The rise and fall of Nauvoo, with Benjamin E. Park [MIPodcast #117]

  • Historian Benjamin E. Park argues that the story of the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois is essential to understanding the bigger story of early American history. Writes Park, “The question Mormons posed to the young American nation was not just about the boundaries of religious liberty; it concerned the very limits of democracy. And with the Mormons, the process of democracy broke down.”

    In this episode, Dr. Park joins us to talk about his new book, Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier.

    About the Guest

    Benjamin E. Park is assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University and co-editor of the Mormon Studies Review. He received degrees from Brigham Young University (BA, English and history), the University of Edinburgh (MSc, Theology in History), and the University of Cambridge (MPhil, Political Thought and Intellectual History; PhD, History). Dr. Park’s research focuses on the intersection between religion, culture, and democratic thought between the American Revolution and the Civil War, often within an Atlantic context. He is the author of American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in an Age of Revolutions, and has written op-eds and essays for Washington PostNewsweekReligion & PoliticsTalking Points MemoReligion DispatchesDallas Morning NewsSalt Lake TribuneReligion News Service, and Patheos.

  • BLAIR HODGES: It’s the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Blair Hodges.

    In a new book called Kingdom of Nauvoo, historian Benjamin E. Park argues that the story of the Latter-day Saints is essential to understanding the bigger story of early American history. Park writes, “The question Mormons posed to the young American nation was not just about the boundaries of religious liberty; it concerned the very limits of democracy. And with the Mormons, the process of democracy broke down.”

    Dr. Park visited the Maxwell Institute earlier this year to talk about the new book about the Latter-day Saints and their kingdom on the Mississippi. His guest lecture is available now on the Institute’s YouTube channel. Questions and comments about this and other interviews can be sent to me at

    * * *

    BLAIR HODGES: Benjamin E. Park joins us today. Welcome to the Maxwell Institute Podcast again.

    BENJAMIN E. PARK: Absolutely thrilled to be here, Blair.

    Nauvoo tells a story about America

    HODGES: It’s good to have you. This time we’re talking about your new book Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier. A book which came out this week, so by the time people hear the episode they should have already heard about it.

    PARK: Hopefully it’ll be in everyone’s home, correct. [laughter]

    HODGES: Yes, everyone will already have a copy by the time the episode comes out. But you’re on a pretty busy tour right now. You’re talking to a lot of different audiences. Before we dig into the book itself, I want to ask what that process is like, preparing to talk with a lot of different types of people at a lot of different levels about a scholarly book.

    PARK: Well first of all it’s just thrilling to have a rapt audience that has to listen to what I’m saying. As a parent and as a teacher I often have people who have to listen to me not by their own choice, so it’s quite exciting that people are choosing to come hear me! [laughter]

    But there is an expectation for me to try to be informative, entertaining, because I know Nauvoo matters to people. People really love Nauvoo. They love its spiritual legacies; they think it has abundant meaning. And I want to be able to reach those people to show them that, first, I’m taking care with a story that means a lot to them, and second, that there are still some layers of Nauvoo’s meaning that can be unpacked.

    HODGES: Let’s talk about Nauvoo the beautiful. I visited there when I was sixteen years old, so the temple hadn’t been rebuilt, I still remember seeing the grass and this brick on the ground where I believe the old baptismal font was. Now, obviously, it’s been transformed into a full working temple there. The visitors center, and there are all sorts of recreated buildings. Beautiful place to see historical reconstruction of buildings and nineteenth century lifeways and stuff. But you say in your book’s prologue that, “Faithful Latter-day Saints see this geography as a monument to their spiritual ancestors while outsiders, if they see it at all, might see it as a historical oddity.”

    How does a historian begin to tackle a place that has such a complicated archeology of its history?

    PARK: It’s a great question Blair. For me, I’m trying to reach both those audiences and share something new and something relevant. And part of that is, for LDS people who love Nauvoo and believe it has spiritual meaning, they often misunderstand how Nauvoo relates to the broader culture, that it has a broader significance. That there are cultural symmetries with America during the time, and that Nauvoo is not just an LDS story, it’s an American story. And to outside people who are interested, critics or sympathetic observers, they sometimes think Nauvoo is just weird, it’s just crazy, they don’t want to understand, that it’s just an odd tale that happened on the frontier of society and then everyone wised up. But I try to show them that, no, Nauvoo is their story too. Nauvoo does not just belong to the Latter-day Saints. It does not just belong to the critics. It belongs to American history because it’s an important moment in the nation’s past. It tells us a lot about the lessons of some of America’s most important principles, including religious liberty and democracy.

    Lots of literature about Nauvoo

    HODGES: Its importance can be seen in the fact that it has a fairly rich tradition of literature written about it. People have been writing about Nauvoo for a long time and your book is the latest treatment. And you say—as any new book will, and books after yours will probably say the same thing about yours—that “existing historical treatments of Nauvoo have some serious limits.” I wondered at the top here what kind of things you had in mind? And please name names! [laughter]

    PARK: Well, I will say there has been a lot of excellent work on Nauvoo over the years. But it might surprise people that the most recent book that covers the entirety of Nauvoo written for a general audience, not just believing Latter-day Saints, was fifty years ago with Robert Flanders’s Kingdom of Nauvoo. Still a great classic. That book got so much right about Nauvoo. But the author, Robert Flanders, had very limited access to archival sources then, compared to what’s available in abundance to scholars today. So there’s a lot to be updated on that story.

    More recently, in the LDS tradition, there are lots of phenomenal, exhaustive treatments of Nauvoo. Glenn Leonard’s general survey of Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise, I think is the title, is a wonderful social history that is devotedly meant to build the faith of Latter-day Saints, about Nauvoo. Now that’s a wonderful project. But I also wanted to take Nauvoo and place it in its broader context, which is something that a lot of these LDS books on Nauvoo don’t do. Because, as I mentioned, Nauvoo does not just have lessons to those who are part of the LDS institution, it has lessons for everyone interested in American religious history and democratic rule.

    The Council of Fifty Papers

    HODGES: Before we dig into those lessons, I want to mention that in your book’s introduction you start everything off by describing this wonderful scene, this downpour of rain and a gathering of Latter-day Saint leaders in April 1844. You take us right into the heart of the history of Nauvoo here. Democracy has failed the Latter-day Saints and they are going to try to form a new constitution. You’re basing your study on detailed minutes that you say, “were restricted from believers and historians alike for one hundred and seventy-two years.”

    Despite all the rumors around what these papers may contain, they were finally released in 2016. And you credit the release of those documents as one of the things that made your book possible. Let’s think about those records for a minute.

