Joseph Smith, Jr.

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Joseph Smith
Full Name Joseph Smith, Jr.
Born December 23, 1805
Place of birth Sharon, Vermont
Died June 27, 1844
Place of death Carthage, Illinois
First Vision Spring, 1820
Founder April 6, 1830
President January 25, 1832
Predecessor Founder
Successor see Succession crisis

Joseph Smith, Jr. (December 23, 1805June 27, 1844) was the principal founder and leader of the Latter Day Saint movement, also known as Mormonism, which includes such denominations as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ. Smith's followers revere him as a latter-day prophet.

Joseph Smith acquired many opponents and enemies because of his immense political power—during his ministry he was a mayor, an opponent of slavery, and the commander of at least two militias (Zion's Camp and the Nauvoo Legion). Many of his detractors also opposed his unique religion and his practice of polygamy. Tensions with his enemies continuously escalated until on June 27, 1844, Smith and his brother Hyrum were shot and killed by a large mob.


Early life, family, and religious experiences

Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont, the fourth child of Joseph Smith, Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith. The Smiths were a farming family and several moves in and around New England were necessitated by crop failures and other ill-fated business ventures.

During the winter of 1812-1813, when Joseph was eight years old, his leg became dangerously infected. Some doctors advised amputation, but his family refused (Smith 1853, pp. 62-65). After a successful operation to remove parts of his affected shin bone (without anesthesia or the commonly used tranquilizer at that time, whiskey), Smith eventually recovered, though he used crutches for several years and was bothered with a limp for the rest of his life.

An undated photograph of the Joseph Smith family farm in Manchester, New York. (LDS Archives)
An undated photograph of the Joseph Smith family farm in Manchester, New York. (LDS Archives)

In approximately 1816, after three years of crop failures in Norwich, Vermont (the last resulting from the Year Without a Summer) (Smith 1853, p. 66), the Smith family was "warned out of town" (Norwich 1813-1818), possibly because they were considered vagrants. Joseph Smith, Sr. moved alone to Palmyra, New York, followed soon by the rest of his family. In Palmyra village, Smith Sr. and his oldest sons took odd jobs, and opened a "cake and beer shop" (Tucker 1867, p. 12). In 1818 the family obtained a mortgage on a 100-acre farm just outside of Palmyra in Manchester (which was part of Farmington until 1821).

The Smith family built a log home, technically just outside their property, still in the town of Palmyra (Berge 1985). In 1822, the Smiths began building a larger frame house that was actually on their new property (Smith 1853, p. 87). On November 19, 1823, Joseph Smith Jr.'s older brother Alvin died, possibly as a result of calomel given for "bilious fever" (Smith 1853, p. 89). In 1825, the Smiths were unable to raise money for their final mortgage payment, and their creditor foreclosed on the property. However, the family was able to persuade a local Quaker, Lemuel Durfee, to buy the farm and rent the Smiths the property. At the end of 1828, the family moved to another house further south, where they remained until 1830.

Smith had little formal schooling; rather than going to school, he worked on his father's farm, hunted, fished, took odd jobs, and sold cake and beer at Palmyra's public events (Tucker 1867, pp. 14-15). His mother described him as "much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of the children, but far more given to meditation and deep study", never having read through the Bible until at least the age of eighteen (Smith 1853, p. 84). He was described as "remarkably quiet" (Smith 1853, p. 73) and "taciturn" (Tucker 1867, p. 16), as well as "proverably good-natured", but "never known to laugh" (id. pp. 16–17). He reportedly had an interest and aptitude in debating moral and political issues in a local junior debating club (Turner 1851, p. 214).

Religious and folk-religious background of Joseph's family

Like the majority of families in the early 19th Century United States, Joseph Smith's family and ancestors had little affiliation with organized religion; however, they were privately religious, accepting of things like visions and prophecies, and they practiced various kinds of folk religion (Quinn 1998). Joseph's paternal grandfather Asael Smith, a Christian universalist, is said to have prophesied that one of his descendants would "promulgate a work to revolutionize the world of religious faith". Joseph's maternal grandfather Solomon Mack published a book in 1811 describing a series of heavenly visions and voices which he says led to his conversion to the "Christian faith" at the age of 76 (Mack 1811, p. 25).

Smith's parents also claimed to experience visions and prophecy. Before Joseph was born, Lucy, his mother, went to a grove to pray about her husband's refusal to go to church with her, and when she returned to her home and went to bed, she reportedly had a dream-vision which she interpreted as a prophecy that Joseph, Sr. would later accept the "pure and undefiled Gospel of the Son of God" (Smith 1853, pp. 55-56).

Joseph Smith, Sr. also reported his own series of seven visions between 18111819, according to Lucy, five of which she described (Smith 1853, pp. 56, 58-59, 70-72, 74). These dreams, Lucy said, came when Joseph, Sr. was "much excited upon the subject of religion", and they confirmed in his mind the correctness of his refusal to join any organized religion, and led him to believe that he would be guided on the proper path to his own salvation (id.) The dreams involved an "attendant spirit" (p. 56), and many commentators have noted that his second vision (pp. 58-59) has many similarities to a dream which Smith, Jr. later dictated in the early chapters of the Book of Mormon (First Book of Nephi 8:2-28).

Like an estimated 90% of Americans at the time (Quinn 1998), the Smith family also practiced various forms of folk religion. According to an early Vermont historian, Joseph Smith, Sr. was reportedly a member of a sect of divining rodsmen in Vermont known as the "New Israelites" (Quinn 1998, p. 38); however, the evidence to support this claim is very thin. Several other accounts report that Smith, Sr. used a divining rod later in Palmyra for seeking treasure (Quinn 1998).

Joseph's early religious experiences

An engraving of a Methodist camp meeting in 1819 (Library of Congress).
An engraving of a Methodist camp meeting in 1819 (Library of Congress).

During the Second Great Awakening, western New York was so frequently visited by traveling revivalists that it later became known as the Burned-Over District. These revivals occurred in many communities in the northern United States, and were often reported in the Palmyra Register, a local paper read by the Smith family (Turner 1851, p. 214). In the Palmyra area itself, the only large multi-denominational revivals were from 1816-1817 and 1824-1825; however, several churches were actively proselytizing during the intervening years, and a local Methodist congregation was holding small camp meetings in the area where their church would later be constructed (Palmyra Register, July 28, 1820).

Smith had some interest in the Methodist denomination (Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 3), but like his father, Joseph Smith, Sr., he did not formally join an organized Christian denomination. He was described as a "very passable exhorter" in the evening Methodist camp meetings (Turner 1851, p. 214). However, one acquaintance claimed that his interpretations of scripture were sometimes considered "blasphemous" (Tucker 1876, p. 17). Smith's associate, Oliver Cowdery, later wrote (Messenger and Advocate, Dec. 1834, p. 13) that Smith was highly influenced by the teachings of a Rev. George Lane, a presiding Methodist Elder and an administrator in the Palmyra era during the intense revivals of 1824 and 1825; Lane's influence is confirmed by Joseph's brother (Smith 1883). At some point, however, Smith reportedly withdrew from a Methodist probationary class in which he was enrolled, announcing, according to an acquaitance, that he believed that "all sectarianism was fallacious, and the churches on a false foundation" (Tucker 1876, p. 18).

