cover image Mormon Envoy: The Diplomatic Legacy of Dr. John Milton Bernhisel

Mormon Envoy: The Diplomatic Legacy of Dr. John Milton Bernhisel

Bruce W. Worthen. Univ. of Illinois, $29.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-252-08689-2

Historian Worthen debuts with an erudite biography of the life of John Milton Bernhisel (1799-1881), who negotiated with the U.S. government on behalf of the Latter-day Saints in the early years of the Mormon church. Bernhisel was an influential figure in the history of early Mormonism, Worthen suggests, discussing Bernhisel’s conversion to the faith as an adult and his friendship with the church’s founder, Joseph Smith. The author details how Mormons’ refusal to recognize the legitimacy of local governments rankled the communities they encountered during their migration from the Midwest to what would become Salt Lake City, Utah, and eventually led to hostilities with the federal government that nearly resulted in open conflict more than once. As Worthen demonstrates, Bernhisel played a key role in defusing tensions by leveraging his connections with the “gentile world” and acting as go-between for the Mormons and the U.S. government. Worthen does an excellent job of tracing Bernhisel’s diplomacy and highlights his efforts to reconcile the Latter-day Saints’ push for autonomy with the government’s concern about the potential for a Western separatist movement in the lead-up to the Civil War. Scholars will appreciate the insights into early Mormonism and the American colonization of the Utah territory. (Jan.)