    PARK: The Council of Fifty Records have long had this legend of mythic proportions among Mormon scholars and LDS readers because they’re almost the sacred plates of the scholarly record, and we’ve never had access to them. They’re seen as too controversial, too radical, they show the Saints at their most bitter towards the American nation and the constitutional tradition. That just seems so discordant with how Latter-day Saints feel today, because we’re very patriotic, we try to maintain good governmental relations.

    So these minutes were long restricted, but they’ve been part of a series of very generous decisions made by church leaders in Salt Lake to grant more access to the sources. Partly due to the work of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, as they are trying to recover the life and documents of Joseph Smith and the Nauvoo era, they need access to these sources to get the bigger picture. Once they get access to these bigger sources, they are able to make a claim about why these sources are important, and eventually the church agrees and they get published.

    So when the Council of Fifty Records were announced, I think they were first announced a couple years before 2016, and then they were published in 2016, that just sent shock waves!

    HODGES: Didn’t they announce them at the Mormon History Association meeting in San Antonio?

    PARK: That sounds familiar.

    HODGES: I remember seeing a slide of a document and the room just buzzed.

    PARK: Yeah, it was incredible. And I had long thought that I wanted to write something about Nauvoo at some point in my career, but as soon as those Council of Fifty minutes were released, I realized that, you know what, that’s the prompting that I need. It is time for me to dig in and figure out what they’re about!

    HODGES: I think your background has helped with that, too. Because people who have listened to the podcast for a long time will be familiar with your previous episode, which was about “American nationalisms” and this whole question about how democracy is supposed to work in such a diverse location.

    PARK: As an historian, one of our primary jobs is to place what can otherwise seem as controversial and weird things in context, so that they make sense. The Council of Fifty minutes can seem weird to a lot of people.

    HODGES: Because it seems like they are trying to build a new government?

    PARK: Exactly, replacing all the world nations and replacing the American constitution. And so one way of viewing my book, Kingdom of Nauvoo, is I’m trying to give the lead up to and context for those Council of Fifty minutes, to make sense of those documents that might seem otherwise a bit kooky.

    Getting to Nauvoo

    HODGES: So what we’re going to see over the course of the interview—and for people who read the book—is that Nauvoo embodies many of the contradictions and tensions that were part of a young American nation, a nation trying to figure out what it was going to be. And Latter-day Saints—and we’ll refer to them sometimes as “Mormons” as a historical term—were radical in that setting, and the American experiment itself was tenuous.

    So take us to Nauvoo, Ben, at that time, the way Mormons arrived there to begin with, and the way they arrived there, and the reasons they arrived there—all of which would have repercussions with what ended up happening there.

    PARK: Very much so. When the Saints arrived in Illinois they were really just refugees. They had just been forced out by a state-sanctioned mob, according to an extermination order that was signed by a governor saying they are enemies of the state and need to be treated as nuisance and need to be exterminated or driven out of the state. So they move to Illinois. And by that time they believe the traditional democratic system had failed them. That in a nation run by majoritarian rule, if the mob gets mad at you, there’s nothing you can do to save yourself.

    So when they established themselves in Illinois, they take as their primary objective to secure themselves a permanent position so they will not be rooted out like they were in Missouri, like they were in Ohio, like they were in Pennsylvania and New York. So they do things like establish a strong city government, a city militia, they try to build cordial relations with politicians. But it was their background in Missouri—a truly traumatic experience for them—that they’re trying to avoid. And every decision in Nauvoo can be based on that anxiety.

    Pre-existing tension between Missouri and Illinois

    HODGES: That’s Ben Park. We’re talking to him today about his new book, Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier. Dr. Park is an assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University.

    So the Mormons arrived in Nauvoo, in the wake of really difficult experiences, facing expulsion, and looking for safety. One of the things that really caught my eye at the outset here was your depiction of this tension that existed already between Missouri and Illinois as states.  Latter-day Saints had just fled from a state to a new state and those two states weren’t exactly friends.

    PARK: That’s a good way to put it. And this is one aspect people often gloss over when they think about Nauvoo. Because it was not predetermined that Illinois would welcome the Saints at first. I mean, the church had built a reputation by that time, and a lot of people—especially on the frontier—might not interested in them as neighbors. But Illinois was in a rivalry with Missouri. Missouri and Illinois were two of the most populous western states at that time in America.

    But they were two very different states. Missouri was a slave state, they believed that they represented the future of the Western Frontier, that it was going to be part of a slavocracy. They embraced what they called “Jacksonian politics,” which is local control, individual liberty, and celebrating the power of the white man over his own destiny.

    Conversely, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River, was a free state, meaning they had outlawed slavery. And they saw themselves as the alternative option to the slave-holding west. That while Missouri and others are corrupting America’s principles by basing their riches on coerced labor, Illinois is going to be the more enlightened, inclusive, kind state.

    So this comes up later on, when Joseph Smith is having legal issues, when they’re trying to extradite him back to Missouri, Illinois is willing to stamp that down. Or at least some Illinois politicians and legal professionals are. Because they want to take any chance they can to strike at Missouri, their long-held foe.

    Seeking help from the federal government

    HODGES: So Mormons had reason to be skeptical of local governments and whether they would be protective of minority rights, but they also came to be skeptical of federal power as well. What are some of the things they experienced that led to distrust or difficult relations with federal authorities?

    PARK: The Saints were often reactive in their political principles and allegiances. They were primarily trying to find whatever method or level of power would be willing to help them. At first, they’re good Jacksonians, they believe the state is going to help them. But once the state of Missouri betrays them, they think, “Well, the only way we can find redress is the federal government.” So as soon they settle in Illinois, they come up with a number of redress petitions that they send to Washington DC.

    HODGES: Was that unusual, or was that something a lot of people did?

    PARK: Petitions were common, but what the Saints were asking was quite unique, in that they were asking that the federal government to intervene in a state matter. Saying that the state of Missouri—not just individuals, but the state—wronged us. And they’re asking the federal government to provide them redress payments, to ask Missouri to foot the bill. And of course, national politicians say, “What you’re asking of us is crazy. That’s outside of our power. You need to take your petitions to Missouri and ask Missouri to redress your wrongs.”

    HODGES: And the Latter-day Saints would say, “That’s crazy too, because they already gave us the boot.”

    PARK: One of the lines Joseph Smith said is, “How are we to stop a mob, when the governor is the head of a mob?”

    Later on, the Saints become even more radical in proposing federal intervention. Starting in 1843 they ask not only for federal redress but for federal protection. Asking the federal government to make Nauvoo its own territory, under federal rule, outside of the state’s sovereignty. When Joseph Smith runs for president, he tries to say that “the President is as powerful in his sphere as Jehovah is in his sphere.” And that’s a radical idea in Jacksonian America.

