Liberty to the Downtrodden: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer

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During the first year of the Civil War, Kane himself became a Republican, and these former Democratic reformers remained a distinct force within the Republican Party. In , Kane joined with many of his former companions in Democratic reform to protest the direction of the Republican Party by joining the Liberal Republican coalition. Although he returned to the mainstream Republican Party, his life illustrates the political path of many like-minded reformers.

After the Civil War, Kane experienced a transition in his thought, which pointed toward the reform ethos of the Progressive Era, with its trust in social science, experts, and government solutions. Though always suspicious of centralized power, a legacy from the Jacksonians, Kane became the first president of the Pennsylvania Board of State Charities in , a government committee that served as the foundation of contemporary state welfare agencies.

Following his religious conversions, Kane also moved toward a partial rapprochement with evangelical reformers. From the lates until his death in , Kane developed a community in the Alleghenies of northwestern Pennsylvania named Kane , which he sought to make a model temperance town. Evangelical reformers were at the forefront of the anti-Mormon political and cultural crusade that lasted most of the nineteenth century.

They sought to reform individuals by freeing them from the clutches of Mormonism and to protect American culture from the threats posed by theocracy and polygamy. Kane dedicated his reform energies to preserving the religious liberty of the Latter-day Saints from the evangelical reformers.


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Kane first encountered the Mormons in when they had been recently forced from Illinois. After he returned from the camps, he embarked on a wide-ranging publicity campaign to transform the image of the Latter-day Saints in the American mind. Most Americans placed Mormons within a narrative of fraud and fanaticism, a dangerous threat to religion and republicanism. During the s and early s, Kane defended the Saints against a renewed national campaign targeting Mormon plural marriage and theocratic ambitions.

His religious quest led him to define himself against the prevailing evangelicalism of his family and culture. Throughout his life, he remained highly suspicious of organized religion, particularly evangelical denominations, despite his two midlife conversions. Like Kane, other dissenters from the evangelical mainstream came to the defense of the Mormons, in part because of their own hostility toward evangelicalism. In the borderlands between the North and South and among elite northerners like Kane, however, the ethic of honor remained powerful and helped define the contours and boundaries of the anti-evangelical reform community.

During the war, he envisioned himself as a medieval knight who fought courageously and chivalrously, who denounced self-promoting officers as serving for personal ambition rather than for love of country, who viewed his opponents on the battlefield as preferable to dissenters at home, and who treated his opponents magnanimously.

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Kane also applied the ethos of honor to the field of reform. For Kane, a man of honor—particularly one born to privilege, like him—defended those lower on the social scale.

Nineteenthcentury literature and culture teemed with depictions of the hero, a result of the transatlantic flowering of romanticism. Though heroes in romantic literature and the cultural imagination came in a variety of guises, including such prototypes as Napoleon and the English poet Lord Byron and his literary characters, they shared certain qualities that Kane highly valued.

The romantic hero was an iconoclast who exalted individuality and displayed unusual sensitivity to social injustices. Like Kane, many of the cultural and literary romantic heroes came from aristocratic backgrounds and rebelled against their class and station in life. Kane prided himself on standing against the crowd for righteous causes, on acting decisively and trusting his own conclusions rather than cultural norms, and xx Introduction on undertaking arduous and dangerous missions such as during the Utah War and the Civil War in defiance of his physical frailties.

The most important non-Mormon in Mormon history, he is generally remembered only in connection with the Latter-day Saints and has a place both in scholarship on Mormonism and in Mormon cultural memory. Indeed, Kane is particularly well-situated to serve as a window onto reform culture because of the rich sources he left behind. These archival records allow a deep investigation into the culture of reform Kane inhabited.

Just as crucially, his life illuminates a world of mid-nineteenth-century reform shaped by romanticism, anti-evangelicalism, and the ideology of the Democratic Party.

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"Liberty to the Downtrodden": Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer // CurateND

In addition to being attuned to the transatlantic world, elite Philadelphians like the Kanes had a southern orientation. MSS , Thomas L. Kane and Elizabeth W. Kane Collection, L. Their first child, John, was born in Albany in ; Alida died four years later following the birth of a daughter. After her death, Elisha took his young family to Philadelphia, where he married Elizabeth Kintzing, established a local branch of Kane and Brothers, and rose to some prominence as a merchant.

John became close to his stepmother and took Kintzing as his middle name. Educated at Yale, he subsequently studied law and was admitted to the bar in Two years later, the young lawyer married Jane Duval Leiper, whom he had courted since the age of seventeen. An entrepreneur, Leiper processed, distributed, and sold tobacco; operated a stone quarry; and built the first commercial railroad in the United States. Inspired, the Philadelphia portraitist Thomas Sully painted Jane in her gown. The Kanes had seven children.

Elisha Kent arrived first in February Thomas Leiper, named for his maternal grandfather, came two years later, on January 27, Like Elisha, he was baptized a Presbyterian. See the Kane family chart in the appendix.

