Antebellum Liberty vs. Mormon Individuality

I put this one up a couple of years ago, but I want to revisit it in light of some current discussion on Mormonism and politics. Patrick Mason’s recent article in Church and State (summer 2011) 53:349-375, made me wonder again about our presentist impositions.

In a 1990 article, Gregory Schneider observed,

Early versions of republicanism conceived of liberty and rights as belonging to the people taken as a whole in opposition to the power and interests of rulers. Liberty was, first of all, public and political, not private and individual. Hence, there could be no legitimate opposition between individual liberties and the common good of the people in the republic. Those who place their private interests above the common good were diseased tissue in the body politic, and might be subjected to harsh remedies. Unity in the cause of the common good, then, sometimes required an oppressive conformity.[1]

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Joseph Smith’s Sermon of February 5, 1840

A recent broadcast from lds radio featured Ron Barney and Jeff Cannon of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, on Joseph Smith’s visit to Washington, D.C. in late 1839, early 1840.[1] While no diary was kept during the journey, there were letters sent from Washington by Joseph Smith and Elias Higbee, and an account of meeting(s) with President Martin Van Buren survive in the memoirs of Illinois democrat John Reynolds who introduced Smith and Higbee to Van Buren. Van Buren, the epitome of political savvy at the time, held a states rights view of US politics and excused himself from intervention in the Mormon question on that basis. As Reynolds put it, Joseph left Washington a “red hot Whig.” While Joseph was in the East, he did take the opportunity to deliver several sermons to both Latter-day Saint congregations and to other interested parties.
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