This study is an attempt to (1) minimize the lack of rhetorical scholarship in Mormon studies, and (2) add to the historical study of rhetoric in nineteenth-century America. Since the Mormon Church's establishment in 1830, sermons have been a vital part of the Church's development into a worldwide institution. From the simple testimonial to the more complex doctrinal explication, early Mormon leaders used the art of preaching to spread their message of God and His glories. But rarely have historians or critics focused on the rhetoric—the persuasive techniques—of these sermons. This, perhaps, stems from early Mormonism's general aversion to the rhetorical textbook, or the theory of rhetoric and rhetorical practice. But the practice of rhetoric was (and continues to be) vital for the Church. And while the majority of early Mormon speeches concerned scriptural or doctrinal appeals, leaders such as Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young were often forced by internal and external difficulties to give persecution sermons: speeches that fused both sacred and secular motifs to transcend the simple testimony of faith, repentance, and baptism. By analyzing these persecution speeches we can better understand how leaders such as Joseph Smith would use the art of persuasive communication in responding to tragic circumstances, in supporting the Saints, or in reaffirming the Church's position as a separate and peculiar people. This study, then, reviews the general rhetorical framework of early Mormon oratory, the educational backgrounds of the persecution genre's most influential speakers, the major speeches that comprise this tradition with analyses of the technical aspects that ornament the speeches, the various responses of those that heard or read them, and the prevalence and implications of persecution rhetoric today. Thus, the purpose of this study is to understand one section of Mormon history from an oratorical point of view, recognizing the value of seeing a religion through the eyes of its speakers and its communicative practices, a recognition that should be important to critics of early Mormon history and thought.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Largey, Zachary L., "The Rhetoric of Persecution: Mormon Crisis Rhetoric from 1838-1871" (2006). Theses and Dissertations. 414.
Mormon Studies, Rhetoric, 19th Century American Oratory