As in the days of Noah, when holy writ confirms there were “giants on the earth,” early Mormonism had its share of large and imposing figures. Jedediah Morgan Grant—most Saints affectionately called him “Jeddy”—was certainly one of these. As Salt Lake City’s first mayor, counselor to President Brigham Young, and especially stump preacher extraordinaire, Jedediah Grant seemed larger than life. His fervid preaching won Mormonism a plentiful harvest of converts and created several long-standing, heroic missionary legends. Later, his strong words called to life the 1856–57 Mormon Reformation. Unhappily, this crusade to perfect the Saints led to his death. In the middle of the reform’s excitement, weakened by overexertion, he succumbed to typhoid fever, compounded by pneumonia. To his friends, he became a gospel martyr who had sacrificed himself at the age of forty to a premature grave. Anti-Mormons pronounced a harsher verdict. To them, he was a religious fanatic, a Mormon Savonarola whose frenzy had finally consumed him.
It is not easy to find the reality about such a man, wrapped as he is with legend, tragedy, and the distorted images that his own fiery sermons create. Gene Sessions, a member of the Weber State College History Department, is the second biographer to attempt to find the truth behind the legend. Like Mary G. Judd’s 1959 portrait, Session’s view is sympathetic and heroic. But he has replaced the reverent hagiography of the former era with more careful analysis and greater detachment—and with periodic impish impiety. Jeddy was “no twentieth-century Mormon leader in his business suit,” Sessions writes in his preface, “expounding the ideals of passive Americanism, i.e., the good life filled with material comforts and middle-class elitism. I saw [in him] instead a pious yet rambunctiously radica preacher, flogging away at his people, demanding otherworldlines and constant sacrifice” (p. xi).