"Liberty to the Downtrodden"

"Liberty to the Downtrodden": Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer

Thomas L. Kane Romantic Reformer
Matthew J. Grow
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    "Liberty to the Downtrodden"
    Book Description:

    Thomas L. Kane (1822-1883), a crusader for antislavery, women's rights, and the downtrodden, rose to prominence in his day as the most ardent and persuasive defender of Mormons' religious liberty. Though not a Mormon, Kane sought to defend the much-reviled group from the "Holy War" waged against them by evangelical America. His courageous personal intervention averted a potentially catastrophic bloody conflict between federal troops and Mormon settlers in the now nearly forgotten Utah War of 1857-58.

    Drawing on extensive, newly available archives, this book is the first to tell the full story of Kane's extraordinary life. The book illuminates his powerful Philadelphia family, his personal life and eccentricities, his reform achievements, his place in Mormon history, and his career as a Civil War general. Further, the book revises previous understandings of nineteenth-century reform, showing how Kane and likeminded others fused Democratic Party ideology, anti-evangelicalism, and romanticism.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15326-2
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    On the night of March 12, 1858, as a federal army shivered in a makeshift camp on the Wyoming plains, a solitary horseman approached. The messenger identified himself as Colonel Thomas L. Kane and presented credentials from President James Buchanan. The army officers recognized Kane, then thirty-six years old, as a member of a prominent Philadelphia family, the son of a federal judge, and the brother of a recently deceased Arctic explorer and national hero. Kane’s own reputation had also preceded him, and rumors quickly circulated through the camp that he had troubling ties to the Mormons, whose alleged rebellion...

  5. 1 Raising Kane
    (pp. 1-12)

    Reflecting on his early life at the age of twenty-eight, Thomas Kane stated, “I have been born with the gold spoon in my mouth, to station and influence and responsibility, here,” referring to Philadelphia, “and it isherethat God means me to administer to these and be holden to account for my stewardship.” From his prominent upper-class family, Kane inherited wealth, connections, ambition, noblesse oblige, and an attachment to Philadelphia. Though recently eclipsed as the nation’s largest city and commercial center by New York City, the Philadelphia of Kane’s youth still retained its role as an international hub of...

  6. 2 Europe
    (pp. 13-27)

    Between 1840 and 1844, as Kane entered adulthood, his parents sent him on two extended trips to Europe. Exposure to European culture widened his horizons; never again could he be completely comfortable in provincial Philadelphia. His visits transformed his religious views, as he left behind the orthodoxy of his childhood and began a long, peripatetic religious quest. For the next two decades, Kane was attracted, at various times, to atheism, a vague sense of God’s providence, the aesthetics and ritual power of Catholicism, a religious humanism inspired by Auguste Comte, and an antidenominational Christianity. This personal journey provided a crucial...

  7. 3 Beginnings of Reform
    (pp. 28-46)

    As he prepared to return home from his second European voyage at the age of twenty-two in 1844, Kane assured his mother that his time in Europe had turned him into a conservative. She had correctly predicted that he would “become disenchanted of Paris by going back to it”: “I have become more American, and have undergone (I believe all undergo it once in their youth) the change to a wholesome conservatism of ideas. Instead of coming back to you a destructive, a radical or even a Fourierite, instead of aiming to destroy Marriage or enfranchise Womankind; you will find...

  8. 4 Meeting the Mormons
    (pp. 47-70)

    On May 13, 1846, the day the United States declared war on Mexico, Kane entered a conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Philadelphia to hear the preaching of Jesse C. Little, a merchant and the head of the church in the eastern states. Kane, then twenty-four, had not merely stumbled upon the meeting; he had evidently encountered the Mormons through print (and possibly on the Philadelphia streets) and decided that a relationship with the Latter-day Saints could be mutually advantageous. Over the next few weeks, as he advanced his plans, war fever swept the nation,...

  9. 5 The Suffering Saints
    (pp. 71-92)

    Kane returned from the Mormon camps, he averred, as a changed man. Even though he continued to keep his distance from traditional Christianity, he saw his recovery from sickness at Council Bluffs as providential, telling Brigham Young, “I am spared by God for the labour of doing you justice.” Four years later, Kane depicted his sojourn with the Saints as the crucial transformative experience of his life. He wrote his Mormon friends: “I believe that there is a crisis in the life of every man, when he is called upon to decide seriously & permanently if he will die unto sin...

  10. 6 Free Soil and Young America
    (pp. 93-112)

    During the years in which Kane embarked on his defense of the Latter-day Saints, he also took up the cause of antislavery. In December 1847, he wrote Elisha: “You know the present generation have not come up yet to the questions which interest me. The day of political revolution and reform is nearly ended in our country. The People are victors and have only a detached fortress or two to reduce, a few guerilla parties to gibbet to have peaceful occupation for the future. Social Revolution, social reform will soon begin and then my hand is in, and I have...