    But, eventually, federal politicians turn their backs to the Saints. And the Saints say, “If we can’t trust them, where can we turn?” That’s when they start turning to the more radical options. And then of course when the Saints move out west, to Utah, they say, “ Alright, you rejected our appeals for federal intervention. So we’re going to accept your state’s rights doctrine. Make Utah a state and give us our self-sovereignty like you had given Missouri and Illinois.” And of course, we know that did not end up well either.

    Mormons taking maters into their own hands

    HODGES: So as Mormons are trying to navigate their relationship to both local and federal governments they start to, more and more, believe that they need to have power to protect themselves. And they’re going to seek that in a number of different ways. They wanted stability above everything else. What are some of the things they decided to do to protect themselves  in the face of the lack of federal oversight and the ongoing hostility from state governments?

    PARK: Well first and foremost, when they were driven from Missouri, they were driven by an armed mob. And so they felt, “We need some practical defense.” One of the first actions the city government does when they are officially organized in early 1841 is set up a Nauvoo Legion. Which is going to be an armed resistance effort, technically under the auspices of the state legion—if you serve in the Nauvoo Legion, you did not have to serve in the state militia.

    But, for all intents and purposes, this Nauvoo Legion was in control of the city. The Saints saw this as crucial. They called the Nauvoo Legion,  “The bulwark of our liberty.” It’s a last line of defense. There’s a long Anglo-American tradition of taking up arms to preserve your rights. To people outside of Nauvoo, this is quite scary, this is a large army, about three thousand men, which is more than you would have found in the state militia at the time. And it was being led by a religious leader, whom these neighbors saw as a fanatic. So if you see an armed sect running around with this armed militia, that can be a bit scary. So that’s one thing that Nauvoo does.

    The other is that they start interrupting laws that they feel are going to preserve their liberties in the face of legal persecution. So for instance, Missouri keeps trying to bring Joseph Smith back to their state for trial, and they get a serious of extraction orders, three in fact.

    HODGES: By the way, I wanted to—this is a digression, but can you give people a sense of what the Missouri authorities were saying? Why should Joseph Smith go back?

    PARK: When Joseph Smith was held in prison in Missouri—as best as I can determine, this is a little speculation on my part—it seemed like it was mostly, they’re holding Joseph Smith hostage in prison until all the Saints were out of Missouri, and then they would release Joseph Smith. Because that just seems to be how it worked out. So they just wanted to be done with the whole “Mormon nonsense.” Once all the Saints are out of Missouri, Joseph Smith escapes, likely, in my mind, with the approval of the guards in the state, and he makes it over to Illinois. But I think Missouri regretted that decision. Because now they see Joseph Smith thriving across the state, just over the river. And they feel like they made a mistake.

    HODGES: And that reflects poorly on them. Because this so-called “Mormon nonsense” turns out to be capable of building a very robust society.

    PARK: With their neighboring, rival state embracing them. And so the first time they try to bring Joseph back, they charge him on charges related to the Mormon Missouri War in 1838, saying that, “You escaped jail before we could have the trial, so you still need to have the trial.”

    HODGES: He technically did, right? But with assistance from, with the help of the state, in a sense. State operatives wanted that to be.

    PARK: Exactly, and then a later cause for extradition attempts had to do with Lilburn Boggs, who was the governor of the Missouri during the time of the Mormon Missouri War. There is an attempted assassination on him in 1842. And lots of people believed Joseph Smith organized it. So they tried to bring him back to Missouri for trial as an accessory to murder. Turns out that case was pretty flimsy and the requisition order that ordered him had a number of flaws, and so Joseph Smith got out of that.

    And then after that, Missouri was still mad, so they ordered another extradition order to bring him back on the 1838 charges. Because in each of these cases Joseph Smith is freed not by being found innocent on the cases, but by being granted habeas corpus saying that the arresting officers, or the original requisition order did not follow proper protocol.

    HODGES: And this is important because this seems like a technicality. And that would make some people really ticked off, right? They’re basically saying—habeas corpus was a legal idea that said, “The way you went about this request was not legal, so you can’t do anything.”


    PARK:  And there ends up being a deep division on how they interpret that. Because in Illinois and Missouri they had laws that say that if a charge or an arrest ends up in a habeas corpus hearing, the state is supposed to automatically issues another arrest warrant that follows proper protocols. Because the habeas corpus hearings have nothing to do with innocence or guilt, it just has to do with the arresting officers.  

    The Saints either willfully or ignorantly misunderstood that part of the habeas corpus. Because they thought that as soon as Joseph Smith was discharged with habeas corpus he was thereby found innocent on those charges. So when he was discharged with habeas corpus and Missouri comes again to try to arrest him, they say, “We’ve already been found innocent.” And so as a result the Saints, understandably to a degree, feel like they need to take more and more radical provisions to protect Joseph Smith. So they start granting the Nauvoo municipal court increasingly powerful provisions to try these external cases.


    HODGES: So their own city government gets to be an arbiter of law over and against state governments?


    PARK: Exactly, which goes against American legal precedent. Because as the original Nauvoo Charter made clear, Nauvoo municipal court only has the power to hear habeas corpus rulings on cases that originate within Nauvoo. So it requires new proposals by the city government to grant the municipal power more authority over cases outside of Nauvoo. And to them, they think this is the only way they can preserve their liberty. They think there’s no justice in an anti-Mormon court outside of Nauvoo, issuing an arrest warrant for Joseph Smith, returning him to Missouri where he will be killed the moment he sets foot on the soil. That’s not justice.

    Democracy is supposed to promise you due cause and a trial by your own peers. And their own peers are in Nauvoo. But outside of Nauvoo, this terrifies Joseph Smith’s neighbors.


    HODGES: Because they think, “Oh, what if he really did something. He can’t be held accountable if that is the case.”

    Latter-day Saints, it sounds like to me, are just trying to be protective of their own rights. And the outsiders are also saying, “No one should have that much power.”

    PARK: So at one point one external observer says, “Joseph Smith now officially operates as if he were above the law.” And they’re increasingly frustrated because as the Saints are taking these radical actions, politicians are refusing to intervene. Because the Saints in Nauvoo, with their growing population, have a strong voting base. And in a state like Illinois that’s equally divided between Whig and Democrat, those Nauvoo votes can be the deciding votes in an election.

    And so when Joseph Smith does these habeas corpus hearings, when he starts doing these alliances with different politicians, this is both allowed and enabled by politicians who don’t want to lose the Nauvoo vote. But it angers the neighbors who feel like the Saints have found a loophole in the law. Politicians are unwilling to step in, so we’re going to have to do something radical, perhaps even extra-legal, to finally bring justice and restore peace in our county.

