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Joseph Smith for President: The Prophet, the Assassin, and the Fight for American Religious Freedom
September 9, 2021 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
A Preview Interview with Dr. Spencer McBride
The story of Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign and how his calls for religious freedom through constitutional reform are essential to understanding how the American political system evolved to what we know today.
Join us as author and historian Spencer McBride discusses one of the most important elections in American history and the focus of his latest book, Joseph Smith for President: The Prophet, the Assassin, and the Fight for American Religious Freedom.
By the election year of 1844, Joseph Smith, the controversial founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had amassed a national following of some 25,000 believers. Nearly half of that population lived in the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, where Smith was the mayor and the commander-in-chief of a militia of some 2,500 men. In less than twenty years, Joseph Smith had transformed the American religious landscape and grown his own political power substantially. Still, the political standing of the Mormon people remained unstable. Unable to garner federal protection or the support of President Martin Van Buren or any of the major presidential candidates, Smith took the bold step of launching his own presidential campaign. While many scoffed at the notion that Smith could come anywhere close to the White House, others regarded his run as a threat to the stability of the young nation. Hounded by mobs throughout the campaign, Smith was ultimately killed, becoming the first presidential candidate to be assassinated.
Though Joseph Smith’s run for president is now best remembered for its gruesome end, the renegade campaign was historic in the proposals it put forward. He called for a total abolition of slavery, the closure of the country’s penitentiaries, and the reestablishment of a national bank to stabilize the economy. But most important was Smith’s call for an expansion of protections for religious minorities. In a time when the Bill of Rights did not apply to individual states, Smith called for the federal government to be empowered to protect minorities when states failed to do so. In this book, Spencer McBride tells the story of Smith’s campaign and how his calls for religious freedom through constitutional reform are essential to understanding how the American political system evolved to what we know today.
Spencer W. McBride is an associate managing historian of the Joseph Smith Papers Project and the author of Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America. He has written about the evolving role of religion in American politics for the Washington Post and the Deseret News. He is also the creator and host of The First Vision: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast.
This event is currently intended to be held in-person at McCord Auditorium, Dallas Hall. However, this may be subject to change as the COVID-19 crisis continues. Any updates will be announced here and across CPH’s social media.
Here, you’ll find more resources to feed your interest in the topics covered at this event.
Cep, Casey. “How Joseph Smith and the Early Mormons Challenged American Democracy.” The New Yorker Magazine, 30 March 2020. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/03/30/how-joseph-smith-and-the-early-mormons-challenged-american-democracy
Coppins, McKay. “THE MOST AMERICAN RELIGION.” The Atlantic, February 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/01/the-most-american-religion/617263/
Davis, William. Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon. University of North Carolina Press, 8 April 2020.
Davis, Kenneth. “America’s True History of Religious Tolerance.” Smithsonian Magazine, October 2010. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/americas-true-history-of-religious-tolerance-61312684/
Jessee, Dean. “The Reliability of Joseph Smith’s History.” Journal of Mormon History 43(4), University of Illinois Press, October 2017, pp. 1-32.
Park, Benjamin. Kingdom of Nauvoo. Liveright Press, 25 February 2020.