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Mr. James Williamson
|Title:||Doctoral Student/Graduate Teaching Assistant|
I completed both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Sheffield, completing an MA in American History in 2013. In 2014 I was awarded a PhD studentship and teaching assistantship by Keele University.
Supervisor: Prof. Axel Schaefer
Icebergs in the Desert: Northern Republicans, the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and the Battle over Polygamy in Utah Territory
Between 1865 and 1898 Northern Republicans, who wielded control of the Federal Government for much of the period, tried to reconstruct the West, in accordance with their own Northern vision. This new impetus drew heavily upon links between Protestantism and Americanism, with alternative religious and social institutions seen to represent a threat to national stability. One such threat, of particular concern to Northern Republicans, was the practise of polygamy by members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints in Utah Territory. Denounced at the inaugural Republican Party Convention as one of the 'twin relics of barbarism,' polygamy had been outlawed by Lincoln's government in 1862. However, it wasn't until the American Civil War had ended that the practise gained the full attention of moral reformers in the North.
Despite the fact that it was already a federal crime to practise polygamous marriage, anti-polygamy legislation proved impossible to enforce in Utah, due to the political and social dominance that the Mormon church wielded within the territory. Between 1862 and 1890, seven laws were passed which specifically targeted polygamy; none of which were successful in convincing Mormons to adopt a more 'American' family model.
Reluctant to use federal law enforcement agents to bring polygamy down, for fear of overstepping traditional boundaries between federal and local government, Northern Republicans began to consider an alternative tactic. By utilising the Federal Government's increasingly strong relationship with large corporations, railroad companies in particular, they hoped to encourage like-minded Northerners to move to Utah Territory, who would take their good, Protestant, American values westward with them. Once settled, the Utah society would hopefully be affected twofold. On the one hand, a greater number of 'Gentile' Americans would make it easier for non-Mormons to gain political office; on the other hand, polygamous Mormons would see the economic benefits that came from co-operation with, and integration into, Northern-style culture, and would renounce their sinful ways voluntarily. In this way, Utah Mormons represented 'icebergs in the desert': stoic and resolute in their beliefs, but powerless to resist the pressure that the attractions of the new, Northern vision for the nation placed upon them.
This study seeks to analyse the ways in which the United States government utilised its relationship with big business, and its ability to manipulate its citizens, as a means of regulating the nation, in order to provide a fresh insight into U.S. state power, both after the American Civil War, and throughout history. It also adds to the New Western History school, which seeks to demonstrate the ways in which government activism and intervention formed a key part of the settlement of the American West.
Supervisor: Axel Schäfer