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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Religion
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Religion
Text 1. Bryant/Freneau
Text 2. John Mayfield
Text 3. Alexis de Tocqueville
Text 4. Frederick Douglass
Text 5. George Fitzhugh
Text 6. Charles Colcock Jones
Text 7. Henry David Thoreau
Text 8. Mormons
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Reading Guide
8.  Documents relating to the Mormon migration
- Extermination order of the Missouri governor, 1838
- Verse in letter of Martha Haven, 1846
- Brigham Young et al., Second Great Epistle, 1849


The religious landscape of antebellum America is dotted with groups which left mainstream society to create their own worlds—among them the Shakers, Oneida Perfectionists, New Harmony Owenites, Brook Farm Transcendentalists, and the Mormons. Founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 in New York, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints experienced years of strife, internal and external, before creating its final home in the Utah territory. Smith's early converts followed him from New York to Missouri, where violent conflicts with settlers led to the governor's "extermination order" of 1838. From there they fled to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they met similar resistance and violence. Smith was killed by a mob in nearby Carthage in 1844. Led by his successor, Brigham Young, the Mormons trekked west and founded their community, Deseret, by the Great Salt Lake, in 1847. In these readings, we see the fevered resistance they encountered and the religious zeal of their response—as much part of the American religious experience as a Congregational church in a New England town square. If you choose this text, we strongly recommend that you read the essay "Mormonism and the American Mainstream" from the National Humanities Center's webguide "Divining America: Religion in American History" on TeacherServe®. Can be used in the classroom. 4 pages.


Discussion questions
  ·  What "American" characteristics are evident in the two Mormon documents (the verse and the Epistle)?
  ·  How do the Mormons represent the unifying characteristics, as noted by de Tocqueville, among the "innumerable sects" in America? How do they differ?
  ·  To what extent does the Mormon experience, especially in Missouri, reflect the sectional tensions of the period?
  ·  Do you consider the extermination order representative of the times or as an anomaly?
  ·  Would the Mormons have seen Thoreau as a kindred spirit or as godless?


Reading highlights
  ·  Compare the Mormon celebration in Deseret in July 1849 with the Puritans' Thanksgiving in New England.


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Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did American Christianity reflect the nation's ideals of democracy, individualism, and progress?
  •  As the nation became more sectionalized, what role did religion play in defining individual and group identity?
  •  How did religion inform the debate over slavery?
  •  How did religious groups outside the mainstream of American Protestantism reflect American culture, even in the act of rejecting it?




Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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