Apologies

March 31, 2004 | 38 comments
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The Chicago Sun Times has a piece on the State of Illinois’s apology to the Church for the expulsion from Nauvoo. Is there a kind of analogy between such an apology and baptism for the dead, doing for another what he cannot do for himself? Does our welcome of that apology say anything to us about how we ought to think about other, similar apologies, such as to Native Americans or slaves?

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38 Responses to Apologies

  1. Lyle on April 1, 2004 at 12:01 am

    It would be a much more substantial apology if they threw in some land that used to be owned by LDS Church members and/or something to materially demonstrate their sincerity.

    The article was right about one thing though…for some of us, it is as if it happened yesterday…and that isn’t President Hinckley who is only, what, 1 generation removed from Nauvoo?

  2. Lyle on April 1, 2004 at 12:03 am

    “isn’t ONLY President Hinckley”

  3. Jim F. on April 1, 2004 at 12:07 am

    Oops! I forgot to mention that I got to the Sun Times article via a post on LDS-Phil by Bryan Warnick. My apologies.

  4. Clark Goble on April 1, 2004 at 12:52 am

    Personally I don’t feel “better” about Illinois. It happened so long ago and those involved are all dead. Such apologies never really made sense to me.

  5. Jeremy on April 1, 2004 at 1:03 am

    Lyle, are you really suggesting reparations (of the sort there was a move for among descendants of slaves a few years ago)?

    Also, doesn’t the church (and the CoC FKA RLDS) pretty much own all that land now anyway?

    Or perhaps you were joking, and I’m gullible…

  6. cooper on April 1, 2004 at 1:06 am

    Apologies are part of the repentence process. Illinois needed to do it. I wish though that it wasn’t done so quietly.

    We stand tall, accept the apology and move forward. We need no remuneration.

  7. Lyle on April 1, 2004 at 1:11 am

    Yes, I’m suggesting reparations.

    I don’t know who owns much of the land; that isn’t the point. The point is that the State of Illinois made a nice profit off of LDS lives…and should repay it. Will they? Doubtful.

    But…so should the National Government remunerate the LDS Church under the Takings Clause for having disincorporated the Church & Stolen the land which belonged to the State of Deseret.

  8. Jim F. on April 1, 2004 at 1:19 am

    Lyle, are you willing to apply the same kind of reasoning to Native Americans and African slaves?

  9. John David Payne on April 1, 2004 at 1:50 am

    I think Lyle has an interesting point. To me, there seem to be twin difficulties with reparations: identifying who to give money to and who to take money from.

    In this case, because of extensive genealogy work, I think it would not be difficult to identify the descendents of the victims. But I think it would be pretty hard to figure out who to take the money from.

    Can we take it from the state of Illinois? Well, today’s tax-paying Illinois residents don’t really seem culpable to me. Why take their money? Same with the US government. I suppose you could try to find descendents of the mobbers or something, but I think that would meet with a real backlash.

    The best idea, then, seems to be a land donation. But as Jeremy mentioned, a lot of the lost land is today owned by victims’ descendents. And if it weren’t, could we feel good about taking that land away from current owners, who likely have no connection at all to those who wronged the saints in 1844?

    HOUSE OF PAYNE

  10. lyle on April 1, 2004 at 8:14 am

    Good points all.

    Jim: Yes. I favor a one time pay-out to historically-persecuted/disadvantaged groups. Then 100% equality could be imposed; i.e. no more affirmative action, no quasi-foreign-state status for Indian reservations, esp. gambling, etc. programs that create entitlements & keep individuals from meeting their true potential.

    John: The answer lies in the theory used with the Swiss & German Banks/Insurance company cases. The U.S. Government & the State of Illinois (& Missouri for that matter!), are the modern-day representatives of their early 1800s selves; i.e. They received assets illegally from the persecution of the Mormons. Whether these assets came in the form of state or national land, property taxes levied upon the stolen land, etc.