  11. 7 Fugitive Slaves
    (pp. 113-127)

    During the 1850s, controversies over the Fugitive Slave Law, passed as part of the Compromise of 1850, rocked the nation. Dramas involving the law played out in federal courts across the North, with several of the most heated legal disputes occurring in the Independence Hall courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge John Kane, with Thomas as his clerk. The events inside his courtroom reverberated nationally and were closely watched by all sides of the emerging sectional conflict. The debate over the Fugitive Slave Law, which required northerners to participate actively in the return of escaped slaves to the South, also...

  12. 8 Reforming Marriage
    (pp. 128-148)

    In 1853, amidst his work for abolitionism and Mormonism, Thomas, then thirty-one years old, married his sixteen-year-old second cousin, Elizabeth Dennistoun Wood. He saw their union as a reforming marriage, with his wife as a partner in his reform causes. Thomas urged his young wife to attend medical school at the pioneering Philadelphia-based Female Medical College, where he served as a corporator (the equivalent of a member of the Board of Trustees). Together, Thomas and Elizabeth envisioned a society based on gender equality and sought to advance women’s education and to reform the institution of marriage itself. Elizabeth also joined...

  13. 9 The Utah War, Act I
    (pp. 149-173)

    Conflicts that threaten, but ultimately fall short of, war quickly fade from memory. There are no heroes to revere, no commemoratory speeches to make, no battlegrounds to hallow. But these “wars” can be tremendously revealing of a society’s assumptions, attitudes, and priorities. In 1857, newly inaugurated president James Buchanan, upon receiving reports of an alleged Mormon rebellion against federal authorities in Utah, dispatched an army (eventually led by future Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston) with the limited goals of replacing Brigham Young as governor of Utah and compelling the Saints’ submission to national power. In a broader sense, though, the...

  14. 10 The Utah War, Act II
    (pp. 174-206)

    On March 8, 1858, Kane left Salt Lake City to travel through deep snows toward Camp Scott, escorted by a group of Mormon scouts led by the notorious Porter Rockwell. Over the next two months, he caused a furor within the army camp, clashed with Colonel Albert Johnston and other military officials, persuaded Governor Alfred Cumming to accompany him without the army to Salt Lake City, and brokered a settlement between Cumming and Brigham Young that foreclosed the possibility of armed hostilities. During the next two years, Kane worked behind the scenes to influence the press and President Buchanan to...

  15. 11 Honor, Reform, and War
    (pp. 207-235)

    Three years after Kane’s mediation of a threatened civil war in the West between the Mormons and the United States, the nation plunged into North-South conflict. When Kane learned of the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, he immediately telegraphed Pennsylvania governor Andrew Curtin, making him the first Pennsylvanian to volunteer for military service. Curtin accepted Kane’s offer to raise a regiment, which became known as the Bucktails, from the mountainous frontier regions of northwestern Pennsylvania. Characteristically, Kane threw himself into the war effort. Renowned for his courage (some called it recklessness), he served in the Union Army until...

  16. 12 Developing Kane
    (pp. 236-256)

    Six years after Thomas’s resignation from the army, Elizabeth looked back with satisfaction on their joint efforts in reform, noting with particular pleasure the increasing acceptance of female physicians. She also commented: “Slavery is abolished, the Soil is Free, the States are gradually adopting the Constitutional Amendment which gives the Right of Suffrage to the Black Man. Utah is powerful. In short ‘respectable and prudent people’ have ranged themselves where Tom and his ‘queer friends’ stood to be pilloried in former years.” Elizabeth cast reform in the language of religious duty; rather than write “that the ‘causes’ in which we...

  17. 13 Anti-Anti-Polygamy
    (pp. 257-281)

    As the nation remounted its crusade against Mormon polygamy and theocracy in the 1870s and 1880s, Kane again stood as the foremost defender of and adviser to the embattled Saints. As the national campaign against Mormonism accelerated, Kane worked repeatedly to block anti-polygamy legislation in Congress. Along with his wife, he traveled to Utah during the winter of 1872–73, a visit that led Elizabeth, long suspicious of the Saints, to defend Mormon women in a perceptive book,Twelve Mormon Homes. In addition, Kane’s advice encouraged Brigham Young to disentangle himself economically from the church, spurred plans for Mormon colonization...

  18. Epilogue
    (pp. 282-286)

    On Christmas Day, 1883, Thomas Kane, a month shy of his sixty-second birthday, was dying of pneumonia in Philadelphia. Twelve days earlier, his daughter Harriet recorded in her diary, “Father was sick all day.” Until Christmas, she noted the illness’s steady progression: “sick with rheumatism,” “rather better but rather forlorn,” “not well,” “very ill with Pneumonia,” “disease in both lungs,” “no better,” “vomited and coughed in the night,” “grew worse all day.” On a stormy Christmas day, surrounded by his wife, children, and brothers Pat and John (a physician), Thomas was conscious at times but “suffered intensely until a few...

  19. Appendix: Kane Family Chart
    (pp. 287-288)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 289-336)
  21. Index
    (pp. 337-348)