Saturday, April 19, 2014

Steven Harper on Cultural Identity in Jackson County, MI

In his Mormon Historical Study, "Overwhelmingly Democratic": Cultural Identity in Jackson County, Missouri, 1827-1833, Steven Harper sketches the state of identity in Jackson County with the arrival of the Mormons, first on their Lamanite mission, and then on their attempt to setup the New Zion near Independence, MI.

It was clear that the Jackson County residents, by democratic, meant themselves, and neither the Indians being settled nor the slaves nor the Mormons that arrived at a rate of ~400 per year, bringing their size to 1/3 between 1831 and 1834.

Harper first explains the development of the Virginian notion of slavery versus white freedmen in terms of Edmund S. Morgan's famous study, American Slavery, American Freedom, and how that conception was exported to Missouri in a way that was commented upon by Alexis Tocqueville.

The Missouri compromise ensured slavery in this part of the country, where no cheap free white labor was available for settling, as the example of Mr Shepard shows. But the "other" also made for good business: Indian trade and Indian annuities, as well as the slave trade, all contributed to Missouri's economy.

Harper is strongest where he shows that "all was not well" for the Missourians there, who experienced their frontier position, next door to the Indians, and in the aftermath of the Virginia slave rebellion of Nat Turner in 1831, put the axe and the gun into their hands as acts of self-defense as well as acts of pioneer claimant spirit.

Harper obliquely references Eber D. Howe's late recollections when asking for the compatibility of Mormonism and democracy. Harper avoids the question of how such a county could have worked (Nauvoo would have more to say about this), and whether the parallel infrastructure that the Mormons built up, with their store and their newspaper, did not have the effect of making the Mormons bad business for the Missourians.

Harper also notes how vague the call for a New Jersualem in the Americas is in the Book of Mormon.

Further Reading

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