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Joseph Smith, Jr.

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Joseph Smith, Jr. (December 23, 1804 - June 27, 1844) was founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and believed by its followers to be the translator of the Book of Mormon. He was also the first U.S. Presidential candidate to be assassinated during a campaign (1844).

Joseph Smith is an enigmatic character in American history. He was heralded by members of the LDS Church as the man chosen by God to be his "Prophet, Seer and Revelator" in the "latter days", and to restore Christ's church to a world that had fallen away in apostasy. But many people during his own time regarded him and the religion he started with contempt and often violence. The leader of a new religious movement, but scorned by fellow citizens as a charlatan and impostor, he continues to evoke strong emotions to this day.

Early life

Joseph Smith Jr. was born in Sharon, Vermont, the son of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack. The family moved to Palmyra, New York[?], where--as Smith later recorded--he had his first visitation from God and Jesus Christ at the age of fourteen. His personal history records that he was later visited by an angel and charged with translating an ancient record from Golden Plates[?]. These plates, he said, contained a record of ancient inhabitants of the American continent.

Founder of a Religion

Joseph had The Book of Mormon published in 1830, calling it a translation of those plates. On April 6th of that year, he organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under New York law and his followers immediately began proselytizing for new members.


To avoid religious persecution encountered in New York and Pennsylvania, Joseph and his wife, Emma, removed to Kirtland, Ohio early in 1831. They moved in with Isacc Morley's family while a house was being built for them on the Morley farm. Members of the Church were "gathering" at the time both in Kirtland and Jackson County, Missouri. While in Kirtland, the members of the Church built their first temple there and according to its history the members experienced a number of extraordinary events including: the visitation of Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Elias and numerous angels; speaking and singing in tongues or "divine language" often with translations; heavenly light upon the temple; prophesying; and other spiritual experiences. Some members erroneously believed that the Jesus' Millenial reign had come.

More converts soon flooded in, but many non-Mormons felt threatened by the message and actions of the new movement, which sometimes resulted in violence. For example on the evening of March 24, 1832 in Hiram, Ohio a group of men beat, tarred and feathered Joseph. The mob action also led to the exposure and death of Joseph and Emma's newborn twins. Sidney Rigdon[?], another Church leader at the time, was also attacked that night and suffered a severe concussion from being dragged on the ground and was delirious for a number of days. After attending to his wounds, Joseph preached a sermon the following Sunday morning with a number of the attackers in the congregation.

On January 12, 1838 Joseph and Sidney left Kirtland for Clay County, Missouri, in Joseph's words, "to escape mob violence, which was about to burst upon us under the color of legal process to cover the hellish designs of our enemies." Just prior to their departure, a large number of Mormons including prominent church leaders, became disaffected in the wake of the Kirtland Safety Society debacle. Those who were not cut off from the Church left Kirtland to gather with the other main body of the Church in Missouri.


The Missouri period was marked by mob violence and difficulties with the law for both Joseph and his followers. Many of the old settlers saw the Mormon settlers as a religious and political threat, especially because Mormons were anti-slavery, unlike most Missourians at the time and they tended to vote in blocs. In addition, Mormons purchased vast amounts of land, in which to establish settlements. Soon the old Missourians and new settlers were engaged in numerous skirmishes, culminating in the Battle of Crooked River[?].

This battle led to exaggerated and false reports of a Mormon insurrection, which reached Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs[?]. He executed the infamous "Extermination Order," which stated, "The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State." (It was not until 1976 that Missouri Governor Christopher S. Bond formally apologized for the treatment of the early Mormons in Missouri and officially rescinded the "Extermination Order".) Soon thereafter, a hastily-organized militia attacked several Mormon settlements. At Haun's Mill[?], dozens of Mormon men, women, and children were killed. In Far West, Joseph and several other prominent Church leaders were later taken into custody on charges of treason, and spent several months in Liberty Jail[?]. By the spring of 1839, most members of the Church had been driven out of Missouri into Illinois.

The Nauvoo Era

After leaving Missouri in 1839, Smith and his followers made headquarters in a town called Commerce, Illinois[?], which they soon renamed Nauvoo[?]. Again the Church began to flourish as the faithful built up the city. But again, tensions arose, both within the Church and between the Church and its neighbors.

Smith's Death in Carthage

Eventually, several of President Smith's former followers joined together to publish a paper called the Nauvoo Expositor, which purported to expose Smith's polygamy and political misdeeds. The Nauvoo City Council declared the paper a public nuisance, designed to promote violence against Smith and his followers. As Mayor of Nauvoo, and in conjunction with the city council, Joseph ordered it to be destroyed. This angered many of his enemies, and Smith fled Nauvoo, only to return later to face criminal charges for ordering the press that publised the Expositor destroyed. During the investigation, Smith agreed to stay in Carthage Jail under protection of the Govenor, who left the city despite an agreement with Smith. Before a trial could be held, a band of two hundred armed men, including many of the militia stationed to protect him, stormed Carthage Jail[?], killing Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum[?]. Two other men visiting the presidential candidate at the time of the assasination survived. One of the two men, John Taylor, succeeded Brigham Young as President of the Church.

After his death in Carthage, Illinois, a large group of Smith's successors, organized by Brigham Young, led the LDS Saints to refuge out of the United States and into Utah--which was then Mexican Territory--so that they could practice their religion without interference from the government or mob violence. This prominent branch of Smith's new religion claimed over 10 million adherents in the year 2001, and achieved world-wide significance as an enduring new religion in the 20th century.

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