Why Would Someone Choose to Follow Brigham Young?

Brigham YoungJohn Turner’s recent biography of Brigham Young, besides receiving lots of praise (including the most prestigious award possible), has raised some important questions about Mormonism’s second prophet. Perhaps the most common question is some rendtion of, “Why would anyone want to follow the cold, tyrannical, and unsympathetic Brigham Young presented in the biography?” This quesition can come in two forms: first, the person questions the validity of Turner’s reconstruction of Brigham Young’s character; surely, this reasoning implies, Young couldn’t have been that bad, or else no one would have accepted him as a prophet, thus leaving the fault with the author. Second, the person could agree with Turner’s interpretation, and are therefore flummoxed over why 19th century Mormons actually chose to follow such an unlikable fellow. While I personally don’t have many problems with Turner’s depiction of the Lord’s Lion, I will leave aside the question of the biography’s success in handling this issue, since even those who disagree with Turner will probably still admit that Young would have been a tough individual with whom to get along. Thus, I’d like to reflect for a moment on the question, “why would someone follow Brigham Young?”[1]

(First, you should go read these two wonderful accounts of Brigham Young at Keepapitchinin, because they offer a glimpse at the private Brigham that can add some context to our somewhat stodgy image of the man. Indeed, it should be remembered that Young did have a softer and merciful side that is often overlooked. Perhaps if we bug Ardis enough, she will jump-start the series again.)

I think there are several assumptions of ours that lead into this question, with different issues playing a different factor for different people. One is what a prophet was supposed to be like, especially when compared to the examples found in the scriptures. (At least, the examples we cherry-pick, anyway.) Another, related to the first, is an expectation of a typical prophetic “persona,” likely based our experience with and observance of prophets and apostles in the twenty-first century. Yet another assumption, perhaps not as common amongst the people who actually read the book and participate in these types of discussions, is the belief that prophets don’t have many flaws or weaknesses. There’s also that pesky temptation of presentism, where we place our own (often unrealistic) cultural expectations and morals on those of the past. And finally, there is the fact that we have been raised with a typical narrative and image of Young that are directly challenged by much of modern scholarship. All of these can certainly be part of why we, as modern Latter-day Saints, can sometimes have difficulty when we are faced with a complex picture of Brigham Young; I know it has certainly been, and probably continues to be, a problem with my own views and interpretations of the man.

But I think there is another problem related to this post’s question: a tendency to overlook the difference in what people in the nineteenth century both expected and wanted from a religious leader, especially when compared to today.

The religious atmosphere in mid-19th century America, especially on the frontier, was fraught with strife, dissention, and schism, as the American people were shocked with the anarchic results of religious disestablishment. For the last several decades, perhaps epitomized by the work of Nathan Hatch, historians have sometimes overestimated the extent to which Americans embraced a democratized religious practice.[2] The liberty of the new nation, many historians believed, encouraged people to tear down social barriers and attempt to make everything egalitarian. In such a climate, success hinged on charisma, democratized power, and the potency of a message; in short, it was supposedly a mirror image of today’s religious climate, where choice dominated the spiritual marketplace, and people went (or stayed) wherever they felt most wanted and, especially in today’s culture, most free. If such a religious culture existed in the nineteenth century, why would anyone want to follow someone who claim such domineering control?

But historians have recently been challenging this image. In two of the most important religious history books of 2012, Amanda Porterfield argued that the antebellum climate fostered a distrust for American religion, society, and government, and religious thrived when they stoked those flames of fear, and Spencer Fluhman demonstrated how many nineteenth century religionists used Mormonism to highlight the dangers of religious freedom.[3] Indeed, the religious culture from which early Mormons came screamed the dangers of democracy, not its potential. As I argue in a forthcoming article, those who followed Brigham Young clung to a leader who offered stability and control, which was, after all, what Young was all about.[4] America was entering into a period of deep factionalism (climaxing in the Civil War), the Saints were forced from their homes and lost faith in the nation to which they offered allegiance, the frontier was a place of deep urest and turbulence, settlement in Utah introduced clashes with native populations, and there was always the threat of the federal government stepping in to take control. In this setting, Young’s centralized and authoritarian presence offered comfort in a world of chaos. What we may see as too strong a hand today might have seemed an safe anchor to Young’s contemporaries.[5]

