The Contested Meaning Of Democracy In Early Mormonism And Methodism

In The Democratization of American Christianity, Nathan O. Hatch documents the rise of an array of populist religious sects, including the Mormons and the Methodists. However, it is a mistake to equate all democratic religion with populist religion, as Hatch does. Dissenters from the Mormons and Methodists used the populists’ own democratic rhetoric against them, even though they tended to be respectable bourgeois liberals instead of the down-on-their-luck populists Hatch atalogues. The bourgeois dissenters and Hatch’s rough-and-ready populists were equally committed to democracy, but the two groups interpreted it differently. For the liberal dissenters, democracy meant total freedom of individual action, whereas for the classically republican populists, it meant freedom from injustice.

Christopher Smith