    If you find a stolen painting in your possession, you are required to return it. It doesn’t matter how many intermediate buyers/sellers the painting has been through. Same goes for Mormons, African-Americans, Indians, etc.

    Note: I’m kinda surprising myself with this line of reasoning…but so far I’m still 100% serious.

  11. Kaimi on April 1, 2004 at 8:21 am

    Well, I’m in favor of reparations for slavery, but that’s no surprise to anyone who has read my personal blog — I just published a law review article on the subject.

    (See http://www.wcl.american.edu/journal/lawrev/53/wenger.pdf ).

    There were differences between the takings of land and the persecution of the Mormons, and the enslavement of Blacks. I haven’t done the research on the Mormon end of it that I have on the slavery end of it, but it seems that a viable claim could be made.

    As far as attaching liabiity to people today, there is a good article in Columbia Law Review recently by Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule discussing that issue; there was also a good symposium at the NYU Annual Survey of American Law on reparations generally, and some of the articles discuss this issue. (Finally, I should note that I’ve got the outline of a law review article I intend to write on this subject as well).

  12. Jeremy on April 1, 2004 at 10:10 am

    I expressed surprise at the idea of reparations not because I personally feel one way or the other about it, but because it was Lyle who was suggesting it. :) (I wouldn’t have guessed, judging from the political disposition of his other posts.)

  13. Randy on April 1, 2004 at 10:29 am

    I’m a bit surprised that we have all had such different reactions to the news of the apology. Frankly, I was quite moved by the gesture. I can also say, as a descendant of some who fled Nauvoo, that I have absolutely no interest in reparations. Indeed, the notion of reparations just seems petty to me. I don’t intend to speak for others who may find themselves in similar situations, let alone speak for other minority groups who suffered tragedies far more extensive in scope and duration, but I think part of the forgiveness process involves letting these types of things go.

  14. brayden on April 1, 2004 at 11:03 am

    This is an interesting idea. I’m wondering how much my ancestor’s Nauvoo property is worth (adjusted for inflation). Maybe the new temple in Nauvoo is jacking up property prices in the Nauvoo area? What kind of political alliance do we need to form to get this idea into action? ;)

  15. Nate Oman on April 1, 2004 at 11:26 am

    One problem with providing reperations is that we have a certain asymetry in the valuation of the what was taken and what would be recieved. If we are compensating presently living people for the harms suffered by their ancestors we have two choices. First, we can give them the full value of what their ancestors lost (plus the background inflation/interest rate). Second, we can put people today in the same position that they would have been had the injustice in the past not occurred. It is important to realize that these are VERY different propositions.

    The first would only equal the second if we were to assume that our ancestors would have taken their lost wealth, put it in savings and not touched it for a century and a half. This seems like a highly unrealistic assumption. It is much more likely that they would have taken the asset and consumed it, invested it in schemes with various levels of risk, consumed the proceeds of those schemes, etc. Once you think of the measure of damages in these terms, it becomes very difficult to determine what level of compensation we are entitled to. Indeed, there have been some economic studies (don’t have the citations, sorry) that suggest that in most cases the effects of ancestral wealth disappear after several generations, especially if you have you don’t have legal mechanisms like primagentur and dead hand trusts designed to conserve family fortunes over time. In other words, your current socio-economic status may be highly influence by the socio-economic status of your father, grand father. It is unlikely that it is highly correlated with the socio-economic status of your great, great, great grandfather.

    Of course there are exceptions to this, but they are — I would submitt — quite rare and generally exist where there are legal mechanisms to facilitate trans-generational concentrations of wealth. In my opinion, the current decendents of slaves are NOT one of these exceptions. By virtually any measure of socio-economic status African-Americans as a class are poorer than white Americans as a class. At the deepest level this is the result of slavery, but I don’t think it is because of the forcible expropriation of the economic benefits of African-American labor a century and a half ago. Rather, I think that it makes more sense to attribute the lower collective socio-economic status of blacks to discrimination and other post-slavery disabilities than to the economic losses imposed by slavery itself. Put another way, if every slave had been paid the full market value of his or her labor, but otherwise the subsequent history of African-Americans was unchanged, I don’t think it would make much difference to the socio-economic status of contemporary blacks.

    Of course, you could argue that the expropriation of the wealth was the “cause” of the subsequent disabilities and in a sense you would be right. Slavery was no doubt a necessary element in the rise of the subsequent system of racial inequality. However, there were lots of other necessary causes. How are we to allocate comparative levels of responsibility among these causes? (Note simply imposing joint and severable liablity doesn’t get around this problem unless you cut off a right of contribution, and — of course — we would need a reason for doing that.)

  16. cooper on April 1, 2004 at 11:41 am

    In view of the positive ability of the pioneers to produce progeny (wow love that alliteration!) wouldn’t decendents be paid about 4 cents a head? Kind of like my dad’s 1/32 share of an oil well in Texas.

  17. cooper on April 1, 2004 at 11:42 am

    Maybe we could get them to let us build a casino.

  18. Gary Cooper on April 1, 2004 at 11:44 am

    I find it interesting, and informative, that the First Presidency has made no demand at all for reparations. No one could be more aware of the issues involved than they are. Yet, they have accepted the apology of Illinois, and the great caravan rolls on. I find this persuasive that seeking reparations, while perhaps justified, would not serve the mission of the Church at this time.

  19. Karen on April 1, 2004 at 11:46 am

    I’m fascinated by the different approaches that are being taken to analyze the reparations issue here–which is BTW, why I love this blog. Lyle is espousing a solution rooted in present politics–solve the *problem* of affirmative action etc. through reparations. Nate is analyzing it through an economics perspective. Legal ideas float through both. Then Randy jumps in with the religious aspect–forgiveness.

    I too am touched by the apology. We are very close to our history, and I also had ancestors who were expelled. I’m with Randy. Accept the apology graciously–and move on. Our participation in American culture since the turn of the century–including all the church members living in Illinois now–is evidence that reparations are not needed. But the recognition of a painful period in our history is appreciated.

  20. Charles on April 1, 2004 at 12:11 pm

    I feel good about the apology. As a convert, I didn’t know about this sore history in America’s past.

    I believe reparations might be good. It would probably be best to offer the land to the church itself rather than individuals. My thought is such because the church can make better use of a larger piece of land than dividing out the land equally among all the decendants of who might have once lived there.
    As for who to take the land away from, you could either have the state buy it at fair value from whoever owns it now. Or simply offer up state owned land of equal value.

    Mostly I’m impressed that someone would offer the apology. Hopefully this well make enough news throughout the country to spark an interest. People often think that certain atrocities can’t happen in the US. It is interesting to see how people react when they learn that they did. It could spark some interest in the churches history among some.

  21. Karen on April 1, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    Here is the link to the actual text of the resolution. Interesting choices in what was included and what was excluded:

    http://www.legis.state.il.us/legislation/93/hr/09300hr0627.htm

  22. Randy on April 1, 2004 at 12:58 pm

    A couple of other thoughts, for what they’re worth. I think part of the reason why I found the apology so moving is that “we” (meaning the church) had not asked for one. In other words, this was a gesture motivated (apparently) not to appease an upset group of citizens, but to close the door on a particularly shameful period of history. This context made the apology feel more sincere, and that sincerity is not lost on me.

    Along similar lines, I (unlike cooper) find it refreshing that the apology was done quietly. The state’s willingness to apologize without turning this into an effort for political gain made the apology that much more meaningful. We have enough rameumptoms as it is.

    Kudoz to the State of Illinois.

  23. Lynne on April 1, 2004 at 2:51 pm

    DEMOCRATS made the gesture!
    Thank you Illinois Democrats!
    Apology accepted!

  24. Randy on April 1, 2004 at 3:01 pm

    In fairness, Lynne, the vote was unanimous. This simply is not a partisan issue. (Or are you joking . . . ? Hard to tell.)

  25. Eric James Stone on April 1, 2004 at 3:56 pm

    This is just a cynical attempt by the state of Illinois to get us to remove “Stain Illinois” from the lyrics of “Praise to the Man.”

    Oh, wait, we already did.

    Never mind.

  26. lyle on April 1, 2004 at 4:42 pm

    Oh…I really want to…oh…rats! I won’t.
    I’m being civil. :)

  27. Jim F. on April 1, 2004 at 8:26 pm

    Karen, thanks for referring us to the resolution itself. I read it and, to my surprise, was moved to tears. I had understood why President Hinckley might be moved similarly. After all, he’s closer in age to the events and descends from people who were there. I, on the other hand, am a convert descended from Missourians who sent the saints packing. I wasn’t prepared for how much that history is now my history in spite of my genealogy.

  28. Jeremy on April 1, 2004 at 10:41 pm

    Yes, thanks for posting the actual resolution. I’m very touched by the gesture as well.

    I have to say, too, that it strikes me as a little odd that some would speak in favor of reparations only just now, as the apology is issued–wouldn’t that kinda throw water on the whole thing, and make the church look a little opportunistic? Also, the Church’s (re)acceptance in the community of Nauvoo has been hard-fought _very_ long it coming. It is an intangible asset that would be squandered if reparations (which would inevitably be seen by many–myself included, I think–as petty and greedy) were seriously sought.

  29. Kenneth D. Stout on April 2, 2004 at 1:54 am

    My relatives were body guards to the Prophet Joseph Smith. It seems to me we found it just to compensate Japanese U.S. citizens $20,000 dollars a piece for there loss of property and degradation, and our government said it was sorry.
    Yet mistreated American POW’s of all descents who were abused and or killed by the cruelty of the Japanese receive nothing. How do we ever unravel history financially?

  30. Kaimi on April 2, 2004 at 9:15 am

    Kenneth,

    I don’t think we unravel anything. Legal claims may lie if a government has taken on responsibilities. The Americans of Japanses ancestry / American POW’s comparison is flawed because there are differing legal reasons for the different results.

    The American (and other) governments signed treaties ending hostilities; those treaties, by their terms, foreclosed many possible civil suits against Japan. (Japan paid war reparations of several billion dollars to the Allies). American POW’s have sued for reparations, and U.S. courts have found that their suits are foreclosed by the treaties.

    Japanese-Americans were also blocked by statute until 1988, when President Reagan signed a law which eventually allowed them to receive some compensation.

  31. Frank on April 2, 2004 at 12:38 pm

    The first thing that came to mind when I heard this was remuneration on behalf of our ancestors. How about Missouri as well. Both states had leaders who stood by or executed extermination orders to appease citizens who ignored the democratic process and salivated at the goods that would remain behind.

  32. Jim F. on April 2, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    UP

  33. wendy on April 2, 2004 at 2:14 pm

    Here’s a link discussing the update Jim referred to above:

    http://www.sltrib.com/2004/Apr/04022004/utah/153366.asp

  34. lstamps@bm.net on April 3, 2004 at 10:37 am
  35. ed on April 5, 2004 at 3:55 am

    I noticed the Illinois apology was the lead item in the weekly review of apologies on this weeks version of Harry Shearer’s radio program “Le Show”:

    http://www.harryshearer.com/

  36. cooper on April 5, 2004 at 11:09 am

    Did you guys see the news that the apology has now been replaced with a “regret only” because the resolution doesn’t and cannot speak for all the people of Illinois? KSL had the story yesterday.

    Here’s the link: http://tv.ksl.com/index.php?nid=8&sid=85286

  37. cooper on April 5, 2004 at 11:11 am

    Should have read the above posts, sorry guys. you already have the update.

  38. Orson's Telescope on April 1, 2004 at 10:50 am

    DOES THIS MEAN WOMEN GET THE PRIESTHOOD?
    If you can find a better April Fool’s joke than this one on beliefnet.com, you can have my share of the Nauvoo reparations. ..