    Bloc voting as a religious body

    HODGES: Let’s talk more about politicians, because they came to play a central role in how Latter-day Saints interacted with the state. What were the electoral circumstances? What were Latter-day Saints dealing with? In your book we’re introduced to a number of politicians taking a number of different approaches to Latter-day Saints. And the ways that Latter-day Saints—including Joseph Smith—worked with politicians ended up causing a lot of problems.

    PARK: So the Saints realized the only way they’re going to have an influence in state politics is that they can pull their support together. Because if it’s just individual Saints appealing to individual politicians, there’s little work there.

    HODGES: Because they each might vote for different stuff?

    PARK: Right. But Joseph Smith can come out and say, “ I know that this politician is going to respect our rights and empower our Nauvoo Charter, we should all vote for him.” And so this is typically called “bloc voting.” And the Mormons were really good at that. And they were pretty outspoken about it, too.

    John Taylor, who is an apostle and a newspaper editor, said, “What good would it be for half of Nauvoo to disenfranchise the other half of Nauvoo?” Meaning, how would Nauvoo have any power if half of Nauvoo votes one way, and the other half votes the other. No, the only way that we can actually exert influence is to group together.

    HODGES: See this is the question I have. Because this caused so much outrage, that Mormons were bloc voters, but everyone is a block voter. Everyone votes in the bloc of a party or for the politician who they think will best protect their interests. So what was the difference, then? It seems hypocritical, I guess.


    PARK: I’m sorry to break it to you, but American history is full of these hypocritical actions. [laughter]

    HODGES: [laughs] Okay.


    PARK: But to these people outside of Nauvoo, it was the religious leader dictating it. That’s where they draw the line. You can be a labor union, you could be a class, you could be a region or a city. But as soon as it’s a religious leader, an ecclesiastical authority, that’s crossing the line to them.


    HODGES: And this wasn’t unique to Latter-day Saints either, right? Spend a second talking about other religious bodies that faced a similar problem because of religion.

    PARK: Perhaps the religion that most prominently faced this type of opposition were the Catholics. Lots of urban communities along the east coast have a growing Catholic population, and they vote in blocs similar to the Mormons, and this causes riots. This causes forced evacuations, this causes violence. Because to them, first of all, people like the Mormons and the Catholics are already inherently suspicious.


    HODGES: Because they belong to minority faiths?


    PARK: Because they belong to minority faiths, they aren’t part of this Protestant majority.

    HODGES: And one of the reasons they belong to minority faiths is because they were dissatisfied with what was happening with the Protestant majority?


    PARK: Right. Exactly. And so on a deeper level, a lot of Americans see the Mormons as deluded fanatics who are following the whims of a religious leader. So whereas sympathetic onlookers were saying, “Well the Mormons in Nauvoo are just voting their interests”—

    HODGES: “And their city looks pretty cool, and things seem to be going well there—”

    PARK: Outsiders would say, “No, these are people who are being deluded by a fanatical leader. He is hoodwinking them in a fake and false religion. And he is using that to amass political power and he is telling them how to vote. And that is a betrayal of the American principle of the individual conscience.”


    HODGES: And they would say similar things about Catholics, but rather than a Joseph Smith prophetic figure they would have the Pope and Rome behind that.

    PARK: In fact, the month before Joseph Smith is killed in Carthage Jail, there’s a string of major revolts in Philadelphia against Catholics to keep them from voting. And the Saints, reading about this news from Nauvoo, write a series of letters to the Catholic leaders in the city, and say, “We sympathize with what you’re doing. We are both the disenfranchised groups within American religion.”

    Working with and against politicians

    HODGES: With all the problems happening here, Joseph Smith is meeting with politicians. What are these meetings looking like? What is he looking for? What are politicians promising?


    PARK: In modern American we are well-accustomed to people who identify as single-issue voters. Nauvoo was a single-issue voter on steroids. It was basically, “Are you going to protect Nauvoo Charter’s powers? If so check yes. And in return we will offer you several thousand votes.”

    HODGES: Which could swing the whole election?


    PARK: Which could swing the whole election. And so politicians are anxious for this vote, because they know you can’t win a county-wide election, or perhaps even a state-wide election, if it’s close enough, without these Nauvoo votes.

    HODGES: Did they anticipate that when Nauvoo first began?

    PARK: No. You start getting inklings of this worry by 1841, 1842.

    HODGES: So they’d been there for about two years?

    PARK: There’s a big governor election in 1842 and the fact that the candidate for the Democratic Party meets with Nauvooians and Joseph Smith publishes an editorial in the church newspaper that says, “We endorse this guy for the governor.”

    HODGES: So they didn’t lose tax exempt status after they did that? [laughs]

    PARK: Nope. Those laws were not put in place until the twentieth century. And this starts drawing the ire. By the end of 1843 you have one of the biggest Illinois politickers. He’s not a politician, but he’s the guy behind a lot of these campaigns. He writes this letter to one of these aspiring politicians and says, “Whether it’s right or not, we cannot win without the Mormon vote anymore.” That’s just a basis of reality for them.

    HODGES: And that’s going to cause problems for Mormons? The people outside of Nauvoo, in Illinois, are not going to look kindly on that. Because then it seems that they have a disproportionate power.

    PARK: Right.

    HODGES: And Nauvoo seems to be growing at an alarming rate to people who aren’t there. Mormons are excited because they’re bringing people in, it’s becoming a bustling economy, there are all sorts of things happening. Outsiders are saying, “This thing’s popping up and it won’t stop growing.”

    PARK: Including thousands of people from Britain. I mean every year they’re bringing in several thousand converts from Britain.

    HODGES: Was there concern about that being “un-American,” like they’re bringing over—they’re less than a hundred years away from the Revolutionary War here.

    PARK: Especially, they’re bringing people who are seen as not sympathetic to the democratic process.

    HODGES: And “democratic” at that time was populist, state’s rights. It’s funny that the terms have flipped now in America—

    PARK: And suddenly, Nauvoo was filled with these immigrants from Britain, part of this fanatical religion, and they are allowed to vote. Because there is new Illinois legislation that allows you—To be able to vote in these elections you have to be a white male and reside in the state for six months.

    HODGES: And they could vote for states offices?

    PARK: Yes.

    HODGES: That’s interesting that a local place could try to determine who is eligible to vote in large elections.

    PARK: It was state legislation.

    HODGES: Oh, so they would send legislators? Got it.

    PARK: The state legislation passed new laws that said, “ Any white male who lives in the state of Illinois for six months can vote in—”

    HODGES: Oh, so it wasn’t the Mormons who were passing that. It was people who said, “If we pass something like this, it could be to our political advantage.”

