The Runaway Officials Revisited : Remaking the Mormon Image in Antebellum America
Salt Lake City, UT
University of Utah
In September of 1851, four federal officials left Utah Territory after serving less than four months. Chief Justice Lemuel G. Brandebury, Associate Justice Perry E. Brocchus, Territorial Secretary Broughton D. Harris, and Indian Subagent Henry R. Day created a furor in Congress with their reports of Brigham Young‘s rebellion against federal authority. This came as a great surprise in Washington since over the previous five years, Mormon agents had created an image of the Latter-day Saints as mainstream Americans who were loyal to the United States and had a conventional form of republican government. Unfortunately, the Compromise of 1850 resulted in Congress imposing an unwanted territorial government on the Mormons. When nonresident officials arrived in 1851, the Latter-day Saints reacted with defiance and antagonism. As the situation worsened, these officers feared for their safety and left the territory. Members of Congress responded to their reports of a Mormon rebellion by threatening to send federal troops to Utah in 1852. Latter-day Saint agents in Washington realized this would almost certainly result in the kind of violence that led to the collapse of four previous Mormon settlements. Even though the report of the returning officials accurately described the words and actions of the Church leadership, Latter-day Saint agents in Washington discredited their charges by creating an image of them as ―runaway officials‖ whose word could not be trusted. Unfortunately, the victory over the officials did not end the conflict with Washington. Brigham Young‘s insistence that the Mormons and not the federal government ruled Utah Territory put the Latter-day Saints on a collision course with Washington and became the first step on the road to the Utah War.