Most serious Christian historians today, even many Calvinist apologists, concede that Calvin’s theocracy in Geneva was an example of totalitarian repression, not a model of God’s Divine Government. In Joseph Smith’s time however, many Christians still felt that Calvin’s Church/Police-State in Geneva was a great example for America’s future organization. Even today Calvin’s sympathizers talk about America being a “Christian Nation,” and claim the Bible supersedes the Constitution.
When America’s Calvinist legacy first came upon Joseph Smith, his religious assertions were indeed deviant and unorthodox according to their understanding of Christianity. Likewise, under a Calvinist mandate, so were the Deists and Congregationalists, the Universalists, the Methodists and Baptists that America’s original Puritan stock had sought so earnestly to subdue in their colonies, but could not stifle nationwide in the long run. But Calvin’s disciples weren’t the only sort or “Christians” throwing their formative political weight around in the American Revolution. Under the Calvinist social/governmental model, the very man most credited with insuring religious freedom in America, Thomas Jefferson, was a heretic to be burned even more vehemently than Calvin’s Servetus, and many would have eagerly done so had they been able to get away with it. It is no wonder then, that the Founding Fathers went far out of their way to insure that they had cut Calvin and his thuggish, intolerant legacy off from their openly espoused goal of an American theocracy.
James Madison for one, grew up watching Baptists being imprisoned and persecuted in Maryland as a British Colony under a State religion. Madison was as mainstream a Christian as they came, yet when prompted by a fellow Christian named George Mason, he joined with the radical free-thinking Jefferson and others, and specifically enacted Constitutional provisions to insure that the Calvinist vision of an American theocracy built along the Geneva model would never be possible in their new United States of America.
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
— Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson was accused of being a “Deist,” which in reality is only one of a dozen or so offensive designations you could fling at his personal Christian faith. “Heretic” is the designation his opponents used against him as a candidate for the US Presidency. There were quite a few Deists, Universalists, Congregationalists, and other non-standard “Christians” in the core of American revolutionaries we now call our Founding Fathers. But they didn’t usually advertise it for political reasons—politics driven mostly by Calvinists and other “orthodox” Christians who never doubted that their new United States would be built into another Puritan Paradise like Geneva had been under Himself. (Calvin that is.)
Oddly enough, today, the same Methodists and Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, even good old Roman Catholics and Lutherans, who called Jefferson and his Deist, Universalist, Unitarian or Congregationalist friends heretics, who likewise immediately categorized Mormonism as deviant from their own negotiated American orthodoxy and therefore outside the protection of America’s Christian law, now find themselves compelled to cling desperately to whatever sort of connection these Founding Fathers might have to Jesus Christ. When it’s in their best political interest we see that many of the most fanatically “orthodox” Christians are quite willing to lower their Christian bar of admittance in a most forgiving and inclusive manner, if it means they can thereby secure a firmer historical binding of their “Christian America” argument to those Founding Fathers who were most involved in the actual authoring of the American Constitution.
It wasn’t just a handful of aberrant, quasi-Christian patriots coming along some hundred and more years into the experiment who thwarted Christianity’s desire to build a New Geneva on the American continent. God was the first anti-Calvinist, anti-Puritan force in the new American wilderness. The first limiting condition placed on Calvinism’s desire to unilaterally rule America came simply as an intrinsic function of America being a huge, wide-open country. God made this wide and wealthy landscape an attraction not only to Puritans and other Christian purists, but soon these zeal-driven pilgrims were being rapidly diluted by multitudes of more mainstream English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and other settlers just looking for a chance to own property and make a good living. Populations spread out into separate, independent towns, homes and farms. American families became independent homesteads, instead of being communally confined to tightly run, desperately dependent walled villages and outposts.
Mormons and Christians alike claim America as God’s choice land—but for opposite reasons. The Christians still think it’s theirs and the Constitution only forces them to be nice to non-Christians and let them come along for the ride as long as they don’t stick their noses into actually governing the nation. The Christians of Joseph Smith’s day in fact, felt they had the right not only to define what a Christian was or wasn’t, but that they had the right to punish those who weren’t, and deny basic rights of US citizenship to those they excluded from the Christian fold. We still see this today particularly on the Islamic front.
