Brigham Young was born on June 1, 1801, in Whitingham, Vermont, but this was not where his Mormon journey began. It started on April 9, 1832, when Young was baptized into Joseph Smith Jr.’s Church of Christ (Turner, 7). This baptism marked the beginning of a journey for one of the Mormons’ most important figures.
Young, former President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, rose to power following the murder of the prophet Joseph Smith. He was quickly recognized as president of the Mormons and immediately showed his ability to lead. He realized a permanent settlement was yet to be found, forcing him to search westward for a new location for the Latter-Day Saints. After traveling across much of the United States, the Mormon people entered into the Salt Lake Valley and Young stated, “It is enough…This is the right place” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Facts and Statistics “Utah”). This marked the beginning of the transformation of a desert valley, untouched by Caucasians, into the Mormons’ worldwide headquarters.
The new land of the Mormons, secluded from Eastern America, allowed Young to rule free of government control, permitting a greater connection between his church and state. This freedom enabled Young and the Mormons to enter what they understood to be a new era of faith (Turner, 175-176). This era was characterized not only by a freedom to practice and worship, but also by the ability to re-enter a more ancient stream of their sacred history through their reliving of the experiences of the biblical Israelites (Turner, 175-176).
When looking at Young’s acquisition of the Salt Lake Valley, one can see his importance and connection to religion in the American West. This relationship can be further explained by Richard White, who states that the West is, among other things, a product of conquest (White, 4). Young’s direction of settlement can allow us to further understand his importance because he not only obtained the Salt Lake Valley, but used it to create a thriving Mormon civilization. This civilization would not have been possible without Young, who helped create and lead the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company. This fund, between 1847 and 1877, brought over 70,000 European immigrants to the Salt Lake Valley (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Facts and Statistics “Utah”). This influx helped the Mormons prosper, which is one of the reasons why their religion dominates the region today. We can further see Young’s connection to the West when looking at how he used it to complete a revelation from God (Young, 1:279). This revelation, specifically, was God directing Young to the Salt Lake Valley to construct heaven on Earth (Young, 1:279).
Young’s motives, both political and religious, can allow us to understand one of his main goals: to bring his people to a place to prosper, worship and survive. His ability to lead the Mormons to and in the Salt Lake Valley allowed them to complete and surpass these goals, causing his mark on religion in the American West to still be felt today.
– Quinlan Crowley, 2018
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Hunter, Milton R. “Brigham Young, Colonizer.” Pacific Historical Review 6, no. 4 (1937): 341-60. Accessed on November 25, 2018, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3633878.
Turner, John. Brigham Young. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012.
Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1855.
Featured Image: “Brigham Young” (1855). Brady-Handy photograph collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Public Domain.