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Icebergs in the desert: the links between capitalist
expansion and the spread of 'American' values in Utah,

Icebergs in the desert: the links between capitalist
expansion and the spread of 'American' values in Utah,
1847-1896 Thumbnail


This thesis analyses debates over the economic future of postbellum Utah Territory, in order to demonstrate the connection between economic expansion and the promotion of a homogenous ‘American’ identity. Following the American Civil War, a dominant Republican establishment sought to reform Utah Mormons, whose practices of polygamy, theocratic government and economic protectionism represented a rejection of key party values. While support for reforming Mormonism was widespread, anti-Mormon advocates struggled to pass stronger legislation due to the limits of federal authority. Many Republicans came to believe that economic integration offered the potential for a gradual reformation of Utah. Creating systems of economic reciprocity and demonstrating the benefits of capitalist culture would weaken Mormons’ desire for isolationism and erode their peculiarities. The development of a transcontinental railroad and promotion of mining in Utah became tools of assimilation, ways to spread the values of the dominant political power.

The Mormon leadership made efforts to resist these market pressures, both rhetorically and practically. It warned its followers of the long-term risks of economic integration and tried to introduce redistributionist initiatives which would foster group spirit and create a more equitable society. However, the reluctance of many Saints to adhere to Church regulation would repeatedly undermine these efforts, as the attractions of the free market made inroads that political reform had struggled to achieve. By the end of the century, a transformation had taken place within Mormon society. The encroachment of capitalist networks into Utah had damaged the Church’s ability to maintain regional autonomy and resulted in the adoption of more ‘American’ business practices. While Mormon economic discourse demonstrated how fringe groups could respond to the pressure to adopt free labour capitalism, the Church’s inability to create an alternative socioeconomic model shows how the expansion of trading networks formed a key part of postbellum Republican nationalisation.

Publication Date Mar 1, 2018


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