Mormons, from Joseph Smith’s day to today, like the Founding Fathers, believe that the US Constitution was inspired to insure that no church could enforce its faith everywhere at all times in the New World. The Mormons of frontier American believed they had as much right as anyone to worship God how they pleased, appoint ministers and church authorities as they felt moved, and most importantly, had every right to form fellowships, communities, and prosper in the new land like anyone else. And even more specifically: vote their conscience unhindered in American politics.
Christian America had other ideas for Mormons, Quakers, Baptists, Catholics, and God help them, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or whatever other religious and social deviants might try to come along and invade their Christian Nation. Unfortunately for the Pilgrim’s aspiring Puritan theocracy, while the vast majority of initial American settlers came from Puritan or Church of England roots, the Anglican influence in particular faded rapidly and decisively away over their first century in the colonies. The later English settlers carried with them the new King James “Authorized” Bible and a lot of initial loyalty to Church and King, but the good Americans of the Church of England soon found that submitting to a religious franchise held by a King or Queen some several thousand miles away across the sea seemed rather pointless after a while, and there was nothing to compel them to remain faithful to this commitment in the new country. As the nation grew, what really happened is that more and more American settlers came across the Atlantic specifically to get away from the constant supervision of God and King.
The Church of England ultimately could not prevent all manner of American-Anglican offshoots from having their own meetings, conducting their own Bible study, forming their own congregations, choosing their own ministers, and forming their own religious conclusions. These Anglo-American offshoots began calling themselves, like the Scots had done, things like the “Episcopalian” Church. “Episcopal” simply refers to being governed by a council of bishops. A lot of the Scots Presbyterians had already spilt out into Episcopal congregations because they refused to conform to the Church of England’s contention that the King of England was the God-chosen supreme head of the Church, among other issues. Many of these fled Scotland during the Highland purges under George III or otherwise emigrated to America to run their own church and civil affairs as they saw fit.
Anglican of course means “English,” so in places like Scotland, even in the Lowlands where Scottish nobles had sworn oaths of loyalty to the English Crown, Protestant Scots wanted the English connection diluted as much as it could be from their political and religious institutions. The Presbyterian Church was first founded in Scotland in the mid-1500’s through the leadership of John Knox, who spearheaded the Reformation in Scotland. He was vehemently anti-Roman Catholic and highly influenced by the teachings of, yes, there he is again, John Calvin. The “Presbytery” refers to being governed by a high council of priests, even taking a step back from the notion perhaps of being ruled by central bishops and dropping any direct connection to England or the English Church, and very certainly dismissing any authority of the Roman Church. Even so, the Anglicans originally counted most Scottish Presbyterian flocks as “conforming” essentially to the Anglican Communion. This was something James I earnestly tried to enforce. As the generations passed however, Anglo-Scottish relations became less and less cozy. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746 many Protestant Scots could no longer tolerate any English franchise on God on either side of the pond. The largely Scottish Presbyterians who moved progressively into the American south, either went to calling themselves Episcopalian or otherwise explored their own theological ideas and began to be counted by the Church of England as “non-conforming.”
This work I must remind the reader, is an entirely myopic exploration of religion in the United States of America with an utterly narrow field of view limited to those Christian forces that directly affected Joseph Smith and the development of Mormonism. It also examines how the rise of Mormonism exposed, and continues to expose, the inherent incompatibility of so-called “Christian” culture with Constitutional Democracy in an American Republic that guarantees freedom of religion. It is not intentionally a one-sided presentation, it is intentionally selective. For you Christians, I assure you I have pissed off far more Mormons than Christians by taking a neutral line through this history. Or should I say, having taken a moral line, a Christ-like line that seeks to examine right and wrong from the standpoint of pointing out guilt where it lies and merit where it is deserved. Having said this plainly, and admitting that it may seem pointless and tangential, my exploration would not be complete without examining Joseph Smith’s exposure to American Lutheranism.
This is a remarkably short encounter.
