On Brigham Young and Violence (1)

On Brigham Young and Violence (1) October 3, 2022


Gene England as I remember him
Eugene England (1933-2001), an icon for liberal Latter-day Saints who grasped Brigham Young as too many don’t


As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve lately been re-reading Eugene England, Brother Brigham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), and thoroughly, thoroughly, enjoying it.  I’m consistently amazed at the similarity of Gene’s opinion of Brigham Young to mine.  But then, maybe the similarity shouldn’t be such a surprise.  It may be that Gene’s view of Brigham Young was a formative influence on mine in the first place.  After all, I first read it when it came from the press forty-two years ago, and I’ve re-read it at least once or twice since.  Here, for example, is a very important passage that directly addresses one of the major criticisms of Brigham Young that I’ve repeatedly encountered from his critics, who are legion:


Another crucial factor in the early departure from Nauvoo was Brother Brigham’s fundamental abhorrence of violence.  This may sound strange, considering the myth that the sensationalist Eastern press built up around him later in Utah and which has persisted as a rumor even among his own people — of an all-powerful authority who had the means and the will to dispose of his enemies, Mormon or non-Mormon, by secret assassination.  And it seems to contradict his aggressive rhetoric in reaction to murder and persecution (“[Joseph] should not have been given up; I swear to you I will not be given up”; “I would rather have a good six-shooter than all the lawyers in Illinois”; “Give them the cold lead”).  But though this strong public language was effective in rousing the Saints to group solidarity behind him, and though it expressed his own true feelings of extreme offense at their violated rights, in every case this expressed urge to violence was followed by reasoned and carefully passive response.

In fact, it seems quite clear that he hated bloodshed — it repelled him at the very core of his being — and he was willing to take major risks and make huge sacrifices to avoid it.  As soon as men were killed in the attempt to protect Nauvoo against the renewal of mob action in September 1845, he called back the posse and agreed to leave in the spring.  The rather hasty decision to leave in February, earlier than had been agreed upon, even though he knew he and his people thus faced greater hardship, was largely based on evidence that if they had remained additional warfare was inevitable.  Brother Brigham reports a dream during that flight from Nauvoo that gives his true feeling about violence:

I was pursued by a beast which threatened my life, and I fled into a house for safety, the beast following me appeared to change into a human being which I attempted to shoot with a seven shooter, to save my own life but it would not go off, then to bluff off the person I drew my small six shooter which went off contrary to my expectations, the ball passed through the brain of the individual, soon as the blood started the man came to his senses and was sorry for what he had done.  I felt so bad because I had shot a man, that I awoke and was thankful that it was but a dream.  (117-118)


Why am I re-reading Brother Brigham?  I’m trying to get myself into the frame of mind to begin working on our new Interpreter Foundation film project, Six Days in August.  Please join us.  Please join me.


Wiki CC BY movie poster
1940 theatrical poster, not for OUR film (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


Well, Hurricane Ian is having its impact even up here, where we are.  The sea was moderately heavy last night, making walking just a bit of an adventure — especially, I expect, for the many passengers on the ship who had, umm, been imbibing all evening.  And this morning, when we were scheduled to be anchored off of Newport, Rhode Island, and to g ashore via “tenders,” the captain decided that it would not be safe.  So we skipped Newport.  I’m sure that many aboard were very disappointed; we talked briefly with one woman for whom Newport (and specifically the famous Vanderbilt mansion, The Breakers) had been the chief draw of the cruise.  She had even been reading about the “Gilded Age” to prepare for her visit.  I felt sorry for her.  To us, though, it wasn’t such a big disappointment.  I’ve been to Newport twice before, once just slightly more than a year ago, and I visited The Breakers both times.  (It’s beautiful but, to me, all of the Newport mansions are more than a little bit obscene.  For just one of my objections, see the blog entry “Observations of a Jaundiced Eye” that I posted back on 18 September 2021; in the “Downton Abbey” saga, Lord and Lady Grantham’s marriage began as a wedding of penurious English aristocracy with title-craving American plutocracy.  All too authentic.)  I think that my wife has been to Newport three times.  Anyway, I had a lot to do today so, frankly, I didn’t mind being granted some additional time.  I was able finish off a writing obligation by today’s deadline.  (Now, on to the next one.  Deadlines loom!)

The sea is still somewhat rough, with (so the onboard information says) twenty- to twenty-five-foot swells, and the ship is pitching and yawing.  I’ve never been seasick, so I don’t mind the weather conditions at all.  It’s actually rather fun to watch the billowing surge while typing away on my computer.  Viking ancestry, perhaps?  But I’m told that seasickness is genuinely awful, so I’m guessing that not everybody aboard shares my positive attitude.

We attended on onboard performance tonight of Six — a kind of rock musical that is about Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.  (Try to guess what it is that they all have in common.)  It’s currently playing on Broadway, too, where it has won multiple major prizes.  My wife was familiar with it, but I went into the ship’s theater having absolutely no idea what I was there for.  So it was a pleasant surprise.


Posted from off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts



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