“Today, searing conflicts over who really belongs in America divide the nation. James Simeone’s riveting analysis of the persecution of Mormons in antebellum Illinois details how and why these contests are all too deeply embedded in the dynamics of democratic societies. While struggles over who we are often spur great injustices, Simeone shows how we can draw lessons from them that provide paths to greater understanding, fairness, and civic community.”
Rogers M. Smith, author of Political Peoplehood: The Roles of Values, Interests, and Identities
“Thorough and evocative, Simeone’s work on the Mormons in Illinois fits into a larger discourse on democracy and nationalism. Simeone provides a crucial context for our understanding of the forces and factors surrounding the role of law and order in frontier life. With his brilliant analysis of the interplay of citizenship and the creation of civic worth, Simeone opens new conversations and complicates old ones, and in the process he also presents a rich tapestry of characters. The Saints and the State is an essential contribution to Illinois history and to anyone interested in the intersection of religion and political power.”
Orville Vernon Burton, author of The Age of Lincoln: A History
A compelling history of the 1846 Mormon expulsion from Illinois that exemplifies the limits of American democracy and religious tolerance.
When members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known as Mormons) settled in Illinois in 1839, they had been persecuted for their beliefs from Ohio to Missouri. Illinoisans viewed themselves as religiously tolerant egalitarians and initially welcomed the Mormons to their state. However, non-Mormon locals who valued competitive individualism perceived the saints‘ western Illinois settlement, Nauvoo, as a theocracy with too much political power. Amid escalating tensions in 1844, anti-Mormon vigilantes assassinated church founder Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Two years later, the state expelled the saints. Illinois rejected the Mormons not for their religion, but rather for their effort to create a self-governing state in Nauvoo.
Mormons put the essential aspirations of American liberal democracy to the test in Illinois. The saints’ inward group focus and their decision to live together in Nauvoo highlight the challenges strong group consciousness and attachment pose to democratic governance. The Saints and the State narrates this tragic story as an epic failure of governance and shows how the conflicting demands of fairness to the Mormons and accountability to Illinois’s majority became incompatible.
James Simeone is a professor of political science at Illinois Wesleyan University and the author of Democracy and Slavery in Frontier Illinois: The Bottomland Republic. More info →
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