Martin Luther may have started the whole Reformation movement, and modern Mormons may pay him homage now and again for doing so, but Luther and his followers were one of the last and the least of the influences on Mormonism. All of Protestantism knows and honors Martin Luther as the father of the Reformation. All of Protestantism, all of the Reformationists just plain copied, ripped-off, riffed-on, duplicated, emulated, outdid or otherwise rode Martin Luther’s back into this new Christian age. But Mormons are not Protestants. Mormons are not Reformers. Mormons don’t even know for the most part what a “Reformation” is. Most Mormons think Martin Luther was a black civil rights crusader who got shot in the sixties, and now get yet another day off work in honor of his assassination. Or birth. One of those two. Joseph Smith’s early Christian education included plenty of exposure to Calvinism, Arminianism, some brief skirtings perhaps with Roman Catholicism, but not much actual Lutheran contact at all.
Some say Calvin’s ideas are very similar to those of Martin Luther. The LCMS, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, probably agrees wholeheartedly because out of all the American Synods, it’s the only one left with its heart still firmly residing in the Dark Ages.
Lutheranism of any sort was as theologically irrelevant as Roman Catholicism to the Joseph Smith experience until late in his Mormon journey when he moved his church from the eastern states to Missouri, which was newly opened territory. At that time, Smith was trying to escape the mobs led mainly by Presbyterians and Methodists in his homeland of New York, and his first place of flight from same in Ohio. He thought farther West would be a place of freedom. As it turned out, the farther West he went, the farther away he got from any sort of Constitutional protection for his right to worship God as he pleased.
The first Lutheran incursions into what was then the “West,” came when a handful of Saxons got fed up with all the rationalism going on in the 19th century German synods, where the Church was spending too much time trying to make sense out of their religion. In 1838 these Lutheran Puritans left Germany and landed in New Orleans, recently French territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, and steamed up the Mississippi to Saint Louis Missouri. They formed the Concordia Seminary in 1839 out of a log cabin. The Mormons were in the process of getting invited out of the state the whole time the Saxon Lutherans were moving in, and by the time they founded Concordia, Mormonism had been booted out of the state at point-of-sword, and driven off through musket and ball by then.
Missouri’s Lutheran contingent was fresh off the boat, had problems with English, but were very keen on American religious liberty, and unlike the Mormons they found themselves permanently welcome in Missouri by sidestepping a few local social and political issues, like slavery. The Lutherans were also not very ambitious and kept a low profile so they didn’t frighten the locals into thinking they were all going to be speaking German in a few years if they didn’t put these newcomers down right away. But any Lutheran involvement in persecuting Mormonism in Missouri could have only ever amounted to very little. The Missouri Synod did however vote in the Roman Pope as their official nomination for the actual anti-Christ.
(Perhaps that’s where Mormons picked it up.)
The Missouri Synod might have been a problem for Joseph Smith perhaps, but it wasn’t actually formed until 1847, which is years after Mormonism had been burned and massacred out of the state by the general Christian population. By the time the Saxons had built themselves up and formed an actual synod, Joseph Smith had been murdered by the henchmen of Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and other Protestant Christian clergies and politicians across the Mississippi River in Illinois.
As a quick historical orientation then: a year after the Lutherans arrived in Missouri, in 1839, the Latter-day Saints fled the state under a gubernatorially issued extermination order. They crossed the river to Illinois. As usual, they were ultimately again burned and shot and raped and pillaged out of the city they founded there, Nauvoo. They were then forced to flee farther West. So of all the Christian sects hammering Joseph Smith and his friends either with actual hammers or in doctrinal debate, it would be hardest to determine just how involved any Lutherans may have been. Other Christian sects mind you, proudly rallied mobs and printed their calls for Mormon extermination in the newspapers and openly preached sermons calling for the imprisonment and hanging of Joe Smith, the Great Imposter. Famous Methodist, Presbyterian, and other Christian ministers, priests and pastors published broadsheets and handbills urging violent action against the Mormons. Not so, apparently with the Lutherans. Not even the really really pious ones.
