In order to understand what was going on in the Mormon Battalion, and the various reactions we will see in others diaries, we need to know some of the history of the Mormons. Since we will be looking at the Mormons’ reaction to events that occurred during the formation and trek of the Mormon Battalion, I focused on the Mormon perspective below. However, going forward, we will be focusing on both Mormon and non-Mormon perspectives of events.
The Mormon church (formally The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was officially organized on April 6, 1830. The Saints (as they called themselves) were different from their neighbors, primarily because they believed in living prophets and continuing revelation, including new scriptures. Most of the Protestants in the area believed God had included in the Old and New Testaments all the revelation that was needed and prophets were not necessary. Due to these and other differences, the Mormons were persecuted and eventually left to go to Missouri and Ohio. As the Mormon population grew in these new areas, tensions again arose with their neighbors and they were forced to leave Ohio and gather in Missouri. The Mormon population grew quickly. They tended to be from New England or Europe and were generally anti-slavery and voted as a bloc–in direct contrast to the Missourians who were generally from the South and pro-slavery. The Mormons were forced out of Missouri in 1839 in the dead of winter by the Extermination Order issued by Governor Boggs (this site has a lot of relevant papers from the time period if you are interested). They settled near Quincy, Illinois in a town they called Nauvoo, only to be forced out once more (again in the dead of winter) in 1846 after the prophet Joseph Smith was killed by a mob while in custody. They straggled across Iowa and made it to the Missouri River on the border of what is now Iowa and Nebraska by late spring of 1846, where our story begins. Note that as best as I can tell, Levi and his family didn’t live in Nauvoo, but joined the Mormons in what came to be called Winter Quarters on both the Iowa and Nebraska side of the Missouri River.
The Mormons believed that the Constitution (and the government it formed) was inspired and supported the government. BUT this same government had allowed them to be forced out of their homes multiple times without doing much, if anything, to help them. So, at this point in time, they were definitely conflicted.
The general public and government also had feelings against the Mormons. This general distrust between Mormons, the government and the general public would cause problems for the next several decades. See this site for more Mormon history.
Next week we will be looking at some government documents that led to the formation of the Mormon Battalion.