Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » I Have a[n Unaswered] Question, 1896

I Have a[n Unaswered] Question, 1896

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 31, 2012

An anonymous writer in Salt Lake City queried the editor of the Juvenile Instructor in 1896:

Dear Sir: – I wish to ask you a question for my personal information. It is a question that I have heard several times from others’ lips. The question is, “Why is it that 99% of the missionaries called to labor in the field are Democrats.”

I have made observations during the last year and there has been about fifteen missionaries called and out of that number they were all Democrats. Is this done for political effect or is it because there are so few in the other ranks that are capable of filing a mission. Please answer through the Juvenile Instructor and Oblige a


The letter went unanswered in the pages of the periodical.

(Please, exercise the usual Keepa’anniny discretion in comments.)



  1. This reminds me of what I read today on Jana Reiss’ blog:
    “In the 1896 presidential election, 51 percent of the nation’s popular vote went to Republican William McKinley, but in the spanking new state of Utah McKinley captured only an anemic showing of 17.3 percent. According to Notre Dame political scientist David E. Campbell, Mormons went heavily for populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan that year instead.

    The Democratic trend continued. From 1932 to 1948, Mormons echoed national sentiments by repeatedly electing Democrats FDR and Harry Truman to office, often by a larger margin than the rest of the nation. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson carried Utah by ten percentage points, and throughout the 1970s the Utah state legislature was solidly Democratic.”

    So the Mormon-Republican link is, at the earliest, from the Reagan era. Does anyone know when (and maybe why)the switch happened?

    Comment by Mattathias — October 31, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

  2. Mattathias, while the majority vote in Utah (which by the 1970s doesn’t begin to encompass the full *Mormon* vote) was Democratic for the first many decades of statehood, some of the most politically vocal leaders — Joseph F. Smith, George Henry Smith — were Republican from very early.

    My guess about the cause of the dramatic late-20th century swing to the right in Utah has something to do a with a combination of hot-button social issues that were seen as conservative/Republican and Mormon-worthy (law-and-order opposition to Vietnam War opposition; opposition to ERA; opposition to civil rights due to both the unruliness of some activities *and* a defense of the priesthood restriction) — and — the prominent and vocal Republicanism of some Mormon leaders without an equally vocal Mormon Democrat bloc (there were prominent Mormon leaders who were Democrats, but they weren’t as vocal or as willing to blur the line between political and religious loyalty).

    I wish this 1896 letterwriter had spelled out his thoughts a little more fully. Did he think (or think that the Church thought) that only Democrats were worthy of being missionaries, or did he think the the Church was sending Democrats into the field to neutralize their political activity by steering them into ecclesiastical channels, or did he think the Church was sending out Democrats to proselytize for the party as well as for the Church, or what?

    I don’t believe he could really know the political leanings of any significant number of missionaries, and I suspect this was paranoid grumbling about the Church interfering with this man’s political views.

    No way to answer any of my wonderings, especially without knowing who wrote the letter, but it made me laugh when I saw it so I thought some of you might be equally intrigued in this last week of the US campaign.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 31, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

  3. Definitely intriguing, but I have no real answer beyond that. Thanks for a chuckle on a hard day. 🙂

    Comment by Julia — October 31, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

  4. I was going to be flippant and say either:

    1) The best Mormons are Democrats, so only they are worthy of missionary service.


    2) The Democrats are sent out on missions because the true Republican Mormons are trying to get rid of them.

    Comment by HokieKate — October 31, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  5. What I’m curious about is why the Juvenile Instructor didn’t respond, but still thought it a good idea to print the letter! Why print the letter if you weren’t going to respond?

    I’m sure that they printed many letters without responding to them. But the question here seems to almost require an answer — unless you are reading it simply as a polemical question, meant to make a point.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — October 31, 2012 @ 8:36 pm

  6. Oh, they didn’t print the letter. I found it in a manuscript collection. Sorry, I should have made that clear.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 31, 2012 @ 8:43 pm

  7. I went on my mission as a Republican then came home and became a Democrat.

    Comment by Grant — November 1, 2012 @ 8:32 am

  8. If the missionary numbers suddenly drop this week after their recent spectacular jump, I’m going to assume that tens of thousands of Republican parents saw your comment, Grant.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 1, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  9. I remember hearing anecdotal stories about bishops sending young men on missions prior to the manifesto if they were getting too attached to potential second or third wives for some polygamists. Perhaps those same bishops were trying to get young Democratic men out of town so that they wouldn’t marry and and their offspring also become Democrats?

    Not that there is anything wrong with that (being a Democrat, I mean). Some of my best friends are Democrats. Heck, I’m a Democrat, although in the interest of full disclosure, I did vote a split ticker on my mail in ballot this week.

    Comment by kevinf — November 1, 2012 @ 10:55 am

  10. I would say that the shift to Republicanism became significant during the H.J. Grant era (who switched parties himself during the 1930’s in response to what he saw as FDR’s intrusion on individual rights).

    E.T. Benson and E.J. Wilkinson sealed the deal with their widely publicized views and (seemingly official) statements.

    The Democratic party hastened their own decline in Utah by promoting feminism (incl. abortion rights), government expansion (War on Poverty, Medicare, etc.), and restricted individual rights (Gun control Act of 1968) in addition to the factors mentioned by Ardis in #2

    Comment by The Other Clark — November 1, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

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