Archive for March, 2015

March Announcement for the Utah Westerners

The Council of Fifty in Western History

Jedediah Rogers

In 1844, Joseph Smith established what John D. Lee later alluded to as “the Municipal department of the Kingdom of God set up on the Earth, and from which all Law eminates,” responsible “to council, deliberate & plan for the general good & upbuilding of the Kingdom of God on the Earth.” For whatever otherworldly and millennial aspirations Smith may have had for this body, the Council of Fifty solidly operated in the temporal sphere, and in fact occupies a significant place in Utah and western American history for its role in the Mormon migration west, the Euro settlement of the Great Basin, and political maneuverings for a Mormon state.

Smith and his successors had expansive ideas about perhaps breaking free of the United States in Oregon or Texas, but their aspirations would butt against the realities of survival within the realm of U.S. geopolitical influence. From late 1848 to mid-1850, the Council of Fifty was the governing body in what would become Utah Territory, passing laws and statutes, acting as the judicial authority, and overseeing the growth of Salt Lake City. It was also central to the failed attempt to establish the State of Deseret. This presentation will offer a new look at an old topic: the early perceptions, exploration, and settlement of Salt Lake Valley and the West and the ensuing social and environmental transformation. Rogers will examine the physical and spiritual geography of the Great Basin through the journals and records of council members and place the council in its larger western and historiographical context.

Rogers earned his doctorate in American history from Arizona State University. He is a Senior State Historian at the Utah Division of State History and co-managing editor of the Utah Historical Quarterly. His book Roads in the Wilderness: Conflict in Canyon Country won the 2012 Wallace Stegner Prize from the University of Utah Press. He is editor of In the President’s Office: The Diaries of L. John Nuttall, 1879-1892 and, most recently, The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History, both published by Signature Books.



March 9, 2015 at 10:37 am Leave a comment

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