This dynamic took an important twist once the Church was settled in the West, and Brigham Young was tasked with unifying a disparate body of people from many different cultures and countries. One way he did this was through the construction (or amplification) of an us/them tribal atmosphere where everyone was tethered to the Church in the face of external opposition. Through his sometimes terse rhetoric, Young’s case demonstrates how a threatening “other” can be as much a consolidating influence as love and charisma. As our own Steve Taysom has shown, the stability of the faith often rested on their ability to maintain an optimal tension of firm boundaries.[6] Young’s ability to navigate that tension, often with quotes that appear jarring to modern readers, united his followers in a foundational way. This isn’t to say that all found such an image and religious setting appealing, because there were a number of those who left when the “ideal” of Zion failed to match the reality of Utah, but it proved a potent catalyst for thousands of believers.[7]

One final point, which is perhaps more of a half-baked idea than fleshed a out argument. I think we should reconsider the significance of Brigham Young for an average Mormon in territorial Utah, and especially for converts outside of the Mountain West. Historians have mostly dismantled the mistaken notion that “nothing happened in Utah without Young’s approval,” but a similar assualt needs to be unleashed on the idea that a person’s attachment to mormonism centered on their feelings for and connection with church leaders. If one were to convert to the gospel in 1854, for instance, how much of that conversion really depended on their opinion of Brigham Young? This is an especially salient question for the disjointed and sprawled out world of the Utah, North America, and increasingly international Mormon body, disconnected from a stable print culture and centralized correlated material that we take advantage of today. The answer, I think, will be “much less than previously thought.”


[1] For the sake of this post, let’s set aside the answer of, “Because he was the prophet and people had a spiritual witness of the gospel’s message.” Of course that is a significant reason, perhaps the significant reason, for many, but it was also not the only reason. This post goes more to engaging how people were able to handly his sometimes abrasive personality and rhetoric. It is also more the type of methodology invoked by scholars, where truth is “bracketed” and thus other, supporting, reasons are needed.

[2] Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (Yale UP, 1989). Importantly, Mormons were one of the key players in Hatch’s narrative.

[3] Amanda Porterfield, Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation (Chicago UP, 2012); J. Spencer Fluhman, Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth Century America (UNC Press, 2012).

[4] Benjamin E. Park, “Early Mormonism and the Paradoxes of Democratic Religiosity in Jacksonian America,” American Nineteenth Century History (forthcoming).

[5] There has been some great work done on Brigham Young’s rhetoric that more fully fleshes out this point. See, for instance, Ronald W. Walker, “Raining Pitchforks: Brigham Young as Preacher,” Sunstone 8 (May-June 1983):5-9.

[6] Stephen C. Taysom, Shakers, Mormons and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries (Indiana UP, 2010).

[7] For those who did not agree with the vision, see Polly Aird, Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector: A Scottish Immigrant in the American West, 1848-1861 (Arthur H. Clark, 2009); Polly Aird, Jeff Nichols, and Will Bagley, eds., Playing with Shadows: Voices of Dissent in the Mormon West (Arthur H. Clark, 2011).


  1. Jessica F. says:

    This quote : “If one were to convert to the gospel in 1854, for instance, how much of that conversion really depended on their opinion of Brigham Young? This is an especially salient question for the disjointed and sprawled out world of the Utah, North America, and increasingly international Mormon body, disconnected from a stable print culture and centralized correlated material that we take advantage of today. The answer, I think, will be “much less than previously thought.”

    I guess I feel that as a convert very little of what I joined the church for has really been my reality. But after changing my whole life and giving up a lot to join, I felt that I was stuck, I was in a position with kids and getting married that I was not really free to make a choice that did not have major consequences for others. I can only imagine if I had moved to another continent, had no money, and no real alternatives. Where were they going to go? This is one of the reasons theocracy is such a bad system of governance.

