Transition of Power Part 3: How a president’s fear of upsetting voters helped create Utah

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Scaffolding in place at the US Capitol in preparation for Joe Biden’s inauguration, January 12, 2021 (Nexstar)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Charismatic politicians and activists inciting crowds to violence during elections is not anything new. It is a technique many have relied on around the world to misuse authority in order to satisfy their own ends.

In the United States, we like to think we are above this, but the truth is our transitions of power over our 244-year history have been fraught with problems, sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes where all could see.

Even though the peaceful transfer of power outwardly shows a democracy trying to do the right thing, many times what gets the elected to the presidential podium is anything but smooth.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 20: Joe Biden is sworn in as U.S. President as his wife Dr. Jill Biden looks on during his inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Professor Frederick Gedicks, holder of the Guy Anderson chair at BYU law school says, “Politics is a full-contact sport, Presidential politics is a full-contact sport, with not a lot of refereeing, it’s a really tough business to run for president and get elected president, the media has become more sophisticated and more pervasive, it’s become worse and worse, the intrusion into lives, and the generation of controversy, and personal attacks.”

In the 1800s the young country was full of strife, driven by hatred, prejudices, confirmation biases, and fear.

An article posted by the New Yorker, says a city block was burned to the ground by a fight between Whigs and Democrats in Philadelphia. In Louisiana, 5000 men fought in the streets of New Orleans over political differences.

One of the ways those with political goals create controversy is by using misinformation to rally the masses, sometimes to violence. However, the violence is not always on the presidential stage.

The State of Utah was indirectly created by these politically motivated violent incidents.

The Missouri Mormon War happened because people thought the LDS settlers posed a political and economic threat. According to the Missouri Digital Heritage website: “Mormonism” commanded Missouri politics.

In fact, a fight broke out on Election day between the LDS and other citizens of Missouri. According to an account from the BYU Scholars archive, a candidate named William Penniston gave a fiery speech to stop people from voting, “the Mormons ought not to be suffered to vote,” and that is the polite part of it.

Ken Ivory, former State Legislator and Adjunct professor at UVU says, “there was an influx of people who were different, this created deep political anxiety. If there aren’t well-recognized and accepted constitutional avenues for addressing the anxiety it manifests in unconstitutional and even dangerous directions.”

And that is what happened in Missouri.

In 1838 a group of citizens concerned with a community’s new political power, presented a manifesto to the Governor of Missouri, inside were these words:

“if they had been respectable citizens in society and thus deluded they would have been entitled to our pity rather than to our contempt and hatred; but from their appearance, from their manners, and from their conduct since their coming among us, we have every reason to fear that, with but very few exceptions, they were of the very dregs of that society from which they came, lazy, idle, and vicious.”

It lead to Executive order 44, the extermination order agains all “Mormons”

Executive order 44 had this language in it: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace.”

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were being driven out of Missouri, they took the problem to the United States president. Martin Van Buren, another single-term President. After they presented their case, he told them, “your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you. If I take up for you, I shall lose the vote of Missouri.”

At the time, Martin Van Buren had just had a county named after him in Missouri honoring him for starting the Democratic party.

The LDS were driven from Missouri, many surrendering to authorities; they landed in Illinois, where the cycle repeated. The Church members began their exodus, eventually, this led the people to Utah.

Even though it was never acted upon the extermination order stayed in effect until 1976.

The process then is very similar to what has happened now. Someone politically takes issue with something or someone, a campaign to convince people their viewpoint is right begins, and claims are made on both sides.

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump wave as they board Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on January 20, 2021. – President Trump and the First Lady travel to his Mar-a-Lago golf club residence in Palm Beach, Florida, and will not attend the inauguration for President-elect Joe Biden. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Gedicks explains, “We have always succeeded in peacefully transferring power without very much drama. The best recent example of that is the election of 2000. Bush won it by 500 votes, we had recounted, and re-recounted and lawsuits, and the Supreme Court finally intervened and stopped the statewide recounts. Al Gore conceded, and then was forced to preside over the indignity of his defeat as the sitting Vice-President.”

Ken Ivory adds, “We have a structure they didn’t have, that gives form and avenues for relief to political anxiety that the founders of our country did not have. It’s important to realize they sacrificed to give us these forms and structures.

Professor Gedicks adds, “The symbols of the peaceful transfer of power are important, so the appearance of George H.W. Bush, who lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, it was important, for him symbolically to appear on the dais for the inauguration of Clinton, without saying anything it conveys the message “This person won, and he’s the legitimate President of the United States and here I am bearing witness to the transfer of power.”

It is not mandatory for any President to be at the inauguration of another. Throughout the history of our country, it has simply been a symbolic courtesy representing the Democracy of the United States.

Read the first two parts of the series:

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