Smith's family was particularly influenced by the revivals of 1824-1825. Smith's mother Lucy Mack Smith recorded that shortly after the 1823 death of her son Alvin, she became interested in a particular revivalist who had come to the area preaching that all churches should be united as one (Smith 1853, p. 90). She was unable, however, to convince Joseph to attend, because he claimed, "I can take my Bible, and go into the woods, and learn more in two hours, than you can learn at meeting [sic] in two years, if you should go all the time" (Smith 1853, p. 90).

Joseph Smith's First Vision

Main article: First Vision

Beginning in 1832, Smith began to publish accounts of what he described as his First Vision, a theophany he usually dated to the year 1820, though some accounts by his family and associates place it as late as 1823[1]. According to Joseph's brother, William, the first vision came about in part because Joseph was prompted to pray after hearing a sermon by the Methodist revivalist George Lane, who referred to the Epistle of James 1:5 (Smith 1883), which in the King James Version reads, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him." Lane is never recorded as having visited Palmyra until 1824, although he visited the nearby town of Vienna (15 miles from Palmyra) in 1819 for a large Methodist conference (Porter 1969, p. 330). Joseph and his family could have traveled to sell cake and beer at this event, as they did other events in the Palmyra vicinity, but this is pure speculation (Anderson 1969, p. 7).

Stained glass depiction of Smith's First Vision, completed in 1913 by an unknown artist (Museum of Church History and Art).
Stained glass depiction of Smith's First Vision, completed in 1913 by an unknown artist (Museum of Church History and Art).

In Smith's last major written account of his first vision (1838), he described it as an appearance of two divine personages sometime during the spring of 1820, when he was fourteen years old:

"I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me...When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other, 'This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!'" (Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 5)

It is unclear who, if anyone, Joseph Smith told about his vision prior to his purported discovery of the Golden Plates in 1823. According to Smith, he told his mother Lucy at the time that he had "learned for [him]self that Presbyterianism is not true" (Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 5); however, mention of this conversation is omitted from Lucy's own history (Smith 1853, p. 77), and Joseph never stated that he described the details of the vision to his family in 1820 or soon thereafter. He did claim that he spoke about the vision with "one of the Methodist preachers, who was very active in the before-mentioned religious excitement" (id., p. 6). Many have presumed this to be the Rev. George Lane, but there is no record of Rev. Lane visiting the Palmyra vicinity in 1820. Joseph's brother William was apparently unaware of any visions until 1823 (Smith 1883, pp. 8–9), although he would have only been nine years old in 1820.

Smith claimed that the retelling of his vision story "excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase" (Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 6). Tales of visions and theophanies, however, were not unusual at the time, though the clergy of many organized religions often resisted the stories (Quinn 1998). Prejudice against Smith may have taken place by clergy, it is largely undocumented. The bulk of Smith's persecution seems to have risen among laity, and not because of his First Vision, but because of his later claim to have discovered the Golden Plates in a hill hear his home; the claim was widely publicized and ridiculed in local newspapers beginning around 1827.

Years later, one non-Mormon neighbor summed up views of Smith and his family by their Palmyra neighbors by saying, "To tell the truth, there was something about him they could not understand; some way he knew more than they did, and it made them mad" (Cobb 1881).

Early experiences with seer stones, angels, and hidden artifacts

Some time in Smith's early teens, he reportedly began to practice crystal gazing. There are two stories about how Smith obtained his first seer stone. According to an account of an interview with Smith, Sr., a 14 year old Joseph borrowed the stone from a person working as a local crystal gazer (Lapham 1870, pp. 305-306); it reportedly showed him the underground location of his own stone near his home, which he located at a depth of about 22 feet (Id.)

According to another story, in either 1819 (Tucker 1867, p. 19) or 1822 (Howe 1834, p. 240), while the older Smith males were digging a well for Clark Chase, a Palmyra neighbor, at a depth of more than 20 feet they reportedly found an unusual stone (Tiffany 1859, p. 163). This stone was described as either white and glassy, shaped like a child's foot (Tucker 1867, p. 19), or "chocolate-colored, somewhat egg-shaped" (CHC 1:129). Fascinated, Smith reportedly took this stone and later began to see things inside it clairvoyantly (Tucker 1867, p. 20). Some scholars have concluded that these two accounts refer to two distinct stones found in 1819-1820 and 1822, and that these stories have in some cases been conflated (Quinn, Magic Worldview 1987, pp. 39-41). Other scholars believe that the two accounts refer to the same event in 1822 (Vogel 1994, p. 202).

Work as a treasure seeker and marriage to Emma

Emma Hale Smith.
Emma Hale Smith.

In any case, about 1825, Joseph Smith was approached by a man named Josiah Stowell, from South Bainbridge, New York, who had been searching for a lost Spanish mine near Harmony, Pennsylvania (Smith 1853, p. 91). He had traveled to Manchester because of Smith's reputation as "possess[ing] certain keys[2], by which he could discern things invisible to the natural eye" (Smith 1853, p. 92), and Stowell wanted to employ his services. Stowell was working with an Isaac Hale, from Harmony, Pennsylvania, who reportedly had learned from a crystal gazer named Odle of treasures supposedly concealed in a hill near Hale's home (Amboy Journal, 30 Apr. 1879).

Smith agreed to take the job of assisting Stowell and Hale, and he and his father worked with the Stowell-Hale team for approximately one month attempting, according to their contract, to locate "a valuable mine of either Gold or Silver and also...coined money and bars or ingots of Gold or Silver" (Salt Lake Tribune, 23 Apr. 1880). Smith boarded with Isaac Hale, and fell in love with Hale's daughter Emma, a schoolteacher he would later marry in 1827. Hale, however, disapproved of their relationship and of Smith in general. According to Hale, Smith attempted to locate the mine by burying his face in a hat containing the seer stone; however, as the treasure seekers got close to their objective, Smith claimed that an enchantment became so strong that Smith could no longer see it. (Howe 1834, pp. 262-266). The failed project disbanded on November 17, 1825 (Howe 1834, p. 262); however, Smith continued to work for Stowell on other matters until 1826.

Court records from Bainbridge, New York show that Smith, identified as "The Glass Looker," was before the court on March 20, 1826 on a warrant for an unspecified misdemeanor charge (Hill 1972, p. 2), and that the judge issued a mittimus for Smith to be held, either during or after the proceedings (Hill 1972, p. 5). Although Smith's associate Oliver Cowdery (who had not met Smith as of 1826) later claimed that Smith was "honorably acquitted" (Cowdery 1835, p. 200), the result of the proceeding is unclear, with some eye-witnesses (including the court reporter) claiming he was found guilty, others claiming he was "condemned" but "designedly allowed to escape," and yet others claiming he was "discharged" for lack of evidence (Hill 1972, p. 5). At the examination, seven witnesses were called, including Smith himself, and most of them affirmed that Smith had some sort of spiritual gift.

By November 1826, Josiah Stowell could no longer afford to continue searching for buried treasure; Smith traveled to Colesville, New York for a few months to work for Joseph Knight (Jesee 1984, p. 32), one of Stowell's friends. There are reports that Smith directed further excavations on Knight's property and at other locations around Colesville (Vogel 1994, pp. 227, 229).

Because Smith had been unable to gain Isaac Hale's approval, he and Emma Hale Smith eloped to South Bainbridge on January 18, 1827.

Moroni and the Golden Plates

Main article: Golden Plates

While Smith was working as a treasure seeker, he was also frequently occupied with another more religious matter: acquiring a set of Golden Plates he claimed were deposited, along with other artifacts, in a prominent hill near his home.

In Smith's own account dated 1838, he claimed that an angel visited him on the night of September 21, 1823[3]. Concerning the visit, Smith dictated the following:

"He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was [Moroni][4]; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.
"He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; also that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates" (Smith 1838, p. 4)[5].

Smith said he had two more encounters with Moroni that night and an additional one the next morning, after which he told his father (Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 2, p. 14) and soon thereafter the rest of his family, who believed his story, but generally kept it within the family (Smith 1853, p. 83–84; Smith 1883, p. 9–10).

An 1841 engraving of "Mormon Hill" (looking south), where Smith said he found the Golden Plates on the west side, near the peak.
An 1841 engraving of "Mormon Hill" (looking south), where Smith said he found the Golden Plates on the west side, near the peak.

Thus, on September 22, 1823, a day listed in local almanacs as the autumn equinox, Smith went to a prominent hill near his home, and found the location of the artifacts (id., p. 15). There are varying accounts as to how this angel directed Smith to the location of the Golden Plates. Smith himself later claimed that this location was shown to him in a vision while he conversed with Moroni (Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 2, p. 13). This conforms to an account by Smith's friend Joseph Knight (Jesee 1976, p. 2). However, according to an account by another friend Martin Harris, Smith discovered the location of the Golden Plates through the use of the seer stone he had used to seek treasure as part of the Stowell-Hale team in 1825 (Tiffany 1859, p. 163). In yet another account, the angel required Smith to follow a sequence of landmarks until he arrived at the correct location (Lapham 1870, p. 305).

The plates, according to Smith, were inside a covered stone box. However, Smith was unable to obtain the plates at his first visit. The angel purportedly gave Smith a strict set of "commandments" which he was to follow in order to obtain the plates. Among these commandments was reportedly the requirement that Smith approach the site "dressed in black clothes, and riding a black horse with a switch tail, and demand the book in a certain name, and after obtaining it, he must go directly away, and neither lay it down nor look behind him" (Howe 1834, p. 242). Smith's mother said that the angel forbade him to put the plates on the ground until they were under lock and key (Smith 1853, p. 85–86). He was, however, according to an account by Smith, Sr., allowed to put down the plates on a napkin he was to bring with him for that purpose (Lapham 1870, pp. 305–306).

When Smith arrived at the place where the plates were supposed to be, he reportedly took the plates from the stone box they were in and set them down on the ground nearby, looking to see if there were other items in the box that would "be of some pecuniary advantage to him" (Smith 1853, p. 85). When he turned around, however, the plates had disappeared into the box, which was then closed (Jessee 1976, p. 2). After Smith attempted to get the plates back out of the box, he reportedly saw a toad that grew into the form of the angel (Howe 1834, p. 242), and hurled him back to the ground with a violent force (id.; Smith 1853, p. 86; Lapham 1870, p. 305). After three failed attempts to retrieve the plates (Smith 1832, p. 3), the angel purportedly told him that he couldn't have the plates then, because he "had been tempted of the advisary [sic] and saught [sic] the Plates to obtain riches and kept not the commandments that I should have" (Smith 1832, p. 3)

Thus, he was directed by the angel to return the next year on September 22, 1824, with the "right person", whom the angel said was his brother Alvin (Jessee 1976, p. 2). However, Alvin died within a few months, with the result that when Smith returned to the hill in 1824, he was unable to obtain the plates. Once again, the angel told Smith that he must return the next year with the "right person", the identity of whom the angel would not say (Jessee 1976, p. 2). According to Smith's associate Willard Chase, Smith originally thought this person was to be Samuel T. Lawrence, a seer himself who worked in Smith's treasure-seeking company (Tiffany 1859, p. 164), and therefore Smith reportedly took Lawrence to the hill in 1825 (Howe 1834, p. 243). At Lawrence's prompting, Smith reportedly ascertained through his seer stone that there was an additional item together with the plates in the box, which Smith later called the Urim and Thummim (Howe 1834, p. 243). Smith also reportedly discovered at some point that the box, or the ground nearby, contained at least two more Book of Mormon artifacts, the Liahona and the sword of Laban (Lapham 1870, p. 306). However, Lawrence was apparently not the "right person", because Smith did not obtain the plates in his 1825 visit.

Later, Smith reportedly determined by looking into his seer stone that the "right person" was Emma Hale Smith, his future wife (Jessee 1976, p. 2). There is no specific record of Smith seeing the angel in 1826, However, after Joseph and Emma were married on January 18, 1827, Smith returned to Manchester, and as he passed by Cumorah, he was purportedly chastised by the angel for not being "engaged enough in the work of the Lord" (Smith 1853, p. 99). He was told that the next annual meeting was his last chance to get the plates (Jessee 1976, p. 3).

An 1893 engraving of Joseph Smith receiving the Golden Plates and the Urim and Thummim from Moroni.
An 1893 engraving of Joseph Smith receiving the Golden Plates and the Urim and Thummim from Moroni.

Just days prior to the scheduled meeting with the angel on September 22, 1827, Smith's treasure-seeking associates Josiah Stowell and Joseph Knight arranged to be in Palmyra for the attempt to retrieve the plates (Jesee 1976, p. 3; Smith 1853, p. 99). Because Smith was concerned that Samuel Lawrence, his earlier confidant, might interfere, Smith sent his father to spy on Lawrence's house the night of September 21 until dark (Jessee 1976, p. 3). Late that night, Smith took the horse and carriage of Joseph Knight to Cumorah with his wife Emma (Smith 1853, p. 100). Leaving Emma in the wagon, where she knelt in prayer (Tiffany 1853, p. 164), he reportedly walked to the site of the Golden Plates, retrieved them, and hid them in a fallen tree-top on or near the hill (Howe 1976, p. 246; Tiffany 1859, p. 165). He also reportedly retrieved the Urim and Thummim, which he showed to his mother the next morning (Smith 1853, p. 101).

Over the next few days, Smith took a well-digging job in nearby Macedon to obtain money to buy a solid lockable chest in which to put the plates (Smith 1853, p. 101). By then, however, some of Smith's treasure-seeking company had heard that Smith was successful in obtaining the plates, and they wanted what they believed was their cut of the profits from what they saw as part of their joint venture (Tiffany 1859, 167). Spying once again on the house of Samuel Lawrence, Smith, Sr. determined that a group of 10–12 of these men, including Lawrence and Willard Chase, had enlisted the talents of a renowned and supposedly-talented seer from 60 miles away, in an effort to locate where the plates were hidden by means of divination (Smith 1853, p. 102). When Emma heard of this, she went to Macedon and informed Smith, Jr., who determined through his Urim and Thummim that the plates were safe, but nevertheless he hurriedly traveled home by horseback (Smith 1853, pp. 103–104). Once home in Palmyra, he then walked to Cumorah and reportedly removed the plates from their hiding place, fending off attackers on his walk back home, with the plates under his arm wrapped in a linen frock (Howe 1834, p. 246; Smith 1853, pp. 104–105; Tiffany 1859, p. 166).

