Hey guys! So you may be familiar with Joseph Smith the Prophet, but you may not be as familiar with Joseph Smith the Presidential Candidate. So that’s what we’re going to talk about in this episode. Let’s rock and roll.
By 1844, Latter-day Saints had endured relentless persecution, and the government really wasn’t doing much to stop it. Now, 1844 was an election year. So Joseph wanted to know if there were any candidates out there who would be sympathetic towards the Saints’ plight. He wrote to 5 candidates, only 3 replied. And, unfortunately, none of the responses gave the Saints much comfort. So, in a meeting in Mayor Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo office,
“It was therefore moved by Willard Richards, and voted unanimously—That we will have an independent electoral ticket, and that Joseph Smith be a candidate for the next Presidency…”
Now, did Joseph actually think he could win? Well, there’s some debate on that. To me, the evidence indicates that Joseph knew winning was unlikely, but he was certainly gunna shoot his shot. But really, it was a win/win situation for Joseph, because if he won the election, great! If he lost, putting himself forward as a candidate was still beneficial for many reasons.
It allowed the Saints to vote for someone they actually liked and whose views they supported. In February 1844 the Times and Seasons published, “…if we have to throw away our votes, we had better do so upon a worthy rather than upon an unworthy individual, who might make use of the weapon we put in his hand to destroy us with.”
Joseph’s candidacy also probably helped avoid further persecution in Illinois becaaaause if the massive body of Saints voted for the Democratic candidate, the Whigs would have been mad. If they voted for the Whig candidate, the Democrats would have been mad. Voting for Joseph virtually removed the Saints from the crossfire.
Running for president was also a way for the Saints to spread the gospel and also to gain sympathy from the public in hopes of obtaining some kind of justice for the wrongs committed against them in the past. Like, ya know, that whole Mormon Extermination Order thing. Thanks for that, Governor Boggs.
After Joseph’s nomination, he sent out hundreds of missionaries “to preach the Gospel and Electioneer,” and if you read their journals, there really was a lot of preaching going on. They were able to dispel rumors about the Church and strengthen distant branches of Saints. Even after Joseph was killed just a few months after announcing his candidacy, those missionaries didn’t all just return home. They stopped electioneering but continued to preach. And there’s a link to some great research in the description if you want to learn more about what electioneering for Joseph looked like.
Joseph’s political views were summarized in a pamphlet called, “General Smith’s Views of the Power and Policy of the Government of the United States,” which there’s also a link to in the description. But Joseph didn’t side with any single political party.
In fact, in that pamphlet he wrote, “We have had democratic presidents; whig presidents; a pseudo-democratic whig president; and now it is time to have a president of the United States.”
Joseph organized a special group composed mostly (but not entirely) of Latter-day Saints called the Council of 50 largely to manage his campaign. This group was separate from but parallel to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Now, Latter-day Saints believe that when Christ comes again (the Second Coming), He will rule on earth for a thousand years as both a religious and political leader. We believe Christ will be our Prophet, Priest, and King. One of the purposes of the Council of 50 was to lay the foundation for that future Kingdom of God. And until the time should come that Christ would take the reins, the Council anointed Joseph to be their prophet, priest, and king.
According to Church Historian Matthew Grow, “Council participants understood that this action would have no immediate political consequences, but it symbolized their desire to prepare for the millennial kingdom of God.” And the idea of becoming kings and priests in the Kingdom of God is closely related to our temple ordinances, and reflects Revelation 5:10, “[Thou] hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
There was no coronation ceremony—no crown—but Joseph did support this idea of a “theodemocracy,” which combined democratic principles and protection of freedoms with a divinely guided ruler, which is how Joseph believed Christ would rule in the Millennium.
And members of the Council of 50 were sent out to territories outside the United States (like Oregon and California) to look for a place where the Saints could gather and establish their own government (should Joseph lose the election). Which is totally understandable, considering how drastically the U.S. government had failed to protect the Saints by that time.
But as you know, Joseph’s life and campaign were cut short by an angry mob on June 27, 1844. A guy named James Polk ended up winning the election at the end of the year. The Saints did move West, settling in the Salt Lake Valley, where some of these theodemocratic principles were put into practice. If you want to know more about Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign, check out the links and notes in the description and have a great day.
- The Church’s gospel topics essay on this topic: https://bit.ly/2QmPCn9
- What was it like to be an electioneer for Joseph Smith? (BYU): https://bit.ly/33u9eLd
- Views of the Power and Policy of the Government of the United States: https://bit.ly/38WEFPq
- The Council of Fifty and Joseph Smith’s Presidential Ambitions (BYU): https://bit.ly/33uHWEK
- Did Joseph Smith run for president because he was power-hungry?: https://bit.ly/2TWjbOo
- More on the Council of Fifty: https://bit.ly/2ISZXTz
- Insights Into the Minutes of the Council of Fifty (Matt Grow): https://bit.ly/3b1uM4s
- Video of Susan Easton Black speaking on Joseph’s campaign: https://bit.ly/2wiMiCq