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Early Morman Millenarianism: Another Look

  • Grant Underwood (a1)

It is by no means insignificant that many of the specially funded Tanner Lectures delivered recently at the annual meetings of the Mormon History Association have dealt, to some degree or another, with early Mormon millenarianism. This occurrence is less surprising when it is relized that the lectures come in the wake of a decade that produced what one historian has called “a veritable blizzard of scholarly and popular writings in the often stormy field of millennialism.”

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1. Tanner Lectures discussing Mormon millenarianism include Wood S., “Evangelical America and Early Mormonism,” New York History 61 (1980):359386;Smith Timothy L., “The Book of Mormon in a Biblical Culture,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980);321;Wilson John F., “Some Comparative Perspectives on the Early Mormon Movement and the Church-State Question, 1830–1845,” Journal of Mormon History 8 (1981):6377; and Gager John G., “Early Mormonism and Early Christianity: Some Parallels and Their Consequences For the Study of New Religions,” Journal of Mormon History 9 (1982):5360.

2. The recent literature in received in Leonard I. Sweet , “Millennialism in America: Recent Studies,” Theological Studies 40 (1979):510531, and in Schwartz Hillel, “The End of the Beginning: Millenarian Studies, 1969–1975,” Religious Studies Review 2 (1976): 115. The quotation is from Sweet, p. 511.

3. Hansen Klaus, Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty (East Lansing, Mich., 1967). The master's theses are Reinwand Louis G., “An Interpretive Study of Mormon Millennialism During the Nineteenth Century with Emphasis on Millennial Development in Utah,” (M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1971);Swensen Russell, “The Influence of the New Testament upon Latter-day Saint Eschatology from 1830–1845,” (M.A. thesis, University of Chicago, 1931); and Underwood Grant, “Early Mormon Millennialism: Another Look,” (M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1981).

4. See, for example, such standard surveys as Allen James B. and Leonard Glen M., The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, 1976);Arrington Leonard J. and Bitton Davis, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints (New York, 1979); and Poll Richard D. et al. , eds., Utah's History (Provo, Utah, 1978).

5. Hansen Klaus, “Mormonism and American Culture; Some Tentative Hypotheses,” in The Restoration Movement: Essays in Mormon History, by McKiernan F. Mark et al. (Lawrence, Ks., 1973), pp 126;“The Millennium, the West and Race in the Antebellum Mind,” Western Historical Quarterly 3 (1973);371390; and Mormonism and the American Experience (Chicago, 1981).

6. Sandeen Ernest R., The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800–1930 (Chicago, 1970), p. 302.

7. As in many fields, especially interdisciplinary ones like millennial studies, there is an unfortunate lack of consensus on nomenclature. Theologically oriented students tend toward terms like premillennialism, postmillenialism, and amillennialism, while social socientists talk of millenarian movements and literary critics describe the apocalyptic. Some historians have popularized an extra-dictionary distinction between the terms millennialism and millenarianism which makes millennialism interchangeable with the more cumbersome postmillennialism and millenarianism synonymous with premillennialism. I will follow this latter convention.

8. Clouse Robert G., ed., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downers Gove, Ill., 1977), p. 7.

9. Marsden George, The Evangelical Mmd and the New School Presbyterian Experience: A Case Study of Thought and Theology in Nineteenth-Century America (New Haven, 1970), p. 185. Marsden also sheds valuable light on the subsequent history of millennial ideologies in Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870–1925 (New York, 1980).Sandeen Ernest R., “Millennialism,” in The Rise of Adventism: Religion and Society in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America, ed. Gaustad Edwin S., (New York, 1974), p. 113;Oliver W. H., Prophets and Millennialists: The Uses of Biblical Prophecy in England from the 1790s to the 1840s (Auckland, New Zealand 1978), pp. 1819.

10. Oliver , Prophets and Millenialists, p. 21.

11. As only the most recent example, see Norman Keith E., “How Long O Lord?: The Delay of the Parousia in Mormonism,” Sunstone 8 (01 1983):5965. The “transformation” of the Mormon “millennial vision” is approached from a different angle in Shipps Jan, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religous Tradition (Urbana, Ill., 1985).

12. Hansen , Quest for Empire, passim; Reinwand, “An Interpretive Study of Mormon Millennialism,” pp. 153160, 4348, passim.

13. Morhead James H., American Apocalypse: Yankee Protestants and the Civil War, 1860–1869 (New Haven, 1978), p. 8.

14. See note 2 above.

15. Bercovitch Sacvan, “The Typolgoy of America's Mission,” American Quartely 30 (1978): 137.

16. Garrett Clarke, Respectable Foll: Millebnariabns and the French Revolution in France and England (Baltimore, 1975), p. 7.

17. Quoted in Davidson James W., “Searching for the Millennium: Problems for the 1790s and the 1970s,” New England Quarterly 45 (1972): 252.

18. Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City, 1981), 88: 84, 8990.

19. Sweet , “Millennialism in America,” p. 522;Davidson James, The Logic of Millennial Thought: Eighteenth Century New England (New Haven, 1977) p. 277;Marsden , The Evangelical Mind, pp. 193197, italics added; Davidson , Logic of Millennial Thought, p. 277.

