Responses: David Pulsipher on Mormon Civil Disobedience

Pop quiz: Which group maintained the longest civil disobedience movement in American history, and the first such movement not to descend into violence? Since you’re reading a Mormon history blog, the question is a bit like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb. Yet even with the prodigious output of scholars working on Mormon related topics in recent years, there are relatively few offerings that not only give us new details but also really help us see Mormonism through a new perspective. David Pulsipher’s recent JMH article is one of those.

I should reveal my biases up front: David is a good friend, and the two of us are (slowly) working together on a book-length treatment of a Mormon theological ethic of peace. So I’m naturally inclined to say nice things about him and his work. This post will be no exception. The basic historical trajectory of Pulsipher’s article, covering the twenty-eight years from the first federal anti-polygamy legislation until the Manifesto, doesn’t cover any particularly new ground for students of Mormon history. It’s what Pulsipher does in covering that ground that is innovative. In a subfield that is always striving for relevance to broader themes and narratives, Pulsipher shows persuasively that Mormon polygamists (mostly the male priesthood leadership) anticipated many of the strategies that would be employed in the twentieth century by nonviolent civil disobedience movements led by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The Mormon case demonstrates how nonviolent social movements can “emerge from unexpected quarters” (134).

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