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Living History: Mormons exceptional in belief in American exceptionalism

Published June 23, 2012 11:02 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

American exceptionalism is the belief that America, among all nations, is unique. Other nations rise and fall, but not America. In all of the history of the world, America alone has a special destiny, one mapped out by God. Sure, there may be rough patches, but ultimately we will be Number One.

In an interview earlier this month with the Washington Examiner, Utah Sen. Mike Lee said, "Mormons sort of have an extra chromosome when it comes to American exceptionalism. Mormons do have an added dose of a belief in American exceptionalism."

Lee is right: Mormons are exceptional in their belief in American exceptionalism.

Mormon pioneers carried many things with them in their flight in 1846 from the United States, including the conviction that they were God's Chosen, the true heirs of liberty. Before beginning the trek West, Brigham Young and the leaders of the church issued a ...

PROCLAMATION of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To all the Kings of the World; to the President of the United States of America; to the Governors of the several States; and to the Rulers and People of all Nations:

GREETING: KNOW YE THAT the kingdom of God has come ...

Still reeling from the murder of Joseph Smith and hemorrhaging members to internal divisions and rumors of polygamy, the 1845 Proclamation of the Twelve was an audacious, 10,000-word challenge to the world: You are either with us or you are against us — and considering what God is capable of, you really don't want to be against us.

Upon arrival in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, Young lost no time in setting up a government in exile to step in when the world went all to hell.

It was called the Council of Fifty, "also known as the Living Constitution, the Kingdom of God, or its name by revelation, The Kingdom of God and His Laws with the Keys and Power thereof, and Judgment in the Hands of His Servants, Ahman Christ."

In the Examiner interview, Lee said, "[Mitt Romney] recognizes we live in difficult times. The circumstances are pretty dire and that swift action is needed."

This qualifies as something of a dog whistle for Mormons. In preparing the Saints for their central historical role more than a century and a half ago, Young recalled Smith's prediction that one day the Constitution would hang by a thread and that the Latter-day Saints would save it.

Young said, "There is not a Territory in the Union that is looked upon with so suspicious an eye as is Utah, and yet it is the only part of the nation that cares anything about the Constitution."

The Saints saw themselves as a link in a chain beginning with the Pilgrims, continuing through the Founding Fathers, and leading up to the establishment of Christ's righteous government. Early Mormons were dedicated journal-keepers because they were conscious of being on the ground floor of Something Big. Firsthand accounts from the victors as the Kingdom of God rolled forth to crush the wicked would one day be as important as the journals of Washington and Jefferson.

Which is why the Latter-day Saints often made such irritating neighbors. No one likes to be told that, unless you throw in and join our religion, God is going to be redistributing your wealth. In part, it explains the troubles Mormons had in New York, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and later Utah.

The government denied Utah statehood for decades and hounded and imprisoned Mormon leaders until the church promised two things: to abandon polygamy and swear fealty to the United States and its elected leaders.

Today Mormons are, unquestionably, loyal and dedicated Americans. However, when Lee brags about having an "extra" chromosome, it recalls certain bad old days when Mormons believed that they were the only true Americans.

Pat Bagley is the editorial cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune. Reach him at bagley@sltrib.com.