"The Mormon Problem"

Roger Barrus

SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 3 (Fall 2010)


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            An early revelation of the Prophet Joseph Smith promised his followers that “he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.” [1]  No matter how strenuously the Mormons endeavored to do what was required of them, however, they never received the blessing of peace, at least not during Smith’s lifetime. A series of violent conflicts destroyed everything that the Mormons built up in almost two decades of unremitting toil. Their settlement in Ohio disintegrated in factional in-fighting, after years of sporadic mob attacks. They were expelled from their villages and towns in Missouri, following a virtual civil war touched off by intense internal rivalries, under the guns of state militia units ordered by the governor to either drive them out or exterminate them. Finally, they were driven by mobs from their city in Illinois, with the state government either unable or unwilling to protect them from their enemies. Their exile followed what was perhaps the deepest sorrow of all for the Mormon community, the murder of the Prophet, in an act of mob violence instigated by erstwhile church leaders.

At the center of the early year’s conflicts were the innovations in religious faith and practice introduced by the Prophet. Attempts to implement the new forms—economic communitarianism, celestial or plural marriage, and rule by direct revelation—led to antagonisms among church members, and aroused the hostility of outsiders, who were also repelled by the church’s unorthodox religious beliefs. Smith’s religious innovations could not account, however, for what was most remarkable about the conflicts, their exceptional violence. The new forms were more the occasion than the cause of conflict. They were important primarily for their ability to stir the passions of Mormons and non-Mormons. Mormons who resented the sacrifices demanded of them in the system of economic communitarianism, or were offended by the practice of plural marriage, or feared because of the political influence of the Prophet, did not simply leave the church. Rather, they became bitter apostates and turned against the church and its leaders. Non-Mormons were willing to tolerate, if somewhat uneasily, other groups practicing economic communitarianism and even plural marriage, including Robert Owens’ New Harmony settlement, the Oneida community of John Humphrey Noyes, and the Brook Farm experiment inspired by Charles Fourier. In contrast, they regarded the Mormons as an intolerable threat, and sought to scatter them and destroy their religion.

 Both Mormons and non-Mormons were engaged in great projects for the regeneration of man and society, and these excited both extravagant hopes and inordinate fears. For the Mormons, the great project was the building of Zion. Smith prophesied that “Zion shall flourish and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her, and she shall be an ensign unto the people, and there shall come unto her out of every nation under heaven.” [2]  During the Prophet’s brief lifetime, the promise of Zion attracted thousands of converts to the church, and unleashed previously untapped stores of energy in them. These energies were turned to use with astonishing effect, most notably in the building of Nauvoo, the Mormons’ City Beautiful on the Mississippi River in Illinois. As demands for dedication and sacrifice mounted, however, and reverses and failures occurred, the passions stimulated by the promise of Zion turned destructive, and the Mormon community was torn by internal conflicts. For non-Mormons, the great project was the establishment of the rational state. The discovery by modern philosophy of the true grounds of human association—the self-evident truths of equality, natural rights, and government by consent of the governed, invoked in the Declaration of Independence—made it possible for the first time to found society and government on reason, rather than on custom, dogma, or coercion. There was no greater threat to the success of the American experiment than religious conflict deriving from competing claims of divinely revealed truth. “Torrents of blood” had been spilled in the Old World, James Madison observed, in “vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all differences in Religious opinion.” [3]  Multitudes had been “burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned” in the name of religion, Thomas Jefferson argued, and all that had been accomplished was “to make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.” [4]  A visceral hostility to revelation and revealed religion in American society manifested itself in the repeated attacks by non-Mormons on the Mormon community.

The conflicts of early Mormon history were ultimately caused by the actions and interactions of two antagonistic utopianisms, based on contradictory theoretical principles and culminating in opposing social and political visions. Mormon millennialism, with its premise of continuing or modern revelation, was the antithesis of the secular idealism of American government and society.  When the radical Tom Paine argued that the “most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries of the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation,” and that the belief in revelation was “the most destructive to morality, and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist,” he was only articulating, in characteristically unrestrained fashion, the American founders’ essential understanding of the political problem of revealed religion. [5]  The Mormons, for their part, rejected the American form of the rational state, the extended commercial republic, with its self-regulating system of interest group competition. The commercial republic’s encouragement of individual ambition was morally corrupting, and would lead to social disintegration. “God will gather out his Saints from the Gentiles,” the Prophet warned, “and then comes desolation and destruction, and none can escape except the pure in heart who are gathered.” [6]  The Mormons endeavored to build a society of unity, harmony, and peace, based on the transcendence of individual self-interest. They intended to do away with the multiplicity of factions or interests that, according to Madison in the Federalist Papers, was the most effectual guaranty of civil and political liberty. [7]  To non-Mormons, the Mormons’ Zion appeared as a particularly insidious form of tyranny, and their efforts to establish it as a criminal attempt on the rights of their fellow citizens. Conflict was the almost inevitable result of this difference of utopian visions.

Building Zion

The establishment of Zion was a logical extension of Mormonism’s fundamental tenet of continuing revelation. The Prophet related that he received his first vision in 1820, when two glorious “personages” appeared to him, as he prayed to know which of the many churches to join. One of the personages said, “This is my Beloved Son, hear Him”; the other told him that he should join none of the churches, because “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” [8]  While circulating the account of his experience privately, Smith refrained from publishing it for many years. [9]  His prophetic calling was thus symbolized primarily by the Book of Mormon, which he claimed to have translated by the “gift and power of God” from gold plates that had been given to him by an angel. Accompanying the book, when it was published in 1830, was the testimony of three special witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, who declared “in words of soberness” that they were shown the plates by “an Angel of God,” and that they heard the voice of God affirming the truthfulness of the work. [10]  The Prophet claimed that, while the Book of Mormon was in translation, he was endowed by heavenly messengers with the priesthood authority of the ancient apostles, necessary to organize and lead the restored church of Jesus Christ. The significance of his calling as a prophet was explained in a revelation received during the organizational meeting of the church, which was held on April 6, 1830. The revelation enjoined Church members to “give heed unto all his words and commandments,” as if they came directly from God, because he was “inspired by the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation” of the church, and “to move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good.” [11]  God, the Prophet maintained, had “at various times commenced this kind of government, and tendered His services to the human family,” for example when He called the prophets Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. With “God to make their laws, and men chosen by Him to administer them,” the people could “truly say, ‘Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.’” Only when God’s law should “go forth from Zion,” and “the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” would human beings again enjoy such happiness. [12]

Zion, for the Prophet, was both a people and a place, a spiritual but also an emphatically physical entity. It was a religious association sharing a particular conception of the right way of life, coming together as a social and political community for the sake of living the good life. The ideal of Zion was developed in a revelation received in the fall of 1830, shortly after the organization of the church. [13]  This revelation, which told the story of the ancient seer Enoch, was Smith’s most comprehensive statement on the meaning of Zion. Like the Prophet, Enoch was called directly by God, who conversed with him “even as a man talketh one with another, face to face.” He was directed by God to “Go to this people, and say unto them—Repent, lest I come out and smite them with a curse, and they die.” Conflict broke out between those who accepted and those who rejected his message, with his followers being attacked by their enemies. When Enoch “spake the word of the Lord,” however, “the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly.” Enoch’s enemies were cursed, with the result that “from that time forth there were wars and bloodshed among them.” His followers, in contrast, were blessed, and they flourished. The name “Zion” was given by God to Enoch’s people, because “they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness, and there was no poor among them.” Enoch gathered his people together in one city, which he called Zion, to save them from the horrors being poured out on the rest. So righteous did the people of Zion become that “the Lord came and dwelt” with them. Eventually, “it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up unto his own bosom.” There it was to remain until the last days, when “great tribulations” would again fall on “the children of men.” God promised Enoch that, in the last days, He would once again “gather out mine elect from the quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.” [14]  Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to re-establish Zion.

Even as he sent out the first missionaries with the message of the restoration of the church, the Prophet initiated the process of the gathering to Zion. In the summer of 1830 he received a revelation declaring that “the decree hath gone forth from the Father” that the church should be “gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked.” [15]  Amidst rising persecution in western New York, where the church was organized, church members were commanded in an 1831 revelation to go to “the Ohio,” to “escape the power of the enemy, and to become “a righteous people, without spot and blemish.” There, they were promised, they would receive God’s “law” and be “endowed with power from on high.” In preparation for the move, individuals were to be appointed who would “look to the poor and the needy, and administer to their relief,” and in general to “govern the affairs of the property” of the church. [16]  The immediate object of the gathering, as the Prophet later explained, was to “build unto the Lord” a temple, which was a place where God “could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation.” In modern as in ancient times, “the principles and laws of the priesthood” were “predicated on the gathering of the people.” [17]  When in the summer of 1831 Jackson County, Missouri, was identified, by revelation, as the place where Zion would actually be built, a site for a temple was designated, also by revelation. The Mormons were driven from the area, however, before they could do any building. Later on another site was dedicated in Missouri, this time in Far West, but once again the Mormons were driven out before they had really begun construction.  The first temple completed was in Kirtland, Ohio. It was three years in construction, and was dedicated in March, 1836. The only other temple built during the Prophet’s lifetime was in Nauvoo. It was not completed until 1845, after the Prophet’s death. The ordinances that were to be performed in the temples, including baptism for the dead and eternal marriage, were revealed in the 1830’s and 1840’s, as the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples were built.

The Prophet was confronted with the question of the proper organization of economic affairs in Zion as soon as he arrived in Ohio. A number of church members, calling themselves the “Family,” were living in a system of common property holding, attempting to recreate the communalism of the ancient church. The Family was “going to destruction very fast as to temporal things,” according to church historian John Whitmer, “for they considered from reading the scripture that what belonged to a brother, belonged to any of the brethren. Therefore they would take each other’s clothes and other property and use it without leave which brought on confusion and disappointment.” [18]  The Prophet disbanded the Family, but promised that its communitarian system would soon be replaced by “the more perfect law of the Lord.” [19]  The new economic order was made known in an 1831 revelation which Smith designated as “embracing the law of the Church.” In what came to be called the United Order, members were commanded to “consecrate” all their properties to the church, “with a covenant and a deed which can not be broken.” Consecrated properties were to be put in the hands of the bishop, who would return parts of them as stewardships for the support of individuals and their families. Surplus property was to be retained by the bishop “to minister to the poor and needy,” and to be used “for the of purchasing lands, and the building up of the New Jerusalem.” Those who should leave or be expelled from the church would be prohibited from reclaiming the properties that they deeded to it. [20]  The purpose of the United Order was to make church members economically equal, consistent with their varying circumstances, wants, and needs. Only if they were equal in “earthly things” could they be “equal in obtaining the heavenly things.” In the egalitarian social situation, every individual would be able to “improve upon his talent” and go on to develop “an hundredfold” of new talents, which he could “cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church.” [21]  The United Order was instituted in both Ohio and Missouri, but problems with its implementation led to its abandonment in Ohio and modification in Missouri. A new economic system was introduced in 1838, which allowed church members to own private property. They were required to consecrate their surplus property to the church, and then contribute a tithe of their income from the remainder. [22]  Continuing problems with economic communitarianism led the Prophet to counsel the Mormons in Illinois to refrain from practicing “joint stock ownership.” The communitarian tradition remained strong, however, and the Mormons continued to engage in cooperative economic enterprises.

