Saturday, June 5, 2021

James Simeone's "The Saints and the State"

James Simeone is a professor of political science at Illinois Wesleyan University and the author of Democracy and Slavery in Frontier Illinois: The Bottomland Republic.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Saints and the State: The Mormon Troubles in Illinois, and reported the following:
Page 99 occurs in the middle of Chapter 3, which details the variations in the civic narrative the two parties in Illinois—the Democrats and the Whigs—retailed to attract voters. Both parties used the “independent producer” narrative to include and exclude certain groups in the state. Settlers used the liberal justification of productive use of the land to distinguish themselves from the indigenous people they encountered and pushed west. Native Americans were recognized as independent but not as producers, and thus, it was argued, they had no right to hold the land. Since republican government was self-government in the name of the public good, independence was a necessary trait of citizens as well. Only independent producers contributed to the public weal and were sufficiently free from dependency to have capacity to achieve it.

On page 99, we learn that the Whigs’ variation on the civic theme included a bias against Roman Catholics, who were deemed insufficiently independent to qualify as citizens since they were under the influence of the Pope. Many Whigs in Illinois were more willing to accept African Americans as citizens than Catholics, who responded by voting for Andrew Jackson. The Democrats used the narrative to exclude African Americans, who they deemed incapable of independence. An important theme of the book is how the Illinois regime delegated to local majorities—and the party elites organizing them—great power to recognize or misrecognize marginal groups in the state.

The Mormons, the group the book revolves around, are themselves absent from page 99, even though the title of chapter 3 is “Saints and Suckers in the Settler State.” Mormons belonged to the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, and the “suckers” was a colloquial name for Illinois emigrants, who tended to keep migrating along the state’s rivers like sucker fish. Both parties vied mightily to win the Mormon vote after the winter of 1839 when the group migrated to the state as refugees from Missouri. Ultimately, local civil society from both parties in Hancock County rejected the Mormons for failing the independent producer test, judging them producers but not independent.

There is plenty in The Saints and the State which this page does not capture. But it does convey one of the book’s key arguments: that the politics of recognition in multicultural democracies makes it impossible for the state and civil society to adopt a neutral stance toward all groups.
Learn more about The Saints and the State at the Ohio University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue