365体育投注It was an unlikely candidacy: a thirty-eight-year-old mayor from the heartland who pitched himself as the solution to partisan gridlock, played up his military experience, talked often about his faith, and promised to end the country’s moral decline. He was fond of quoting the Founding Fathers, had an army of grassroots supporters, and came from a swing state. But the year was 1844, the state was Illinois, the parties were the Whigs and the Democrats, and the candidate was Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Whether or not the country would have been with Joe, we’ll never know: on June 27th, a few months after announcing his candidacy, the first Mormon to run for President became the first Presidential candidate to be assassinated. Smith’s death marked the end of a decisive period in Mormon history, one that is less familiar to most outsiders than the Church’s founding, in New York State, or its eventual move to Utah, where, against considerable odds, its members came to flourish. But the chaotic months of Smith’s Presidential campaign and his effort to establish a theocracy in Illinois are the subject of the historian Benjamin E. Park’s new book, “” (Liveright).
365体育投注Park’s book is a compelling history, built from contemporaneous accounts and from the previously unreleased minutes of the Council of Fifty, a governing body of sorts that Smith convened in Nauvoo, Illinois, when he was feeling besieged by his enemies and anticipating the Second Coming of Christ. Its minutes help clarify Smith’s sometimes contradictory political theology, and Park’s explication of them elevates “Kingdom of Nauvoo” from pure religious history to the realm of political theory. Park, an ambidextrous thinker, is equally sensitive to the danger the state can pose to religious minorities and to the danger that a religious institution can pose to the secular state. In his account, the early Mormons were a rowdy band of neo-Puritans who mounted a fundamental challenge to the democratic experiment. The tensions that they experienced—between the right to religious freedom and the limits of religious tolerance—still persist today.
Smith was twenty-one and a few years into a floundering career as a treasure hunter when, per his own account, he unearthed a set of golden plates buried in upstate New York. This was in 1827, during the Second Great Awakening, when charismatic preachers were stoking religious fires around the country. Smith’s parents had been drawn into this religious passion—especially his father, who dabbled in divination until his dreams were filled with prophecies. Smith’s own visions were of an angel named Moroni, who appeared to him several times before finally instructing him to retrieve the plates buried in Hill Cumorah. By then, Smith had married a woman named Emma Hale, who helped transcribe the words that Smith claimed to translate from the plates—engravings in a language that he called “reformed Egyptian.”
Smith finished the transcription by 1830 and found a printer who agreed to run off five thousand copies. The result, the Book of Mormon, begins as the record of a Jewish family in Jerusalem, who, around 600 B.C., build a boat and sail to the Americas—where, six centuries later, the risen Christ preaches to their descendants. In an age when people were hungry for evidence of God’s continued involvement in the world, and in a country anxious to assert itself on the global stage, Smith’s scriptures offered appealing assurances: not only was the United States a holy land where Jesus himself had walked but God was still speaking to the men and women who lived there. Smith attracted a circle of followers, mostly men of modest means—farmers, clerks, small-time pastors, and schoolteachers—from New York and Pennsylvania at first, then from farther afield.
But self-declared prophets seldom sit well with the political establishment, and, almost immediately, Smith and his adherents got into trouble with the law. Some of their antagonists were motivated by personal animus toward Smith dating to his pre-Prophet, huckstering, treasure-hunting days; others were dismayed by the unconventional nature of Mormonism, with its new scriptures, its occasional glossolalia, and its insistence that other churches had fallen away from Christ’s true gospel. It wasn’t long before Smith was arrested for being a “disorderly person,” one in a series of charges by various authorities attempting to stymie his religious movement: banking fraud, illegal banking, fornication, threatening a public official, conspiring to assassinate a public official, incitement of a riot, perjury, polygamy, and treason against two states.
365体育投注As grave as some of those charges were, they were the least of the problems faced by members of the new faith. Anti-Mormon mobs harassed known believers and attacked their houses; they even tarred and feathered Smith one night in 1832. Hostilities like these gradually pushed the Mormons farther and farther toward the frontier: they established their first new Jerusalem in Kirtland, Ohio; then a newer new Jerusalem in Independence, Missouri; and their newest new Jerusalem in Far West, Missouri. In each place, local opposition increased in tandem with the growth of the Mormon population. It worsened when, at Smith’s command, Mormons voted as a bloc, upsetting the political order. In 1838, having already been evicted from one Missouri county, they went to vote in the county seat of another, where a mob attempted to stop them. There were allegations of violence in what came to be known as the Gallatin County Election Day Battle, and subsequent vigilantism left more than twenty people dead. During this period, the Missouri governor, Lilburn Boggs, declared in an executive order that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace.” Three days later, seventeen Mormons were murdered by soldiers near Shoal Creek, in Caldwell County.
The next day, Smith was arrested and imprisoned for four months, during which time thousands of Mormon refugees moved to Illinois, where they had been promised protection by the state legislature, whose members included a young Abraham Lincoln. Smith escaped from jail before standing trial—possibly with the help of sympathetic guards—and he and other Mormon leaders then went to Washington, D.C., to plead their case before the federal government. Aggrieved but also entitled, they carried four hundred and eighty-one individual petitions for reparations from harm suffered in state-sanctioned violence, demanding compensation for everything from lost livestock to lost husbands. The largest of the claims came from Smith himself, who demanded a hundred thousand dollars for loss of property and what he described as false imprisonment.
365体育投注Those petitions represented a peculiar understanding of American federalism: predictably, the Mormons got nowhere with their argument that the national government should compensate them for the actions of a particular state. “What can I do?” President Martin Van Buren asked incredulously, before giving the same answer that Congress offered when presented with the petitions: “I can do nothing for you.” It was the first of many contradictory lessons the Mormons would learn about how the federal government adjudicates between the will of the majority and the rights of a minority. Disillusioned and angered, Smith and the others headed back to Illinois, where the Mormons had already chosen a place to resettle. The town was called Commerce, so they bought it. Smith changed the name to Nauvoo, which he believed to be the Hebrew word for “beautiful city.”