A more radical experiment in the social unity necessary for the building of Zion was the introduction, in Nauvoo during the early 1840’s, of plural marriage. While the revelation authorizing the practice was committed to writing in 1843, it was probably received some time before, perhaps as early as 1831 or 1832. [23]  This revelation set forth a “new and everlasting covenant,” according to which marriages that were “made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and all eternity” would be of “efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection of the dead.” Those who entered into this order of marriage were promised that, according to their righteousness, they would become creators, or “gods,” in their own right and “have all power.” Marriage, according to the revelation, was a divinely ordained institution, important for man’s life in mortality, but of even greater significance for his existence in the eternities beyond mortality. Since marriage was ordained of God, it was subject to His regulation. Plural marriage was not the “new and everlasting covenant” as such, but rather a form of the institution of marriage that God at times and for His own reasons might command, but which at other times He might not require and could even prohibit. [24]  “Abraham received concubines, and they bore him children,” the revelation explained, “and it was accounted him for righteousness, because they were given unto him.” Like Abraham, who “abode” in the “law,” Isaac and Jacob also “did none other things than that which they were commanded.” Because of their obedience, the ancient patriarchs “have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods.” Even David and Solomon, “who received many wives and concubines,” sinned in nothing except “in those things which they received not” from God. [25]  Smith did not get a chance to explain the social or political purpose of plural marriage, which remained at least officially secret during his lifetime. Its practice could be expected to contribute to social unity, however, by connecting church members in an extensive web of marriage relations. Perhaps even more importantly, by attenuating the inward, exclusive attachments characteristic of the monogamous marriage relation and the traditional nuclear family, its practice could intensify the general social ties among the members. While the Prophet did not introduce plural marriage into the church until the early 1840’s, he apparently entered into its practice some time earlier. [26]

The most important requirement for the establishment of Zion was the inspired leadership or rule of the Prophet, which was necessary to make known the plan of the good society, and to give guidance in its practical implementation. Such inspired rule could be exercised without the assumption of formal government power, and at least in the beginning this was the way the Prophet attempted to lead the Mormon community. Far from seeking government power, he resisted having it thrust upon him, as contrary to the equality that had to prevail in Zion, and as a diversion from his true calling and responsibility within the community. His approach to church government, he explained, was to teach the members “correct principles,” and then “let them govern themselves.” [27]  For very unconventional reasons, the Prophet accepted the conventional political distinction between church and state. Responding to criticisms that he dangerously intermingled religion and politics, contrary to the constitutional separation between the two, he declared that he was the “greatest advocate of the Constitution . . . on the earth,” and that for him the Constitution was “a glorious standard . . . founded in the wisdom of God.” [28]  Only after the Mormons had been driven from Missouri did the Prophet begin to seriously question the conventional distinction. The Constitution was defective, he argued, because it did not “cover the whole ground”: it provided that “all men shall enjoy religious freedom,” but it failed to “provide the manner by which that freedom can be preserved,” or “for the punishment of Government officers who refuse to protect the people in their religious rights,” or for the means to “punish those mobs, states, or communities who interfere with the rights of the people on account of their religion.” Under the constitutional separation between church and state, “a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough, but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury.” [29]

The Missouri cataclysm, which demonstrated that security for the Mormons required a substantial degree of political autonomy for the Mormon community, forced the Prophet to become more deeply and immediately involved in government and politics. Almost his first work after settling in Illinois was to induce the state legislature to charter Nauvoo, the Mormons’ new place of gathering, as an independent city.  Smith claimed that the charter was his own “plan and device,” and that he contrived it for “the salvation of the Church.” It was established “on principles so broad, that every honest man might dwell secure under its protective influence without distinction of sect or party.” As passed by the state legislature, the Nauvoo charter authorized the city council to “make, ordain, establish and execute all such ordinances, not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States or of this State, as they may deem necessary for the peace, benefit, good order, regulation, convenience, and cleanliness of said city.” It gave the municipal court, made up of the mayor of the city as chief justice and the aldermen as associate justices, “exclusive jurisdiction in all cases arising under the ordinances of the corporation,” and the “power to grant writs of habeas corpus in all cases arising under the ordinances of the City Council.” Finally, it empowered the city council to organize a militia, the Nauvoo Legion, which would be placed “at the disposal of the Mayor in executing the laws of the State, and at the disposal of the Governor for the public defense, and the execution of the laws of the State or of the United States.” [30]  The charter, according to the Prophet, was “very broad and liberal, conferring the most plenary powers on the corporators.” Every power that had been asked for had been granted. As the Prophet interpreted the charter, it placed the city of Nauvoo in the same relation to the state of Illinois as the state was to the national government. [31]

The Prophet’s involvement in politics was inevitably increased, against his own inclinations, by the establishment of the quasi-independent city-state of Nauvoo. In the first municipal elections, held in 1841, he was elected to the city council. He inevitably became the leader of the council and was the author of a number of important ordinances, guarantying religious freedom, incorporating the University of Nauvoo, and organizing the Nauvoo Legion. He joined the Legion and was elected its commander. When John C. Bennett was forced to resign as mayor, amidst charges and countercharges of gross immorality that threatened to tear the Mormon community apart, the Prophet was named by the city council as his successor. With tensions rising between Mormons and non-Mormons, he was unanimously elected mayor in 1843. The deteriorating situation in Nauvoo led the Prophet to organize a special secret governing body, the so-called Council of Fifty, in early 1844. The council, according to one of its members, was the “Municipal department of the Kingdom of God set up on the Earth,” intended “not to controle the Priesthood but to council, deliberate & plan for the general good & upbuilding of the Kingdom of God on the earth.” [32]  The Prophet explained that the council was to consider “the best policy for this people to adopt to obtain their rights from the nation and insure protection for themselves and children; and to secure a resting place in the mountains, or some uninhabited region, where we can enjoy the liberty of conscience guaranteed to us by the Constitution of our country” but “denied to us by the present authorities, who have smuggled themselves into power in the States and Nation.” [33]  The last desperate effort by the Prophet to find security for the Mormons, also in 1844, was to launch a campaign for the presidency of the United States. He ran, he affirmed, “for the protection of injured innocence.” He was aware, however, that his candidacy was likely to arouse the hostility of his enemies: he declared that “if I lose my life in a good cause I am willing to be sacrificed on the altar of virtue, righteousness and truth.” [34]

The Mormons’ efforts to establish Zion resulted in a series of more or less spectacular failures. Ohio, according to the Prophet Joseph’s revelations, was only a temporary resting place. Missouri was identified in 1831 as the land of Zion, with Independence in Jackson County designated as the center place. [35]  This did not terminate the Mormon colonization of Ohio, however, which because the Prophet remained there, was the center of doctrinal and institutional innovation during the 1830’s. The Mormons were thus located in two centers widely separated from one another and linked only by primitive means of transportation and communication. The Ohio settlement collapsed, as a result of internal dissent and external persecution, in 1838, shortly after the completion of the Kirtland temple. Following the collapse, the body of the Ohio Mormon community, including the Prophet, immigrated to Missouri. The Mormon settlement in Jackson County lasted only two years, to 1833, when it was broken up by mob attacks. The Mormons then settled in Clay County. Tensions mounted there, too, and in order to forestall more mob violence, the Mormons left the county in 1836. This time they settled in Far West, in Caldwell County, a political jurisdiction in a sparsely inhabited part of the state which had been created by the legislature specifically for Mormon occupation. Isolating the Mormons in their own county did not prevent further conflicts from arising, however. In 1838, tensions among the Mormons and between Mormons and non-Mormons exploded in open warfare. The Prophet’s physical presence in Missouri seemed to bring those antagonisms to a head. The state militia was called out by the governor, an inveterate anti-Mormon from Jackson County, who ordered it to treat the Mormons as enemies who “must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public good.” [36]  The Mormons were overwhelmed, and in order to save themselves fled from Missouri to Illinois.

The Mormons settled in Illinois in 1839, at a place named “Commerce,” which the Prophet renamed “Nauvoo,” a Hebraism meaning “beauty and repose.” [37]  The name change symbolized the rejection of American commercial republicanism, rooted in liberal political philosophy, and the substitution of the ideal of the beautiful city of peace and harmony, rooted in the Biblical idea of divine law. Circumstances were more favorable for the realization of the dream of Zion than they had been in Ohio and Missouri. The Mormons had increased substantially in numbers and wealth, to the point that they were capable of building a real city. They enjoyed a measure of protection from their enemies, the result of the liberal Nauvoo charter, which allowed them to direct their energies to community building in a way that previously had not been possible. Finally, they had gained a great deal of experience in community building from their earlier efforts. Within a few years of its founding, however, Nauvoo collapsed in internal and external conflict. Tensions between the Mormons and non-Mormons, which began to simmer shortly after the Mormons’ arrival, heated up in 1842 and came to a boil in the summer of 1844. Tensions were simultaneously building within the Mormon community. The climax came on June 27, 1844, when the Prophet and his brother Hyrum were murdered by a mob while being held in Carthage jail, on a trumped up charge of treason, and under the governor’s personal pledge of protection. The Smiths’ deaths brought a respite from conflict, but within a matter of months it flared again, and this led to the Mormons’ decision to immigrate to the Intermountain West. Before they abandoned Nauvoo, however, they renamed it the “City of Joseph,” recognizing it as the consummation of Smith’s calling as prophet of God and founder of the heavenly city, and leaving it as his memorial.

Mormonism’s Internal Conflicts

The conflicts of Mormonism’s early years culminated, but typically did not commence, with attacks on the Mormons by their enemies. They began with strife among the Mormons. With the exception of “the first trouble in Jackson County,” according to the apostle Parley P. Pratt, all the persecutions that the Mormons suffered were caused by “those that went out” from the church, “professing the name, membership, and Priesthood of the Latter-day Saints,” but in reality “traitors to the cause that they professed to believe.” [38]  Brigham Young, the Prophet’s successor as president of the church, held that the persecutions were brought about by “apostates,” who “caused others to come in, worse than they,” and these “would run out and bring in all the devils they possibly could.” [39]  Some of the defectors were ambitious and unscrupulous individuals, dangerous men of the kind who are attracted to every emergent cause or movement, who turned against the church when they discovered that they could not use it for their own purposes. By no means were all of this character, however. Many of the defectors were decent people who demonstrated their devotion to Mormonism by the sacrifices that they made for it. Among these were a number of the religion’s most prominent leaders. The Mormon community’s internal conflicts were not primarily the result of the evil deeds of wicked men insinuating themselves into the church, but rather of the human defects or failures of well-meaning and even devout church members. The Mormons genuinely tried to do what was demanded of them: essentially, to forsake all their private interests and attachments—not only economic, but also social and political—in order to achieve the unity required for the building of Zion. For most, who were not able to simply give up all that was theirs, or that they had been brought up to think of as theirs, building Zion was an act of heroic self-sacrifice.  For some, however, the spirit of self-denial turned to disappointment and frustration, and finally to anger, as the promise of Zion again and again failed of fulfillment. With the bitterness that comes from dashed hopes and blighted expectations, they rebelled against the Prophet and the church. Repeatedly, the actions of once-zealous but now-disgruntled church members brought the Mormons to the verge of dissolution as a community, while inciting the attacks of outsiders against them.

The requirement that church members sacrifice their private interests for the sake of Zion was demonstrated most clearly by the system of economic communitarianism, and it was a cause of contention from the time of its introduction. The first attempt to put into practice the “more perfect law of the Lord” was made in Ohio, by a group of emigrants from Colesville, New York. They settled on a tract of land that an Ohio convert had consecrated to the church. He fell away from the church, however, and reneged on his consecration agreement. The man then began legal proceedings to evict the families that had settled on his land and to obtain compensation for damages from them. The Colesville members inquired of the Prophet what they should do, and he received a revelation counselling them to “flee the land,” and emigrate to Missouri. [40]  While further efforts to establish the United Order in Ohio were only half-hearted, the tradition of economic cooperation continued among the Mormons in the area.  The Prophet and other church leaders organized a number of cooperative business enterprises. The most ambitious was the Kirtland Safety Society bank, which was established in 1836 to finance the economic development of the Mormon community in Ohio. It soon failed, however, and those who lost money and property blamed the Prophet. They accused him, according to John Corrill, a local church leader in Missouri, of “bad management, selfishness, seeking for riches, honor and dominion, tyrannizing over the people, and striving constantly after power and property.” The Prophet’s supporters countered with accusations against the critics of “dishonesty, want of faith, and righteousness, wicked in their intentions, guilty of crimes.” The result was that, “instead of pulling together as brethren,” the Mormons in Ohio “tried every way in their power, seemingly, to destroy each other.” [41]  Among the most bitter of the Prophet’s critics was Warren Cowdery, brother of Oliver Cowdery and editor of the church newspaper in Ohio. Cowdery traced the conflicts in Kirtland to the Mormons’ “unlimited confidence” in their “ecclesiastical ruler or rulers.” This attitude led the leaders of the church to “begin to think they can do no wrong,” and to “increase their tyranny and oppression and establish a principle that man . . . is infallible.” Cowdery charged that a “principle of popery and religious tyranny” was manifested in the “order of things” in the Mormon community. [42]  The failure of the Kirtland bank was the catalyst for the conflicts that led to the collapse of the Mormon settlement in Ohio in late 1837 and early 1838. Fights broke out in the temple. So intense was the hostility to the Prophet that he had to flee for his safety to Missouri.