The plates, according to Smith, "had the appearance of gold", and were:

"...six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters and bound together in a volume, as the leaves of a book with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving." (Smith 1842, Times and Seasons 3:707)

However, Smith initially kept the plates out of sight, even to his family. At first, he reportedly kept the plates in a chest under the hearth in his parents' home (Smith 1853). Fearing they might be discovered, however, Smith hid the chest under the floor boards of his parents' old log home nearby (Tiffany 1859). Later, he took the plates out of the chest, left the empty chest under the floor boards, and hid the plates in a barrel of flax, not long before the location of the empty box was discovered and the place ransacked by Smith's former treasure-seeking associates, who had enlisted one of the men's sisters to find that location by looking in her seer stone (Smith 1853, pp. 107–109).

Joseph Smith as a translator and prophet in New York and Pennsylvania

Once Joseph Smith had the purported Golden Plates, temporarily kept safe from his Palmyra neighbors, his focus turned to getting the engravings on them translated. To do so, however, he needed money, and at the time he was pennyless (Smith 1853). Therefore, Smith sent his mother (Smith 1853, p. 110) to the the home of Martin Harris, a local landowner said at the time to be worth about $8,000 to $10,000 (Howe 1834, p. 260).

Harris had apparently been a close confidant of the Smith family since at least 1826 (Howe 1834, pp. 255), and he may have heard about Smith's attempts to obtain the plates from the angel even earlier from Smith, Sr. (Smith 1853, p. 109). He was also a believer in Smith's powers with his seer stone (Tiffany 1859, p. 164). When Lucy visited Harris, he had heard about Smith's claim to have found Golden Plates through the grapevine in Palmyra, and was interested in finding out more (Tiffany 1859, pp. 167–168). Thus, at Lucy Smith's request, Harris went to the Smith home, heard the story from Smith, and hefted a glass box that Smith said contained the plates (Tiffany 1859, pp. 168–169). Smith convinced Harris that he had the plates, and that the angel had told him to "quit the company of the money-diggers" (Tiffany 1859, p. 169). Convinced, Harris immediately gave Smith $50, and committed to sponsor the translation of the plates (Smith 1853, p. 113).

The money provided by Harris was enough to pay all of Smith's debts in Palmyra, and for him to travel with Emma and all of their belongings to Harmony, Pennsylvania, where they would be able to avoid the public commotion in Palmyra over the plates. (Tiffany 1859, p. 170). Thus, in early October 1827, they moved to Harmony, with the glass box purportedly holding the plates hidden during the trip in a barrel of beans (Tiffany 1859, p. 170).

Translating the golden plates, and the Book of Mormon

In Harmony, Pennsylvania, Joseph and Emma stayed temporarily in the home of Emma's father Isaac Hale, while Hale set them up in a home on an adjoining 13-acre property a few hundred yards from the Susquehanna River. (Porter 1971, pp. 132–34). Skeptical that Smith had found golden plates, Hale asked to see them, but was only allowed to lift the glass box in which they were purportedly kept (Howe 1834, p. 264). Because Hale refused to allow the plates in his home if he could not see them, the glass box was hidden in the woods nearby, where the plates are said to have remained during much of the translation process that followed (id.; Jesee 1976, p. 3).

Beginning in December 1827, Smith began transcribing the characters he said were engraved on the plates, and dictating what he said was a translation of some of them (Roberts 1902, p. 19). While transcribing, he reportedly sat behind a curtain and looked at the plates through the Urim and Thummim, passing the written transcriptions to Emma, who was sitting on the other side of the curtain (Howe 1834, pp. 270–271). When Smith began to translate, however, rather than merely transcribe, he dictated the text to Emma or her brother Reuben, who wrote the words Smith said (Smith 1879). Smith also reportedly dispensed with using the curtain, and did not need to look at the plates. To translate, he reportedly "put the urim and thummim into his hat and Darkened his Eyes than [sic] he would take a sentance [sic] and it would apper [sic] in Brite [sic] Roman Letters. Then he would tell the writer and he would write it." (Jessee 1976, p. 4).

Martin Harris came to assist with the translation in February 1828 (Roberts 1902, p. 19). Around this time, Smith reportedly confided to Emma's uncle that he had doubts about whether or not he should translate the plates, because despite the commandment from God, "he was afraid of the people" (Howe 1834, 266). When Harris arrived, he reportedly had to convince Smith to continue translating, saying "I have not come down here for nothing, and we will go on with it" (Booth 1831). Smith then sent Harris to two well-known scholars to see of they could translate or authenticate some of the transcribed characters (Jessee 1976, p. 3), but Harris was unable to get either of the scholars' help or backing (Howe 1834, pp. 270–272). After visiting his home in Palmyra, Harris then returned to Harmony in the middle of April 1828 and began acting as Smith's scribe while Smith dictated what he later would call the Book of Lehi (Smith 1830, p. 1). Harris reported that for at least part of Smith's early translation, he used his seer stone to translate, rather than the Urim and Thummim, because the stone was more convenient (Stevenson 1882, p. 86). Smith also at least sometimes made use of a curtain: Harris stated that one time during the translation, Smith raised a curtain between him and Harris, because "the presence of the Lord was so great", or dictated to Harris from upstairs or from a different room (Howe 1834, p. 14).

Smith loses 116 manuscript pages, and his gift to translate

Main article: 116 pages (Mormonism)

By the middle of June 1828, Smith had dictated about 116 manuscript pages of text (Roberts 1902, p. 20), beginning with a story about a man named Lehi in Jerusalem, and ending with a story about King Benjamin, one of his descendants, in the Americas (Smith et al. 1835, sec. 36, v. 41)). Harris, however, was having marital problems with his wife Lucy, who was upset about not being able to see the plates (Smith 1853, p. 116). Hoping to appease her, Martin Harris convinced a reluctant Smith to allow him to take the 116 manuscript pages with him on a visit to his home back in Palmyra (Smith 1853, p. 117). Because the manuscript was the only copy, however, Smith made Harris sign a written oath that he would show the pages only to five specified people in his family (Roberts 1902, p. 20; Smith 1853, pp. 117–118).

While Harris was returning to Palmyra, Emma gave birth to the young couple's first child (Smith 1853, p. 118), but the boy was deformed and stillborn (Howe 1834, p. 269), leaving Emma deathly ill for about two weeks (Smith 1853, p. 118). Not hearing word from Harris for three weeks, Smith traveled in July 1828 to Palmyra and learned that Harris had lost the manuscript pages, and had been avoiding him (Smith 1853, pp. 118–121). Despite his oath, Harris had been exhibiting the manuscript to numerous visitors, and somehow it had disappeared from the drawer where he kept it (Smith 1853, p. 122–123).

Smith was despondent over losing his child and the manuscript. He had had great hopes for his first-born child, reportedly expecting that the child would see the plates (Howe 1834, p. 264), and that he would assist in the translation (Howe 1834, p. 267). When he heard the manuscript was lost, he exclaimed, "Oh, my God!…All is lost! all is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned—it is I who tempted the wrath of God." (Smith 1853, p. 121). After returning to Harmony without Harris, Smith dictated to Emma his first written revelation, which rebuked him for losing the manuscript pages, but pinned most of the blame upon Harris (Phelps 1833, sec. 2:5). However, the revelation assured Smith that all was not lost, because if Smith repented of what he had done, God would "only cause thee to be afflicted for a season, and thou art still chosen, and wilt again be called to the work" (Phelps 1833, 2:7).

