A few weels ago I finished my stint at the public trough and left the service of the federal courts. I know work for the law firm of Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood in Washington, DC. The identity of the firm is significant only because this is the firm (and office) where Rex E. Lee practiced law for many years. There is actually a three-foot tall bronze statute of Lee outside the office’s moot court room (named in Lee’s honor). As you might expect, the firm’s DC office hosts a sizable continent of LDS attorneys and their office decor reflects the the trajectory of Mormonism within American society.
For some reason, it seems that a lot of LDS attorneys have a copy of this picture on the walls of their offices
The original painting is by Arnold Frieberg (the guy who braught you the WWF version of Nephi et al) and is entitled “Prayer at Valley Forge.” It is a nice visual depiction of one set of Mormon doctrines and Mormon self-classification. First there is the idea of righteous political leadership inspired by God during the American Founding. For a Mormon lawyer this means first, and foremost, the idea that the U.S. Constitution was inspired. I would suggest, however, that there is more going on here. Once the esoteric meaning of the picture (Washington isn’t simply praying, he is being inspired as part of the prologue to the Restoration), the paining also places Mormonism on the inside of the American story.
I don’t have a copy of this picture. Rather, in my office I have a framed reprint of this photograph:
The man in the center of the photograph is George Q. Cannon, First Counselor in the First Presidency at the time. He and his associates are in the Utah Territorial Prison for unlawful cohabitation. I have to confess that I like this photo much more than the Frieberg painting. It is not that I have any sort of nostalgia for polygamy. For me the picture is all about the law. It casts Mormons emphatically as outsiders, alien actors in the American story. Furthermore, it makes our relationship to the law and the constitution a bit more ambigious than Frieberg’s painting does. I like this. It gives us just a little more of an edge.