More concerted attempts at implementing the system of economic communitarianism were made by the Mormons in Missouri, and consequently disputes over economic affairs were more prevalent there. Problems with the United Order developed almost as soon as it was instituted in Jackson County. One was the strain on community resources from the rapid influx of immigrants. Many were drawn by the promise of stewardships, leading to unsatisfiable demands for land and credit. Another problem concerned the legal title to lands. State courts were unwilling to enforce the deeds made by church members, and individuals who left the church were able to reclaim their properties. Finally, there was the problem of slackers. W. W. Phelps, the editor of the church newspaper in Missouri, chastised those who would not bear their share of the burden. Anyone who would not work was “no disciple of the Lord.” To those who preferred to hire out to non-Mormons he warned: “One cannot be above the other in wealth, nor below another for want of means, for the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof. Neither shall men labor for the Lord for wages. . . . But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; and if they labor for money, they shall perish.” [43]  The Prophet warned church members in Missouri that if they would not purify themselves, then God would “seek another people,” and that those who would not hearken to the voice of God “must expect to feel his wrath.” [44]  Disagreements and antagonisms soon arose among the members in Jackson County, and between the local leadership and church leaders in Ohio. W.W. Phelps was informed by the Prophet that he was exhibiting “the very spirit which is wasting the strength of Zion like a pestilence,” and that his attitude would “ripen Zion for the threatened judgments of God.” Sidney Gilbert, who ran the church store, was criticized for making “low, dark, and blind insinuations” against the Prophet. John Corrill was said to have accused the Prophet in an “indirect way of seeking after monarchical power and authority.” [45]  The antagonisms engendered by the United Order were not resolved by the time that the Mormon settlement in Jackson County was broken up by the attacks of non-Mormons, in 1833.

Disputes over economic communitarianism continued and even intensified in Caldwell County, playing an important role in the conflicts that led to the Mormons’ final expulsion from Missouri. In the early months of 1838, the church and especially the leadership in Far West were torn by dissension, precipitated by the failure of the Kirtland bank. Among the dissenters in Far West were Oliver Cowdery, an assistant counsellor in the First Presidency of the church, and David Whitmer, W.W. Phelps, and John Whitmer, the presidency of the church in Missouri. They were tried by a church court and excommunicated. The charges brought against them included selling their lands in Jackson County, contrary to counsel from the Prophet that legal title should be retained to landholdings in Zion. The dissenters responded belligerently to the accusations. Cowdery declared that he would not be “influenced, governed, or controlled” in his property rights and interests “by any ecclesiastical authority or pretended revelation whatever.” [46]  Shortly after they were excommunicated from the church, the dissenters were driven out of Far West. Their removal followed the preaching by Sidney Rigdon, a counsellor in the church presidency, of a public sermon for which he took the text “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” He threatened the dissenters, whom he suspected of conspiring with the Mormons’ enemies, that if they did not leave the town, he would “assist to trample them down or to erect a gallows on the square of Far West and hang them up as they did the gamblers at Vicksburg.” [47]  The expulsion of the dissenters deeply divided the Mormon community. As they fled from Far West, the dissenters did all that they could to stir up opposition among non-Mormons. In this situation of rising internal and external tensions, Rigdon delivered an incendiary July Fourth oration in which he declared independence for the Mormons from mob depredations and threatened total war against mobbers. For “that mob that comes on us,” he warned, “it shall be between us and them a war of extermination,” and “one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed.” The Mormons would never be the aggressors, but they would defend themselves to the death. [48]  Rigdon’s threats infuriated the Mormons’ enemies, however, and helped to set the stage for the coming of war.

For those who knew of it, plural marriage represented an even greater sacrifice of private attachments than economic communitarianism. The principle governing the practice was that God would order marriage, the most basic and important of all human relationships, in accordance with His own purposes, and that church members had to submit to His ordinance. Violating time-honored laws and customs, plural marriage was a cause of contention within the Mormon community from the time that the revelation sanctioning it was first received. The Prophet was criticized by the very few who heard of the doctrine in Ohio and Missouri, including Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. Cowdery knew and disapproved of a plural marriage of the Prophet, which he called a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” He apparently also told others of the matter, because one of the charges brought by the church court that excommunicated him in 1838 was that he sought “to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith, Jr., by falsely insinuating that he was guilty of adultery.” Similarly, Whitmer was accused of writing letters “unfavorable to the cause, and to the character of Joseph Smith, Jun.” [49]  There were other disputes between Smith and Cowdery over plural marriage. According to Brigham Young, the Prophet made known the principle to Cowdery “under a solemn pledge that he would not reveal it, nor act upon it, until the Lord otherwise commanded”; Cowdery “did not keep his pledge,” however, “but acted on it in a secret manner, and that was the cause of his overthrow.” The two argued about the timing for the introduction of the practice, Cowdery wanting to begin it immediately, Smith to wait for a more propitious time. According to Young, Cowdery ignored the Prophet and “took to wife Miss Anne Lyman, cousin to Geo. A. Smith [and] from that time he went into darkness and lost the Spirit.” [50]

More serious difficulties arose in Nauvoo, where plural marriage was introduced more extensively in the church. Even there it was kept more or less hidden, unknown to most members except by hearsay. Men and women were called individually, by revelation through the Prophet, to enter into the new order of marriage. Publicly, the Prophet taught that “no man shall have but one wife, unless the Lord directs otherwise.” [51]  The atmosphere of secrecy that surrounded the practice contributed to the spread of vicious rumors about the Prophet and other church leaders. The rumors became public accusations and recriminations during a spectacular confrontation between the Prophet and John C. Bennett. A successful physician, quartermaster-general of the Illinois state militia, and a man with political connections, Bennett came to the church shortly after the expulsion from Missouri, and quickly emerged as a political and religious leader. He participated in the effort to charter Nauvoo as an independent city, and became the city’s first mayor and an assistant president of the church. He organized the Nauvoo Legion and was named the chancellor of the University of Nauvoo. In May, 1842, however, he was excommunicated from the church and removed from his leadership positions for sexual misconduct. According to the Prophet, “he went to some of the females of the city . . . and began to teach them that promiscuous intercourse . . . was a doctrine believed in by the Latter-day Saints.” He justified himself by claiming that the Prophet and other church leaders “not only sanctioned but practiced the same wicked acts.” [52]  Bennett retaliated with accusations of his own, the most lurid of which was that the Prophet and other church authorities were practicing “spiritual wifery.” The Prophet believed that Bennett was conspiring with leaders of the church against him. Accusing Sidney Rigdon of being “in connection” with Bennett, and of “combining with our enemies and the murderous Missourians,” he attempted to remove him from his position as counsellor in the church presidency. [53]  Others whom he suspected included apostle Orson Pratt, who was temporarily disaffected over the matter of plural marriage, and Francis and Chauncey Higbee, sons of his friend Judge Elias Higbee.

Plural marriage continued to be a cause of upheaval in Nauvoo after Bennett’s excommunication, and contributed to the disaffection of a number of important church leaders. In 1844, William Law, another counsellor in the presidency of the church, and Robert Foster, a prominent businessman, accused the Prophet of attempting to seduce their wives, and they in turn were accused by the Prophet of adultery. Law and Foster, along with Law’s brother Wilson, a commander in the Nauvoo Legion, were excommunicated for “unchristianlike conduct,” but this only intensified their hostility to Smith. Law convinced a grand jury to indict the Prophet for polygamy and adultery, while Foster brought charges against him for false swearing. With others, they organized a reformed church, with Law as its president. In a fateful move, the Laws and Foster, joined by the Higbees, established a newspaper in Nauvoo to publicize their grievances against the Prophet. The Nauvoo Expositor, according to the prospectus published in its first and only edition, was founded to “censure and decry gross moral imperfections wherever found, either in the Plebeian, Patrician, or self-constituted MONARCH.” While proclaiming their belief in “the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith,” the dissenters vowed to “explode the vicious principles of Joseph Smith, and those who practice the same abominations and whoredoms; which we verily know are not concordant and consonant with the principles of Jesus Christ and the Apostles.” Francis Higbee attacked the Prophet as “one of the blackest and basest scoundrels that has appeared upon the stage of human existence since the days of Nero and Caligula.” [54]  The Expositor so incensed the Prophet, along with other church leaders, that he recommended as mayor to the city council that it pass an ordinance “to prevent misrepresentations and libelous publications and conspiracies against the peace of the city,” and that it “make some provision for putting down the Nauvoo Expositor.” In response, the council passed an ordinance declaring that “the printing-office from whence issues the Nauvoo Expositor is a public nuisance” and ordering the mayor to “cause said printing press and papers to be removed without delay in such manner as he shall direct.” [55]  The subsequent destruction of the press raised a furor among Mormon dissidents and non-Mormon enemies of the church. The Prophet was indicted for riot at Carthage, a hotbed of anti-Mormon sentiment, and in order to forestall mob violence, he surrendered himself to be held for trial. He was murdered in Carthage jail while he was awaiting trial on charges arising out of the Expositor incident.

Perhaps the greatest sacrifice of private interests and attachments required of church members was represented by the political influence, power, or rule of the Prophet in the Mormon community. With the Prophet receiving his authority, along with his knowledge and understanding, directly from God, it was difficult for church members to resist his edicts. As long as they sustained the Prophet, by obeying the commandments that he transmitted to them, they remained within the community of the faithful. If they objected to what he required, however, they essentially removed themselves from it. For many members, with what appeared to them to be no effectual way to register dissent from within the church, the situation smacked of tyranny, and from the beginning it was a cause of conflict. In New York, according to John Whitmer, suspicions were voiced that the commandment for the church to remove to Ohio was invented by the Prophet to “deceive the people that in the end he might get gain.” [56]  Some in Jackson County accused him of seeking autocratic power. Ezra Booth, who left the church in Ohio, in the early 1830’s, criticized the Prophet for receiving revelations that were suspiciously convenient. “Every thing in the church is done by commandment,” Booth claimed, “and yet it is done by the voice of the church. For instance, Smith gets a commandment that he shall be the ‘head of the church,’ or that he ‘shall rule the conference,’ or that the Church shall build him an elegant house, and give him 1000 dollars. For this the members of the church must vote, or they will be cast out for rebelling against the commandments of the Lord.” [57]  Warren Cowdery, who left the church during the final collapse of the Ohio settlement, argued that “If we give all our privileges to one man, we virtually give him our money and our liberties, and make him a monarch, absolute and despotic, and ourselves abject slaves or fawning sycophants.” [58]

Criticisms of the Prophet for his alleged tyrannical intentions became more vociferous in Far West, during the final struggles in Missouri. Oliver Cowdery was charged by the church court that excommunicated him with “virtually denying the faith by declaring that he would not be governed by any ecclesiastical authority or revelation whatever, in his temporal affairs.” Cowdery rejoined that his prosecution on this charge was part of “an attempt to set up a kind of petty government, controlled and dictated by ecclesiastical influence, in the midst of the national and state government.” It portended the subordination of secular, government power to the church, a “principle” that “never did fail to produce anarchy and confusion.” [59]  Later on, when armed conflict between Mormons and non-Mormons had already broken out, Thomas B. Marsh, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, left Far West to swear out an affidavit charging that the Prophet taught that his “prophecies are superior to the laws of the land,” and that “he would be a second Mahomet to this generation . . . that like Mahomet, whose motto, in treating for peace, was, ‘The Alcoran or the Sword,’ so it would be eventually for us, ‘Joseph Smith or the Sword.’” A few days after Marsh published his charges, which were affirmed by Orson Hyde, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Governor Boggs issued his Extermination Order against the Mormons. Still later, as the Mormons were fleeing from Missouri, and the Prophet was being held on a capital charge of treason against the state, a number of former church leaders appeared in court to testify concerning his alleged designs. Sampson Avard, who organized the so-called “Danites,” a secret paramilitary organization for the suppression of internal dissent and for defense against external aggression, accused the Prophet of teaching that the Mormons “should be free and independent,” and that “as the state of Missouri and the United States would not protect us, it was high time we should be up, as the saints of the most high God, and protect ourselves, and take the kingdom.” George Hinkle, who commanded the Mormon militia in Far West, claimed that the “general teachings of the presidency were, that the kingdom they were setting up was a temporal as well as a spiritual kingdom; that it was the little stone spoken of by Daniel,” and that “the time had come when this kingdom was to be set up by forcible means, if necessary.” [60]

It was in Nauvoo, however, where the Prophet assumed, or was impelled to assume, the principal offices of government that controversy over his political ambitions was most heated. John C. Bennett, after his excommunication, charged that the Mormons intended to overthrow the government of the United States and establish in the states of the northwest a “despotic military and religious empire, at the head of which, as emperor and pope, was to be Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Lord.” He alleged that this religious tyranny was to be established by the “Danites,” which he claimed was a secret society of assassins that had been organized by the Prophet and that had already committed numerous murders and other crimes. [61]  Attacks on the Prophet for his alleged political designs also figured prominently in the Expositor affair. Francis Higbee made it known in the anti-Mormon press that the first edition of the paper would be “fraught with Joe’s peculiar mode of legislation,” and that it would contain “a dissertation upon his delectable form of government.” In the paper’s prospectus, the editors proclaimed it “their sacred duty . . . to advocate unmitigated DISOBEDIENCE TO POLITICAL REVELATIONS.” They denied that God would ever raise up a prophet to Christianize the world by political means, and vowed that they would never acknowledge “any man as king or lawgiver to the church; for Christ is our only king and lawgiver.” Smith, they contended, looked forward to the establishment of one universal government on the ruins of all existing governments. He was largely beyond the reach of the law, protected by the Nauvoo Charter as he interpreted and applied it. For this reason, they demanded the “UNCONDITIONAL REPEAL OF THE NAUVOO CITY CHARTER.” [62]  As the situation in Nauvoo became more tense, William Law, Robert Foster, and other dissenters associated with the Expositor claimed that they were harassed by officials of the city government, proving their contention that the city was a veiled ecclesiastical tyranny. Law was convinced that the city police were out to kill him. [63]  The accusations concerning the Prophet’s political intentions led to his arrest on a charge of treason against the state of Illinois, while he was already being held in Carthage on a charge of riot stemming from the destruction of the Expositor press. He was allowed to post bond on the riot charge, but was committed to jail to face the treason charge. According to apostle Willard Richards, who was with the Prophet when he was murdered, Law and Higbee, along with other dissenters, were in the mob that attacked the jail and killed him. [64]

The Nauvoo dissenters’ murderous rage towards the Prophet was an intense manifestation of an anger that was experienced by many Mormons. This anger provided the explosive potential that when touched off by the right circumstances—and the Prophet’s innovations insured that there would never be any lack of such circumstances—made the Mormon community’s internal conflicts so ruinous. This problem was recognized by the more thoughtful of the church leaders and members who turned against the Prophet, one of whom was John Corrill. Corrill joined the church in Ohio in 1831, emigrated to Jackson County, and was driven out with the rest in 1833; he left the church during the final conflict in Missouri, in 1838. While critical of the Prophet, he was not especially bitter toward him, and he remained sympathetic to the Mormon people. The situation of the Mormon community was so tenuous, Corrill argued, that if the Missourians had left the Mormons alone, they “would have divided and subdivided so as to have completely destroyed themselves and their power, as a people, in a short time.” [65]  The cause was the Mormons’ increasing desperation, resulting from their repeated failures at community-building, and the ever-present threat of attack by their enemies. Promised that God would see them through if they would “become one, and united in all things,” the Mormons in their exigencies made ever more extreme efforts to achieve this end. The desire for unity lay behind Sidney Rigdon’s threats to Oliver Cowdery and the other dissenters in Far West, and their expulsion from the city. It was also the real purpose for the Danite organization, which was established to bring about unity among its members, and then to enforce it in the Mormon community. According to Corrill, the Danites’ leaders “intended to set up a monarchical government, in which the presidency would tyrannize and rule over all things.” Such a political system, he admitted, was not necessarily the intention of the Prophet, who had no knowledge of the organization of the Danites, and ordered their disbandment as soon as he discovered their existence. [66]  It was a perversely logical conclusion, however, to the Prophet’s teaching on the requirement of unity. Both the disintegrative impulse represented by the expulsion of the dissenters, and the threat of tyranny represented by the Danites, were inherent in the demand for the absolute unity of the faithful. Corrill argued that the church in its final travails in Missouri was seized by a “mob spirit,” anarchy joined with tyranny. The Mormons, who before had never “so much as lifted a finger, even in their own defense, so tenacious were they for the precepts of the gospel,” now committed acts of intimidation and violence, justified as self-defense, not only against outsiders but also against their fellow religionists. These actions reduced the Mormon community to chaos, and gave its enemies the excuse that they were looking for to destroy it. [67]  What Corrill saw take place in Far West was essentially a repetition of what had already occurred in Kirtland, and a pattern for what would happen again in Nauvoo.

For Corrill, there was something profoundly tragic about Mormonism’s internal conflicts. The sense of tragedy was reflected in his explanation to the Mormons for his leaving the church:

I have left you, not because I disbelieve the bible, for I believe in God, the Saviour, and religion the same as ever; but when I retrace our track, . . . I can seen nothing that convinces me that God has been our leader; calculation after calculation has failed, and plan after plan has been overthrown, and our prophet seemed not to know the event till too late. If he said go up and prosper, still we did not prosper; but we have labored and toiled, and waded through trials, difficulties, and temptations, of various kinds, in hope of deliverance. But no deliverance came. The promises failed, and time and again we have been disappointed; and still were commanded, in the most rigid manner, to follow him, which the church did, until many were led to the commission of crime; have been apprehended and broken down by their opponents, and many have been obliged to abandon their country, their families, and all they possessed, and great affliction has been brought upon the whole church. [68]
The tragedy of Mormonism’s internal conflicts was in the connection between those conflicts and the most fundamental beliefs, along with the highest aspirations, of the Mormon community. Those who believed in Joseph Smith’s claim of new revelation set out to build a new Zion, a city of righteousness in which every man would “esteem his brother as himself.” [69]  The Prophet’s revelations—which aimed at the transformation of the Mormon community into a kind of extended family, held together by bonds of common property, shared kinship, and patriarchal authority—overturned all conventional institutions and practices, depriving the Mormons of everything that according to law and custom they could count on as their own. The ruling principle of “the government of heaven,” according to the Prophet, was “revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed,” and what was wrong in one set of circumstances could very well be right in another. Whatever God commanded had to be accepted as right, even though it might not be possible to “see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” [70]

As the Prophet came to recognize, as the result of bitter experience, the situation of flux inherent in the principle and practice of continuing revelation was profoundly unsettling for church members. “Many men will say, ‘I will never forsake you, but will stand by you at all times,’” he recounted. “But the moment you teach them some of the mysteries of the kingdom of God that are retained in the heavens and are to be revealed to the children of men when they are prepared for them, they will be the first to stone you and put you to death.” [71]  The Prophet claimed that “I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God, but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions.” [72]  Church members who were incapable of living in such an environment of open-ended change rejected and rose up against the Prophet. “A man would command his son to dig potatoes and saddle his horse, but before he had done either he would tell him to do something else,” he argued. “This is all considered right; but as soon as the Lord gives a commandment and revokes that decree and commands something else, then the Prophet is considered fallen.” [73]  The Mormons had to give up literally everything for the sake of Zion. No matter how hard they tried, however, they could not submerge themselves and their private interests in the needs of the community. Pressed by the Prophet to redouble their efforts, they struggled on, because of their passionate dedication to the cause of Zion. [74]  The result of their efforts, however, was mounting frustration and anger. The conflicts that time and again shattered the Mormon community were indirect demonstrations of the Mormons’ attachment to Zion, which was almost as strong as their private attachments, and of their faith in the Prophet, with his message that the channel of revelation was once again open to man.

Mormonism’ External Conflicts

The Mormon community’s internal conflicts were doubly dangerous because of the way that they exacerbated its external conflicts, the accusations of disaffected Mormons stirring up non-Mormons against the church and its leaders. The church, according to Joseph Smith, was forced to wade through “an ocean of tribulation and mean abuse” because of the actions of apostates who, “running through the world and spreading various foul and libelous reports,” were a “tool” in the hands of its enemies. [75]  Mormon apostates did not so much create, however, as excite the hostility of non-Mormons. When they attacked the church, they found an audience in the larger society that was only too willing to believe their accusations, even the most outlandish and absurd. Many non-Mormons viewed Mormonism as a menace; the charges of apostates only confirmed them in their suspicions. The unorthodox religious beliefs of the Mormons, in particular the claims of new prophets and new revelation, made them objects of derision. The political implications of those beliefs, however, made them feared and hated. Mormonism was a threat to democratic self-government, its adherents would-be tyrants who were only looking for the right opportunity to seize power. The chief tyrant was, of course, the self-proclaimed prophet Smith. What non-Mormons saw, or at least thought they saw, was the peril of religious despotism inherent in the principle of continuing revelation. The peril was made frighteningly real, especially for the Mormons’ immediate neighbors, by the Mormon community’s efforts to establish the economic, social, and political order of Zion. Those who were most exercised by the threat came to the conclusion that extreme measures were necessary to prevent the Mormons, in the guise of the exercise of religious freedom, from subverting the institutions of constitutional, representative democracy. The Mormons’ enemies regarded themselves as defenders of the rational, free state established by the American founders, and as fully justified to adopt the same forceful means that the founders employed to win their freedom from foreign tyranny.

From the beginning, the Mormons were feared and hated more for what they believed than for what they did, or were alleged to have done. The doctrine of continuing revelation led non-Mormons to anticipate all manner of outrages from the Mormons, on the ground that anyone so desperate as to put forth the claim of new revelation, or so benighted as to believe it, was capable of doing anything. They were ready to blame the Mormon community as a whole for wrongs that were properly the responsibility only of individuals in it. In Jackson County, a few Mormons boasted that God would give all the land in the area to the members of the church as their inheritances in Zion; non-Mormons interpreted this self-aggrandizing but essentially empty talk as a threat to dispossess them of their property by force. There were instances in Far West in which Mormons were involved in thievery and rioting; non-Mormons took these crimes to mean that the community as a whole was out to plunder and terrorize them. There were counterfeiting rings that operated out of Nauvoo; non-Mormons saw Nauvoo as a city in which flagrant lawlessness was officially condoned. Most importantly, non-Mormons suspected the Mormons of harboring imperial political intentions. This began with the very organization of the church. When the Mormons “were not enough to well man a farm, or meet a woman with a milk-pail,” Sidney Rigdon recounted, “men would say we wanted to upset the Government.” Fearing persecution, the church met in secret, with the result that “there was much excitement about our secret meetings, charging us with designs against the Government, and with laying plans to get money, &c., which never existed in the hearts of any one else.” [76]  The Prophet was frequently decried as an “American Mohammed” who would eventually attempt to impose his religion, and his rule, by force. Typical of the attitude toward the Prophet was the accusation of an anti-Mormon convention held in Carthage, Illinois, that he was a religious tyrant who was trying to “merge all religion, all law, and both moral and political justice, in the knavish pretension that he receives fresh from heaven divine instructions in all matters pertaining to these things; thereby making his own depraved will the rule by which he would have all men governed.” “Such an individual,” the convention declared, “regardless as he must be of his obligations to God, and at the same time entertaining the most absolute contempt for the laws of man, cannot fail to become a most dangerous character, especially when he shall have been able to place himself at the head of a numerous horde, either equally reckless and unprincipled as himself, or else made his pliant tools by the most absurd credulity that has astonished the world since its foundation.” [77]

The fears of non-Mormons were crystalized by the institution of the gathering, which gave visible form to the danger inherent in the Mormons’ principle of continuing revelation. It was the most provocative of the Prophet’s economic, social, and political innovations: non-Mormons were apprehensive of the economic consequences of Mormon communitarianism, and they were offended by what they heard of Mormon polygamy, but they were alarmed by the rapid growth and geographic concentration of the Mormon community, which they saw as increasing its political power. The gathering was threatening to non-Mormons because of what they perceived as the political solidarity of the Mormon community, bound tightly together by their faith in the self-proclaimed prophet Smith. Eber D. Howe, a vociferous opponent of the church in Ohio, the editor and publisher of the first important anti-Mormon book, charged that the Mormons, who would be able to elect all the town officers by the mid-1830’s and a member of Congress by the late 1830’s, when they finally got political power would see that “everything will be performed by immediate revelations from God”; non-Mormons would then be ruled by “Pope Joseph the First and his hierarchy.” [78]  Robert Johnson, a leader of the anti-Mormon faction in Jackson County, claimed that, given “the extensive field in which the sect is operating . . . and that whatever can be gleaned by them from the purlieus of vice, and the abodes of ignorance, is to be cast like a waif into our social circle,” it required “no gift of prophecy to tell that the civil government of the county will be in their hands.” The lives and property of non-Mormons would then be left “in the hands of jurors and witnesses, who do not blush to declare, and would not upon occasion hesitate to swear” that they “have converse with God and His angels, and possess and exercise the gifts of divination and of unknown tongues,” with consequences that would be “better imagined than described.” [79]  The Carthage anti-Mormon convention claimed that the Mormons gathering in Nauvoo were imposing on them “men of the most vicious and abominable habits,” to “fill our most important county offices,” in order that the Prophet might “render himself, through the instrumentality of these base creatures of his ill-directed power, as absolutely a despot over the citizens of this county as he now is over the serfs of his own servile clan.” [80]

The actions of non-Mormons demonstrated just how seriously they viewed the threat of ecclesiastical tyranny by the prophet Smith and the Mormons. Attacks began in New York, where church members were never so numerous that they could not meet in a large room. The story of the Prophet’s first vision outraged his neighbors, and he was made to suffer “at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious.” [81]  Attempts were made to steal the golden plates. A newspaper editor pirated parts of the Book of Mormon, publishing them in order to expose the Prophet’s “priestcraft.” Participants in a mass meeting pledged themselves not to buy the book and to prevent others from doing so. After the organization of the church, crowds gathered at meetings and pelted those attending with sticks and mud. A mob destroyed a dam that had been erected to create a baptismal pool. The Prophet was arrested and tried for disorderly conduct, accused of “setting the country in an uproar by preaching the Book of Mormon, etc.” He was alleged to have fraudulently acquired a horse and a yoke of oxen by telling their owners that he had received revelations that they should be given to him. The man who obtained the original warrant for the Prophet’s arrest declared that he did so “in order to check the progress of the delusion” and “to open the eyes and understanding of those who blindly follow him.” [82]  The non-Mormon lawyer who defended the Prophet, who was acquitted, declared that his prosecutors were “engaged in the unhallowed persecution of an innocent man, sheerly on account of his religious opinions.” [83]   Still quite few in number, the Mormons were met with opposition when they immigrated to Ohio.  With distaste, residents of Kirtland noted the arrival, in the fall of 1830, of the first missionaries, and their success in proselytizing. [84]  A citizens’ committee sponsored the publication of an expose of Mormonism, which impugned the character and the claims of the Prophet. According to the Prophet, the “spirit of mobocracy was very prevalent through that whole region of country,” and threatened the utter destruction of the Mormon community in Ohio. In only one of a number of mob attacks, in March, 1832, the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon were dragged from their homes and tarred and feathered. [85]  

The first deadly attacks by non-Mormons occurred in Jackson County. Oliver Cowdery, one of the first missionaries sent to Missouri, in the spring of 1831, reported that “almost the whole country, consisting of Universalists, Atheists, Deists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and other professed Christians” were united against them. [86]  Parley P. Pratt, another member of the group, recounted that when they attempted to preach to the Indians, the excitement of the whites was such that they “were soon ordered out of the Indian country as disturbers of the peace, and even threatened with the military in the case of non-compliance.” [87]  Opposition intensified as Mormon immigrants began to settle in the area, and there were isolated incidents of harassment.  Anti-Mormon leaders circulated a manifesto in early 1833, decrying the Mormon menace and calling for decisive action to be taken. The document described the Mormons as “fanatics, or knaves” who blasphemed God and subverted human reason by pretending “to hold personal communication and converse face to face with the Most High God,” and accused them of intending sooner or later to take over the county for themselves. It charged them with no specific crimes. This was for the very good reason, according to John Corrill, that “the Mormons had not been guilty of crime, nor done anything whereby they could criminate them by the law.” The accusations originated in nothing but “hatred towards the Mormon religion, and the fear entertained of their overturning and ruling the county.” [88]  The manifesto, which was signed by a number of community leaders, called for a mass meeting on July 20, “to consult on subsequent movements.” [89]  The participants at that meeting resolved to prevent any future Mormon migration into the county, and to remove church members who were already there, giving them sufficient time to wind up their affairs if they would pledge to leave as soon as possible. “Prompt and efficient” measures were threatened against any shop or store that was not closed down. Mormons who refused to submit to these demands were sarcastically referred to “those of their brethren who have the gifts of divination, and of unknown tongues, to inform them of the lot that awaits them.” [90]

A delegation presented the demands to the Mormon leaders, including W.W. Phelps, the editor of the church newspaper, Edward Partridge, the bishop of the church, and Sidney Gilbert, the keeper of the church storehouse, insisting that they be accepted immediately. When the Missouri leaders asked for time to consult with church authorities in Kirtland, the citizens meeting moved to make good on its threats. A mob demolished the Mormon press and razed the printing office, which was also Phelps’ residence. It refrained from destroying the storehouse only when Gilbert agreed to its closure. It then tarred and feathered Partridge. Three days later, on July 23, with the mob again assembling, the local leaders capitulated, promising that they would leave the county by January 1, 1834, and that they would use their influence to induce the remainder of the Mormon community to leave by April 1. Church leaders in Kirtland refused, however, to countenance the evacuation of Zion. At their insistence, the Mormons in Missouri petitioned the governor for assistance and retained counsel to seek redress in the courts for damages against them. This infuriated the non-Mormons of Jackson County. The result was a reign of mob terror, during the first week of November, 1833. Houses were burned, crops were destroyed, men were whipped, and women and children were driven into the fields. A brief battle occurred, with deaths on both sides. The commander of the county militia demanded that the Mormons surrender their arms to calm the situation. The Lieutenant-Governor of the state, Lilburn Boggs, promised that the Mormons’ enemies would also be disarmed. Guns were collected only from the Mormons, however, and when they were safely disarmed the attacks of the mob intensified. By the end of the week some 1200 Mormons had been driven from their homes to makeshift encampments, mostly in Clay County. “Hundreds of people were seen in every direction,” Parley P. Pratt recounted, “some in tents and some in the open air around their fires, while the rain descended in torrents.” Some had been able to escape with their families and goods, “while others knew not the fate of their friends, and had lost all their goods.” The scene “would have melted the hearts of any people on the earth,” he claimed, “except our blind oppressors, and a blind and ignorant community.” [91]

The violence that culminated in the destruction of the Mormon community in Far West began, indicatively, on election day, August 6, 1838. A brawl erupted, in which a number were injured but none killed, when non-Mormons attempted to prevent Mormons from voting. They were incited by a candidate for the state legislature, who attacked the Mormons as dupes and criminals who were “not too good to take a false oath on occasion,” and warned that if the Mormons were allowed to vote, others “would soon lose their suffrage.” [92]  Exaggerated accounts of the incident circulated, and soon armed bands of both Mormons and anti-Mormons were raised. Officers of the local militia attempted to deploy it as a peacekeeping force, separating the opposing sides. Many in the militia were openly hostile to the Mormons, however. The threat of mutiny by such troops forced the withdrawal of one militia unit, which had been deployed around the Mormon town of DeWitt. Without protection from threatening mobs, the inhabitants evacuated, fleeing to Far West. This victory emboldened the Mormons’ enemies, and soon they were carrying out terrorist attacks on other outlying settlements. The Mormons retaliated, and a pitched battle broke out, on October 25, in which several were killed and wounded on each side. One-sided reports of this battle convinced Lilburn Boggs, now governor of the state, that church members were in open rebellion. He then issued, on October 27, his “Extermination Order” to the state militia. He had received “information of the most appalling character” concerning the Mormons, including reports of wholesale plundering and burning, that placed them “in the attitude of open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war on the people of this state.” They were therefore to be “treated as enemies” and “exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace.” The outrages perpetrated by the Mormons were “beyond all description.” [93]  Shortly thereafter several companies of militia attacked the Mormon settlement of Haun’s Mill, killing seventeen, including a small boy, Sardius Smith, murdered by a militiaman who justified his action by saying that “Nits will make lice, and if he had lived he would have become a Mormon.” [94]

The state militia, which was commanded by Samuel Lucas, an enemy of the Mormons from the troubles in Jackson County, surrounded Far West on October 30 and threatened to attack the city unless the Mormons agreed to surrender their arms, make reparations to those who had suffered damages in the conflict, give up their leaders to be tried and punished, and leave the state. The Mormon commander, George Hinkle, agreed to these terms, and delivered the Prophet and other church leaders to military authorities. Once they were disarmed, however, the Mormons were set upon by the militia, which looted the city, beat many of the men, and abused many of the women. The commander-in-chief of the state militia, John B. Clark, informed the Mormons that he would rigorously enforce the agreement that they had made to leave the state, and warned them that if his troops were called in again—“in case of non-compliance of a treaty made,” as if the Mormons were subjects of a foreign power—they should expect no mercy but rather “extermination.” As for their leaders, he declared that their doom was sealed, and the Mormons would never see them again. Clark advised the Mormons to “scatter abroad, and never organize yourselves with Bishops, Presidents, etc., lest you excite the jealousies of the people, and subject yourselves to the same calamities that have now come upon you.” They had always been the “aggressors,” and had brought disaster on themselves “by being disaffected and not being subject to rule.” [95]  The situation of the Mormons in Far West as they prepared to leave the state was appalling. “Demons,” according to a sympathetic non-Mormon observer, were “constantly strolling up and down Caldwell County, in small companies armed, insulting the women in every way, and plundering the poor devils of all the means of subsistence (scanty as it was) left them, and driving off their horses, cattle, hogs, &c., and rifling their houses and farms of everything therein, taking beds, bedding, wardrobe and all such things as they want, leaving the poor Mormons in a starving and naked condition.” [96]  The Mormons’ exodus from Missouri, involving some twelve to fifteen thousand refugees, began soon after the fall of Far West and continued throughout the winter and into the spring of 1839.

The Prophet and the others taken prisoner were condemned to death on November 1 by a drumhead court-martial, on which sat many of the Mormons’ most determined enemies. They were sentenced to be shot in the public square of Far West, as a warning to their fellow religionists. The officer charged with carrying out the execution, Alexander Doniphan, refused to obey his orders, however, on the ground that the court-martial proceedings were illegal. The execution order was rescinded, and the prisoners, charged with treason, murder, arson, and robbery, were held for a court of inquiry before civilian authorities. The principal witnesses against the defendants were former church leaders, including Sampson Avard, George Hinkle, and John Corrill, who confirmed the fears of non-Mormons concerning the Mormons’ tyrannical political intentions. According to the Prophet, the church “was converted, by the testimony of the apostates, into a temporal kingdom, which was to fill the whole earth, and subdue all other kingdoms.” [97]  Avard declared that the organization of the Danites was part of a grand scheme of the Prophet by which the Mormons, once they had been gathered together, would “possess the kingdom.” Hinkle testified that it had been taught that “the time had come when the riches of the Gentiles were to be consecrated to the true Israel,” and plundering during the conflict was a “fulfillment” of this “prophecy.” Corrill testified that the church had been represented by its leaders as “the little stone spoken of by Daniel, which should roll on and crush all opposition to it, and ultimately should be established as a temporal as well as a spiritual kingdom.” [98]  The presiding judge in the case, Austin A. King, concluded that if “the Mormons would disperse, and not gather into exclusive communities of their own,” then “with the exception of a few of their leaders, the people might be reconciled to them.” King was pessimistic about the future for the Mormons, however, because they would never agree to disperse themselves. That would mean the “abandonment of their creed and religion,” which taught “the gathering together of the Saints, and that they shall come out from the world.” [99]  At the conclusion of the court of inquiry, the Prophet and a few of the other prisoners were bound over for trial, but after some months in jail they managed, or perhaps were allowed, to escape.

The conflict that led to the Mormons’ expulsion from Nauvoo was triggered by the Expositor incident in June, 1844. The church’s enemies portrayed the suppression of the newspaper as a clear demonstration of all that was dangerous in Mormonism. It seemed to bear out the fears of “vast numbers” of non-Mormons, according to Governor Thomas Ford, who believed that the Mormons “entertained the treasonable design, when they got strong enough, of overturning the government, driving out the old population, and taking possession of the country, as the children of Israel did the land of Canaan.” Outsiders supposed it to be “a fundamental article of the Mormon faith, that God had given the world and all it contained to them as his saints,” and therefore “there was no moral offense in anticipating God’s good time to put them in possession by stealing, if opportunity offered.” The belief of the Mormons that they were God’s covenant people in effect made them into “a community of murderers, thieves, robbers, and outlaws.” [100]  Governed by the divinely revealed edicts of the prophet Smith, they were above the law of the land. The problem was epitomized by the Nauvoo Charter: what for Mormons was a necessary protection from their enemies, was for non-Mormons a cause of the deepest apprehension. As the Charter was implemented, according to George Davis, who wrote an account of the assassination of the Prophet, it deprived non-Mormons of any chance of “legal redress against any Mormon, for the commission of any depredation,” leaving as the only recourse the “first law of nature, ‘self-preservation.’” [101]  The Mormons’ enemies responded to the news of the suppression of the Expositor with a call to arms. “We have only to state that this is sufficient,” wrote Thomas Sharp, the editor of the Warsaw Signal. “War and extermination is inevitable! Citizens, Arise, One and All!!! Can you stand by and suffer such Infernal Devils! to rob men of their property and rights without avenging them? We have no time to comment: every man will make his own. Let it be made with powder and ball!!!” [102]

A citizens’ meeting, decrying the events in Nauvoo as “an outrage of an alarming character, revolutionary and tyrannical in its tendency, and, being under the color of law, as calculated to subvert and destroy, in the minds of the community, all reliance on law,” resolved that it was time for non-Mormons not just to defend themselves, but to “carry the war into the enemy’s camp,” and to “exterminate, utterly exterminate, the wicked and abominable Mormon leaders, the authors of our troubles.” [103]  Militia units in Hancock and adjoining counties were called up. Threatened by possible military action along with mob violence against the Mormon community, the Prophet as Mayor of Nauvoo declared martial law and mobilized the Nauvoo Legion. Governor Ford, who had come to Nauvoo to calm the situation, convinced the Prophet, who had been charged with riot in the Expositor affair, to surrender himself to authorities in Carthage, the county seat of Hancock county and a hotbed of anti-Mormon sentiment, arguing that if he refused, there would be an attack on Nauvoo. The governor also induced the Nauvoo Legion to demobilize and give up its arms. Even though the Prophet received the governor’s personal guarantee of protection, he was under no illusions as to his fate in the hands of his enemies. Journeying to Carthage on June 24, he remarked: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience devoid of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me—he was murdered in cold blood.” [104]  The Prophet was released on bail by a county magistrate on the riot charge, but he was immediately rearrested on a charge of treason, for his actions in declaring martial law and calling up the Nauvoo Legion. Governor Ford assigned a Carthage militia unit to guard the jail where the Prophet was held. “The entire community, with probably not twenty exceptions,” according to George Davis, “were privy to a determination” that the Prophet “never should leave the Carthage jail alive.” [105]  A mob formed in the afternoon of June 27, and meeting with only token resistance from the militia guard, attacked the jail where the Prophet was held, and murdered him and his brother Hyrum.

While the Prophet’s death brought a lull in hostilities, it did not bring them to an end. In January, 1845, the Mormons’ enemies forced the repeal of the Nauvoo Charter through the state legislature. The repeal left the Mormons without government protection and exposed them to continual mob harassment. On September 11, 1845, a mob burned 29 houses in an outlying settlement and drove off its inhabitants, initiating a new round of violent attacks. Governor Ford now made it clear to the Mormons that he lacked the power to protect them. Church leaders then announced that they would lead the Mormons out of Illinois the following spring. Continuing mob pressure, however, made it necessary for the exodus to start in February, 1846. Most church members who were physically and financially able left Nauvoo, which at one time had a population of some 20,000, by April. When it began to appear that the remainder—the sick, aged, and destitute—might remain indefinitely, the Mormons’ enemies once again resorted to violence. The violence came to a head in September when a force of about 800, armed with six artillery pieces, marshalled for an attack on the city. A battle occurred, in which casualties were sustained on both sides. Bowing to superior forces, however, the Mormons on September 16 agreed to surrender their arms and evacuate immediately. The agreement was rigorously and brutally enforced. “Bands of armed men traversed the city,” according to a non-Mormon observer, “entering the houses of citizens, robbing them of arms, throwing their household goods out of doors, insulting them, and threatening their lives.” Many of the remaining inhabitants “were seized, and marched to the camp, and after a military examination, set across the river, for the crime of sympathizing with the Mormons, or the still more heinous offense of fighting in defense of the city.” [106]

The leaders of the mobs that killed the Prophet and drove the Mormons from Illinois were not common criminals but rather leaders of the non-Mormon community in the Nauvoo area. They did not see themselves as participants in a criminal conspiracy but as patriotic defenders of individual liberty and constitutional government. Even more, they saw themselves as revolutionaries overthrowing a new despotism in order to secure their natural rights of life, liberty, and property. The Prophet and his followers exploited the freedoms guaranteed in the American Constitution in order to subvert and destroy it. Masquerading tyrannical usurpation as religious faith, the Mormons could not be dealt with in accordance with the usual forms of the rule of law. Thomas Sharp, one of five prominent men tried and ultimately acquitted of the murder of Smith, defended the action of the mob as an exercise of inalienable natural right: “The Law of God and Nature is above the law of man. There is an uncontrollable impulse in the human bosom, which prompted every man to prefer his own safety and property before the law of the land. . . . True he violates the law of the land by so doing; but nature teaches every one that he commits no crime by preferring his own safety to its provisions.” [107]  Virtually the same argument was made by the Mormons’ enemies in Jackson County and Far West. Anti-Mormons in Jackson County declared that, “the arm of the civil law” affording them no defense against “the evils which are now inflicted upon us,” their determination to drive out the Mormons was “justified as well by the law of nature, as by the law of self-preservation.” In terms redolent of the ringing phrases of the Declaration of Independence, they pledged their “bodily powers” and their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honors” for the accomplishment of their purpose. [108]  The destruction of Far West, argued a leader of the anti-Mormon forces, was the result of one of those “cases of emergency in which the people ought to take the execution of justice into their own hands.” “Aliens in principle from the country,” the Mormons were enemies to “law, religion, and country,” and had to be dealt with accordingly. [109]  Similarly, the Carthage anti-Mormon convention affirmed that “when the Government ceases to afford protection, the citizens of course fall back upon their original inherent right of self-defense,” and resolved to “resist all the wrongs hereafter attempted to be imposed on this community by the Mormons, to the utmost of our ability—peaceably, if we can, but forcibly if we must.” [110]

In the rhetoric that they employed to justify themselves, the Mormons’ enemies indicated the source of the inspiration for their actions. The hatred that they manifested towards the Mormons reflected a deep-seated antagonism to revelation and revealed religion in American political thought and practice, going all the way back to the founders. The founders were not hostile to religion as such, which they saw as a useful and perhaps even necessary prop for republican government. George Washington argued that “religion and morality” were “indispensable supports” of “political prosperity,” and that no one endeavoring “to subvert these great pillars of human happiness” could “claim the tribute of patriotism.” [111]  Thomas Jefferson questioned whether a nation’s liberties could “be thought secure when we have removed their only secure basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God.” Still, the founders understood that there were problems with religion. Jefferson declared that he wrote the Declaration of Independence to arouse men to throw off “monkish ignorance and superstition.” [112]  Religion was politically problematic insofar as it included revelation and prophets. The mind of God being made known only to the elect, revealed religion was contrary to the principle of human equality, and hence to the political system of natural rights and government by consent of the governed. [113]  Only as religion was purged of revelation was it a support for republican government. The political problem of revealed religion led Washington, Jefferson and others of the founders to embrace deism, a form of natural religion that held that knowledge of God sufficient for the needs of human life could be obtained by study of the world He created, with the implication that special revelation was unnecessary and that all claims of revelation were false. It was primarily to solve the problem of revealed religion, reflected in the struggle for political power among the various denominations claiming the right to rule based on their own divinely revealed truths, that the founders established the constitutional system of religious toleration. According to Jefferson, the author of the Virginia statute on religious liberty, the numerous sects that would inevitably spring up under the system of toleration would “perform the office of a censor morum” with respect to one another. The good sense of the community would then laugh “out of doors” those whose tenets would subvert public morals, without the government needing to be “troubled” by them. [114]  For Jefferson—who confidently expected that Unitarianism, the institutionally organized and publicly respectable form of deism, would “become the general religion of the United States”—this process of reformation would include any sects holding to the most subversive of all religious tenets, the belief in revelation. [115]

The conflicts of Mormonism’s early years demonstrated not only the magnitude but also the complexity of the Mormon problem. For causes deriving from the fundamental principle of continuing revelation, the Mormons were unable either to live together or to live with others in peace. They were divided against themselves by the demand for oneness in all things, the essential requirement for the establishment of Zion, the holy city made possible by the calling of the Prophet. Ironically, they were attacked by outsiders because of what was supposed to be their monolithic unity, resulting from their fanatic devotion to the Prophet, which made them a threat to a very different, secular vision of the good society. Internally unstable, the Mormons’ religious utopianism was also highly provocative, to the secular utopianism of American society. The conflicts in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois proved to the Mormons the impossibility of their remaining within the settled areas of the United States. For Brigham Young, who assumed the leadership of the Church after the death of the Prophet, flight was necessary because the government was not “sufficiently protective to allow us to worship God according to the dictates of our own consciences, and of the omnipotent voice of eternal truth.” “The ranklings of violence and intolerance and religious and political strife, together with the occasional scintillations of settled vengeance, and blood guiltiness,” he argued, “cannot long be suppressed.” [116]  Fleeing into the wilderness,would in itself be no solution to the Mormons’ political difficulties, however. Rooted in the very premise of Mormonism, they could not be simply escaped. Continuing revelation was a political problem both for those who accepted and those who rejected the claims of the Prophet Joseph Smith. How to solve this problem in its various manifestations was the crucial issue first in the founding of Utah, and then in the struggle over Utah’s admission as a state.