Translation resumes briefly, and Smith plans for a "marvelous work" to come forth

As part of the penalty for losing the manuscript, Smith claimed the angel took away the Urim and Thummim (Smith 1853, p. 125), returning it once again on September 22, 1828, the autumn equinox and the anniversary of the day he first received the plates (Smith 1853, p. 126). Smith claimed the angel also temporarily took back the plates during that time (Smith 1832, p. 5; Phelps 1833, 9:1, p. 22). Soon after Smith claimed these artifacts were restored (Roberts 1902, p. 23), Smith dictated another written revelation, explaining that whoever had stolen the 116 manuscript pages was planning to wait until Smith re-translated that section of the Golden Plates, and then alter it, to show Smith could not translate the same words twice (Phelps 1833, 9:2, p. 22). Therefore, according to the revelation, God's plan was for Smith to "go on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work as you [Smith] had begun" (Phelps 1833, 9:1, p. 22), and instead of going back and re-translating the original 116 manuscript pages, Smith was to substitute a translation from another set of plates, called the "plates of Nephi", which covered roughly the same material (Phelps 1833, 9:10–11, p. 25).

By February 1829, when Smith's parents visited Harmony, Smith had begun translating sporadically with Emma as scribe (Smith 1853, p. 126). During the visit, Smith dictated a revelation for his father, an optimistic description of the translated book as a "marvelous work…about to come forth among the children of men" (Phelps 1833, ch. III, p. 9).

According to Emma, Smith no longer used the Urim and Thummim in translation after the loss of the 116 manuscript pages; rather, he began using exclusively his dark seer stone (Bidamon 1876). He translated by sitting "with his face buried in his hat with the [seer] stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us" (Smith 1879). While looking at the stone, he "rest[ed] his elbows upon his knees" (Blair 1879), and drew the hat "closely around his face to exclude the light", so that the "spiritual light" would shine (Whitmer 1887, p. 12).

In March 1829, Martin Harris had returned to Harmony and wanted to see the plates. Smith reportedly told Harris that Smith "would go into the woods where the Book of Plates was, and that after he came back, Harris should follow his tracks in the snow, and find the Book, and examine it for himself"; after following these directions, however, Harris could not find the plates (Howe 1834, p. 264–265). The next day (Howe 1834, p. 265), Smith dictated a revelation (Phelps 1833, ch. IV, pp. 10–13), indicating that Harris could be one of three witnesses who had the privilege of seeing the plates, but only if he would "go out and bow down before me [God], and humble himself in mighty prayer and faith" (Phelps 1833, 4:4, 4:8, pp. 11–12). The revelation also told Smith to stop translating for a while (id 4:10, p. 13).

The arrival of Oliver Cowdery, and the beginning of steady translation

On April 7, 1829, Smith again began translating, this time with Oliver Cowdery as the scribe (Cowdery 1834, p. 14). Cowdery, a school teacher born in Vermont, had boarded with the Joseph Smith, Sr. family, and had traveled to Harmony when he heard that Smith was translating an ancient document, and he wanted to help (Smith 1853, pp. 128–29). A revelation by Smith promptly confirmed that Cowdery had a "gift", that that he would himself translate hidden ancient records, (Phelps 1833, 5:5, p. 15), and that Cowdery had "another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod…of nature,…and therefore whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, that you shall know" (Phelps 1833 7:3, p. 19).

Apparently, Cowdery attempted to translate some characters that were copied by Smith from the plates, through the same process Smith used. Oliver was successful at first, but then found the process difficult and gave up. He requested that Smith inquire of God as to why he could not have this ability, and was told by revelation that to translate he would have needed to continue to pray throughout the process, which he failed to do, affecting his abilities:

It is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you.

It is uncertain which part of Cowdery's translation attempt, if any survives in the Book of Mormon today.

Smith translated the remainder of the Book of Mormon and Cowdery acted as the scribe for the remainder of the translation which commenced midway through the plates at Mosiah and went through Moroni, then the "small plates of Nephi" and then the title page. Smith said that he was commanded by God not to re-translate the lost 116 pages.

Publication of the Book of Mormon

When translation was complete, Smith said he returned the plates to Moroni. Cowdery and Smith transcribed the entire manuscript to ensure they had two copies, one to retain and a second to be used as a printer's copy. The book was typeset, set and printed at the E.B. Grandin Printing Shop in Palmyra. Because of general interest, Anti-Mormon threats, and other anticipation of the forthcoming book, Smith required that Cowdery and either his brother Hyrum or himself be present at all typesettings.

After the translation was complete and prior to publication, three men and then eight others were allowed to view the plates. The eight witnesses were shown the plates by Joseph Smith. Mary Whitmer, with whom Joseph and Emma boarded during the translation's final phase, said Moroni appeared to her and showed her the plates behind her home.

In addition to seeing the plates, others reported touching or moving them. Emma and described how she "felt of the plates" in the process of cleaning as they lay on her table "wrapped in a small linen tablecloth." She described how she traced "their outline and shape" with her hands: "They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book." Others, including Joseph Smith's Mother and Brother William reported touching and moving the plates as they lay under a heavy cloth or in a bag. (Smith 1879)

The Book of Mormon was first published on March 26, 1830.

Church founded

According to Cowdery and Smith, on May 15, 1829, John the Baptist appeared and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood. They baptized each other immediately thereafter, exercising their new authority. Peter, James, and John also came to them during either May or June 1829 and ordained them to the Melchizedek Priesthood. Latter Day Saints believe that the authority found in these priesthoods was necessary for a complete restoration of Jesus Christ's Ancient Church.

On April 6, 1830, Smith and five others formally established "The Church of Christ". (The church was later called "Church of Latter Day Saints" (1834), "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" (1838) then "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".) Smith and others quickly began proselytizing and baptizing new members.

Smith asserted that he received many revelations throughout this period. These were compiled as The Book of Commandments at that time and were organized into the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835.

Kirtland, Ohio

Illustration of a mob tarring and feathering Joseph Smith.
Illustration of a mob tarring and feathering Joseph Smith.

To avoid conflict and persecution encountered in New York and Pennsylvania, Smith and Emma eventually moved to Kirtland, Ohio early in 1831. They lived with Isaac Morley's family while a house was built for them on the Morley farm. Many of Smith's followers and associates settled in Kirtland, Ohio, and also in Jackson County, Missouri, where Smith said he was instructed by revelation to build Zion.

In Kirtland, the church's first temple was built, and many extraordinary events were reported: appearances by Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Elias, and numerous angels; speaking and singing in tongues, often with translations; prophesying; and other spiritual experiences. Some Mormons believed that Jesus' Millennial reign had come. Even those of other faiths reported a heavenly light "resting" upon the temple.

The early Church grew rapidly, but there were often conflict between Saints and their neighbors. These conflicts were sometimes violent: On the evening of March 24, 1832 in Hiram, Ohio, a group of men beat and tarred and feathered Smith and his counselor Sidney Rigdon. They threatened Smith with castration and with death, and one of his teeth was chipped when they attempted to force him to drink poison. The mob action led to the exposure and eventual death of Smith's adopted newborn twins. Sidney Rigdon suffered a severe concussion after being dragged on the ground. According to some accounts, Rigdon was delirious for several days. The reasons for this attack are uncertain, but likely were tied to a sermon given by Rigdon.

After tending to his wounds all night and into the early morning, Smith preached a sermon on forgiveness the following day. Though some reports state that members of the mob that had attacked him were present at this sermon, Smith did not mention the attack directly.

