This article accompanies the fable
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Mormonism: The Great American Religion
Mormonism truly does have a claim to being the Great American Religion.
Its success in the 1830s and 1840s means, after all, that imported Christianity was deemed insufficient. For Melville it was the Dutch Calvinism of his mother and the Unitarianism of his father; for others it was the Catholics and the Lutherans, the Anabaptists and the Baptists, the Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians... Many flocked to Kirtland and Nauvoo to meet the prophet Joseph Smith who offered a uniquely American theology.
It was American because its theology was rooted in the Americas. In The Book of Mormon, America was colonized by two Lost Tribes of Israel millenia ago - the Nephi and the Lamanites. The implication, of course, was that the Mormons were the 19th century Jews of the United States, hounded from hither to thither for their exclusionary religious and political practices. It's updated for Christianity: in 3 Nephi, Jesus Christ comes to the Americas, to the land of Bountiful and, several books later the (brown) Lamanites have wiped out the (white Nephites) and the Golden Plates have been buried in the ground for Joseph Smith to find them centuries later. There's nary a reference to Native Americans.
Antebellum America was fertile ground for extraordinary new ideas like these as many prepared for the Last Days, notably the Millerites. One of them, Ellen G. White, had her own vision of New Jerusalem in 1844 (which led to the foundation of the
Seventh-day Adventist Church).
It was also a time of great literary creativity, from Edgar Allen Poe's stories and poems to Emerson's essays, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Melville's Moby Dick, to Thoreau's Walden, Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Emily Dickinson's poems.
With the Civil War just around the corner, we could say that the Apocalypse did indeed arrive. Below is Martin Johnson Heade's painting Approaching Thunder Storm from 1859...