On January 17, HarperCollins released The Real Romney, a new biography of the sometime Republican primary front-runner by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, whose research adds an interesting supplement to Laurie Goodstein’s recent article in the New York Times (see the CLR discussion of Goodstein’s article here). The Real Romney pays significant attention to the Romney family’s foundational role in the Latter Day Saint Movement. In a January 19 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Kranish stated that he and Helman focused on Romney’s “ancestral story . . . because through that story [one] can really understand the story of Mormon[ism]”; and, according to Kranish, Romney’s family history is one “intertwined” with “Mormon life.” (If nothing else, the Fresh Air interview is, in itself, fascinating.)
Kranish and Helman reveal that the Romney family was acquainted with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in the early days of the LDS Movement, founded a new Mormon community in Mexico, practiced polygamy in the nineteenth century, and advocated for progressive reforms within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints during the twentieth century.
For more on Kranish and Helman’s take on the Romney family and its continuing and significant involvement with the LDS movement, please follow the jump.
Kranish and Helman write that, after encountering a Mormon missionary from the United States, Romney’s ancestors emigrated from Liverpool, England, to Nauvoo, Illinois, a haven established by Joseph Smith and his followers (anti-Mormon factions had already forced them out of Ohio and Missouri). There, Romney’s forebears were acquainted with Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS movement. Worth noting, Smith declared himself a candidate for the United States presidency—the first Mormon to do so—in 1844 in order to raise awareness about alleged mistreatment of LDS followers by the federal government. In the same year, Smith died at the hands of a mob, an occurrence Kranish and Helman connect to Smith’s presidential run.
Following Smith’s death, and under the leadership of Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, the Romneys left Illinois for the so-called Mormon Trail with their again-exiled co-religionists, eventually reaching the territory that is now the state of Utah. (For more on Mormonism and its influence on U.S. history, see this CLR post; for more on Young’s development of/departure from Smith’s theology, see this post.) There, according to the authors, Brigham Young instructed Mr. Romney’s great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, to practice polygamy: He eventually married four wives. Young also handpicked Miles to establish a Mormon community in Mexico, where polygamy could be more easily practiced.
The Mormon community that Miles Park Romney established in Mexico, after enduring initial hardships, eventually prospered; in fact, Romneys still live in Mexico today, proud of their heritage but no longer polygamous. (In Mexico, Kranish and Helman interviewed one Mike Romney, a direct cousin of the Republican candidate by descent from Miles Park Romney.)
Mitt Romney’s father, George W. Romney, was born in Mexico and returned with his family to the U.S.—aged five— during the Mexican Revolution. George Romney, former Governor of Michigan (1963–69) as well as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—among other achievements—, was an advocate in the Mormon Church for the admission of African-Americans to its entirely-lay ministry, a victory achieved in 1978. His son, candidate Mitt Romney, served as the bishop (equivalent to a priest or minister) of a Boston stake (equivalent to a congregation or parish), and then served as the “stake president” of Boston, overseeing all Boston-area stakes.
At the very least, Kranish and Helman’s account of Romney’s ancestry is eye-opening—both to the family history of the Republican candidate and the history of the Mormon Church, a uniquely American, yet little-understood, religion. See further reviews of The Real Romney in the New York Times (here), the Los Angeles Times (here), and the Fiscal Times (here).