On January 12, 1838 Smith and Rigdon left Kirtland for Far West in Caldwell County, Missouri, in Smith's words, "to escape mob violence, which was about to burst upon us under the color of legal process to cover the hellish designs of our enemies." Just prior to their departure, many Saints, (including prominent leaders), became disaffected in the wake of the Kirtland Safety Society debacle, in which Smith and several associates were accused of various illegal or unethical banking actions.

Most remaining church members left Kirtland for Missouri.

Plural marriage

Most believe that Smith began practicing a form of polygyny called celestial marriage (later called plural marriage) perhaps as early as 1833. Polygamy (marriage to multiple partners) was illegal in many U.S. States, including Illinois, and was felt by some to be an immoral or misguided practice.

Although Smith publicly denied plural marriage during the early days of the church, he practiced it secretly, and introduced a small number of followers into the practice. By most accounts, Emma Smith was at times supportive, but often troubled by plural marriage; nevertheless, she eventually accepted the doctrine along with the others Joseph had revealed.

There is disagreement as to the precise number of wives Smith may have had: one historian, Todd M. Compton, who contends that polygamy was a mistake for the Church, tried to document, using Utah LDS sources, at least thirty-three plural marriages or sealings during Smith's lifetime. It is without question that Joseph had multiple wives (as marriage certificates are available for some); but, as Compton states multiple times in his work "[a]bsolutely nothing is known of this marriage after the ceremony"; that is, it is unclear how many (if any) of these marriages Smith consummated. Information on the intention of some of the sealings is similarly ambiguous; Smith has been sealed to many people as a father or a brother as well as those instances of being a husband.

If these marriage sealings were indeed sexual unions, it would be reasonable to expect some children from them as there were from Smith's first marriage. One of the plural wives made an allegation that Smith had fathered one of her children, but this is disputed, as is the theory that Smith fathered children with some of his plural wives that were raised as though they were the children of their other husbands. Dr. Scott Woodward and others are conducting DNA evidence of possible descendants of Joseph Smith. To date, none of these plural marriages has been shown to have produced genetic offspring of Joseph Smith [3].

The LDS Church believes that polygamy was instituted according to revelation from God to Joseph Smith, claiming parity with the practices of Old Testament figures (e.g. Jacob, David, and Solomon). The LDS Church publicly announced the practice in Utah in 1852, after which the doctrine was generally accepted, but not widely practiced. Plural marriage was later formally discontinued by the LDS Church (new plural marriages were banned by the Church following a revelation to President Wilford Woodruff in 1890), and the Church currently excommunicates members who practice it. The Community of Christ (formerly Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) denied for many years that Smith ever taught or practiced polygamy. More recently, Community of Christ historians have publicly supported the view that Smith taught the doctrine. [4] Many splinter groups of the Latter Day Saint Movement descended from the LDS Church continue to practice plural marriage.

See also: Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Jr. for a list of Smith's plural wives.


Smith's early revelations identified western Missouri as Zion, the place for Mormons to gather in preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Independence, Missouri, was identified as "the center place" (D&C 57:3) and the spot for building a temple. Smith first visited Independence in the summer of 1831, and a site was dedicated for the construction of the temple. Soon afterward, Mormon converts—most of them from the New England area—began immigrating in large numbers to Independence and the surrounding area.

The Missouri period was marked by many violent conflicts and legal difficulties for Smith and his followers. Many people saw their new LDS neighbors as a religious and political threat. Mormons also tended to vote in blocks, giving them a degree of political influence wherever they settled. Additionally, Mormons purchased vast amounts of land in which to establish settlements. The majority of Saints were northerners and held abolitionist viewpoints, including Smith himself, clashing with the pro-slavery persuasions of the Missourians. The tension was fueled by the belief that Jackson County, Missouri, and the surrounding lands were promised to the Church by God and the Saints would soon dominate it. All of these factors contributed to aggressive mob violence and other harassments.

In response to the consistent persecution, a small group of Latter Day Saints organized themselves into a vigilante group called the Danites, led by Dr. Sampson Avard. Smith's exact role in the Danite society is unclear; some suggest that he held a leading or even founding position, while others believe he had no knowledge of the Danites before their existence was publicly recognized. Later, Smith stated that he disapproved of the group and Avard was excommunicated for his activities. [6]

Soon the "old Missourians" and the LDS settlers were engaged in a conflict sometimes referred to as the 1838 Mormon War. One key skirmish was the Battle of Crooked River, which involved Missouri state troops and a group of Saints. There is some debate as to whether the Mormons knew their opponents were government officials, but the battle's aftermath was pivotal in Church history.

This battle led to reports of a "Mormon insurrection" and the death of apostle David W. Patten. In consequence of these reports and the political influence of pro-slavery politicians, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs issued an executive order known as the "Extermination Order" on 27 October 1838. The order stated that the Mormon community was in "open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State ... the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description." [7][8] The Extermination Order wasn't officially rescinded until 1976 by Governor Christopher S. Bond.

Liberty Jail
Liberty Jail

Soon after the "Extermination Order" was issued, vigilantes attacked an outlying Mormon settlement and killed 17. This event is identified as the Haun's Mill Massacre. Soon afterward, the 2,500 troops from the state militia converged on the Mormon headquarters at Far West. Smith and several other Church leaders surrendered to state authorities on treason charges. Although they were civilians, the militia leader threatened to try Smith and others in a military tribunal and have them immediately executed. Were it not for the actions of General Alexander William Doniphan in defense of due process, the plans of the militia leaders likely would have been carried out.

The legality of Boggs' "Extermination Order" was debated in the legislature, but its objectives were achieved. Most of the Mormon community in Missouri either left or were forced out by the spring of 1839.

Instead of execution, Smith and others spent several months in Liberty Jail awaiting a trial that never came. With shaky legal grounds for imprisonment, authorities eventually allowed their escape. They joined the rest of the Church in Illinois.

Nauvoo, Illinois

After leaving Missouri in 1839, Smith and his followers made headquarters in a town called Commerce, Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi River, which they renamed Nauvoo (meaning "to be beautiful"; - the word is found in the Hebrew of Isaiah 52:7 - Latter Day Saints often referred to Nauvoo as "the city beautiful", or "the city of Joseph"—which was actually the name of the city for a short time after the city charter was revoked—or other similar nicknames) after being granted a charter by the state of Illinois. Nauvoo was quickly built up by the faithful, including many new arrivals.

In October 1839, Smith and others left for Washington, D.C. to meet with Martin Van Buren, then the President of the United States. Smith and his delegation sought redress for the persecution and loss of property suffered by the Saints in Missouri. Van Buren told Smith, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you."

Work on a temple in Nauvoo began in the autumn of 1840. The cornerstones were laid during a conference on April 6, 1841. Construction took five years and it was dedicated on May 1, 1846; about four months after Nauvoo was abandoned by the majority of the citizens.

In March 1842, Smith was initiated as a Freemason (as an Entered Apprentice Mason on March 15, and Master Mason the next day—the usual month wait between degrees was waived by the Illinois Lodge Grandmaster, Abraham Jonas) at the Nauvoo Lodge, one of less than a half-dozen Masonic meetings he attended. He was introduced by John C. Bennett, a Mason from the northeast.

