overlooking Salt Lake City, rather than at Camp Floyd. O'Connor's continued belief that Mormons were disloyal, which seemed to be affirmed when Young expressed animosity toward a loyalty oath demanded of those merchants selling goods to the military, and his suspicions that Mormons aided Indians in their raids, served only to create greater animosity between the two.
Watching with a concerned and worried eye back in Washington, the federal government witnessed a near eruption of violence between O'Connor's troops and the Mormons in the summer of 1863. O'Connor's policy toward the Mormons became enmeshed with the Mormon dislike of the political administration of the territory. Mormons faced the latest hostile territorial governor, Stephen S. Harding, who derided the local government, targeted Mormons for their disloyalty to the Union, and attempted to undermine the powers of the local courts. Believing that Mormons were planning an armed resistance against the military, O'Connor placed Captain Charles Hempstead in Salt Lake City as provost marshal, effectively placing military authority above that of territorial authority. O'Connor's activist policy toward the Mormons during this crisis was tempered by his superior in San Francisco, Major General Irvin McDowell, who reminded O'Connor that his orders were merely to protect the mail and telegraph routes. McDowell communicated to O'Connor that his actions in attempting to resolve the larger territorial disputes between the Mormons and the territorial officials would lead to war, weaken the strength of the troops, and leave Utah vulnerable to attacks by secessionists. Agitating Mormons to the point of violence ultimately would undermine the war effort. The Mormon delegate in Washington submitted petitions to the federal government seeking replacements for Harding and two territorial judges, who they claimed undermined the principles of republicanism and liberty, while O'Connor and his officers submitted counterpetitions seeking to retain the governor and the judges. Although orders came down from the secretary of war to O'Connor's superiors to provide him with reinforcements in Utah, the potentially violent situation was resolved when Lincoln removed Harding and two territorial judges from their positions and appointed a governor more suitable to the position.
Over the course of the war, Young and the Mormon community maintained an active presence in Washington, D.C., campaigning for statehood, while Congress worked to undermine the Mormon religious practice of polygamy, indicating a clash between religion and politics. In the wake of continued tensions with the territorial governments, Young and Mormon leaders started the process of seeking statehood for Utah. With a constitutional convention, the adoption of the State of Deseret, and the appointment of Young as governor of that state in early 1862, the state constitution was presented before the Congressional Committee on Territories in the summer. The petition for statehood sat unaddressed in the committee until December, when the committee ruled against it. With a refusal to approve the petition of statehood, however, the State of Deseret continued to exist during the course of the war functioning as a ''ghost'' government run by Mormons. At the same time that the Committee of Territories sat on the petition for Utah statehood, an antipolygamy bill presented by Vermont congressman Justin Morrill made its way through Congress and to the desk of the president. Unlike the petition for statehood, the bill was pushed through Congress quickly and Lincoln signed the legislation in July 1862. The bill stated that the practice of polygamy was a federal crime and could result in a fine or jail time. In addition, the congressional legislation sought to undermine the legislation of the territory that favored Mormons. The bill annulled territorial legislation from 1851 that gave the Church rights over the regulation of marriage, and prohibited religious or charitable organizations from holding property valued at more than $50,000 in any given territory. To Mormons the legislation indicated the continued prominence of anti-Mormonism not only in American society but also within the federal government and in its policies. An unstable territorial government and the presence of the ''ghost'' government in the form of the State of Deseret, however, did not provide an environment conducive for enforcing the legislation. Both Mormons and law-enforcement officials largely ignored the act.
Geographically distant from the war back East, the hostility within the Utah Territory between territorial officials, military commanders, and the Mormons, and fragile relations between Mormons and the federal government over statehood and polygamy prompted tenuous relations and potentially violent situations. Amid these tensions and disagreements, however, Mormons remained loyal to the Union.
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