    PARK: Yes, the Mormons take advantage of those laws that are passed by the State Legislature.

    HODGES: And the politicians are taking advantage by increasing their own voting base. So this is a mutual exchange going on here—

    PARK: Yep. And that’s what I find so fascinating in the book, is you’ve got this cooperation, collaboration between the Mormons and the politicians. And it’s the Warsaw residents and those locales surrounding Nauvoo who are critical of Mormonism, who feel like they’re being left out of this game.

    The explosive 1843 election

    HODGES:  But then there’s an election where all of this kind of comes to a head and blows up in Joseph Smith’s face, and he says he’s going to take a step back from being involved in politics. What happened there?

    PARK: In 1843 it’s the third extradition attempt to bring Joseph Smith back to Missouri, and this time it seems like they finally got Joseph Smith. He had had a rocky few months, he and his wife Emma were trying to mend over some things. So they go and do something that nearly everyone listening to this can probably sympathize with, they go and visit their in-laws and have a little family outing. [laughter] But while they are out visiting Emma Smith’s distant cousins, arresting officers from both Missouri and Illinois arrive at their home in Dixon and pose as LDS missionaries. And once they get an audience with Joseph Smith, they arrest him. As they are away from Nauvoo.

    HODGES: From the protective Nauvoo courts—

    PARK: And they arrest Joseph and they start marching toward Missouri, and it seems like Joseph’s luck is out. Luckily as they’re leaving, there are some aspiring politicians in that same town. Including a guy by the name of Cyrus Walker, who is the Whig candidate for the congressional seat that year.

    HODGES: May the Whig Party rest in peace. [laughs]

    PARK: That’s right. And he realizes that, “This might be my chance to befriend the Mormon votes and get their support in this contested election.” So he gathers together a number of politicians and officers and they try to just stall. They arrest the arresting officers, the men who had arrested Joseph Smith originally are arrested for false imprisonment. And then there’s this big intermingled group of men all arrested to each other, because Joseph Smith remains in the arresting officers’ custody—

    HODGES: [laughs] It’s like a nesting doll of arrests. He’s under arrest by them, and they’re under arrest by them. And they are all under arrest.

    PARK: That’s exactly right. So they’re trying to figure out what to do. They’re going to march to a nearby district court to solve the whole matter. Meanwhile, as they march there, the Nauvoo Legion—who had been tipped off on where they are—intercepts the group and marches them back to Nauvoo. It’s a big spectacle. A parade! A band!

    HODGES: And the police don’t object to this because they’re surrounded by people.


    PARK: Yes, in fact they are kind of overwhelmed. Because they hosted a big dinner at the Smith home and placed the arresting officers at the head of the table. And you have to laugh because the arresting officers are at the head of table, guests of honor! And you have to imagine these arresting officers are thinking, “What the heck just happened? What is going on here?”

    HODGES: They’re almost trolling them.

    PARK: And as soon as dinner is over, the Nauvoo municipal court gathers and grants Joseph Smith the writ of habeas corpus.

    HODGES:  Which is to say to those arresting officers, “You did it wrong, you have to let him go.”

    PARK: Exactly. So at that point, Cyrus Walker, who had arranged all of this, is like, “Cool. I just earned the Mormon vote. I have this election locked down.”

    Meanwhile, Thomas Ford, who is the governor of Illinois and is a Democrat, he starts regretting his actions. He feels, “Oh no, we might have just lost the Mormon vote.” And Mormons had been voting pretty reliably Democrat—

    HODGES: Because he hadn’t done anything to stop those first arresting officers?

    PARK: Right. In fact, he had signed the extradition order they’d brought from Missouri—

    HODGES: —And sent Illinois authorities with those Missouri officers.

    PARK: Exactly. And so he sends Joseph Hogue, who is the Democratic candidate for the congressional seat, running against Cyrus Walker. Joseph Hogue goes to Nauvoo and says, “Here’s the message from the governor. You know that municipal court hearing that you did, granting habeas corpus? We’re going to respect that. We’re going to say, we’re going to pretend like you have that authority and that’s all well and good. And by the way, if you elect me for your congressional representative, we’re going to expand Nauvoo’s city powers so that you can do that permanently. So that you can always pass these habeas corpus laws when you need them.”

    All of this this places Joseph Smith in a dilemma. One, you have Cyrus Walker, who he promised his vote to because he helped him get out of a mess. Two, you have Joseph Hogue and the Democratic Party who is promising to expand Nauvoo’s Charter’s powers.

    HODGES: So one of them helped out in the past, but one of them can make a big difference going forward.

    PARK: Exactly. So Joseph Smith struggles to figure out what to do here. He ends up organizing a choreographed dance with Hyrum Smith, his brother and second in command of the church. And at the church’s general conference, the day before the election, Joseph Smith gets up and says, “I’m voting for Cyrus Walker because I personally promised my vote.” Then Hyrum Smith gets up and says, “I’ve had a revelation that the Latter-day Saints should vote for Hogue.” Then Joseph Smith gets back up and says, “I’m voting for Walker because I have a personal relationship with him, but I’ll tell you this, Hyrum has never had a revelation and it turned out to be wrong.” And so the Saints all vote.

    HODGES: Did they all see the charade too?

    PARK: Oh, yeah! Everyone saw it pretty clear. And they voted, according to one nearby newspaper account, Nauvoo votes for Hogue nearly 11,000 votes to 90. And so they got the message. And Hogue wins the election based on this –

    HODGES: Did they look into whether Joseph Smith voted ninety times? Just kidding. [laughs]

    PARK: But by this point, this was a turning point. Because the Whigs, as you might imagine, felt betrayed, and the Democrats felt—even though they came out on top in this situation—they recognized this vote might be too malleable, and they can’t fully rely on it.

    HODGES: And they can’t keep making bargains like that?

    PARK: Right. So the Saints no longer have these strong political connections. And that’s when they start looking to the federal government for help.

    HODGES: And these are connections they wanted, to protect their own community too, so this is the essence of a tragedy. These competing desires and needs, imbalances of power. One of the things the book helped me do as a reader is to see the other side of the coin and to see how the politics of the situation—happening in a context where American democracy itself wasn’t well-established—basically led to the course of events as it ended up turning out.


    PARK: They’re all trying to figure things out. The Saints are certainly throwing wet spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. But guess what? So were most Americans at the time. We’re just coming after a decade of things like the so-called corrupt bargain between political parties to put one person in as president over another. And so these type of flimsy alliances and backroom agreements, that’s just how American politics worked at the time. But with Mormonism, throwing religion into the mix, that was a bridge too far.

