On, April 6, 1830, a then 24-year-old young man named Joseph Smith Jr. gathered in a small room along with six other people to organize a Church that would change American history. # Since the age of 14, Joseph Smith had always been a source of contentment and ridicule by people of all social classes and religions. Ten years earlier, in the spring of 1820, this young boy declared that he had seen a vision, that he had been visited by both God, and His Son, Jesus Christ.
#This vision is a cornerstone of the Church that is known today as, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nicknamed the "Mormons", a religion that was built on the ideals of communal living and strict obedience to religious guidelines, a people that would be hunted by mobs, and that would eventually erect a "sanctuary" of 15, 000 "saints" only 13 years after its foundation, a religion that Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum would be murdered for at the age of 38, a Church that would grow from 7 members in 1830, to a congregation of over 11 million in the year 2000. # Why did many early American settlers, both rich and poor, believe in the Mormon doctrines and, by contrast, why did so many early settlers despise these people for their beliefs? In order for us to understand how the early Mormon Church grew at such a rapid pace, and why this particular new religion survived when many others started with the same fervor, but did not have the staying power of Mormonism, we have to first look at the time and region in which this new faith began. I don't know if there could have been a time and place any where in the world that was more prepared for Joseph Smith Jr. , and the Mormon religion, than western New York in the early 1830's. At this time in U. S.
history, what was called the "Second Great Awakening" was taking place throughout the country, # and western New York had been labeled the "Burned-over District" by a lawyer from New York, named Charles Finney, because it "had been scorched by the flames of religious enthusiasm." # Revivals and religious fervor were taking hold, and many new denominations were being formed, this area of the country became famous "for its history of revivalism, radicalism, utopian experiments. It was fertile ground for new ideas to take root and spread to other parts of the country." # Joseph Smith was able to capitalize on this when he founded the LDS Church in early 1830. The early Mormon faith appealed to many Americans at the time because it blended together many of the popular beliefs of other denominations of that period. The Mormon religion is tied to millennialism, or the belief that Jesus Christ will someday return to Earth and rule in righteousness for 1000 years only after there have been many catastrophes and much suffering.
This belief served a purpose for Joseph Smith, it solidified him as a prophet, meaning as long as his followers would heed his words, also known as the revelations he received directly from God, they would be saved. Millennialism, or "dooms-day" preaching was nothing new to the early colonists, Puritans as early as the 1600's were convinced the end was near, greatly contributing to societies beliefs. # The Millerites were a very popular "dooms-day" sect that was established in the early 1830's, numbering nearly 50, 000, they believed that the world would end in 1844, and Christ would return to rule. # Mormon religion was also founded on communal living, meaning that all members were expected to "consecrate" their possessions back to God, and every family would have their land and goods given to them by the church, dependent on their needs. Joseph Smith set up a system called the "United Order" to serve this purpose, and it worked well.
The poor were able to get the provisions they needed for their family, while at the same time, the rich felt like they were admired for their sacrifices. #By the end of 1830, 9 months after it had been established, the Mormon church had a congregation of somewhere between 200 and 500 members, primarily from Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. # In December of 1830, Joseph decided to give the order for all members to move to Ohio from New York. This began a series of movements for the Mormon church that in a span of 16 years would take them from New York to Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and eventually Utah. All of these moves were not voluntary though, but were done out of necessity, for wherever the Mormons would choose to settle, trouble soon followed.
Most of their problems were self-induced, the move to Missouri was done because Joseph told them that Missouri was where their "land of inheritance" was located. That God had chosen Missouri as His place to rule the world upon His return, and that the Mormon's would be there with Him. So, when they arrived, they came with an attitude that the original settlers were inferior, and that eventually all land and riches would belong to them. Another factor that contributed to the unrest for the Mormons in Missouri was the fact that they were northern settlers coming to a state already inhabited by southern settlers. They brought with them the ideals that slavery was wrong and should not be practiced, that the native Americans were direct descendants of the tribes of Israel and should be treated with respect, their lifestyle of communal living, and a continuous stream of converts, all played a part in the anxiety the old settlers felt towards them.
