Brigham Young and the restless


Like most founders of world-changing institutions (and nearly all religious ones), Young led the kind of outsize life that lends itself to these Janus-faced interpretations. The great virtue of John G. Turner’s new biography of Brigham Young—the first major study since LDS historian Leonard Arrington’s Brigham Young: American Moses (1985)—is the author’s stolid resistance to either version of the traditional Young caricature. Turner, a professor of religious studies at George Mason University, treats him as an exceptional spiritual figure (“a leader who understood himself as following in the footsteps of the ancient biblical prophets could not readily function within the US territorial system,” Turner drily notes), but also as an avatar of the frontier spirit of colonial conquest during the mid–nineteenth century. By settling a Utah territory that originally comprised one-sixth of the western United States, Young was “the greatest colonizer in American history,” Turner writes. And in establishing his desert kingdom in the face of sustained federal resistance, “he brought many of the key political issues of mid-nineteenth-century America into sharp relief: westward expansion, popular sovereignty, religious freedom, vigilantism, and Reconstruction.”

more from Chris Lehmann at The Nation here.