From nearly the moment Thomas L. Kane walked into Mormon history in 1846, Latter-day Saint leaders promised that his name would long be honored by the Saints. In part, they wanted to bolster Kane’s determination to take the deeply controversial stance of defending the Mormons. When his father John, a powerful federal judge, learned of Kane’s decision to befriend the Mormons by traveling to their refugee camps in Iowa in 1846, he saw only potential ruin in associating with such a disreputable cause. “The case has no bright side,” he lamented, as Tom “is about to deal a blow to his own character as a right minded man, which he will feel through life.” Thomas’s younger brother Pat agreed, calling it the “damndest foolish” notion.
Scholars of Mormonism (like scholars of most topics) need to find ways to connect their subject to larger scholarly debates and frameworks. Mormon academics have used frameworks from American religious history to western history to the history of family and gender to legal studies. Another possibility is communal studies.
The Bloggernacle has been awash lately in awards: Mormon of the Year, Mormon of the Year, 1950-present, and the Boggs-Doniphan Award. This last one asked for the most influential non-Mormon on Mormonism within the last year, for either good or ill, named about Missouri’s Governor Lilburn Boggs who infamously issued an Extermination Order against the Mormons in 1838 and for Alexander Doniphan, a Missouri militia leader who refused to execute Joseph Smith and other church leaders during the same conflict. In that same spirit, my question is: Which outsider has most influenced Latter-day Saint history, either positively or negatively?
Nineteenth-century polygamy provoked a decades-long national shouting match over the evils and virtues of the practice. It also prompted a fascinating contemplation by Elizabeth Kane of women’s rights and marital sexuality.
On June 20, 1854, Elizabeth Kane received a note from her husband that he had invited some “common men” for dinner. Elizabeth, then 17, had been married to Thomas Kane, her second cousin, for a little over a year.
In Mormon country, Thomas L. Kane is remembered, if at all, as the nineteenth-century defender of the Latter-day Saints and the hero of the Utah War of 1857-58.