In summation, you might think that Lutheranism was almost a non-factor in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. American Lutherans and American Mormons never even had the chance to swing a Bible and each other in the early formative days. However, Brigham Young had no sooner stumbled out of his wagon (since he was sick as a dog when they pulled into the valley) into the dust and sweltering freedom of Mexican Territory–what is now Utah–than he sent out missionaries into Scandinavia, Germany, and Lutheran Europe, where Mormonism converted thousands upon thousands of them–thousands of the most pious and Puritanical of the Lutheran hoards over there. These they shipped, carted and hiked into the Great Salt Lake Valley as fast as they could manage it for about a hundred years. But again, no sooner had these immigrants been gathered into “Zion” as Young called it, than they ceased to be Lutherans or Protestants or Scandinavians or Germans or English or Dutch. They almost instantly became “Mormons.” One of them is the current LDS Church president. I doubt if he even knows what lefse or lutefisk is.
If Brigham Young had one talent, it was Nation Building. You can’t fault him for that.
In Missouri, Mormonism also ran smack into the black heartland of the Southern Baptists. The Missouri Lutherans were as Puritanical as Calvin Himself, but the Southern Baptists made it a contest to see just how retrograde Protestantism could be. Luther, most theologians say, was not very different from Calvin in most of his views. But unlike Luther, we’ve seen the despotism that resulted when Calvin controlled a city. The Southern Baptists, even though they ostensibly sprung from Arminian roots, had evolved over the years of their American isolation into a very Calvinistic sect. They clung to the King James Bible as the sole and inerrant source of God’s religious instruction. Since Baptist congregations are inherently independent, any given ministry could go entirely medieval if they so chose.
Both the southern Lutherans and the Baptists split company with their northern congregations over the issue of whether or not negroes had a soul and any capability of being saved. (Though both agreed that Jews were Satan’s spawn.) The Missouri Lutherans supported slavery as a tool to convert the heathen and claimed God tolerated it on that basis—God even considered it a benefit to the heathen to be enslaved if it resulted in being saved as a Christian. Northeastern Lutherans and American Lutherans in general had also admitted Negros into their congregations, but only under the assurance that said negroes would not use their Christianity as an excuse to disobey the law of the land and try to escape their obligations as a slave.
Except for the Scandinavian Lutherans who immediately gravitated to the Upper Midwest, American Lutherans were slow to deal with the slavery issue at all. When it became a roaring national and international disgrace around the time of the American Civil War, the Northern Synods took up the Abolitionist’s call. (This was well after the Mormon era in Missouri though.) The Missouri Synod, like the Southern Baptists, being an independent congregational structure, just said, “No Thanks” to Abolition.
The Southern Baptists went so far as to claim that Negros didn’t even have souls anyway so would be pointless converting them. They let their slaves dress up and pretend they had their own Black Baptists churches just to dangle the juicy Salvation Carrot they knew they weren’t eligible for but would work mighty hard to get anyway. Negros in Southern Baptist theology were just going to cease to exist or burn in hell or something when they died. That’s why God created them. God created Negros to be slaves. It was obvious. The Southern Presbyterians would eventually follow the Southern Baptists in this declaration as well.
The Southern Baptist Convention didn’t renounce their racist views on Negros until 1995. The State of Missouri for that matter, didn’t apologize for issuing an extermination order authorizing its good Christian Defenders of the Faith to shoot any Mormons they found in the state on sight, until 1976.
The local Missouri “Christian” views on slavery did have tremendous impact upon Joseph Smith’s new church as well as a campaign for the US presidency he was beginning to mount in his last days. Smith’s position on slavery was that he wanted to abolish it but have the US government buy slaves up and free them, thus compensating “property” owners while solving the problem of slavery at the same time. He did allow free Negros to move to Missouri while he was there, and settle, work and worship with his “white” Mormon congregations. This practice of giving any Negros, free or not, houses and paid work and a place in church with white folks was extremely offensive to Joseph’s Christian neighbors. Amongst their many paranoid fears of Mormons was their habit of voting as a block and buying up all the land in the area so Christian “Old Settlers” wouldn’t have a chance to build rich slave-driven plantations and prosper like their forefathers had done in Virginia and the East. The Old Settlers were in the constant fear that Mormons were educating Negros and treating them like human beings, and this could only result in a slave rebellion led by uppity Mormon Negro agitators.
