"Liberty to the Downtrodden"


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Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer

Matthew J. Grow

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Thomas L. Kane (1822–1883), a crusader for antislavery, women’s rights, and the downtrodden, rose to prominence in his day as the most ardent and persuasive defender of Mormons’ religious liberty. Though not a Mormon, Kane sought to defend the much-reviled group from the “Holy War” waged against them by evangelical America. His courageous personal intervention averted a potentially catastrophic bloody conflict between federal troops and Mormon settlers in the now nearly forgotten Utah War of 1857–58.


Drawing on extensive, newly available archives, this book is the first to tell the full story of Kane’s extraordinary life. The book illuminates his powerful Philadelphia family, his personal life and eccentricities, his reform achievements, his place in Mormon history, and his career as a Civil War general. Further, the book revises previous understandings of nineteenth-century reform, showing how Kane and likeminded others fused Democratic Party ideology, anti-evangelicalism, and romanticism.

Matthew J. Grow is assistant professor of history and director of the Center for Communal Studies, University of Southern Indiana.

"With graceful prose and mastery of the primary sources, Matthew J. Grow illuminates the story of Thomas L. Kane, one of the most complex and intense social reformers to hurdle into the wilderness of the American West. Grow's superb account of Kane's messianic mission to mediate the Utah War of 1857-58 alone warrants acquiring 'Liberty to the Downtrodden.'"—Howard R. Lamar, editor of The New Encyclopedia of the American West

"Using the vast new trove of Kane materials, Matthew Grow offers a compelling full-length portrait of this entrancing figure."—Richard Lyman Bushman, Columbia University

“This terrific biography by a talented young scholar reveals a complicated and narcissistic man, whose reformist impulses and personal bravery were tangled with selfishness and hypochondria.  Kane’s obscurity as well as his friendship with the Latter-Day Saints make this a fresh and intriguing story.”—Sarah Barringer Gordon, author of The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America

"This is an important book not simply from the perspective of Mormon history but also because it opens to view the extraordinary length and breadth of reform in 19th-century America."—Jan Shipps, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

"This is an engrossing tale of an independent nineteenth-century reformer. It places our understanding of the relationship among party politics, reform, and evangelical impulses in a refreshing new light."—Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"[A] careful and thoroughly researched biography. . . . Grow's book is commendable in any number of ways, including its sensible reading of documents relating to the Mormon controversy that are anything but transparent in their meaning."—R. Laurence Moore, American Historical Review

"Grow gives full contextualization of Kane's life as he masterfully handles and synthesizes an abundance of materials. . . . the author provides ample information to allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions." —Stephen J. Fleming, the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"Fascinating biography." —Richard H. Cracroft, BYU Magazine

"[A] detailed and solidly documented book..."Liberty to the Downtrodden" accomplishes something Thomas Kane failed to do. It rescues him from obscurity and irellevance."--Tandy McConnell, Church History

Winner of the 2011 Evans Biography Awards sponsored by the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies

Winner of the 2010 Best Book Award given by the Mormon History Association
ISBN: 9780300136104
Publication Date: February 3, 2009
368 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
16 b/w illus.
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