    American religious liberty

    HODGES: Let’s talk about that, because the idea of freedom of religion or religious liberty and American democracy, today, a lot of people think of those things as going hand-in-hand from the beginning. In fact, one story has it that America as a nation began, in part, to ensure a place of religious liberty. Historians paint a more complicated picture. Let’s situate religious liberty in a context of American democracy, and how Latter-day Saints fit into that, complicating that picture a lot.

    PARK: Alexis Tocqueville, the great aristocratic philosopher and traveler who came to America in the 1830’s and then wrote a great book Democracy and America that’s become a classic since then, he once said that the place of religion in democracy remains the grandest mystery for America to solve. How do we police religious groups in America, a nation that supposedly places all denominations equal?

    We take that for granted now. We think religious liberty is one of the great hallmarks of America. But back then it was still a scary topic. Because if you’re granting all religions liberty, most people assume that as soon as you did that, all the crazy religions are going to die. That was one reason why Thomas Jefferson wasn’t favoring religious liberty—

    HODGES: The marketplace of ideas—

    PARK: Marketplace of ideas, the disinfectant of sunlight. That as soon as everything is out in the open only the rational religions and rational actors are going to survive.

    HODGES: That stabilizes society—

    PARK: That stabilizes society. But what people saw with the Mormons was, “Oh my gosh, if we give religious liberty to fanatics—”

    HODGES: That they believe in weird angels and stuff—

    PARK: They believe in angels, in scriptures, prophetic leaders, priesthood authority. Those are people that are not equipped to act in a democracy. A democracy is dependent on the idea of rational actors working together and balancing interests. And these religious groups like the Mormons are dangerous. And now that the government is out of the game, what’s left to police them?

    Well, that has to be the private groups, and that comes down to mobs, right? The idea is, we have to be able to police the voice of the people, as the voice of God, even if it’s outside legal spheres.

    HODGES: And Latter-day Saints themselves were making appeals based on religious liberty. So what were their arguments in the face of what seems to be mob rule, where the most voices win?


    PARK: Right. They would say that system breaks down because it does not protect the rights of these minority groups. If you are not in the majority opinion, there is no way for you to secure your rights. De Tocqueville saw this as well, he called this the “tyranny of the majority.” That in America, de Tocqueville said, it’s not going to be the rule of law that is most powerful, it’s going to be the majority opinion.

    And so, the solution the Saints offered, at least in the later times of Nauvoo, is that the federal government needs to get involved. We need a dispassionate umpire. Someone who is not mixed up in the fray of these state and local affairs, to stop in and protect the rights of minority groups.

    These are arguments that are very rare in 1830s and 1840s America, but increasingly become more common the next decade. Especially over issues of slavery. Because when slavery becomes a sectional issue, where the southern states have slave rights and in the north slavery is abolished, you have lots of people saying that the federal government needs to be able to be strong enough to intervene and protect the rights of all humans. And that idea finally becomes codified in law following the Civil War in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Where it finally says that, “You know what, protecting those rights inherent in the Bill of Rights, that’s not a state issue, that’s a federal issue.” And what’s shocking is that you find the Saints making very similar arguments here in Nauvoo.

    HODGES: That’s Benjamin E. Park. He’s an assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University. We’re talking about his new book Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of Religious Empire. As I said earlier, we had him on the podcast talking about his previous book, American Nationalisms: Imaging Union in the Age of Revolutions.

    Joseph Smith for president

    So let’s go back to Joseph Smith where he declared his support for one candidate and the church through Hyrum Smith declared its support for another candidate. Joseph emerges from that chastened, and what happens to him and what commitments does he make at that time that don’t end up panning out?

    PARK: So immediately after that debate he basically comes out and says, “ I am not getting involved in politics anymore.” Now I don’t know how fully he believed in that, or it might have just been public rhetoric. But he definitely felt like things might have went a bit too far. Because they recognize that their bridges are burned within the state—

    HODGES: With both parties?

    PARK: With both parties, and so we’re going to have to look to the federal level. And of course the most obvious place at the federal level is the White House and the President. Because they’re coming up on an election year. And the 1844 election is going to be one of the most contested elections in American history, because there is no clear front runner. There were five people considered as possible frontrunners that fall. And by the way, to show you how contested it is, none of those five front runners end up winning the election the next year. But Joseph Smith and the Saints send letters to all of those five presidential figures that fall to say, “If you are elected, what will you do to help the Mormons?”

    HODGES: “Because we can swing Illinois for you.”

    PARK: Yes. “Because we can be a reliable voting base for you.” Of those five candidates, only three write back. Of those three that write back, none of them pledge support. Including John C. Calhoun, known as the state’s rights doctrine father in America, and Henry Clay, known as “the Grand Compromiser.” Each of them say this is outside of the authority of the federal government to get involved.

    HODGES: How do you evaluate those responses as a historian? Was that opportunism? Were they reading the tea leaves? Or were they looking at American legal tradition and making a call that way?

    PARK: I think the latter. The argument is the same for making intervention, it was unheard of in those times. Maybe a few decades ago, during John Quincy Adams when they had a more national system of political belonging—

    HODGES: Is this in part because slaves, African Americans, Native Americans didn’t even have a place to stand to make those kind of—Is this in part because Nauvoo was predominately white?

    PARK: Yes, I think that’s a really good way to see it. These are Saints who believe that “we have rights, as citizens, that might be deprived of African Americans and Indigenous people. But, hey, we’re white Americans. We have these rights and our state is not giving us these rights, so we want the federal government to.”

    And the federal government, Henry Clay, known as the Grand Compromiser, he says, “Look, I don’t want to go into the White House having any entanglements.” He is a classic Whig politician who wants to be above the fray of, “I don’t want any of these backroom dealings.”

    HODGES: But he did write back to them though?

    PARK: He did write back. Which kind of shows the growing respect Joseph Smith has in the nation. Or at least this acknowledgment that the Mormons are a voice to be reckoned with.

    HODGES: Why do you think the others didn’t write back?

    PARK: Probably because they’re getting lots of mail, and they might be just seeing the Mormons as someone not worth engaging.

    HODGES: They’re on the edge of the country.

    PARK: And then when they get these responses back, and they’re like, “What are we going to do?” And in this meeting in the Red Brick Store some of Joseph Smith’s advisors say, “ You know what, if no one else is going to respect our interests, we will.”

    And so they nominate Joseph Smith for president. He runs on a very interesting campaign platform with promises of expanding the federal power, a gradual emancipation of slavery, the annexation of Texas, sailors rights because, why not! [laughter]

    HODGES: I don’t even know what those are.

    PARK: Debtor’s freedom—

    HODGES: Do I have sailors rights?

    PARK: We all have sailors rights. [laughs]

    HODGES: Okay. Google it guys, we don’t have time.