  2. Jessica: certainly there were people who had that sense of being stuck; those have been documented in several places, including the books I mentioned in note 7. But there were also many who genuinely loved the Church, found comfort in Utah, and appreciated Young; this post aimed to give some cultural background for at least some of the reasons for why this was the case. The captive narrative can only go so far.

  3. Jessica F. says:

    Ben P. I think he did some amazing things, and really that anyone survived settling Utah is beyond my comprehension. I think it is just very hard to psychologically remove it from the truth claims and his status as a prophet. I think people do amazing things in the name of faith (both good and bad). And I know I am going against your #1 but did non members follow in great numbers? I am honestly asking, since I don’t know.

  4. Are you asking if non-Mormons followed Brigham Young? None that I know of, and I apologize if implied otherwise. What note #1 was referencing is the fact that there was (and is) a broad spectrum of reasons people chose (and choose) to follow Mormonism, and the cultural context helps reconstruct the background for some of those reasons.

  5. Jessica F. says:

    I just think that his motivation tactics are based very heavily on religion. That the way to motivate people against their own self interest he used religion and specifically eternal salvation. That is why a lot of secular leaders often based their visions around religion. It is very hard to motivate people to share your vision and to overcome their own self interest in a secular way. Outside of Mormonism I think BY would have been very different, but he comes off like an ass so much of the time. I just think his tactics are full of power that his mantle gave him. I just think it is like trying to separate the building of the cathedrals from the church it may not be possible.

  6. I think we are in agreement on that, Jessica; by saying that the cultural exploration brackets of a spiritual witness, I am by no means bracketing off religion. Indeed, my entire post is steeped within the framework of religion, I think.

  7. Maybe it’s our modern culture of niceness that is actually what’s wrong. Reminds me of the lyrics to “The Last Midnight” in Into the Woods where the witch gives all the shiftless fairy tale characters a richly-deserved what-for.


    You’re so nice.
    You’re not good,
    You’re not bad,
    You’re just nice.
    I’m not good,
    I’m not nice,
    I’m just right.
    I’m the Witch.
    You’re the world.

    You couldn’t have come up with a more apt and more biting condemnation of modern American culture. A culture wherein all nice things should be nice together. And the worst sin of all is believing something strongly enough to forgo this precious little arrangement of nicety without point or aim. In our modern culture, there is no sin greater than not being “nice.”

    Not righteous, not admirable – “nice.”

    And it’s inconceivable to a generation of morally shiftless first world brats pampered on a debilitating diet of nicety starved of conviction, that anything not “nice” could ever be worth following.

  8. I’d be careful in your indictment of modernity’s emphasis on being nice and charitable, as that was one of the fundamental tenets of the last few presidents of the church.

  9. Ignacio M. Garcia says:

    I have no problem with contextualizing Brigham Young in his era. But we expect great individuals to transcend their era, to be what their fellow beings are not–at least part of the time–and not simply to just be better at being a creature of their time and place. What you seem to say is that Brigham just took the characteristics of his time and did more with them than others. That is fine and the recent literature seems to support that view. But the concern from Saints is why the gospel did not make him different than the ordinary. After all, as I said earlier, we expect great people to transcend the world’s limitations more often than not, and there are numerous examples of those who were kind and less violent sounding leaders who led even before Brigham’s time. There were those who did not demonize the other simply to maintain unity within the fold. So, it is not necessarily presentism that causes some Saints to question Brigham or his depictions. My own sense is that the recent literature has failed to fully capture him. Maybe someone can create a hat trick and take Arrington’s and Esplin’s Brigham and mix him with Turner’s and your Brigham and we will get the one that will place him in his rightful place. Afte alr, he was a prophet and if that doesn’t mean anything than we got some problems. LDS scholars have the double burden as Tom Alexander and Richard Bushman love to say of being both intellectuals and people of faith. If we can’t save our prophets from the heap of history then sadly “the intellect is far far greater than the mantle”. Playing devil’s advocate here.

