In this heartening book, Matthew J. Grow examines the life of Mormon friend Thomas L. Kane in terms of the reform impulses that propelled America during the antebellum and succeeding decades of the nineteenth century. Born to a well-situated Pennsylvania family early in the Jacksonian era, Kane reached maturity before the economic and social opportunities of the "gilded age" opened the modern era of industrial urbanism and professional specialization. Like many of his contemporaries, he was almost forced to become a reformer, a career he later integrated with the development of an upstate Pennsylvania area where his family had long-standing land interests.
Responding to shifting times as well as to contradictory aspects in his own nature, Kane was loyal to the Democratic Party until the Civil War but then became a Republican and thereafter tended in the direction of Progressive impulses without abandoning many of his earlier commitments. Throughout his life, he manifested a penchant for iconoclasm and a distaste for the moral and doctrinal limitations imposed by the country's evangelical Protestant majority. These characteristics were combined with a dated romantic idealism—including an affinity for dueling and related chivalrous and gentlemanly attitudes commonly connected with the Old South. Thus inclined, he became an avid foe of slavery and the nation's foremost defender of the Mormons. "At critical junctures, . . . notably during the Utah War and the Civil War," as Grow tells us, Kane's efforts "changed history" while his life also cast light on the world "of mid-nineteenth century reform."