    PARK: All told, I’m not sure Joseph Smith was ever convinced he had a real shot at the presidency.

    HODGES: This could be like a protest campaign?

    PARK: He had bold ambitions, but I see it mostly as a chance to get their voice out. But they put in a lot of energy. They sent out hundreds of electioneering missionaries.

    HODGES: They were ready for this, because they had already been sending missionaries. And they had experience with this—

    PARK: Exactly. They set up a printing press in New York to publish a newspaper devoted to electing Joseph Smith. They established state electing conventions in every state throughout the Union. They’re going to have a national convention where Joseph Smith was going to be nominated for their ticket.

    HODGES: Could you tell whether they really thought he had a shot though? So it seems that what you show in the book—and what you said just now—is that they really went through the process of making this, or trying to make this a legitimate campaign by doing all of those things.

    PARK: I think at this point, it’s a matter of, it would be crazy and a miracle to happen, but stranger things have happened, right? American is a very divided nation. And I mean, they are coming in Nauvoo, where they are used to adoring everything Joseph Smith says. So there’s a degree where they’re like, “Well if we just present Joseph Smith’s message and introduce him to the broader nation—”

    HODGES: People will like him.

    PARK: “They’re going to feel the same way we do.” And Joseph Smith has a few statements in Nauvoo, where he’s like, “When I read the Eastern press and what they’re saying I fear I might actually get elected!”

    HODGES: It’s so funny, because it’s so hard to tell, even now that we have access to so many of his personal writings. It’s still hard to tell how much he ever believed that was possible.

    PARK: I think we’ll never know for sure, but at the very least we know that he saw this as a great opportunity to get their message out.

    Time to create a new constitution

    HODGES: Right, so the presidential candidacy is off and running.

    In the next chapter of the book, you outline how Mormons are going to take a much more radical step than running a presidential candidate. They’re going to come to believe that it’s time to start a fresh government in general. But one thing that surprised me, is that before that they petitioned the federal government to become their own territory. I don’t think I’d seen that before. I’m sure somebody’s written on it.

    PARK: They petition to be a territory, very similar to a Native American Reservation. Because, just like how we take these Native American Reservations outside of state control because we don’t trust the state actors and judicious governing, we should do the same with Nauvoo. Because at this point Saints are like, “We don’t trust Illinois politicians working with us anymore. We want the federal government to get involved.”

    HODGES: So, it would be like a reservation?

    PARK: Right. Exactly.

    HODGES: Interesting. Okay, but that doesn’t happen, so there’s this much more radical step. Let’s talk about it. This is where the “Council of Fifty” comes in. How do you describe that effort?

    PARK: Joseph Smith gets word in March of 1844 that there might be some potential settlement options outside of American borders—Texas, California, Oregon, that are really interesting to him. He always wants to remain in Nauvoo, but he thinks, “Maybe we should have some contingency plans, or maybe some outlying settlement.”

    So he decides, “Alright, we need to have a new council to come together to kind of organize this future, because everything seems to be falling apart around us, so maybe it’s time to restore God’s law.” So they organize a group that comes to be known as the Council of Fifty, although it had a much larger and convoluted name that starts with “The Kingdom of God and His Laws.” This Council of Fifty was very explicitly set out to establish, in their words, “a theocracy” on the Frontier.

    HODGES: They used the word theocracy?

    PARK: They used the word theocracy.

    HODGES: Which is “God’s government.”

    PARK: Yes. Because they believed that democracy and human rule had only resulted in chaos and anarchy and division in the chaotic world around us. The only thing that’s going to bring stability and redemption is divine law. And so they create this sacred council that does a few things.

    One, it explores potential settlement options. Two, it’s going to govern Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign. And three, it’s going to put in place a global theocratic system that would finally return God’s rule. Now this is very millenarian. I’m not sure they ever thought this would actually take a ruling position until the millennium.

    HODGES: They thought the end times would come.

    PARK: Right. It’s going to need a constitution, so they come up with the first draft of at least part of a constitution that they believe is going to replace the American constitution. And in general, what’s fascinating with the Council of Fifty, is that it gives us unmatched access into the political debates of lots of people in Nauvoo. It’s just a phenomenally fascinating record to read.

    HODGES: And you get to see a lot of that discussion in the new book Kingdom of Nauvoo.


    Ben, were there any other parallels to what Latter-day Saints were doing? Were there any other utopian sort of millennial attempts to establish a complete new government? Or was this just a complete outlier?

    PARK: We might be tempted to think it’s an outlier, but as a historian of religion and politics, I’m struck by a lot of the cultural symmetries between the Council of Fifty and what’s going on elsewhere. You have lots of people saying that the American government system is failing and that we need to find some way to return it to a past glory. And an increasing number of people think that the way to do that is to insert God’s voice.

    So for instance, the Grimke sisters. Two women that are outspoken women, suffragists and abolitionists activists, out on the east coast. They make arguments for women’s suffrage, saying that God has given women rights and America is taking those away from them. So we need revise the American Constitution to insert God’s law.

    The next decade, you have lots of abolitionists like John Brown who leads the raid on Harper’s Ferry. And John Brown, before he leads that raid, writes a provisional constitution for the new nation that’s going to replace what he believes is to be a corrupt and failed American constitution. This constitution is based on divine laws.

    The Confederate States of America, when they secede from the US, they write their own constitution. The very first line says, “This constitution is based on the laws of providence.”

    So yes, the Mormon Council of Fifty is very radical in the extent to where they take it, but it’s tapping into a broader symmetry of, “the only way to restore order in this nation is to restore God’s voice.”

    The assassination of Joseph Smith and the lessons of history

    HODGES: The next chapter of your book takes readers through the last days of Joseph Smith’s life in Nauvoo before he is killed. A lot of listeners are familiar with the basic outlines. Since we’re short on time, is there anything in your research that you came up with, for this book, that surprise you in covering that part of the story?

    PARK: You know what, I started writing that last chapter and was hoping to be a bit different than a lot of books on Nauvoo that kind of have a chapter toward the end that builds all the way to the end of Joseph Smith’s death, and the last line is he’s shot and he falls from Carthage Jail. I wanted to do something different, I wanted to begin with Joseph Smith’s death at the beginning of the chapter and then deal with the aftermath.

    HODGES: You want to begin with that here, in part because that’s how the people experienced it. The story continued?

    PARK: Right. Then what struck me, though, is how much stuff happens in those three months before Joseph Smith’s death. It reaffirms to me the principle of historical contingency. Meaning that history could have taken many different directions at any of these moments.