    Always wonderful to learn from you Ben and to be able to engage in scholarly debate.

  10. LaJean Carruth says:

    Brigham Young loved the Saints, and they knew it. I have transcribed literally hundreds of pages of the original shorthand recorded by George D. Watt while Brigham Young spoke in Salt Lake City and in the outlying settlements. He would tell them, We have come to cheer you and comfort you. He cared about them. He praised them for their progress. He often told them that he didn’t think the people in the City of Enoch had made any more rapid progress than they, and reminded them how long it took Enoch to teach his people. He plead with them to care for themselves, for men to build comfortable homes for their wives and children. He worried about their comfort as they sat on the hard benches of the old tabernacle. He taught many things that we hear constantly today: faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost – and save grain, stay out of debt, be honest in all your dealings, pay your tithing, keep the Word of Wisdom. His accounts of his interactions with his wives and children show tremendous kindness, and great understanding of human nature. He could be sharply critical, but he loved the saints, and they knew it.

  11. Thanks for your thoughts, Ignacio.

    And many thanks for stopping by, LaJean; it is alway good to have an expert who has probably spent more time in BY’s sermons than anyone else!

  12. On the heels of LaJean’s excellent comment, let me emphasize again that what I outline here is only one of the contextual points that offers answers as to why the Saints followed (and often, loved) Brigham. There could be others traced out, as LeJean demonstrates. This was just a recent topic of research for me, and thus it was on my mind.

  13. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, Ben. This was a great write up and I am really looking forward to your paper. I also really appreciate LaJean’s comment.

    Speaking as a believer and not a scholar for a moment, one of the biggest realizations that I have made in the last couple of years is that experience simply matters. You can take all the pieces of a ward full of strangers and throw them together, and it will function well. We have the institutional support for everything to generally run smoothly. But many of the best aspects of Mormon lived religion can’t be thrown together and implemented as a program. These things require people to spend time–years–together, working and serving. Relationships of love and trust formed by looking out for each other’s kids, setting up and taking down chairs, and serving in the nursery. This realization has driven me to wonder about early Utah. Now I know that the there were many strangers in Zion–lots of immigrants, etc., but there had to have been a tremendous cohesion born of experience together. And I think that a large number of people likely had foundational experiences with BY. In my experience such bonds of love and trust often overshadow what I am often too hasty to judge as flaws in my fellow Saints.

  14. Sharee Hughes says:

    I just purchased Turner’s biography. Now I’m anxious to read it.

  15. LaJean Carruth says:

    I am sure early Mormons joined the Church for a variety of reasons, as people do today – but many, if not most, were seeking God, seeking truth, seeking the Spirit, seeking a church that resembled the early Christian church in the New Testament. Brigham Young taught them the gospel. His sermons – as he spoke them, before they were rewritten and edited for publication (and George Watt changed them even as he transcribed – when his longhand transcripts are compared to his original shorthand, there are a great many changes, often significant) – Brigham Young’s sermons were powerful, full of the spirit. He lead them into the spiritual, which helped fill the longing that led them to join Mormonism in the first place. He led them to God, he taught them of God. He taught them they were literally God’s children, and He loved them. He prayed for them. He taught them to pray, to seek that what was right. His teachings are compelling to me as I read them, they pull me, even now, into the spiritual, and feed my soul. Once I finished a Brigham Young sermon, and began transcribing a sermon by another brother; the difference in power was immediate, and striking. I think we underestimate Brigham Young as a prophet. He knew he was a prophet, he identified himself as such, and did not hesitate to say, “I tell you in the name of Israel’s God …”. He bore repeat, powerful testimony of God and Christ, of Joseph Smith and the restoration.