All of these fears were founded upon the proposition that if the Mormons voted the way they wanted to vote, and kept bringing in the people they wanted to bring into the state, the Mormons would effectively out-populate the older inhabitants, and vote their way into running the place. Unfortunately for the Old Settlers, that’s how America works. That’s how state and federal constitutions are set up. There was nothing legally the Old Christians and their complaining clergies could do about it if Mormons wanted to call Joseph Smith a “prophet” and claim they were going to build “Zion” in the middle of their dreams of plantation paradise.
Baptists were a particular problem for the Mormons in Missouri and Southern Illinois. The Baptists had themselves been driven out of the Northeast early on and made their way south to try to take over what is now called the “Bible Belt.” One Baptist Reverend named Benton Pixley is famous for two things, one he was sent by the Missionary Society to hound Indians from Florida to Missouri into the waters of baptism which most of the Indians resented, and two, he made it his personal mission to dog Mormons to death if he could manage it, partly because they got along so well with the Indians. While Pixley was busy trying to convince Native Americans they were Godless savages and heathens doomed to burn in hell, Joseph Smith was running around showing them a Gold Bible he said was a record made by their ancestors that proves they were the noble descendants of God’s Chosen people. Most of the Indians knew this already in one legendary story or another, and didn’t mind hearing it again, even if it was from some peculiar white guy who was inordinately zealous about showing his admiration for them.
Pixley’s Baptist spiel about hellfire, damnation and a vengeful, white Jesus-God that was going to punish them for all eternity if they didn’t sign up, didn’t play well with the Native population for the most part. Pixley of course, was compelled to try to sell this line of BS anyway, and the Mormons weren’t helping him any with their “Great American Indian Civilization” pitch out of their Book of Mormon. In retaliation, Pixley appointed himself the permanent anti-Mormon correspondent for any newspaper or journal that would publish his diatribes against Joseph Smith. Another local minister, a Presbyterian, Finis Ewing, also published another famous article in the local papers in 1833 in which he pronounced, “The Mormons are the common enemy of mankind, and ought to be destroyed.” But it was Benton Pixley who actually called the meeting that led to the open slaughter of Mormon men, women and children at Haun’s Mill, and the Missouri extermination order of 1838.
With the go-ahead of these “respected” clergymen and many others like them, persecution of Mormons in Missouri commenced immediately upon their arrival in 1833. It came to a head in 1838 after a mob of Christian “Old Settlers” decided Mormons had no right to vote and established a human blockade around the polling place in newly formed Davis County to drive Mormons away. The Mormons slugged their way in to vote anyway, and the Old Settlers ran home crying that they were coming back with guns. This led to the Mormons returning with more Mormon voters carrying their own arms to defend their Constitutional right to franchise. The Christians shot at the Mormons, and unlike the Quakers the Old Settlers apparently imagined them to be, the Mormons shot back. The Christian instigators cried rebellion like stuck pigs to the Governor, and he eagerly issued an extermination order just in time to insure his re-election.
In fact, Smith wasn’t exterminated in Missouri, but one Mormon settlement at Haun’s Mill was brutally wiped out by anti-Mormon militias in response to the governor’s authorization, and the Mormons organized themselves in response. They fought off these roving mobs and rogue militias to a temporary truce, based upon a surrender of Mormon leadership. The rest of the Mormons were promised free passage out of the state. What actually happened is they had to abandon their lands and property for pennies-on-the-dollar, or more commonly, most lost all they had to looters and mobs as they went. Smith was imprisoned in Liberty Missouri for five months on no clear charge other than a general claim of insurrection.
Liberty Jail was a dank hellhole. It was a dungeon-like potato-cellar of a “jail,” mostly underground and with no light to speak of. Smith was routinely poisoned or fed tainted food by his Christian jailors and they also teased their prisoners that they had killed either a Negro or a fellow Mormon and fed this “Mormon Beef,” to Smith and his companions.