The contradictions between the internal and external manifestations of the Mormon problem guaranteed that finding a solution, if indeed one could be found, would be a long and complicated process. In the event, it took almost fifty years, from the Mormons’ exodus to the Great Basin in 1847, to the admission of Utah as a state in 1896, and then what was attained was not so much a solution as a modus vivendi. The first task was to bring stability to the Mormon community, which was the great accomplishment of Brigham Young. There was something paradoxical about the founding of Utah: just when the Mormons because of their physical isolation had the opportunity to live strictly in accordance with its principle of continuing revelation—that is, under the direct rule of the prophet—Brigham Young presided over the establishment of more or less conventional forms of American representative democracy, including the separation of church and state. For outside observers, the situation was so counterintuitive that it required some kind of explanation. J. W. Gunnison claimed that the establishment of “tribunals of justice, and law-making assemblies” was necessary only for “the rule of those not fully imbued with the spirit of obedience, and sojourners not of the faith, as well as for things purely temporal.” [117]  Howard Stansbury argued that the organization of civil government was “altogether the result of a foreseen necessity,” that as “the community grew in numbers and importance, it was not to be expected . . . that the whole population would always consist solely of members of the church, looking up to the presidency, not only as its spiritual head, but as the divinely commissioned and inspired source of law in temporal matters and policy also.” [118]  Gunnison and Stansbury were perhaps only repeating what they had heard from church leaders. There was another, and a much more important, purpose in the organization of civil government than the control of non-Mormons, however,  a purpose that could not be openly avowed because it would have been perplexing and even shocking to the Mormons: it was to bring peace and order to the Mormon community, by subjecting the authority of the prophet to the requirement of the consent of the church membership, expressed through the operation of the conventional forms of American democracy. This change did not mean the abandonment of the Mormon utopia of Zion, but it did involve its deferral to the indefinite future. For the present, the challenge was to build what Brigham Young called the “kingdom of God.”

The more difficult, because more complicated, task for the Mormons was to resolve the conflict with American society. After the Mormons’ public avowal of plural marriage, in 1852, the conflict came to focus on that practice. The Republican party made Mormon polygamy a national political issue by connecting it with slavery, in its 1856 platform, as one of the “twin relics of barbarism” that were allowed to spread by the Democrats’ policy of “popular sovereignty” in the territories. [119]  Once in the majority in Congress, the Republicans in 1862 were able to pass a law, the Morrill Act, that prohibited polygamy in the territories of the United States and punished it with up to five years in prison. The law was brought before the Supreme Court in 1869 and found constitutional, which cleared the way for federal officials to undertake a campaign to suppress the practice. There was a deeper purpose to the campaign, however, which those involved in the effort readily admitted. They considered the practice of polygamy to be the most obvious manifestation of what was really dangerous about Mormonism, the belief in modern revelation and the power it gave to the church’s priesthood hierarchy, and since to the public polygamy was the most obnoxious feature of the religion, they judged it to be the proper point of attack to force the Mormons not exactly to give up their belief in modern revelation but to do the next best thing, which was to recognize the secular government and its law as the supreme authority over them. In the name of enforcing the anti-polygamy legislation, Congress passed a series of laws that struck at the foundations of Mormon political power in Utah. These included the Poland Act (1874), which stripped locally elected probate courts of criminal jurisdiction and transferred the powers of the territorial attorney general to the U. S. Attorney; the Edmunds Act (1882), which made the religious belief in plural marriage ground for the challenge of jurors in polygamy cases, disfranchised practicing polygamists, and established a federally appointed commission to control the territory’s election machinery; and the Edmunds-Tucker Act (1887), which provided for an anti-polygamy test oath for voters and officeholders, disfranchised women voters, abolished the Mormon Church’s Perpetual Emigration Company, and dissolved the corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Finally, in early 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned the steps already taken by Congress, and indicated what could come next, when it handed down decisions upholding the disincorporation of the church corporation and an Idaho Territory test oath that disfranchised all persons who merely belonged to an organization that advocated polygamy.

The president of the church at this time, Wilford Woodruff, clearly recognized the danger the anti-polygamy campaign now presented: church leaders and other polygamists would be imprisoned, the Mormon community would be in chaos, the temples would be seized, and the ordinances performed in them, including marriage, would be terminated. All of this, he saw, would mean the end of plural marriage, regardless of the sacrifices the Mormons made on its behalf. [120]  The problem for Woodruff was to find a way to end the practice without surrendering Mormonism’s fundamental principle of continuing revelation, while satisfying Mormonism’s critics, who saw that very principle as Mormonism’s essential evil. He could not simply say that Congress and the Supreme Court had spoken, and now the Mormons had to accept the decision. That would imply that secular government is the final authority in human affairs, and even the revelations of God are subject to its judgments. Neither could he simply say, however, that God had revealed to him that the practice of plural marriage should come to an end. That would tend to confirm the worst suspicions of outsiders about the Mormons, that they were the dupes of unscrupulous leaders who used the claim of revelation as a means of political control. Caught between these impossible alternatives, Woodruff hit upon a solution that he stated was inspired, and considering the nature of the predicament in which he found himself, certainly seems have been so: in the so-called “Manifesto,” he declared that plural marriages were not being performed in Utah; announced that, since Congress’ anti-polygamy legislation had been found constitutional by the Supreme Court, he intended to submit to the law; and publicly advised church members to “refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law.” [121]  Defending his action, he laid the consequences of continued resistance before the Mormon people, and asked them to judge for themselves. [122]  He in effect used the consent of the people to mediate between the antithetical principles of divine and human sovereignty. Woodruff’s solution, which did not resolve the fundamental issue—perhaps because it was literally unresolvable—was not fully satisfactory to either side, as evidenced by the breakaway of small schismatic groups, on the one hand, and sporadic anti-Mormon campaigns, on the other. Still, it was sufficient as a practical means for allaying the long conflict between Mormons and non-Mormons.

The Manifesto is best understood as a kind of treaty between the Mormons and American society, with the quid being the relinquishment of plural marriage by the church, and the quo being the political recognition of the Mormon community by the federal government, through the admission of Utah as a state. Woodruff had one important advantage in bringing about this arrangement: all that the Mormons could legally be required to do was accommodate themselves to the traditional form of monogamous marriage that was legally established by the larger society. That was, and always had been, the practice of the majority of Mormons, if for no other reason than demographics. In order to reach an agreement, the Mormons were thus able to concede the practice of plural marriage, while continuing to adhere to the principle of continuing revelation. However tenuous it might have been, the arrangement incorporated in the Manifesto made possible a reconciliation between Mormonism and American society that steadily deepened until the late 1960s. The Mormons were accepted as, and in a way became, Americans, as they had not been before. Furthermore, they enjoyed a degree of internal unity probably greater than at any time before in the history of the church. Then the process of reconciliation began to reverse itself, with important changes taking place in the larger society. This time, instead of being called by revelation to the practice of new social forms that non-Mormons found anathema to their traditions, the Mormons were called on by revelation to adhere to and defend traditional forms that many non-Mormons found anathema to their ideas of social progress.

The first evidence of the new breakdown came in the early 1970s, in the struggle over the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which the church played an active role in defeating. The most recent evidence was in the struggle over Proposition 8 in California, amending the state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, which church members were instrumental in passing. Considering the rationalist utopianism of American society, this turn of events was predictable, though long in coming. Human reason progresses by negation, that is, by trying new ideas and practices, and discarding those that do not work. It was inevitable that American society, in the pursuit of its ideal, would eventually question traditional social forms, including—ironically, from the point of view of the Mormon experience—marriage. This process of questioning is likely to continue, putting the Mormon Church in increasingly frequent opposition to new practices and institutions that are contrary to what it understands as the revealed will of God. The church has shown that it is willing to pick and choose its battles, so that it has, for example, acquiesced in the liberalization of Utah’s liquor laws, and has backed laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In engaging in such political pragmatism, which had its first appearance in the Manifesto, it has also shown that it is unwilling to compromise on core doctrines, such as heterosexual marriage as a crucial element in the divine plan of exaltation for human beings.

Thus the interaction between the two utopianisms that has defined Mormon history continues. The danger for the church in the present situation is different, however, from what it faced when it was small and weak. In the early days of the church, internal divisions catalyzed conflicts with the larger society that threatened the church’s physical destruction. Now that the church is much larger and stronger, the danger comes in another form: that the economic, social, and political polarizations within American society might trigger divisions within the church that will set member against member, eroding the unity the church has largely enjoyed for over a century. The progress of the church in the future will in large part depend, as it did in the past, on the faith but also on the sober good sense of its members. The destructive effect of such divisions in the early history of the church should serve as a cautionary tale for all those who care about the fate of the church in the future.


[1] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. Brigham H. Roberts, 2nd ed., Rev., 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974) 1: 201 (D&C 59: 23.) (Hereinafter cited as “HC.”) [Back to manuscript]

[2] D&C 64: 41-42. [Back to manuscript]

[3] James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance,” in Norman Cousins, ed., In God We Trust: the Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers (New York: Harper and Bros., 1958), pp. 308-315. [Back to manuscript]

[4] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, in Adrienne Koch, ed., The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Random House, 1944), p. 278. [Back to manuscript]

[5] Tom Paine, Age of Reason, in Cousins, ed., In God We Trust, p. 401. [Back to manuscript]

[6] HC 2: 52. [Back to manuscript]

[7] See Federalist #51. [Back to manuscript]

[8] HC 1: 2-3, 5-6. [Back to manuscript]

[9] See Dean C. Jesse, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Brigham Young University Studies 9: 3 (Spring, 1969), pp. 275-294. [Back to manuscript]

[10] The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: 1950), “Testimony of the Three Witnesses.” [Back to manuscript]

[11] HC 1: 78. (D&C 21: 1, 4-7.) [Back to manuscript]

[12] See HC 5: 64. [Back to manuscript]

[13] The biblical account of Enoch is contained in Genesis 5: 18-24. Other biblical references to Enoch are found in Luke 3: 37, Hebrews 11: 5, and Jude 1: 14.  [Back to manuscript]

[14] HC 1: 133-139. (See Pearl of Great Price, Moses 7: 4, 10, 13, 16, 18-19, 60-62, 69.) [Back to manuscript]

[15] HC 1: 112. (D&C 29: 8.) [Back to manuscript]

[16] HC 1: 142. (D&C 38: 32, 34-36.) [Back to manuscript]

[17] HC 5: 423. [Back to manuscript]

[18] “The Book of John Whitmer,” ch. 2. [Back to manuscript]

[19] HC 1: 147. [Back to manuscript]

[20] A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ (Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 1972), 44: 26-31. See HC 1: 148-154. [Back to manuscript]

[21] D&C 51:3; 78: 5-6; 82: 17-19. The moral problems of economic inequality are referred to in Mosiah 29:32; Alma 4: 15, 16:16, 28:13; and 3 Nephi 6: 14. [Back to manuscript]

[22] See D&C 42: 30-35; 119: 1-4. [Back to manuscript]

[23] The revelation refers to a question that Smith had concerning the practice of plural marriage by the ancient patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as other great men of the Bible. This question likely arose while he was engaged in his “translation,” or inspired revision, of the Bible, from 1831 to 1833. See D&C 132: 1. [Back to manuscript]

[24] See Jacob 2: 27-30, on God’s regulation of marriage: “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he have none; For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts. Wherefore, this people shll keep my commandments, saith the Lord of hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes. For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise hey shall hearken unto these things.” Thus monogamy is the norm with respect to marriage, while plural marriage is the result of special circumstances. [Back to manuscript]

[25] D&C 132: 7, 18, 19-20, 34-38. See Jacob 2: 23-30 in the Book of Mormon for a prohibition of the practice of polygamy. Jacob’s condemnation of polygamy actually affirmed the central teaching of the revelation to Joseph Smith commanding the practice of plural marriage, i.e., that God regulated the institution of marriage and determined the form it would take: “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall harken unto these things.” (v. 30.) [Back to manuscript]

[26] The revelation on marriage refers to “those that have been given to my servant Joseph.” (v. 52) See Fawn W. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, 7th imp. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963), Appendix C, for accounts of alleged plural wives of Joseph Smith, including the testimonies of some who were married to him before the dissemination of the revelation on plural marriage. [Back to manuscript]

[27] George Q. Cannon, Life of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1888) p. 529. [Back to manuscript]

[28] HC 2: 191, 304. [Back to manuscript]

[29] HC 6: 57. [Back to manuscript]

[30] HC 4: 239-244, 249. [Back to manuscript]

[31] HC 4: 248; 5: 289. [Back to manuscript]

[32] Minutes of the Council of Fifty, quoted in Klaus Hansen, Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1974), p. 66. [Back to manuscript]

[33] HC 6: 261. [Back to manuscript]

[34] HC 6: 210-211. [Back to manuscript]

[35] HC 1: 178, 189-190. [Back to manuscript]

[36] HC 3: 175. [Back to manuscript]

[37] See Robert B. Flanders, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1965), p. 41. [Back to manuscript]

[38] Brigham Young, John Taylor, et. al., Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Salt Lake City, 1964), 1: 85. (Hereinafter cited as “JD.”) [Back to manuscript]

[39] HC 5: 135. [Back to manuscript]

[40] “Book of John Whitmer,” p. 74; HC 1: 181 (D&C 54: 7-8). [Back to manuscript]

[41] John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints (Commonly Called Mormons); Including an Account of Their Doctrines and Discipline; . . . , p. 27. [Back to manuscript]

[42] Marvin Hill, “Cultural Crisis in the Mormon Kingdom: A Reconsideration of the Causes of Kirtland Dissent,” Church History 49: 3 (September, 1980), pp. 291-292 [Back to manuscript]

[43] Evening and Morning Star, vol. I (Dec., 1832), quoted in Brodie, No Man Knows My History, p. 122. [Back to manuscript]

[44] HC 1: 316. [Back to manuscript]

[45] HC 1: 316-319. [Back to manuscript]

[46] HC 3: 4, 16-19. [Back to manuscript]

[47] “Reed Peck Manuscript” (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilms Co.), pp. 6-7. [Back to manuscript]

[48] “Oration Delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon, on the 4th of July, 1838,” reproduced in Peter Crawley, “Two Rare Missouri Documents,” Brigham Young University Studies 14: 4 (Summer, 1974), p. 527. [Back to manuscript]

[49] HC 3: 16. [Back to manuscript]

[50] Diary of Charles L. Walker, July 26, 1872, quoted in Andrus, Doctrines of the Kingdom, p. 468. Other church leaders testified to this occurrence. George Q. Cannon believed that a polygamous relationship was the fundamental cause of Cowdery’s leaving the church. Cannon declared: “He transgressed the law of God; he committed adultery; the Spirit of God withdrew from him, and he . . . was excommunicated from the church.” Cannon claimed that Cowdery “in utter disregard” of Smith’s warning “took a second wife, which caused him to lose the Spirit and be cut off from the Church.” Similarly, Joseph F. Smith asserted that Cowdery “abused the confidence” in him and “brought reproach upon himself, and thereby upon the church by ‘running before he was sent,’ and ‘taking liberties without license.’” Quoted in Andrus, ibid., p. 468. [Back to manuscript]

[51] HC 6: 46. [Back to manuscript]

[52] HC 5: 36. See Flanders, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi, pp. 260-261. [Back to manuscript]

[53] HC 5: 313; HC 6: 47-49. [Back to manuscript]

[54] Nauvoo Expositor, June 7, 1844, 1: 6; 3: 5; 4: 5. [Back to manuscript]

[55] HC 6: 436, 443, 448. [Back to manuscript]

[56] Whitmer, Book of John Whitmer, pp. 34-35. [Back to manuscript]

[57] Quoted in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed : Or a Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion (Painesville, Ohio: By the Author, 1834), p. 182. There are no records of revelations commanding the church to build the Prophet an elegant house or give him $1000. [Back to manuscript]

[58] Quoted in Hill, “Cultural Crisis in the Mormon Kingdom,” p. 291. [Back to manuscript]

[59] HC 3: 16-18. [Back to manuscript]

[60] Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, Etc., Relating to the disturbances with the Mormons, . . . (Fayette, Missouri: Office of the Boon’s Lick Democrat, 1841), pp. 58, 99, 128. The chief points of Marsh’s affidavit are also found in HC 3: 167n. [Back to manuscript]

[61] John C. Bennett, The History of the Saints, Or an Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism, pp. 5, 6; quoted in Brigham H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century I, 6 vols. (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), 2: 144-145. (Hereinafter cited as “CHC.”) [Back to manuscript]

[62] Nauvoo Expositor, June 7, 1844, 2: 2-3; 4: 5. Hansen, Quest for Empire, p. 157. [Back to manuscript]

[63] See HC 6: 162-165. [Back to manuscript]

[64] HC 7: 146. [Back to manuscript]

[65] Corrill, Brief History, p. 45. [Back to manuscript]

[66] On Joseph Smith’s opposition to the Danite organization, see HC 3: 178-181. [Back to manuscript]

[67] Corrill, Brief History, pp. 29, 30, 32. [Back to manuscript]

[68] Ibid., p. 48. [Back to manuscript]

[69] HC 1: 142. (D&C 38: 24, 27.) [Back to manuscript]

[70] HC 5: 135. [Back to manuscript]

[71] HC 5: 424. [Back to manuscript]

[72] HC 6: 184-185. [Back to manuscript]

[73] HC 4: 478. [Back to manuscript]

[74] See, for example, HC 2: 108 (D&C 106: 3-6.) [Back to manuscript]

[75] HC 3: 230, 232. [Back to manuscript]

[76] HC 6: 289. [Back to manuscript]

[77] HC 6: 5-7. [Back to manuscript]

[78] Howe, Mormonism Unvailed; p. 145. [Back to manuscript]

[79] HC 1: 397. [Back to manuscript]

[80] HC 6: 6. [Back to manuscript]

[81] HC 1: 7, 9. [Back to manuscript]

[82] HC 1: 88, 90; Donna Hill, Joseph Smith, The First Mormon (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1977), p. 113. [Back to manuscript]

[83] HC 6: 395-396. [Back to manuscript]

[84] See letter of Josiah Jones, quoted in Milton V. Blackman, Jr., “A Non-Mormon View of the Birth of Mormonism in Ohio,” Brigham Young University Studies 12: 3 (Spring, 1972), pp. 306-311. [Back to manuscript]

[85] HC 1: 266, 450. [Back to manuscript]

[86] HC 1: 182-183. [Back to manuscript]

[87] HC 1: 185n. [Back to manuscript]

[88] Corrill, A Brief History, p. 20. See also the comment of Parley P. Pratt: “As to crime or vice, we solemnly appeal to all the records of the courts of Jackson County, and challenge the county to produce the name of any individual of our society on the list of indictments, from the time of our first settlement in the county, to the time of our expulsion, a period of more than two years.” (HC 1: 377.) [Back to manuscript]

[89] The anti-Mormon manifesto is given in HC 1: 374-376. [Back to manuscript]

[90] HC 1: 398. [Back to manuscript]

[91] CHC 1: 346. [Back to manuscript]

[92] HC 3: 57. [Back to manuscript]

[93] HC 3: 175. [Back to manuscript]

[94] CHC 1: 482. [Back to manuscript]

[95] HC 3: 203-204. [Back to manuscript]

[96] M. Arthur, Esq., to the Representatives of Clay County, in Correspondence, p. 94. [Back to manuscript]

[97] HC 3: 211. [Back to manuscript]

[98] Correspondence, pp. 102, 111, 128. [Back to manuscript]

[99] Correspondence, pp. 95-96. [Back to manuscript]

[100] Thomas Ford, A History of Illinois from its Commencement as a State in 1814 to 1847 (Chicago: S.C. Griggs & Co., 1854), pp. 269, 327. [Back to manuscript]

[101] George T. M. Davis, An Authentic Account of the Massacre of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, and Hyrum Smith, His Brother . . . (St. Louis: Chambers and Knapp, 1844), pp. 39, 40. [Back to manuscript]

[102] Quoted in CHC 2: 236. [Back to manuscript]

[103] Quoted in Davis, An Authentic Account, p. 41. [Back to manuscript]

[104] Letter of John Taylor and Willard Richards, who accompanied Joseph Smith to Carthage, announcing his death, quoted in CHC 2: 249. [Back to manuscript]

[105] Davis, An Authentic Account, pp. 27-28. [Back to manuscript]

[106] Report of Mr. Brayson, special representative of the governor of Illinois, quoted in CHC 3: 17 [Back to manuscript].

[107] Warsaw Signal, July 10, 1844, quoted in Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1975), p. 210. On the community standing of the men accused of Joseph Smith’s murder, see ibid., pp. 53-59 and 217-218. [Back to manuscript]

[108] HC 1: 374-376. [Back to manuscript]

[109] Quoted in Leland Homer Gentry, “A History of the Latter-day Saints in Missouri from 1836 to 1839,” Diss. Brigham Young University, 1965, pp. 302-303. [Back to manuscript]

[110] HC 6: 5-7. [Back to manuscript]

[111] “Farewell Address,” in Henry Steele Commager, ed., Documents in American History, 11th. ed. (New York: Meredith Publishing Co., 1963), p. 173. [Back to manuscript]

[112] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, in The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, p. 278; Jefferson to Roger C. Weightman, in ibid., p. 729. [Back to manuscript]

[113] See the comment of Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.: “Revealed religion is revealed only to the godly, and from what Jefferson said in many places against priests, one can suppose that the godly will take advantage of the favor to demand political power for themselves or their allies. Revelation in its nature, and not merely by its abuse, is opposed to the equality of men.” American Political Thought: The Philosophic Dimension of American Statesmanship (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall-Hunt Publishing Co., 1976), pp. 28-29. [Back to manuscript]

[114] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, in Life and Selected Writings, pp. 276-277. [Back to manuscript]

[115] Jefferson to James Smith, in ibid., p. 703. [Back to manuscript]

[116] HC 7: 478-479. [Back to manuscript]

[117] J. W. Gunnison, The Mormons, or, Latter-Day Saints in Valley of the Great Salt Lake (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, and Co., 1852) pp. 23-24. [Back to manuscript]

[118] Howard Stansbury, An Expedition to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah  (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, and Co., 1855), pp. 131-132. [Back to manuscript]

[119] Quoted in Richard D. Poll, “The Mormon Question Enters National Politics, 1850-1856,” Utah Historical Quarterly 25:2 (April, 1957), p. 127. [Back to manuscript]

[120] Wilford Woodruff, “Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto,” D&C, pp. 292-293. [Back to manuscript]

[121] Official Declaration 1, D&C, pp. 291-292. [Back to manuscript]

[122] Woodruff, “Three Exceprts,” D&C p. 293. [Back to manuscript]


Full Citation for This Article: Barrus, Roger (2010) "The Mormon Problem," SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleBarrusMormonsPolitics.html, accessed [give access date].

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COMMENTS: 1 Comments

1) Bryan Benson, St. George, Utah, 9 March 2011

Thank you Prof. Barrus and Square Two.  This essay is marvelous.  It is difficult for us to today to appreciate the deep and fundamental difference between that for which Zion stands and the assumptions and purposes of the American Founders.  In this regard, it is at least incongruous that the task of establishing Zion survives to the extent that it does as a result of compromise with and assimilation into the very categories it sought to escape.  Surely this was not what anyone was expecting, given the tenor of the revelations.  We obviously misunderstand revelation at our own peril.  Did Joseph Smith misunderstand the task of establishing Zion?  If so, to what end?  Was it part of his education, the education of the saints?  Or was it simply a failure for which the church was and perhaps still is under condemnation?  In the end, men like John Corrill failed to see the hand of God in it all.   Should we?  If so, how do we explain it?  Was it a test (again, educational), the only purpose of which could have been to prove to those involved that they lacked whatever was necessary to succeed (and were therefore deserving of condemnation), or maybe that some few of them did not lack it?  As Prof. Barrus’s account reveals, it was a highly quixotic enterprise, tilting not just at the great and spacious edifice of modern reason but at the natural impulses and longings of unregenerated (fallen) humanity.  Therein lies the crux of the matter, since those who were tasked with the project were to have experienced the inner change(s) necessary to bring it off.  Prof. Barrus’s account would exceed its current excellence if it offered an explanation of this that could escape the orbit of mystery in which our latter day story—like that of Israel itself—travels.