If Brigham Young were alive today, he would be the darling of the talk-show circuit: Endlessly controversial. An exotic theocrat. Fiery orator with wives and offspring by the dozens. Desert colonizer. Prophet and arts patron. America's Moses.

Brother Brigham's Birthday


  • From Unlikely Roots Came an Uncommon Man

  • Love him or loathe him, revere or revile him, the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and iron-fisted ruler of territorial Utah undoubtedly would be a ratings winner today, on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

    Indeed, 124 years after his death in 1877, Young's fingerprints remain all over Salt Lake City, where extra-wide streets form the grid he designed for his "City of Zion." Visitors flock to his restored Lion House and Beehive House residences, and a heroic statue stands sentinel near the LDS Temple, which the world knows as the heart of Mormondom.

    Simply put, Young was an American empire builder perhaps rivaled only by Sam Houston of Texas, says Paul Andrew Hutton, executive director of the Western History Association.

    Both were "larger than life, brilliant, headstrong, pragmatic and sometimes ruthless," Hutton says. "Our Western and national heritage is their legacy."

    Young, however, wore a spiritual mantle unlike any other American leader. He was prophet, seer, and revelator to his Mormon followers, the man who replaced murdered church founder Joseph Smith and led more than 60,000 people, many of them European immigrants, to his redoubt west of the Rocky Mountains.

    He built his Zion on a foundation of faith, but he wanted more for his people, says historian Ron Walker of Brigham Young University.

    "President Young wanted every man, woman, and child busily employed. He wanted them learning and growing. He wanted them to experience such things as drama and music," Walker said. "He encouraged the personal growth of church members, many of whom had been disadvantaged in their European homeland. He wanted to bring about a social transformation."

    To achieve that, Young was constantly trying new experiments -- cooperative economics, a silk industry, a wine mission, new alphabets, uniforms for everyone.

    "He tried whatever he thought would work," says Ron Esplin, a BYU historian who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Young. "If it didn't work, he would try something else."

    Brother Brigham's Birthday


  • From Unlikely Roots Came an Uncommon Man

  • In his book, "Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869," historical writer Stephen E. Ambrose wrote that "had it not been for his generally feared or despised religion, he quite possibly might have been a president of the United States, and, depending on the time, a good or even a great one."

    As it was, journalists and writers went out of their way to visit Utah for a chance to meet the man dubbed "the lion of the Lord" by his devoted followers and an ambitious charlatan by his critics.

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