Mormon Democrat

Mormon Democrat: The Religious and Political Memoirs of James Henry Moyle

Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 8

What happens when a Mormon is also a politician? The diaries and memoirs of James Henry Moyle reveal the insights of a man deeply connected to his faith and his country.

Mormon History Association Best Book Award

Out of Print

May, 1998

Description

James Henry Moyle was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, Commissioner of Customs under President Theodore Roosevelt, and special assistant to treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau. He was also president of the LDS Eastern States Mission. By his own count, he had two religions, Mormonism and the Democratic Party, and he alternately praised and criticized both. As one who was intimately acquainted with every major religious and political figure in Utah and elsewhere over six decades–and as the father of a future LDS apostle–he mustered surprisingly profound and entertaining insights in his memoirs.

Part of his prominence was due to his aristocratic flair. Apostle Matthew Cowley admitted that he “always had to take another look when [he] passed Brother James H. Moyle on the street.” Nor was this large-framed, gray-haired statesman one to mince words. It is the raw edge to his comments that makes his autobiography so memorable. This former political kingpen’s life is also recounted in LDS church president Gordon B. Hinckley’s James Henry Moyle: The Story of a Distinguished American and Honored Churchman, who, by his own account, refers to Moyle as a colorful, highly opinionated, uncensored voice, who has a unique value.

Gene A. Sessions, a professor of history at Weber State University, is the author of Latter-day Patriots: Nine Mormon Families and Their Revolutionary War Heritage, Mormon Thunder: A Documentary History of Jedediah Morgan Grant, and Prophesying Upon the Bones: J. Reuben Clark and the Foreign Debt Crisis; and is co-author of Camp Floyd and the Mormons: The Utah War. He is the editor of Mormon Democrat: The Religious and Political Memoirs of James Henry Moyle and co-editor of The Search for Harmony: Essays on Science and Mormonism.

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2 reviews for Mormon Democrat

  1. Throughout a long and distinguished career, James Henry Moyle harbored “two religions by his own count, Mormonism and the Democratic party” (xiv). For several years before his death in 1946 he produced voluminous materials to tell his story. An early biographical effort was never completed, however, and Gordon B. Hinckley’s James Henry Moyle: The Story of a Distinguished American and an Honored Churchman (1951) received only limited circulation before going out of print. Then the late Leonard Arrington, while serving as LDS Church Historian, encouraged Professor Gene Sessions to take on the project, an effort that resulted in the original version of Mormon Democrat, published in limited edition by the Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1975. The present volume is a skillfully edited and updated second edition of that work, published by Signature Books as part of its Significant Mormon Diaries series. Moyle was, after all, a force to be reckoned with as the Democratic party’s unsuccessful candidate for governor of Utah and for United States Senator, as longtime Democratic national committeeman, and as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Wilson administration. He was called back into service as Commissioner of Customs during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a position that he held well past his eightieth birthday.

    Moyle’s own words are on these pages. The most persistent theme in his reminiscences is his exasperation with the decision of some of the highest leaders in the LDS church in the mid-1890s to embrace the Republican party and encourage the faithful to do the same. He regarded this action as absolutely incompatible with the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and as particularly odious because it represented ingratitude toward the Democratic party that he loved and which, in his view, had been historically much friendlier to Mormons than the Republicans had been. His anger was directed in the early period toward Apostle-Senator Reed Smoot and even President Joseph F. Smith and in the 1930s and early ’40s at J. Reuben Clark—and his style was often brusque. Yet time and again Moyle voices his abiding faith in the trueness of the church itself and its divine inspiration.

    Fascinating sub-themes emerge: class conflict and family preference within Mormondom, a perilous mission field in the southern U. S. in the late nineteenth century, and the tendency in the same time period to tolerate less-than-rigorous adherence to the Word of Wisdom. Readers will also find countless summary judgments of political and ecclesiastical leaders, their abilities, and their character.

    The way a book is regarded inevitably depends on who is doing the regarding. Some pious Mormons (particularly if they are also Republicans) may regard Moyle’s pointed criticism of the church’s leadership and his repeated assertion that even church presidents have been fallible human beings as tantamount to heresy. Non-Mormons may think Moyle was dreadfully naïve ever to imagine that the conservative leadership of a conservative church would observe a strict separation of church and state when it had within its power the ability to influence (some would say “dictate”) public policy. Those in between may marvel at Moyle’s ability to embrace with such fervor, over a long period of time, two often adversarial allegiances. (His sincere friendship with Heber J. Grant provides a touching example.)

    Whatever their perspective, serious students of Mormon history or Utah politics will find much of interest in this occasioally repetitive memoir, and the fifty-three-page “Biographical Appendix,” which provides valuable material on virtually every figure prominently mentioned in the text, is a bonus prize. It is good to have Sessions’s book and Moyle’s life more easily available.

  2. James Henry Moyle is not one of the first names that comes to mind when thinking about this period of Mormon history. He was not a General Authority. He never won a major political campaign in Utah. He was never at the center of the various controversies that flared up from time to time. And yet he shaped and witnessed this turbulent period from a relatively unusual, and instructive, vantage point—as both an ardent, nationally known Democrat and as a faithful Latter-day Saint intimate with, but never a part of, the Church hierarchy.

    Moyle wrote his memoirs in the 1940s while in his eighties. The Moyle family later donated his personal papers to the LDS Church Archives. With the permission of the family, historian Gene A. Sessions edited these memoirs into a coherent narrative in the early 1970s, supplementing them with other Moyle sources when necessary. In 1975 he published the memoirs in a limited edition for the family titled Mormon Democrat. Over the past twenty-five years, however, many a scholar has felt that these memoirs were too important to be so hard to find. Thankfully, Signature Books and Smith Research Associates have now decided to republish them in a limited edition of 350 copies for their Significant Mormon Diaries Series.

    The new edition is virtually unchanged from the older one. Aside from a short preface and updated footnotes, the narrative is unrevised. The bibliographical appendix is superb and quite a helpful resource. I do wish that Sessions had updated and included more explanatory information in the footnotes, but this is a minor quibble: The text reads quite well as it is. Gene Sessions, the Moyle family, and Signature Books all deserve credit for making Moyle’s passionate, insightful voice more accessible.

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