The New York Picayune, in weekly publication from 1847 through 1859, began life as a comic newspaper chiefly dedicated to selling its founder’s patent medicines. While it always retained its focus on humor – political cartoons, spoofs of great literature, social satire – I think it must also have dealt with straight news on occasion. At least, my sarcast-o-meter can detect no double entendres in the following piece published in early 1851.

Pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if its editor’s sympathetic opinion of the Mormons was built on the evident character and sincerity of Latter-day Saint John M. Bernhisel, in town that winter tasked with the selection of a library for the Territory of Utah.

As visionary as its writer was, he didn’t foresee the half of it …

Mormon Library

Congress, at its last session, appropriated five thousand dollars for the commencement of a library, for the use of the citizens of the Territory of Utah, and John M. Bernhisel, Esq.,. of the Utah delegation in Congress, has been appointed to procure the books. This amiable and excellent gentleman is now in this city, making purchases at auction and elsewhere, wherever he can expend the appropriation to the best advantage. He also receives donations of books or other publications from authors, publishers, and others, for the same destination.

This is a curious and interesting enterprise. The despised Mormons, driven out of Illinois, have founded an empire in the heart of the continent, so extensive, so respectable, that Congress has given them a territorial government, has appointed the head of the Church governor of the territory, and made this provision for a public library. The Union Colony is probably, at this moment, the finest, the best ordered, and the most prosperous in the world. Ten years hence, Utah will be a rich and powerful State, with a policy and religious establishment as peculiar as any which ever originated in past times. The Mormons have had their season of persecution and martyrdom – they have held just to their faith. Driven out of one city, and from one temple, they have founded others far greater. Their very expulsion from Illinois, by a violent and misguided populace, has given to them a vast country of illimitable wealth, and to this confederacy a present territory and a future State, which bids fair, at no distant time to take rank with the proudest.

With such a character, such resources, the prestige of such providences, and an active missionary establishment, it would not be strange if in a century, the Mormon faith should have spread over half our continent. Stranger things than that have happened. No religious belief is ridiculous, and we should be careful how we despise – much more, how we persecute the chosen faith of any people.

(Reprinted in the Millennial Star, 1 May 1851.)

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