    I have three children, whom I love deeply. I have, of course, made mistakes in my parenting, and have said and done many things I regret, and wish I could take back. If I were to be judged on my parenting, I would wish to be judged on the whole, not on the worst manifestations of myself as a parent, the greatest mistakes, the misspoken words, the times I did loose my temper, or even on my exceptional best.
    We need to judge others, including Brigham Young, as we would be judged ourselves: based on all our actions, with attention to patterns, to what was the normal behavior and then on what was the exception, not overemphasizing the exceptional good or the exceptional bad. We need to first find the middle of the stream, what he WAS, day by day, what was the norm, then examine the variations to that norm as just that: variations to his normal character, instead of taking the best or the worst exceptions and saying, this is what he was. No, this is the exception – and it needs to be considered – what his normal behavior was day by day, is truly what he WAS.

  16. Thanks for the shout-out, Ben. There’s a third essay in the “Random Reasons” series, here.

    This is the big piece missing from John’s bio of BY, no matter how thoughtful and thorough and scholarly the published work is: People did follow Brigham Young. They loved him. They liked him. This is evident from the sermons LaJean has transcribed, among other sermons; it is evident from the thousands of letters from ordinary Saints who took their personal problems to him with love and trust. It is evident from the thousands of Saints who stayed in Utah (most could have left, had they wanted to; thousands did leave, but many more thousands stayed).

    When you’re faced with the incontrovertible fact that people did follow Brigham Young, no portrait of his life that doesn’t acknowledge and explain that can be considered complete or definitive. If I’m reading this post correctly — and I may not be — you seem to be taking the position that the unlikable man of John’s biography is an accurate portrait, and the explanation for the loyalty of the 19th century Saint is that they were willing to settle for this lesser kind of man/prophet, chiefly because he fostered fear/hatred/dissension/separation between “them” and “us”?

  17. I love both Joseph and Brigham, but, of the two, Brigham might have had the harder task. In addition to what LaJean and Ardis have said, it’s interesting to realize that Brigham stabilized the LDS Church in ways that Joseph was unable to do. In many ways, he finally gave the early saints a degree of safety and normalcy they had lacked since the establishment of the Church.

    To put LaJean’s comments in my own words, the Brigham who spoke to and about “Gentiles” often wasn’t the same Brigham who spoke to and about his beloved saints. He often was a roaring lion in the first case, but he often was a teddy bear in the second. Naturally, those about whom he warned generally didn’t like him much (or worse), but many saints loved him because he first loved them.

    In other words, he was a real, complex man – and that gets overlooked too often when he is discussed.

  18. Also, just to put it out there, I thank God I wasn’t in Brigham’s shoes, faced with what he faced. To lead such a complex movement in such a brutal time in such a Hellish location . . . That alone makes me view him more charitably – looking for the complexity and balance I believe is important – than I might if I was trying to paint a purely scholarly portrait of him.

    I think the Turner biography is an excellent addition to the library about Brigham, primarily as a balance or extension to what has been written previously. It certainly isn’t a comprehensive view, and it isn’t “purer” than some others I’ve read.

  19. Ignacio M. Garcia says:

    Ben, wonderful job in getting such a good discussion going. I’ve surely learned much about Brigham just reading here. I think we get a better glimpse of the greatness of the man. I don’t know that I can ever deal with well with his racial views but then I’ve got a few acquaintances whose racial views are not that much more progressive than BY ‘s and yet I find certain qualities in them that keep me from discarding them as part of my extended community. Life is complicated.

  20. Thanks for chiming in, everyone. After a few hours shoveling snow, it is good to come warm up with some intellectual give-and-take.

    Ardis: I guess I didn’t find the Brigham Young in Turner’s bio to be unlikable, and I personally found compelling reasons in the book for followers to like (even love) him. I thought one of the most powerful chapters was on the late-Nauvoo period, where Brigham was in the temple with the saints forging liturgical and spiritual links throughout families and communities. And while the anarchic community and tribalistic worldview help, I certainly don’t think they were all that went into why people followed BY. (Hence my redundancy in saying these were among many reasons in the post and in several of my comments.) Perhaps I should reconsider my own personality if I found Turner’s a sympathetic treatment of Brigham! ;)

  21. #10,

    “His accounts of his interactions with his wives and children show tremendous kindness, and great understanding of human nature.”

