I have researched this question for four years now, written a manuscript, and submitted it to four journals, all of which elected to not publish the research. Two editors said it did not fit their journal, one journal never responded, and the reviewers of another journal said that I focused too much on the significance of the term ‘advance’ used in the University of Deseret’s founding document.
The institution does not neatly fit in any category–religious, secular, research, etc. It was a practical school before America had practical schools. It reflected the religious community that started it, but the religious community was unique in that it attempted to build a free and independent state in an arid land. Because the University of Utah’s founding can not easily be categorized, I’ve created a scholarly sketch to help tell the story. It includes links to primary and secondary sources with only a brief narrative. I’m hoping the sketch will allow readers to come to their own conclusion about the origin of the institution.
Most people know that the University of Utah was started by Latter-day Saints, but many do not know that Latter-day Saints wanted to start a new world government called the Kingdom of God.
These governing ambitions get described in various ways. The Proclamation above describes the society as following “one standard” and “one religion” but for a brief moment focuses on the freedom any citizen (of the faith or not) can enjoy (see pg. 12). If you look at the Chancellor’s Circular above, the society is described as open and encouraging of multiple faiths with the university acting as a gathering point for people to learn and study together.
Researchers have focused on the ideal society embodied in the concept of the Kingdom of God:
- Kendall White in the Canadian Journal of Sociology
And some have called it a liberal theocracy:
Researchers have labeled the governing ambitions with various terms:
Theodemocracy (Fawn Brodie verbatim from Joseph Smith in “No Man Knows My History”)
Militant democracy (Fawn Brodie)
Despotism (Fawn Brodie)
Kingdom of God on earth (Leonard Arrington in “Great Basin Kingdom”)
Cooperative commonwealth (Leonard Arrington)
Empire (Leonard Arrington)
Puritan democracy (Leonard Arrington)
Modern Israel (Leonard Arrington)
Mormon nationalism (Leonard Arrington)
Inland agricultural empire (Tom Alexander in “Mormons & Gentiles”)
Inland metropolis (Tom Alexander)
Mormon commonwealth (Tom Alexander)
Millennial kingdom (Richard Bushman in “The Latter-day Saint and the Constitution” pg. 163)
Millennial constitution (Richard Bushman)
In my opinion, it was the governing ambition (no matter how it gets labeled) along with attempting to settle an arid land that influenced the type of university Latter-day Saints wanted to establish: a secular, research university. I like to think of it as a practical school for lofty purposes.
The first professor Cyrus Collins was not a Latter-day Saint and he chose what he taught, but he did not stay long.
- See Chapter 1: Advent of the Faculty in When Rights Clash: Origins of the University of Utah Academic Senate by Allyson Mower and Paul Mogren
It could be that many of the Latter-day Saints did not like having an outsider in their society and succumbed to, what a colleague has described, siege mentality in response to the presidential charges of rebellion and treason leading up to the Utah War (see pg. 170 of White’s paper above). Other primary sources have said that the governing aspirations written on paper did not match what happened on a daily basis:
- Joseph Jeppson, The Secularization of the University of Utah, to 1920
- Elizabeth Wood Kane, A Gentile Account of Life in Utah’s Dixie, 1872-1873
- Frederick Gardiner, A Mormon Rebel: The Life and Travels of Frederick Gardiner
If this scholarly sketch has piqued your interest and you would like to read the fuller history, please get in touch with me and I’ll share my manuscript with you. You can reach me by email [allyson.mower at utah.edu] or Twitter @allysonmower