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Mormons / Later Day Saints

Joseph Smith (1805-1844)With nearly six million members, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) is reported to be the fourth largest church in the United States, according to the National Council of Churches’ 2010 “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.”

Joseph Smith (1805-1844) was the first apostle of Mormonism. This religious body had its origin during the early part of the nineteenth century. Joseph Smith, the founder and first president of the sect, was the son of a Vermont farmer, and was born in Sharon township, Windsor County, in that state, on 23 December, 1805. In the spring of 1820, he became deeply concerned upon the subject of his salvation, a condition partly induced by a religious revival which proselytized a few of his relatives to the Presbyterian Faith. Beyond question his mind was strangely exercised by the popular religious movement that swept through the country at the time, and his naturally imaginative and superstitious nature was briefly impressed by the eloquence of the revivalists. He became familiar with scriptural expression, and followed the inclination of those about him to listen to any new-fangled doctrine.

Joseph himself was inclined toward Methodism: to satisfy his mind as to which one of the existing sects he should join, he sought Divine guidance, and claimed to have received in answer to prayer a visitation from two glorious beings, who told him not to connect himself with any of these Churches, but to bide the coming of the Church of Christ, which was about to be re-established. According to his own statement, there appeared to him on the night of 21 September 1823, a heavenly messenger, who gave his name as Moroni, and revealed the existence of an ancient record containing the fullness of the Gospel of Christ as taught by the Saviour after His Resurrection to the Nephitos, a branch of the House of Israel which inhabited the American continent ages prior to its discovery by Columbus. Moroni in mortal life had been a Nephite prophet, the son of another prophet named Mormon, who was the compiler of the record buried in a hill anciently called Cumorah, situated about two miles from the modern village of Manchester.

Joseph Smith stated that he received the record from the Angel Moroni in September 1827. It was, he alleges, engraved upon metallic plates having the appearance of gold and each a little thinner than ordinary tin, the whole forming a book about eight inches long, six inches wide, and six inches thick, bound together by rings. The characters engraved upon the plates were in a language styled the Reformed Egyptian, and with the book were interpreters — Urim and Thummim - by means of which these characters were to be translated into English, after which the "Book of Mormon" was taken back to heaven by an angel. Urim and Thummim mean "light" and "perfection," or the "shining and the perfect," according to an accepted Biblical lexicograph. The "Urim and Thummim" appears seven times in the Bible as a means of revelation entrusted to the high priest. No description of them is given, though the biblical usage is suggestive of dice. For Smith, they seemed to be as two transparent diamonds set in a " bow" like a pair of spectacles.

It cannot be doubted that this man, who professed to have visions, was a deliberate impostor of some sort. Some years earlier one Solomon Spaulding had written a manuscript called "The Manuscript Found" — that is, a written history of a lost people, found in an earth-mound. Spaulding conceived the idea that among the prehistoric mementoes discovered by his workmen some writing had been found, and that he merely translated the story of a people whose wanderings and sufferings had been thereon inscribed, and of which he had deciphered the interpretation. It purported to be an account of the peopling of America, though beyond this point considerable controvery attends the details. Some authors on Mormonism have said Smith stole the Spaulding manuscript; but in any event he had probably heard of it, and from his knowledge of it was afterward prepared to use what he knew of the matter. Smith's translation was printed as the "Book of Mormon", published at Palmyra, New York, in March 1830; and a flood of revelations was still vouchsafed to the seer. In the preface a number of witnesses, exclusive of Joseph Smith, the translator, claim to have seen the plates from which it was taken. By renouncing Mormonism subsequently, Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris — three principal witnesses listed in the first edition — implicitly declared this testimony false.

The "Book of Mormon" purports to be an abridged account of God's dealings with the two great races of prehistoric Americans — the Jaredites, who were led from the Tower of Babel at the time of the confusion of the tongues, and the Nephites who came from Jerusalem just prior to the Babylonian captivity (600 BC). According to this book, America is the "Land of Zion", where the New Jerusalem will be built by a gathering of scattered Israel before the second coming of the Messiah. The labors of such men as Columbus, the Pilgrim Fathers, and the patriots of the Revolution, are pointed out as preparatory to that consummation. The work of Joseph Smith is also prophetically indicated, he being represented as a lineal descendant of the Joseph of old, commissioned to begin the gathering of Israel foretold by Isaias (11:10-16) and other ancient prophets.

The publication of the book created an intense excitement in central and western New York. Certain questions of a religious nature were being agitated at the time, and the public mind was prepared for a new religious sensation. Followers, who adopted the name of "The Latter Day Saints", gathered round Smith. The sect had been organized by six men, and a year later it was said to number about two thousand souls. In Missouri it increased to twelve thousand. A brief season of peace was followed by a series of calamities, occasioned by religious and political differences. The trouble began in August, 1838, and during the strife considerable blood was shed and much property destroyed, the final act in the drama being the mid-winter expulsion of the entire Mormon community from the state.

After some rather brutal treatment in Missouri provoked by their polygamy and other doctrines, the sect finally settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. The Legislature of Illinois granted a liberal charter to Nauvoo, and, as a protection against mob violence and further drivings and spoliations, the Mormons were permitted to organize the "Nauvoo Legion", an all but independent military body, though part of the state militia, commanded by Joseph Smith as lieutenant-general. Similar causes to those which had resulted in the exodus of the Mormons from Missouri brought about their expulsion from Illinois, prior to which a tragic event robbed ihem of their prophet, Joseph Smith, and their patriarch, Hyrum Smith, who were killed by a mob in Carthage jail on 27 June, 1844, amid circumstances of great barbarity. A revulsion of feeling followed, and Brigham Young, Smith's successor, achieved a corresponding success when he transferred the head-quarters of the sect to Utah.

In the exodus that ensued, Brigham Young led the people westward. Passing over the frozen Mississippi (February, 1846), the main body made their way across the prairies of Iowa, reaching the Missouri River about the middle of June. A Mormon colony, sailing from New York, rounded Cape Horn, and landed at Yerba Buena (San Francisco) in July, 1846. Prior to that time only a few thousand Americans had settled on the Pacific Coast, mostly in Oregon, which was then claimed both by Great Britain and the United States. So far as known, no American had then made a permanent home in what was called "The Great Basin". The desert region, now known as Salt Lake Valley, was then a part of the Mexican province of California, but was uninhabited save by Indians and a few wandering trappers and hunters. The Mormon pioneers, marching from the Missouri River in April 1847, arrived in Salt Lake Valley on 24 July 1947. This company, numbering 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children, was led by Brigham Young. Most of the exiles from Nauvoo remained in temporary shelters on the frontier, where they entered into winter quarters in what is now Nebraska. Well armed and disciplined, they accomplished the journey of over a thousand miles to Salt Lake Valley without one fatality.

The death of Joseph Smith, in 1844, was followed by the development of several factions among the Latter Day Saints. According to many it was one of these factions and not the original body which, under the leadership of Brigham Young, settled in Salt Lake City. According to this view the original body was scattered throughout the Mississippi valley. Some of these scattered members and a few congregations that had preserved their identity effected a partial reorganization in Wisconsin in 1853, which was afterwards completed under the name "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." This organization claims to be the true and lawful continuation of and successor to the original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The chief point of doctrinal difference was the repudiation of the revelation of plural marriage. In 1860 they were joined by Joseph Smith, the son of the prophet. He was presiding officer until his death in 1914, when he was succeeded by his son. The headquarters of this church are now at Lamoni, Iowa, although the largest branch is at Independence, Mo.




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