Feed on

The people who already lived in Jackson County were not happy about the monumental influx. The Mormon immigrants for the most part hailed from the northeastern states and favored the abolition of slavery; Missourians tended to have southern roots – many of them actually owned slaves – and were deeply suspicious of the Mormons’ abolitionist leanings. But what alienated the residents of Jackson County most was the impenetrable clannishness of the Mormons and their arrogant sense of entitlement: the Saints insisted they were God’s chosen people and had been granted a divine right to claim northwestern Missouri as their Zion.

Everything the Mormons did seemed to heighten the Missourians’ apprehension. The Saints used church funds to purchase large tracts of land in Jackson County. They engaged in commerce exclusively with other Saints whenever possible, undermining local business. They voted in a uniform bloc, in strict accordance with Joseph’s directives, and as their numbers increased they threatened to dominate regional politics.Reflecting a common fear among Missourians, a letter published in 1833 in a Fayette newspaper warned, “The day is not far distant … when the sheriff, the justices, and the county judges will be Mormons.”

… everyone was free to be on the side of the Lord or on the side of wickedness; it was entirely a personal decision – but woe to those who decided wrong. If you knowingly chose to shun the God of Joseph and the Saints,you were utterly undeserving of sympathy or mercy.

Is it not the least bit ironic that right near this corner of Northwest Missouri today lies one of the most liberal communities in America? We last lived in Pittsfield, MA, a declining dump of a town where the highest ranking non-liberal was a school-crossing guard (check out the first-district Congressional election results and the Berkshire County election results, particularly in the 1st through 4th Berkshire Districts). Unlike the Missourians, those of us who did not much care for this did not take to attacking the lefties, or tarring and feathering them. We left of course. But I think this clearly demonstrates that it would not be unreasonable to move to a pure property rights regime and away from some hallowed democratic institutions – which are no guarantee of freedom, equality and respect for plurality.

Go to any public event such as a fair or parade in any town in America and it is impossible not to get a sense for the political clannishness no different than Krakauer’s desciption of religious clannishness. Krakauer goes on to talk about how it was not uncommon for Mormon judges in Nauvoo, Illinois (where the Mormons went after they were run out of Missouri) to acquit known murderers (God commanded them to do it).

And hasn’t politics in this country moved to a “you’re either with us or against us … and if you are againts us you are wrong?” Obama certainly did not start this. But Krakauer could easily have been talking about the treatment of GM and Chysler bondholders in the last paragraph I cited above.

I thoroughly enjoyed Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, and halfway through Under the Banner of Heaven I like it just as much. I’d love to design a capstone economics seminar where we investigate one or two non-economics books each week, and the task of the students would be to discuss and relate how each of these books is perhaps better illustrative of important economics lessons than a textbook is. We are already trying some of this in our principles of economics course – one of the assigned readings will be Fruitless Fall, another book I highly recommend – even if you are not fascinated by bees.

2 Responses to “Under the Banner of Progressivism”

  1. Michael says:

    Sounds like an interesting class! Perhaps they could learn about the problems with charity and empathy replacing justice and the rule of law.

  2. Harry says:


    As always, you leave us with much to think over. I was struck by your reference to Under the Banner of Heaven, which my daughter, the Mary Washington English major, gave me, to stimulate her father’s mind. I cannot express how delightful it is to have one’s daughter have such an exchange, and how happy it is to see her mind grow. That was a few years ago.

    Michael, do not be disheartened. We just have to spread the word.

    Uh, OH…the graphs on Wintercow’s right column right now only have points at $979 for gold, and 15 86 for silver, but no lines! Does that mean gold and silver are worthless, or does it mean our fiat currency is worhtless?

    BTY, I wish Wintercow would let me know how to underline the titles of books when responding to his blog.

Leave a Reply