20. Sandeen , Roots of Fundamentalism, see esp. pp. 183186;Weber Timothy P., Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American Premillennialism, 1875–1925 (New York, 1979), see esp. pp. 6581.

21. Weber , Living in the Shadow, p. 67.

22. Quoted in Marsden , The Evangelical Mind, p. 194.

23. Smith David E., “Millenarian Scholarship in America,” American Quarterly 17 (1965):539;Weber , Living in the Shadow, pp. 69, 70;Rigdon Sidney, The Evening and the Morning Star 2 (1834):163. I have explored Mormon views on these matters at greater length in “Millenarianism and the Early Mormon Mind,” Journal of Mormon History 9 (1982):4151; and “‘Saved or Damned’: Tracing a Persistent Protestantism in Early Mormon Thought,” BYU Studies 25 (Winter 1985): forthcoming.

24. Quoted in Johnson Paul E., A Shopkeeper's Millennium (New York, 1978), pp. 34.

25. Stein Stephen J., ed., The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol 5, Apocalyptic Writings (New Haven, 1977), pp. 378398.

26. Whalen Robert K., “Millenarianism and Millennialism in America, 1790–1880” (Ph.D. diss., State University College of New York at Stony Brook, 1971), p. 134n.

27. The 1973 essay referred to is “Mormonism and American Culture: Some Tentative Hypotheses.”

28. See Hansen , Quest for Empire, p. 230. For Schwartz and Sweet, see note 2 above.

29. Hansen , Mormonism and the American Experience, pp. 115117.

30. Ibid., pp. 119–122. Such a clearly socioeconomic interpretation of millenarianism might have been bolstered by the insights and interpretive models of such historians and social scientists as E. P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawn, Vittorio Lanternari, Peter Worsley, and Christopher Hill, all of whom see millenarianism as a response to social or economic tensions but none of whom, interestingly enough, Hansen cites in either his text or his sources.

31. Sweet , “Millennialism in America,” p. 513.

32. Lamont William, Godly Rule: Politics and Religion, 1603–1660 (New York, 1969);Lerner Robert E., The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages (Berkeley, 1972), p. 233;Harrison John F. C., Quest for the New Moral World: Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America (New York, 1969) and The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism, 1780–1850 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1979);Oliver , Prophets and Millennialists, pp. 1418.

33. Talmon Yonina, “Millenarian Movements,” European Journal of Sociology 7 (1966):190;Schwartz , “The End of the Beginning,” p. 7;Berkhofer Robert F., “A Behavioral Approach to Historical Analysis (New York, 1969);Aberle David F., “A Note on Relative Deprivation Theory as Applied to Millenarian and Other Cult Movements,” in Millennial Dreams in Action, ed. Thrupp Sylvia L. (New York, 1970), p. 209.

34. Hill Marvin, “The Rise of Mormonism in the Burned-over District: Another View,” New York History 61 (1980):421, 430.

35. Pillis Mario De, “Bearding Leone and Others in the Heartland of Mormon Historiography,” Journal of Mormon History 8 (1981): 96. Thus far there have been two efforts in this direction: Yorgason Laurence M., “Some Demographic Aspects of One Hundred Early Mormon Converts, 1830–1837” (M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1974); and Grandstaff Mark R., “The Impact of the Mormon Migration on the Community of Kirtland, Ohio, 1830–1839” (M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1984).

36. As an initial attempt at applying Erich Auerbach's model of literary figuralism to early Mormonism, see Wilson John F., “Some Comparative Perspectives,” pp. 6668. The quotation is Hebrews 11:26.

37. Talmon , “Millenarian Movements,” p. 190;Leff Gordon, Heresy in the Later Middle Ages, 2 vols. (Manchester, 1967), 1:17, 6979;Rowe David L., “A New Perspective on the Burned-over District: The Millerites in Upstate New York,” Church History 47 (1978):408420, quote at p. 411—this is a distillation of his “Thunder and Trumpets: The Millerite Movement and Apocalyptic Thought in Upstate New York, 1800-–845,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1974);Hill , “Rise of Mormonism,” p. 430.

38. For recent critiques of the “Kingdom School” interpretation of the Council of Fifty, see Quinn D. Michael, “The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 1844–1945,” BYU Studies 20 (1980):163197; and Ehat Andrew F., “‘It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth’: Joseph Smith and the Constitution of the Kingdom of God,” BYU Studies 20 (1980): 253279. Also see Hill Marvin, “Quest for Refuge: An Hypothesis as to the Social Origins and Nature of the Mormon Political Kingdom,” Journal of Mormon History 2 (1975): 320.

39. Foster Quoted in Lawrence, Religion and Sexuality: Three American Communal Experiments of the Nineteenth Century (New York, 1981), p. 17.

40. Oliver , Prophets and Millennialists, pp. 1618.

41. Smith , “The Book of Mormon,” pp. 1213.Tuveson's Ernest work is Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America's Millennial Role (Chicago, 1968). See esp. pp. 175186.

42. Smith , “The Book of Mormon,” pp. 1718.

43. Wilson , “Some Comparative Perspectives,” pp. 6869.

44. Harrison , The Second Coming, pp. 182183.

45. Oliver , Prophets and Millennialists, p. 238.

46. Gager , “Early Mormonism and Early Christianity,” p. 56.

47. Sweet , “Millennialism in America,” p. 531.

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