*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents
Among all the various figures in 19th century America who left controversial legacies, it is hard to find one as influential as Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the founder of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Mormonism, and the Latter-Day Saint movement. Revered as a prophet on the level of Moses by some, reviled as a perpetrator of large-scale fraud by others, what everyone can agree on is that Joseph Smith founded a religious movement that played a crucial role in the settlement of the West, especially in Utah.
Locating Joseph Smith in history is to look for the “mess” of early America and find him standing in the middle, trying to make sense of the “native pandemonium” that gripped the nation in its formative years. All the things that Mormons recoil at – the mention of his treasure seeking days of youth, the use of the seer stones and looking into the hat to read “reformed Egyptian” – help explain the youthful creativeness of a young United States trying to organize itself. There is a humor in his story, and especially those first years of creating the church that speak directly anyone who has felt the exhilaration of creativity. Inspired by the Second Great Awakening and evidence of Native American cultures that surrounded him during his early years in western New York, Smith claimed that he had visions as a young adult that helped him produce the Book of Mormon, and he was able to create a society of like-minded followers who intended to strike west and found Zion.
Smith’s dream of Zion would lead the way for the trials and the tribulations of the Mormons for the rest of the 19th century, including countless conflicts with local authorities and the U.S. government. Smith himself would be a casualty of the clashing, murdered by a mob in 1844 after being imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois near the settlement of Nauvoo, which Smith had painstakingly tried to create as a commune for his people.
Among the most effective methods by which the Latter-Day Saints attained regional dominance was the flooding of specific areas with a like-minded population of fellow settlers and offspring, subsequently controlling the voting and government institutions through a weighty majority. Such an approach caused alarm in each region to which Mormon settlers emigrated; the church collective had already been evicted from New York and other areas for exercising the tactic. The practice of polygamy within the church may have been socially repugnant to Judaic and Christian denominations, but the schism between Mormonism and other American faiths lay deeper in the Restoration of the Priesthood. This core tenet of the church was based on a non-negotiable belief that Christ’s disciples died before they were able to pass on their master’s authority in the process of Apostolic Succession. Therefore, what came after, whether Catholic or Protestant, was based on an absence of authority, leaving the Mormon faith to stand alone as the “one true church.”
This theological separatism caused the Mormon community to live apart, except in the pursuit of converts. The church became increasingly perceived as “un-American,” and over time hostile to and dismissive of those living outside the faith. In time, the Mormon belief that its members were the only heirs to the kingdom of God justified the commission of crimes, including murder. The non-Mormon population responded in kind, following a policy of extermination and setting the scene for violent conflicts across the frontier over several decades.
The Mormon Wars: The History of the Mormons’ Conflicts across the Frontier in the 19th Century examines the tumultuous history of the Saints. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about the Mormon Wars like never before.