    Perhaps we should pay attention to the key words “his accounts.” The accounts of others were not always so flattering. Several of his wives divorced him. At least two suffered from serious neglect, as did their children. It was well known that he had a favorite wife…

  22. Nice post, Ben. I’m really looking forward to your article. In writing about Brigham’s transformation/expansion of theology, one of the factors and helped shape that change was a hunger for stability, connection, and the power of certainty, I think. And LaJean is awesome. If I ever finish with Joseph’s sermons, I’ve got to dive into her stuff.

  23. It was well known that he had a favorite wife…

    Like much of what “everybody knows,” this simply isn’t true. The claim that Amelia Folsom was “a favorite wife” come from editors, anti-Mormon lecturers (including Ann Eliza), and others who were either in no position to know Brigham Young’s affections, or who demonstrated their animus in other ways. All family accounts, other than Ann Eliza’s, say otherwise.

  24. “The accounts of others were not always so flattering.”

    As a former history teacher, I only can say:


    I generally don’t like to be sarcastic, but some things require sarcasm – and that just screamed for the most accurate response possible. I know people who think I’m a deluded liar, and accounts of my words and actions “are not always flattering”, but I hope the accounts of people who actually know me outweigh that view.

  25. Ben, I don’t mind the idea of being nice, or promoting it.

    But it makes a lousy societal crowning virtue.

  26. JA Benson says:

    To add to the rest of the story…
    George D. Watt, who incidentally beat my ancestor in a foot race to be the first person baptized in England, was eventually left the church and joined the Godbeites. Their leader was William S Godbe. The Godbeites believed in all belief systems and practiced mysticism. A main complaint of the Godbeites was Young’s control of secular matters in Utah Territory. George Watt tried to rejoin the LDS church on several occasions, but was unable to do so.
    I have no idea, but I wonder if Watt’s descendants re-baptized him.
    Brigahm Young was a complex man.

  27. Glenn Thigpen says:

    I have not read the Turner book as of yet. I may or may not. I think though taht anyone wishing to get a good picture of Brigham would need to read the several biographies written about him. Each of them seems to focus on different aspects of his life.

    I imagine that Brigham was an unlikeable man to those who incurred his wrath. Yet, there were many many people who knew him to a greater or lesser degree who followed him from Nauvoo to the Great Salt Lake Basin rather than follow Strang, Joseph Smith III, or Sidney Rigdon.


  28. Ryan Mullen says:

    #17 “Brigham stabilized the LDS Church in ways that Joseph was unable to do”

    I picked up Turner’s biography hoping to see evidence supporting this statement. I have yet to find it. Can anyone guide me to sections of Pioneer Prophet that discuss BY in this light? Or to another biography that does a better job?

  29. “But we expect great individuals to transcend their era”

    Honestly, they almost never do, at least not to the extent that common wisdom would have.

  30. Many of my ancestors’ journals speak of the likeness of Joseph coming on to Brigham and that manifestation is what led them to follow him. They saw the mantle of the prophet and followed him. Now whether they had him over to dinner is another matter…

    When some of my ancestors came to Zion after being disowned and kicked out of their homes by their families for joining the church, Brigham met them at the mouth of the canyon, picked up their children in his arms and welcomed them and gave them a sense of family and belonging.

    I think of Pres Hinckley who had a picture of BY in his office and said he would often turn around and say, “How did you do it Brigham?” What he was able to accomplish took a strong personality and that, everyone can agree, Brigham had.

  31. I have an ancestor who sought to create a ‘pleasure resort’ in southern Utah and succeeded. Before he did so, he contacted Brigham Young and according to our family history, in the response he received, Brigham Young said:

    ““The people need a place to go where they can forget their work and problems.”

    I don’t know if that was written down in a letter or not. I can’t verify the quote in any way. But I do know that the resulting park still exists today.