It is generally believed Smith was allowed to escape Liberty Jail because the entire chain of civil authorities from the governor on down believed Missouri’s charges were going to look foolish if Smith were allowed to carry his defense through the court system, up to and including the US Supreme Court. Smith had in the past humiliated scores of complainants against him, both private and governmental by repeatedly being found innocent of any actual crimes or misdemeanors once charges against him were finally examined under the law. The problem again, is Joe Smith may have been a quack, but he was a religious quack, and if his only “crime” was conning people into believing he was God’s Messenger, then it was no crime at all.
It is also believed that Smith’s Missouri persecutors considered it far easier just to track him down as he fled their captivity and shoot him, than to quibble about why they just weren’t going to put up with Joe and his Mormons, law or no law, in front of a judge in court.
The truth about Christianity’s persecution of Mormonism, is that it starts with a “Gold Bible” in New York, with folks apparently quite convinced that he had one—they just wanted to steal it from him. And then he started printing these boring “Mormon” books. To finance all of this he started organizing into a regular “church” and raising funds from members of same. At this point, his professional Christian clergy rivals kicked into full drive and began to lecture and encourage public scorn and condemnation, which moved into virulent hellfire death and condemnation sermons, the more Smith’s enterprise prospered in spite of their official warnings against him.
By the time Joseph Smith and his merry band of heretics had been driven into Missouri, they’d been getting mobbed and robbed and arrested and tarred and feathered and beaten up and whipped for decades simply for being unorthodox. The worst “crime” charged against Smith for all of this was that he was a fake. Which again, isn’t illegal in a religious context. It’s not only not illegal, it’s specifically protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Joseph Smith had a perfect right to be a false prophet, a heretic, or a plain-old crank if he felt good about being one and wasn’t physically compelling anyone to join or give him money.
Most Christian apologists go right to polygamy or secret societies of Mormon vigilantes when they try to justify Missouri’s extermination order and related persecution. What actual Mormon historians have to concede is that there really isn’t a single instance of an actual Mormon Death Squad you can nail down for sure, and those with any factual provenance are directly connected with efforts by sometimes very well-meaning Mormons to protect themselves from this ongoing and longstanding onslaught of violence from their Christian clergy-assigned mobbers, rapists, murderers and sadists. And in reality, the polygamy issue was scarcely even known within the upper ranks of the LDS leadership at the time of Smith’s murder in 1844, some six years after the Christian-ordered slaughter of defenseless women and children at Haun’s Mill Missouri, and 24 years after the first round of Christian-clergy authorized threats to brutalize, repress, or kill Joseph Smith. Even assuming Joseph Smith was taking extra wives in his last days in Nauvoo, his attentions to these women was being characterized by his Nauvoo opponents as “infidelity” because the doctrinal connection to plural marriage wasn’t yet being made.
Now, huge mobs led by Christian ministers aren’t the typical response to “infidelity.” The bride’s old man or big brothers might come gunning for you maybe, but never half the state militia on orders from the governor to wipe out your whole village, men, women and children. Or as Christian crusader William Reynolds said at Haun’s Mill just before he put his musket to the head of ten-year-old Sardius Smith, and blew his brains out all over the blacksmith’s shop in which he was found cowering, “Nits will make lice, and if he had lived he would have become a Mormon.” Another great example of Christianity, Jacob Rogers, riding down fleeing Mormons in the same raid accepted the surrender of an aged man named Thomas McBride. On horseback, Rogers took the surrendered musket, saw it was loaded, then smiled and shot McBride in the chest with the man’s own weapon. McBride fell to his knees with a hand raised in pleading. Rogers took a large bladed corn knife and whacked off his hand in response, then got off his horse and hacked McBride apart bit by bit as he lay there dying. Numerous other fallen Mormons were hacked to pieces as an example to those who would eventually come reclaim their bodies.