Musically talented, Jane imparted a love of music to her children Thomas sang and played the piano. Her children also inherited some of her personality traits.

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Her son-in-law Charles W. During a visit to Washington, D. Adams for tea. To Jane, he portrayed himself as stubbornly standing on principle in the face of political pressure and public disapproval, a self-image he bequeathed to Thomas. I called meetings, collected money, got up transparencies, engaged election houses, conducted correspondence, and wrote pamphlets.

Distributed nationally, Candid View helped create a new type of campaigning through the popular press and pamphleteering. Nevertheless, he expressed ambivalence about elected or appointed office an attitude his son inherited , a standard stance during this era when political ideology was still deeply antiparty though parties were coming to dominate actual politics.

Bickering between France and the United States over the payment became one of the central foreign policy events of the Jackson presidency and elevated the role of the commissioners. The Kanes lived in central Philadelphia and, after , also had a summer home north of the city.

His childhood gave him an ecumenical streak that later influenced his son. Though raised a Presbyterian, John often went to Quaker and Baptist services as a youth and also attended a Catholic school. The Kanes strove to raise their family in a pious Protestant environment. Although Old School Presbyterians joined with their more evangelical brethren in some reform efforts, they were suspicious of the evangelical reform mentality. New School Presbyterians, by contrast, figured prominently in antebellum evangelical reform. All is confusion, every body wrong, nothing, nobody as it should be.

During their lives, Elisha would always overshadow his younger brother and become a widely recognized national hero. In addition, Thomas frequently complained of neural- Raising Kane 9 gia, a somewhat vague condition that generally referred to intense pain in the facial nerves, debilitating headaches, and sometimes sensitivity to light, cold, and heat. Their illnesses and hypochondriac tendencies occasionally pushed both into a spiral of depression. John also likely hired a priest to tutor Elisha and Thomas in Latin, a result of his own positive experience in a Catholic school.

Thomas early revealed a talent for writing, which John urged him to cultivate. Apparently concerned for his health, his parents chose Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania about miles west of Philadelphia ; by contrast, Elisha went to the University of Virginia and Pat to Yale. Founded in , Dickinson had quickly attained a level of prominence in American educational life.

Following a period of financial problems and internal wrangling in the s and s, Dickinson came under Methodist control in , with John Price Durbin, former chaplain of the Senate, assuming the presidency.

Methodists like Durbin were eager to build educational institutions in part to counter the widespread image of Methodists as lower-class and ungenteel. Though led by Methodists, Dickinson welcomed students of any denomination, only requiring them to attend college chapel and Sunday meetings at the church of their choice. John Kane with his two oldest sons, Elisha left and Thomas center. Reproduced by permission from the American Philosophical Society.

On parting with his son, John offered Thomas a list of fatherly advice, which he encouraged him to read weekly. I would grudge the earning of the best honour of your class if it were to cost you a fraction of constitutional vigour. By April, his parents congratulated him on his high class rank and encouraged him to cultivate a relationship with his mentor, Merritt C. A devout, youthful, and sickly Methodist, Caldwell agitated for temperance and other evangelical reform causes.

Student pranks and rebellions occurred frequently at most American colleges, including Dickinson. Caldwell was still very much alive and Durbin not even a little amused. Other student disturbances were of the more predictable sort: intoxication, noise in the dormitories, petty squabbles. Upon their return, the twelve freshmen chose two messengers to explain their absence; for their efforts, the two students were dismissed from school.


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Unconvinced, the faculty met with the students individually and informed them they would also be suspended if they persisted. Leiper and eight others refused to sign an apology and were promptly sent home. A large group of students, mostly upperclassmen but including Kane, subsequently appealed the dismissal of the freshmen, arguing that the suspensions arose over a trivial matter and urging mercy, but to no avail.

Soon afterwards, he left and never returned to college. He needs some total change of habits to effect a change in his constitution. At age eighteen, to recover his health, Thomas embarked on an even more extensive journey, which proved crucial to his future as a reformer. Exposure to European culture widened his horizons; never again could he be completely comfortable in provincial Philadelphia. His visits transformed his religious views, as he left behind the orthodoxy of his childhood and began a long, peripatetic religious quest.

This personal journey provided a crucial context for his involvement in the community of anti-evangelical reformers and his defense of religious minorities. Furthermore, the voyages introduced Kane to French philosophy, European cultural and social institutions, and the transatlantic world of social reform, which combined to vault him into reform causes upon his return.

Kane left on his first European excursion in early to improve his health, a relatively common practice among elite nineteenth-century Americans. The voyage, his parents hoped, would give him the necessary health to pursue a career as a lawyer. John had high ambitions for all of his sons.

In , a middle-class uprising had led to the creation of the constitutional July Monarchy, which governed France under King Louis-Philippe from to During this period, the number of American tourists to France increased from about two thousand a year to roughly three thousand.

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A few, like Kane, primarily sought health. Others went for postgraduate study, particularly medical training.