    I still need to read John Turner’s biography and expect to do so very soon. But I just thought this simple anecdote is a little bit useful in measuring the consideration and care that Brigham Young had for the Saints who must have had a pretty difficult life so early in Utah’s history.

    I did a little write-up about my ancestor here, that includes the Brigham Young quotation I am providing here:


  32. Daniel, if you’ll send me your email address, I’ll send you three letters from the Brigham Young papers that were written by or at the request of D.B. Funk. None of them are about this park, but they do show a connection between BY and DBF.

  33. Ardis, that would be so wonderful! Thank you so much! I am sure my father would also be thrilled to see these letters. That is very thoughtful of you. I will send you my email address shortly.

  34. One day I’ll get around to reading Turner, but based on what I’ve read about it from posts like this, I’m getting a Brigham Young-as-Jose-Mourinho vibe. Soccer fans will understand what I mean: The strong, sometimes abrasive personality, the emphasis on structure, the creation of us-against-them siege mentality to forge unity. Yep, now I’ll be spending my Sunday comparing LDS prophets to football managers.

  35. marginalizedmormon says:

    I don’t know why; I’ve been trying to figure that out myself–

    1–many of them were desperate; they were tired of being mobbed–

    2–many came from impoverished conditions in other countries and wanted a ‘new start’ in America; I don’t think every “Mormon” who came to America was that enthused about “Mormonism”–

    3–from my ancestral journals, at least, I have learned that there was very little discussion about church ‘leaders’; they didn’t think about them all that much–
    religion was a more personal thing then that it is now–
    from the ancestral journals of my LDS ancestors who went to Utah–and remained in the intermountain west, struggling to survive, raising their families, etc.–

  36. My uninformed two cents:

    Brigham Young was the right man at the right time for the church. Setting aside my feelings about his marital life, I have to admire how he was able to lead a large group of people with a wide range of talents and capabilities into the literal wilderness and motivate them into creating a sustainable and thriving civilization.

    He didn’t do it by being nice. He did it by being a butt-kicking, hard-charger who could motivate people into doing things they never imagined they were capable of doing.

    He was a great leader for the people and the interesting thing was that if they did what he said, for the most part they survived, thrived and even prospered. It’s not hard to see why people followed him and even loved him.

  37. I totally would have been a plural wife of Brigham Young.

  38. Ignacio M. Garcia says:

    That is so western American–that you can only be an effective leader by kicking butt. The fact is that there have been great leaders who led with sensitivity, compassion and softness. That did not mean they were not strong or that they could not “kick some butt” at times but only that they did not see it as the way to do it all the time. I’m sure that Brigham wasn’t that way all the time but it did seem to be more in his character. He was who he was but it is not accurate to make it seem that it was the only way. We need to be careful about assessing things after the fact and calling all “success” as the only way. He might have been the right person but it wasn’t because of his faults or flaws but of his commitment to the gospel and his determination to do the Lord’s will.

  39. Ignacio:

    I agree with you. There are more effective ways of being a leader than kicking butt. They usually are much more difficult.

  40. Actually, that’s not Western American exclusively.

    East Asian cultures are even more ruthless and cold-hearted in their portrayals of effective leadership than anything cooked up in the US.

    And for the record, Machiavelli and Clausewitz weren’t Americans.

  41. I would agree with Seth that other cultures such as those found in many Asian societies tend to be authoritarian. Middle Eastern leaders are known for being very authoritarian but balance that with personal warmth at times, a very paternalistic style. Having said that, leadership theory has largely moved away from traits though some scholars such as Bob House and the GLOBE team have identified traits that seem to have validity across many cultures.

    Of greater interest today in leadership theory, is the contextualization of traits indicating that some traits and behaviors work well in a certain context while others have greater efficacy in different contexts. It may well be that Brigham Young’s particular set of traits had high efficacy in a frontier setting. It may also be, as some indicated, that he was adept at employing differing styles as required by varying circumstances.

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