The Christian apologists will try to tell you that men like Reynolds and Rogers were just thugs and scoundrels and freelance ruffians. They were out of control. These sorts of villains were acting on their own the professional Christian excuse-makers say. But no, they weren’t. They were the Missouri State Militia. They were acting upon orders of their governor, at the express demand of Christian clergymen like Pixley and Ewing, with the full support of much of the local press and civic authorities. The same pattern had been repeated all across the US, the mobbery getting worse with every more and more successful anti-Mormon attempt at genocide. The same arrangement was subsequently repeated in Illinois, where the state militia joined forces with an inter-state mob to kill Joseph Smith once-and-for-all. And when Mormonism fled the United States for what is now Utah, Christianity’s mobocracy had gained so much anti-Mormon boldness that it sent an entire uniformed mob army out into disputed Mexican Territory to exterminate them–and of course lay claim to the Intermountain West that the Mormons had just tamed at great cost of life and labor–in the same way that Christian America’s forces of “civilization” stole every scrap of land and property from Mormonism systematically, from New York to Utah, waiting only long enough for the Mormons to produce lands, goods, and property of value, and settlements in productive order enough to be worth stealing.
Joseph Smith’s Christian enemies from the government to the clergy did not scream for his blood because he wasn’t being faithful to his wife. If that were true, he’d only be doing what most of them were doing on the side anyway. In fact, when Smith’s good Christian enemies eventually wrote legislation to outlaw plural marriage (which incidentally wasn’t illegal) they made sure you could sleep with as many women as you wanted as long as you didn’t “cohabitate,” meaning, if you married them and made a respectable arrangement out of it, you went to prison and got heavily fined, but if you took your hat and coat back home with you when you staggered drunk and debauched out of her bed later that night, back home to your wife, you were fine.
The Reverend Pixley for one, makes his complaints against Mormonism very plain, and they have to do mostly with Mormons not participating in his ecumenical councils in the region, and this due to their “un-Christian theology.” He spends a lot of time claiming that Mormons were clannish, pro-Negro, pro-Indian, and in general, a bunch of high-toned Northerners who put on airs and wore shoes even on hot days. Most central to these arguments was his conviction that Joseph Smith’s claiming to talk to God was a heretical fake. And on a personal note, Baptists had been the idiot, bastard cousins of American Christianity for generations. Now that Pixley and his fellows had finally become respectable and competitive at least in the south and western frontiers, even if it was mostly with savages and barbarians, you can be certain Pixley wasn’t going to let a bunch of Johnny-come-lately Mormon heretics thwart the long-awaited Baptist conquest of the United States.
Both the mobs in Missouri, the respected citizens and clergy who supported them, and those in Illinois actually swore oaths to slaughter all Mormons, including many of them signing formal documents and oaths spelling out exactly why they wanted to kill all the Mormons, confessing in writing that the law was on the Mormons’ side but swearing their lives, property, and sacred honor to exterminate them anyway in God’s name, because as they claimed, Mormonism wasn’t loyal to the white race enough, or to Jesus Christ enough, to have been what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they set about protecting religious observance. Personally, these sorts of claims really just come down to enjoying your own personal religion and politics, and seem hardly meriting an extermination order. But then, I’m not as “enlightened” as Reverend Pixley and his good Christian fellows.
In Missouri, the written oath the Christian “patriots” took was called the “Secret Constitution.” The Mormons called this document the “Mob Manifesto.” In this sacred covenant, the “Old Christian Settlers” essentially maintained that America was a Christian Nation, that Missouri was a Christian State, and by God no Mormons were going to move in, out-populate and out-vote Christianity as the legally binding religion of the land. The Bible clearly authorized slavery and they weren’t going to mess with that either.
Missouri eventually apologized for its actions in the so-called “Mormon War” of 1838. That’s because the war undeniably started when Missouri Christians formed a mob and tried to prevent Mormons from voting in Davis County. That much just isn’t in question on any side of the debate. They put it down in writing. It wasn’t much of a secret. Likewise, undeniably, anti-Mormon mobs took to the whole countryside raiding and raping and pillaging and burning Mormon property when the Mormons tried to defend their right to vote. That much is also very clear. The rest is history, a history not even the victorious Christians could successfully rewrite or stifle. Though, like Calvin’s defenders, the State of Missouri does a pretty good whitewashing their guilt on their website.