In 1838, after suffering much persecution and ridicule for their beliefs, they were ran out of the state of Missouri due to a order given by the governor, and enthusiastically enforced by militia. In 1839, the Mormons started settling northern Illinois, and in 1840 obtained a charter for a city that would be known as Nauvoo. # Here, Mormon's were able to set up their own militia, establish a university, and live in peace for a short time. By the mid 1840's, the Mormon population of Illinois neared 20, 000, and this was a great concern to non-Mormon's of the state. # A population of this size was a huge political power in the state, and Smith always urged the Mormons to vote as a bloc.
It didn't help matters any when Smith announced his bid for the presidency. The final straw in Illinois was the practice of polygamy by Smith and some of his senior officials in the church. The citizens of Illinois deplored this act, and some sources have the number of wives Joseph Smith had was as high as forty-eight. # These practices by Smith and other top ranking officials caused dissent among the congregation, and many followers were labeled apostates. When these dissenters voiced their dissatisfaction with church leaders in a local newspaper, Smith ordered the destruction of that newspaper press, this act "proved to be the spark which ignited all the smoldering fires of opposition into one great flame... The cry that the 'freedom of the press' was being violated, united the factions seeking the overthrow of the Saints as perhaps nothing else would have done." # Soon Governor Ford got involved, urging Smith and some of his followers to surrender themselves to authorities for the destruction of the press.
Joseph, his brother Hyrum, and two other leaders of the church surrendered to authorities in Carthage, Illinois in June of 1844. On June 27, 1844, a mob of 250 raided the jail, and killed Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. This left the Mormon church leaderless. The murder of Joseph angered the faithful in Nauvoo, and with pressures from dissenters, and the dislike of non-Mormon residents growing greater, the church was in a state of chaos. In the spring of 1846, under the leadership of Brigham Young, the Mormon saints then set out for the western frontier, where they would be free from persecutions, and would eventually settle what is now Utah. When Joseph Smith first established the Mormon Church in 1830, it was in the perfect place at the perfect time.
Religious excitement was high in western New York, and people were looking for something different, away from the church's of old. Mormon faith offered communal living, which aided the poor and made the rich feel good about themselves for their sacrifices. Mormon faith was centered around the millennial teachings that were popular at the time, but also served as a source of contention when they relocated. Mormon's felt the land they settled was given to them by God, and that their practices and laws should be a higher authority than those of the state.
They settled areas, and felt that the original settlers should conform to their beliefs and ideals, not the other way around. Their sheer numbers when they settled areas were over-whelming to non-Mormons, where they frequently influenced state politics. Finally, Joseph Smith made some "revelations" that would add to the hatred felt by non-Mormons such as polygamy and a Mormon army. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continued to grow and prosper, but only away from others where they could be left alone. BIBLIOGRAPHY A banes, Richard. One Nation Under God: A History of the Mormon Church.
New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002. American Studies at the University of Virginia, The Second Great Awakening and Rise of Evangelicalism, 15 February 2005, web Fawn McKay. No Man Knows My History, The Life of Joseph Smith, The Mormon Prophet. New York: A. A.
Knopf, 1945. Joseph Smith-History: Extracts From the History of Joseph Smith, The Prophet. Utah: Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979. Mississippi River Home Page, Mormons in the Midwest, 1830-1846, 15 February 2005, web Humanities Center, Evangelicalism, Revivalism, and the Second Great Awakening, 15 February 2005, web Broadcast Service. American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith. 15 February 2005, web Diego University History Department, The Burned-Over District, 15 February 2005, web Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
15 February 2005, web National Parks Service, Mormon Pioneer, 15 February 2005, web books / mop i / hrs 1. htm.