For years Robert Newton Baskin (1837–1918) may have been the most hated man in Utah. Yet his promotion of federal legislation against polygamy in the late 1800s and his work to bring the Mormon territory into a republican form of government were pivotal in Utah’s achievement of statehood. The results of his efforts also contributed to the acceptance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by the American public. In this engaging biography—the first full-length analysis of the man—author John Gary Maxwell presents Baskin as the unsung father of modern Utah. As Maxwell shows, Baskin’s life was defined by conflict and paradox.
Educated at Harvard Law School, Baskin lived as a member of a minority: a “gentile” in Mormon Utah. A loner, he was highly respected but not often included in the camaraderie of contemporary non-Mormon professionals. When it came to the Saints, Baskin’s role in the legal aftermath of the Mountain Meadows massacre did not endear him to the Mormon people or their leadership. He was convinced that Brigham Young made John D. Lee the scapegoat—the planner and perpetrator of the massacre—to obscure complicity of the LDS church.
Baskin was successful in Utah politics despite using polygamy as a sledgehammer against Utah’s theocratic government and despite his role as a federal prosecutor. He was twice elected mayor of Salt Lake City, served in the Utah legislature, and became chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court. He was also a visionary city planner—the force behind the construction of the Salt Lake City and County Building, which remains the architectural rival of the city’s Mormon temple.
For more than a century historians have maligned Baskin or ignored him. Maxwell brings the man to life in this long-overdue exploration of a central figure in the history of Utah and of the LDS church.