    If Joseph Smith had decided to react differently at certain moments; if some people would have decided to take a different response; if the city council would have decided to vote against Joseph Smith and not destroy the Nauvoo Expositor. I was even struck that on the day that the Nauvoo Expositor was published, one of the people involved in the Nauvoo Expositor goes to privately meet with Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith later assumes there were nefarious purposes for that visit. But I’m pretty sure this individual was having regrets, and he’s wishing, “Maybe we should try to smooth things over a bit more.”

    So at every moment in this tragic tale—and it is a tragic tale—there could have been other decisions made. And I think that’s a good lesson to remember. History is not written in stone. It’s made by actors and it’s shaped by decisions.

    HODGES: There’s one question I wanted to ask, based on a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal where there’s a journalist whose written on Mormonism, and he points out that when Joseph Smith is shot it’s fairly well known that he is said to have given a cry of distress, the Masonic cry of distress. Or a prayer, depending on who you ask, where he said “Oh Lord my God!” As he fell out the window. And you omit that from your text and from footnotes. It’s just not there.

    PARK: I’m glad you brought that up. To me, I was raised hearing that story. It’s found in Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling. But when I actually started investigating it there is some evidence that he might have said it. I mean, the only thing we know is that he shouts, “Oh Lord my God!” when he’s being shot. Which seems to be a normal type of thing for a religious leader to say when they’re about to be shot. Accounts that say that that was just the first part of the Masonic sign of distress, which you mentioned was said in order to call to help from the Masons in the room—

    HODGES: Or to condemn them by saying like, “You didn’t help me.”

    PARK: Right. That’s a very late reminiscence. I don’t find it in a very reliable source. So I think that highlights a question about history. How do you approach these sources? What do you find is viable? And people with good intentions and good scholarship backgrounds can come to different conclusions. I concluded that I couldn’t trust that source. The reviewer concluded that that’s a crucial source to understand. That just shows that history is not straightforward. That instead, there has to be some interpretive work done.

    HODGES: I think it speaks to the uses that people can make of the story of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, and of the Saints at Nauvoo. That there are different takeaways, different things that are going to be emphasized. That’s why at the outset I referred to “the archeology of the history of Nauvoo” here. Where, if you dig down to these layers, you’re going to find some different things and see people making arguments for different reasons. It’s complicated. This is why history is fun.

    Before we go, we’ve touched on this next question, the final question here, we’ve kind of touched on this throughout the interview in general. But I wanted to boil it down at the very end. As you conclude your book, here’s a quote from you, you say, “The question Mormons pose to the nation was not just about the boundaries of religious liberty. It concerned the limits of American democracy. Democracy was envisioned to manage different interests and grant individual freedoms. But with the Mormons, the process broke down.”

    That’s the quote. So I ask you, what do you see are the ongoing limits of American democracy that this story can highlight for people today?

    PARK: I think it should make us aware of who are the groups, who are the people, who are the interests that are sometimes shouted down by a majoritarian culture. Because democracy is a practice of majority rule that can be quite oppressive. If you have three people, two of them can vote to enslave the third person and that would be, at its root, democracy. Now we believe in a better democracy, we believe in a reciprocal democracy, that everyone has equal rights and an equal voice, but that takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of sympathy. It takes a lot of trying to understand people that have very different interests than yours.

    I think that in periods with deeply divided and partisan cultures it’s daring, it’s difficult, but in the end it’s worthwhile to try to understand—who are the voices that are not being listened to? How can we do better to invite them to the table and make sure their interests are listened to? I think that’s the legacy of Nauvoo. Even if we would not replicate the actions they took—we don’t want to create another Council of Fifty I don’t think. At least I haven’t gotten that memo yet.

    HODGES: You haven’t been invited to it. [laughter]

    PARK: I figure I’m always out of the cool group. But we should sympathize with their concerns, because this, at its core, is a story about religious refugees who are not able to secure their rights and protections, and who are doing all they can to get a seat at the table. And when that was denied to them, they have to take justice in their own hands, which only prompts people to take justice against them in their own hands. That’s a vicious and violent cycle that’s better to be avoided.

    HODGES: I think that’s the ultimate irony of this book, is that you had Latter-day Saints taking extrajudicial measures to protect their rights and in response you had people trying to protect their rights and liberties by taking extrajudicial measures.

    PARK: In the end, both sides believed the democratic system was too flimsy, too malleable, too slow, too incumbered to ever bring about a justice. That’s because, in the end, they were not able to see others’ perspectives.

    HODGES: That’s Benjamin E. Park. He’s assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University and author of the new book Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier. And again, you might remember him from a previous episode where we interviewed him about American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions. He’s also coeditor of the Mormon Studies Review, which used to be here at the Maxwell Institute and is now over at the University of Illinois Press. And you’ve done a lot of writing in a lot of different places too, Ben. You’ve been busy, Washington Post, Newsweek, Houston Chronicle, Salt Lake Tribune, although I haven’t seen you yet in the Children’s Friend magazine, however.

    PARK: That’s my dream. Maybe someday. [laughter]

    HODGES: What are you working on now, before you go?

    PARK: I’m finishing up an edited collection on American religious history that brings together thirty authors writing about different moments that show how central religion is to American history, with the hopes of it being adopted in classrooms.

    HODGES: Good. And people again, by the time this interview comes out,  you’ll have been on a number of other podcasts, you’re doing a lot of media appearances, you’re doing a lot of public speaking. People can check out the guest lecture that you gave today, that will already be up, that you delivered today here at Brigham Young University. So people who are interested in learning more about Nauvoo can check out the book, and they can check out all the things, Ben, that you’ve been doing in promoting the book and getting the word out.

    I want to thank you for coming in. It’s fun to do interviews with you because we’re friends. I try not to let that interfere too much, its actually kind of hard. [laughs]

    PARK: Well you know it’s a pleasure to be here Blair, you are the king of the crop among podcasters!

    HODGES: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

    * * *

    HODGES: Thanks for listening to another episode of the MIPodcast! I’m still putting episodes together here at home in Salt Lake City, staying safe and distanced as COVID-19 continues to disrupt life around the globe. I hope you are staying self and healthy.

    Have I already read the podcast review from PaultheMonk? I can’t remember, I think that name would have stuck in my memory, because I don’t know how many actual monks are out there listening, but we have PaultheMonk and he says:

    “The MIPodcast is very informative and the subjects are relevant and timely to me. I find that it helps me develop a more informed understanding of so many faith topics. It expands my perspective to include so much of what is good and wholesome. This fills me with hope in times of division and discord. Thank you for your devotion and commitment to excellence in podcasting!”

    Thank you, PaultheMonk. I appreciate it, sincerely, and I hope to see some new reviews soon! We’ll talk to you next time on the Maxwell Institute Podcast.