Brigham Young: American Moses

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Brigham Young: American Moses
Brigham Young American Moses.jpg
Dust jacket from the 1985 Knopf edition.
Author Leonard J. Arrington
Country United States
Language English
Subject Brigham Young
Genre Biography
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date
April 1985[1]
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 522
ISBN 0-394-51022-4
OCLC 11443615
289.3/32/0924 B 19
LC Class BX8695.Y7 A85 1985
Followed by 1986 University of Illinois Press paperback

Brigham Young: American Moses is a biography about Brigham Young, a leader in the Latter Day Saint movement, by Dr. Leonard J. Arrington. The biography was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1985.


Upon becoming the Church Historian, Arrington showed interest in writing a biography of Brigham Young. With an immense amount of manuscript material found in the basement of the Church Administration Building, Arrington proposed a seven-volume biography to the First Presidency.[2]:397-98 However, Spencer W. Kimball, president of the Church at the time, only approved a one volume work. Kimball suggested that Arrington take on the biography as a privately funded endeavor in order to spare the Church of direct ties to the work and any potential inaccuracies or misinterpretations.[3]:160 In addition, Kimball placed a deadline on the biography's publication, telling Arrington, "I would like to see a really good, one-volume biography of Brigham Young before I die." [2]:399


In 1979 Alfred A. Knopf published Arrington's well-received The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, and later that year contracted Arrington to also write a biography of Brigham Young.[1] Until 1982, Arrington was Church Historian of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had access to and drew upon diaries and letters not available to previous biographers to profile Brigham Young.[4] It took seven years for the Young papers to be cataloged and researched.[2]:398 While a large research team was involved in the production of the Young biography, Arrington was strictly instructed by Church leadership that he be the sole author. Arrington completed a first draft of the biography in seven months. The revising process took several years, ensuring the First Presidency had proper approval over all drafts. Brigham Young: American Moses was released in 1985. It was the first Young biography written with complete access to all archived materials of the Young Era.[3]:165 In the book, Arrington critically examined a major period of Mormon history, though some reviews claimed he didn't cover enough of some intriguing aspects.[5]


As Arrington had contracted many research assistants in his work for the biography, some believed that he gave too little attribution to his contributors. Reviewers of the work thought that Arrington's writing was too dependent on the research of others without giving them proper credit. According to historian F. Ross Peterson, "doing the Brigham Young biography is one of the things that caused a degree of conflict between [Arrington] and his staff at the Church. Some of them felt [the book] was theirs."[2]:401 Out of his entire staff, Arrington supposedly relied very heavily on the work of historian Ronald Esplin, whose research was instrumental in writing the book. In addition to the conflict involving the researching staff, several of Arrington's colleagues in the Church's Historical Department believed that he was intentionally obstructing the work of Donald Moorman, who was also working on a biography of Brigham Young at the same time. According to Gene Sessions, an employee of the Historical Division at the time, Moorman wanted to write "definitive biography of Brigham Young," but Arrington "refused to let [him] use the copying machines. [Arrington] said, 'You can see the Young stuff as long as you hand-copy it.'" [2]:402 Arrington's lack of cooperation prevented Moorman from completing thorough research on Brigham Young, despite having been given necessary access to the Young papers by Joseph Fielding Smith, previous church historian and church president.[2]:402


In 1995, Arrington explained his reasoning behind the subtitle American Moses:

Brigham was the same sort of a leader as Moses in serving people for a long period of time, in achieving their goal of entering into a kingdom blessed by God. It--there's no--no trick reason why I should have used American Moses. I thought Moses was a person understood by nearly everybody, and that Brigham was something for us that Moses was for the people of Israel. He led his people figuratively and quite literally, and they survived because of that leadership and their faith.[6]


Brigham Young: American Moses was critically acclaimed within the Mormon community. Many considered it to be "the definitive Mormon History".[2]:400 However, it was not highly esteemed outside of Church organizations. There was a general understanding among critics that Arrington was too admiring of Brigham Young in his writing. Arrington seemingly chose to avoid including any controversial material in his work, writing in his personal diary, "I am of course finding many things about Brigham Young that would be better left unsaid."[2]:402 The biggest criticism of the biography was over Arrington's intentional exclusion of information regarding the Mountain Meadows Massacre. According to Arrington's colleague Robert Kent Fielding, "He said no, he was not going to deal with [the Massacre]. He was going to leave that for other scholars."[2]:404


In 1984, before its actual release by Knopf, Brigham Young: American Moses was the first to receive the prestigious "David Evans and Beatrice Cannon Evans Biography Award". It also won the 1985 Mormon History Association’s Best Book Award and was nominated as a “distinguished work of biography” by the National Book Critics Circle.[1]


Table of Contents

  1. Boyhood in Vermont and New York
  2. Conversion and Commitment
  3. Apostle
  4. The Missouri Interlude
  5. The British Mission
  6. Nauvoo
  7. City of Joseph
  8. The Pioneer Trek to the great Basin
  9. To Zion
  10. The Colonizer President
  11. President of the Church
  12. Friendship and Caution
  13. Governor of Utah
  14. Zion Grows
  15. Governor and Counselor
  16. Public Image and Private Reality
  17. Protecting the Kingdom
  18. The Last Year
  19. The Legacy of Brigham Young


  1. ^ a b c "Leonard James Arrington Chronology". Leonard J. Arrington Papers. Utah State University Libraries. 2006-05-23. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Prince, Gregory A. (2016). Leonard Arrington and the writing of Mormon history. University of Utah Press. pp. 397–406. 
  3. ^ a b Topping, Gary (2008). Leonard J. Arrington: A Historian's Life. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 157–167. 
  4. ^ Brigham Young: American Moses
  5. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (February 13, 1999). "Leonard J. Arrington, 81, Mormon Historian". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  6. ^ "Leonard Arrington" (PDF). Promontory. KUED. 2002. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 

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