Nauvoo's population peaked in 1845 when it may have had as many as 12,000 inhabitants (and several nearly-as-large suburbs) — rivaling Chicago, Illinois, whose 1845 population was about 15,000, and its suburbs.

Controversy in the City Beautiful

Profile of Joseph Smith, Jr. (circa 1843) by Bathsheba W. Smith, first wife of Apostle George A. Smith
Profile of Joseph Smith, Jr. (circa 1843) by Bathsheba W. Smith, first wife of Apostle George A. Smith

On the evening of May 6, 1842, a gunman shot through a window in Governor Boggs' home, hitting him four times. Sheriff J.H. Reynolds discovered a revolver at the scene, still loaded with buckshot and surmised that the suspect lost his firearm in the dark rainy night.

Some Saints saw the assassination attempt positively given Boggs' history of acting against the Church: An anonymous contributor to The Wasp, a Mormon newspaper in Nauvoo, wrote on May 28 that, "Boggs is undoubtedly killed according to report; but who did the noble deed remains to be found out."

Several doctors—including Boggs' brother—pronounced Boggs all but dead; at least one newspaper ran an obituary. To everyone's great surprise, Boggs not only survived, but gradually improved. The popular press—and popular rumor—was quick to blame Smith's friend and sometime bodyguard Porter Rockwell for the assassination attempt. By some reports, Smith had prophesied that Boggs would die violently, leading to speculation that Smith was involved. Rockwell denied involvement, stating that he would not have left the governor alive if he had indeed tried to kill him.

Also at about this time, Bennett had become disaffected from Smith and began publicizing what he said was Smith's practice of "Spiritual Wifery". (Bennett, earlier a pro-polygamy activist, knew of Smith's revelation on plural marriage and encouraged Smith to advocate the practice publicly. When this was rejected by Smith, Bennett began seducing women on his own and was subsequently excommunicated for practicing "Spiritual Wifery"[9].) He stepped down as Nauvoo mayor—ostensibly in protest of Smith's actions—and also reported that Smith had offered a cash reward to anyone who would assassinate Boggs. He also reported that Smith had admitted to him that Rockwell had done the deed and that Rockwell had made a veiled threat on Bennett's life if he publicized the story. Smith vehemently denied Bennett's account, speculating that Boggs—no longer governor, but campaigning for state senate—was attacked by an election opponent. Bennett has been identified as "untruthful" by many historians and is seldom used as a reputable source.

Critics suggested that Nauvoo's charter should be revoked, and the Illinois legislature considered the notion. In response, Smith petitioned the U.S. Congress to make Nauvoo a territory. His petition was declined.

In February, 1844, Smith announced his candidacy for President of the United States, with Sidney Rigdon as his vice-presidential running mate.

King Follett Discourse

Two months before his death, Smith delivered a discourse on the nature of God at the funeral of a church member named King Follett. Although the address was not properly recorded or approved by Smith as official doctrine, it remains one of his most famous speeches. See King Follett Discourse.

Smith's death

Main article: Death of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Dissenter William Law started a controversial newspaper called The Nauvoo Expositor containing inflammatory and anti-Mormon rhetoric. One issue was published. As mayor of Nauvoo, Smith ordered the destruction of the press. The legality of this action was challenged and charges were brought against Smith. He submitted to incarceration in Carthage, the county seat.

Before a trial could be held, a mob of about 200 armed men stormed Carthage Jail in the late afternoon of June 27, 1844. The mob shot and killed Smith and his brother Hyrum, and wounded John Taylor.

After Smith's death

Joseph Smith painting owned by the Joseph Smith family.  Joseph Smith III, eleven years old at his father's death, said this was the best likeness of his father.
Joseph Smith painting owned by the Joseph Smith family. Joseph Smith III, eleven years old at his father's death, said this was the best likeness of his father.

Smith's death created a crisis for the church. Their charismatic founder was dead and their hierarchy was scattered on missionary efforts and in support of Smith's presidential campaign. Historian D. Michael Quinn quotes Brigham Young's initial concern after Smith's murder: "The first thing which I thought of was, whether Joseph had taken the keys of the kingdom with him from the earth." Without "the keys of the kingdom", that is, the appropriate Priesthood authority, Young recognized the possibility that the church lacked a divinely-sanctioned leader.

Because of ongoing tensions, the state legislature revoked Nauvoo's city charter and it was disincorporated. All protection, public services, self-government and other public benefits were revoked. Those who lived in the former City of Nauvoo referred to it as the City of Joseph after this time, until the city was again granted a charter. Without official defenses, city residents continued to be persecuted by opponents, leading Young to consider other areas for settlement, including Texas, California, Iowa and the Intermountain West.


Main article: Succession crisis (Mormonism)

Smith left ambiguous or contradictory succession instructions that led to arguments and disagreements among the church's members and leadership, several of whom claimed rights to leadership.

An 8 August 1844 conference which established Young's leadership is the source of an oft-repeated legend. Multiple journal and eyewitness accounts from those who followed Young state that when Young spoke regarding the claims of succession by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he appeared to look or sound like the late Smith. Although many of these accounts were written years after the event, there were contemporary records. D. Michael Quinn wrote:

There were contemporary references to Young's "transfiguration." The Times and Seasons reported that just before the sustaining vote at the afternoon session of the August meeting, "every Saint could see that Elijah's mantle had truly falled upon the 'Twelve.'" Although the church newspaper did not refer to Young specifically for the "mantle" experience, on 15 November 1844 Henry and Catharine Brooke wrote from Nauvoo that Young "favours Br Joseph, both in person, manner of speaking more than any person ever you saw, looks like another." Five days later Arza Hinckley referred to "Brigham Young on [w]hom the mantle of the prophet Joseph has fallen."[10]

Most saints followed Young, but some aligned with other various people claiming to be Smith's successor. Many of these smaller groups were spread out throughout the midwestern United States, especially in Independence, Missouri. Reverberations of the succession crisis continue to the present day.

Mob violence and conflict continued to grow and threaten the Mormon establishment at Nauvoo. By 1847, the city was deemed unsafe and Brigham Young led many Latter Day Saints out of the United States and into Utah, which was then Mexican territory.

Smith as a Prophet

Smith's claim to be a prophet of God has led to much controversy. Some of his prophecies are listed in Prophecies of Joseph Smith. Smith was a polarizing figure in his time, and he continues to be a focus of controversy between his millions of followers, most of whom revere him as a prophet with the same authority as prophets in the standard Christian cannon, and opponents of Mormonism, who believe he was either delusional or fraudulent. Nevertheless, most observers agree that Joseph Smith's charisma and ability to instill fierce loyalty among his followers has rarely been matched in American history.

Newsweek cover story

Joseph Smith Jr. is the subject of the cover of Newsweek Magazine, dated October 17, 2005 (but actually appearing one week earlier). The cover is a reproduction of a stained-glass window portraying the First Vision. Many opinions on Joseph Smith are quoted, ranging from the glowing tribute by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley to very negative remarks by Mark Scherer, official historian of the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which was led more than a century by direct descendants of Joseph Smith Jr.)