Originally welcomed as refugees into Illinois, the good Christian elements of that state would not rest until they’d outdone their Missouri Christian cohorts in the high level and low nature of their anti-Mormon persecution and violence. As far as the “Mormon War of 1844” in Illinois goes, this heightened episode of Christian-instigated anti-Mormon brutality culminated with Smith’s murder and the Mormon expulsion from the city they’d just built, Nauvoo, and the State of Illinois. The tenuous “treason” charge Joseph Smith finally got slaughtered for, after surrendering to the governor’s protective custody in Carthage Jail, comes down to the recipient of the bad-end of a city council decision running about the countryside, whining from magistrate to magistrate who repeatedly acquitted Smith, until he got the ear of governor. Seems the little whiner, Francis Higbee, had fired up an anti-Mormon press in the heart of Mormondom and got condemned as a “public nuisance.”
In attempting to get his revenge on Joseph, Smith’s Nauvoo publishing nemesis enlisted his friends in all the regional anti-Mormon newspapers to conduct a unified campaign of editorial haranguings, which prompted a coordinated campaign of over-the-pulpit church sermonizing urging the immediate use of force against the Mormon menace. In this atmosphere of fear and free-license to persecute, roving anti-Mormon mobs began to form, most of whom were indistinguishable from certain regiments of the Illinois State Militia. When Joseph called out the city’s own militia to defend Nauvoo from growing anti-Mormon Christian attacks, Smith’s critics claimed that he had taken over the county and called out the Nauvoo Legion to stifle their American rights. (Apparently meaning their right to mob Mormons at will.) It was “treason” they said. It was essentially the same ploy anti-Mormon activists had pulled off in Missouri. In Illinois however, rather than issue an order of extermination, the governor thought he’d have to calm this uproar down somehow, and decided he’d have Smith sit through a trial at least to sort out the whole treason issue. Smith would probably get off as usual, or so the governor he seems to have figured, but a trial he thought would mellow out the mobs, justice would have been seen to have been fully served by everyone, and that would be it.
Smith’s old Missouri enemies also swarmed over the border however, and joined forces with the Illinois mobs. Joseph did indeed surrender to the governor as requested, and also disarmed the Nauvoo Legion to reassure the good Christians in the area there would be no Mormon anti-Christian holocaust executed against them, placing the protection of Nauvoo in the hands of the small portions of the Illinois State Militia they considered more-or-less reliable. The units assigned to “guard” Smith in Carthage however, had openly sworn to kill him.
Apparently learning their lesson from Smith’s escape from Liberty Jail, the mob-militia “guarding” Joseph Smith at Carthage Jail just waited till the governor and his main force was gone, stormed the jail and shot him all to hell. They took a moment in the woods to dress like Indians and paint their faces black, returned armed to the teeth, passed undisturbed through the ranks of his “guards” outside the jail, up the stairs to the second floor, and fought their way through the unlocked door of a waiting room where Smith and his fellows were voluntarily holding themselves under arrest. They drove Smith out the window in a hail of bullets. His “guards” outside, shot him on the way down to the paving stones outside the jail. They sat him up against the well he’d landed by, and shot him a few more times just for fun. This got the job of “Christianizing” Joe Smith done with no pretense of a trial or attendant encumbering Constitutional arguments. This avoided the likely chance that the law might let Smith off of this charge like he’d gotten off of every single one of the scores of other legal charges Christian persecutors had tried to pin on him to that date.
It just makes you wonder then, why would God choose Joe Smith from some hick town in the American frontier? What chance did Mormonism have to grow and prosper in frontier America’s self-igniting Christian revivalist environment? What chance did a seat-of-the-pants startup utopian society have in a wilderness run by political wolves, capitalist barons, religious opportunists and mobocrats? What chance did an unschooled farm boy have against America’s professionally trained, stump-preaching stormfront of Calvinism and Arminianism? What was God thinking when He came to this young American idiot at this inopportune time and told him to buck the entire social, political, and religious system and “Restore” anything, much less the True Church of Christ? That’s just a crazy idea. The whole notion is preposterous. It could never work. A kid like that wouldn’t last five minutes in that environment, peddling that load of crap!
You can’t knock success. It’s a mystery. Must be Divine Providence.