  1. ^ Joseph Smith, Jr. dated the vision to when he was "a little over fourteen years of age" (Roberts 1902, vol. 1, ch. 1, p. 7), which would have been 1820. However, Smith's brother William claimed it happened when Joseph was 18 years old, when William himself would have been 12 (Smith 1883, p. 6). For a discussion of these dating issues, see First Vision.
  2. ^  Lucy Mack Smith later used the word key to refer to the Urim and Thummim (Smith 1853, p. 101).
  3. ^  The date of Moroni's first visits is generally taken as 1823. However, Smith's 1832 history (his first written account) dates the visit of Moroni to September 22, 1822, a year earlier, although he also states he was 17 years old (Smith 1832, p. 3), and his 17th birthday would not have been until December 23, 1822. Further possible ambiguity arises because in an 1830 interview, Joseph Smith, Sr. reportedly claimed that he was not told about Moroni's visit until a year after the fact, during which Smith, Jr. had been collecting items in preparation for receiving the plates (Lapham 1870, p. 305). Lucy Mack Smith asserts that Smith, Sr. was told about Moroni's visit in 1823, the day after Moroni's first visit (Smith 1838, p. 7; Smith 1853, p. 82); however, Lucy's history also indicates that after the appearance of the angel, Joseph had made two annual visits to the hill Cumorah before the 1823 death of her son Alvin (Smith 1853, p. 85), which Lucy incorrectly dated to 1824 (id. p. 87).
  4. ^  As originally taken down in dictation and published, the story stated that the angel was Nephi (Smith 1832, p. 4). Long after Smith's death, however, this reference to Nephi in the official history was changed to Moroni (see Roberts 1902) to conform to Smith's other statements from as early as 1835 that refer to the latter (see Smith 1835, p. 180 [1835 D&C 50:2]). Generally, modern historians refer to this angel as Moroni.
  5. ^  Punctuation has been modernized.
  6. ^  see Lindsay, Jeff. Quick Answer: Who Were the Danites?. LDS FAQ. Accessed on August 22, 2005.
  7. ^  "Extermination Order". LDS FAQ. URL accessed on August 22, 2005.
  8. ^  Boggs, Extermination Order
  9. ^  "Church History Volume 2, Chapter 26". History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. URL accessed on August 22, 2005.
  10. ^  Quinn, D. Michael Quinn (1994) The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, p. 166, Salt Lake City: Signature Books. ISBN 1560850566


  1. Anderson, Richard Lloyd 1969, "Circumstantial Confirmation Of the First Vision Through Reminiscences", BYU Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 373–404.
  2. Berge, Dale L. 1985, "Archaeological Work at the Smith Log House", Ensign, vol. 15, no. 8, pp. 24.
  3. Bidamon, Emma Smith (March 27, 1876), letter to Emma S. Pilgrim, published in Vogel, Dan, ed. 1996, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, Signature Books, ISBN 1-56085-072-8.
  4. Booth, Ezra 1831, "Mormonism—No. II (Letter to the Editor)", The Ohio Star, vol. 2, no. 42, pp. 1.
  5. Cobb, James T. 1881, "The Hill Cumorah, And The Book Of Mormon. The Smith Family, Cowdery, Harris, and Other Old Neighbors—What They Know", The Saints' Herald, vol. 28, no. 11, pp. 167.
  6. Cowdery, Oliver 1834, "Letter [I]", Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 13–16.
  7. Cowdery, Oliver 1835, "Letter VIII", Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 195–202.
  8. Hill, Donna 1999, Joseph Smith: The First Mormon, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, ISBN 156085118X.
  9. Hill, Marvin S. 1976, "Joseph Smith and the 1826 Trial: New Evidence and New Difficulties", BYU Studies, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 1–8.
  10. Howe, Eber Dudley 1834, Mormonism Unvailed, Painesville, Ohio: Telegraph Press.
  11. Jessee, Dean 1976, "Joseph Knight's Recollection of Early Mormon History", BYU Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 35.
  12. Lapham, [La]Fayette 1870, "Interview with the Father of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, Forty Years Ago. His Account of the Finding of the Sacred Plates", Historical Magazine [second series], vol. 7, pp. 305-309, republished in Vogel, Dan, ed. 1996, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, Signature Books, ISBN 1-56085-072-8.
  13. Mack, Solomon 1811, A Narraitve [sic] of the Life of Solomon Mack, Windsor: Solomon Mack, (No ISBN assigned).
  14. Norwich, Vermont (March 15, 1816), A Record of Strangers Who are Warned Out of Town, 1813–1818 (Norwich Clerk's Office), p. 53, published in Vogel, Dan, ed. 1996, Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, Signature Books, ISBN 1-56085-072-8, page 666.
  15. Phelps, W. W., ed. 1833, A Book of Commandments, for the Government of the Church of Christ, Zion: W. W. Phelps & Co..
  16. Porter, Larry C. 1969, "Reverend George Lane—Good "Gifts," Much "Grace," and Marked "Usefulness"", BYU Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 321–340.
  17. Porter, Larry C. 1971, A Study of the Origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania, 1816–1831, Ph.D dissertation, BYU.
  18. Quinn, D. Michael 1998, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Signature Books, 2d ed., ISBN 1-56085-089-2.
  19. Roberts, B. H., ed. 1902, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  20. Smith, Joseph III 1879, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma", The Saints' Herald, vol. 26, no. 19, pp. 289.
  21. Smith, Joseph, Jr., translator 1830, The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon, Upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi, Palmyra, New York: E. B. Grandin.
  22. Smith, Joseph, Jr. (1832) History of the Life of Joseph Smith, in Joseph Smith Letterbook 1, pp. 1–6, Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, published in Jessee, Dean C. (ed.) 2002, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, ISBN 1573457876.
  23. Smith, Joseph, Jr. et al., eds. 1835, Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Kirtland, Ohio: F. G. Williams & Co.
  24. Smith, Joseph, Jr. et al. (1838–1842) History of the Church Ms., vol. A–1, pp. 1–10, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, published in Jessee, Dean C. (ed.) 2002, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, ISBN 1573457876.
  25. Smith, Lucy Mack 1853, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations, Liverpool: S.W. Richards.
  26. Smith, William 1883, William Smith on Mormonism: A True Account of the Origin of the Book of Mormon, Lamoni, Iowa: RLDS Church, (ISBN not assigned).
  27. Stevenson, Edward 1882, "One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris", The Latter Day Saints' Millenial Star, vol. 44, pp. 78–79, 86–87.
  28. Tiffany, Joel 1859, "Mormonism, No. II", Tiffany's Monthly, vol. 5, pp. 163-170.
  29. Tucker, Pomeroy 1867, Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism, New York: D. Appleton.
  30. Turner, Orasmus 1851, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, and Morris' Reserve, Rochester, New York: William Alling.
  31. Vogel, Dan 1994, "The Locations of Joseph Smith's Early Treasure Quests", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 197-231.
  32. Whitmer, David 1887, An Address to All Believers in Christ By A Witness to the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, David Whitmer, Richmond, Missouri.


Works accepted by Latter-day Saints as Scripture

Teachings and writings


Other historical works

Other references


  • Gerald N. Lund, The Work and the Glory, Vols. 1-6. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990-1995).
  • The Work and the Glory: American Zion, film directed by Sterling VanWagenen, released October 21, 2005

See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Joseph Smith, Jr.
Founding president of
the Church of Christ (18301838)
later called
the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (18381844)
Successor (as claimed by several Latter Day Saint movement churches):
President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Brigham Young
President of the Community of Christ (née "RLDS Church")
Joseph Smith III
President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite)
James Strang
President of the Church of Jesus Christ (Monongahela)
William Bickerton (follower of Sidney Rigdon)
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