SMITH, JOSEPH (1805–1844), the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as the Mormons. Joseph Smith, Jr. was perhaps the most original, most successful, and most controversial of several religious innovators—including Ellen Gould White (Seventh-day Adventists), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), and Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah's Witnesses)—who created important religious movements in nineteenth-century America.
Born in Sharon, Vermont, on December 23, 1805, Smith was the third of the nine children of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. He grew up in the unchurched and dissenting, but God-fearing, tradition of a New England Protestant biblical culture, which attracted many of those whose economic standing in established society had been eroded. In 1816, plagued by hard times and misfortune, the sturdy, self-reliant, and closely-knit Smith family left New England for western New York in search of economic betterment; they settled in the village of Palmyra, along the route of the Erie Canal.
During the 1820s, as the Smiths continued to struggle against economic reversals, the religiously inclined young man had a number of visions and revelations. These convinced him that he was to be the divinely appointed instrument for the restoration of the gospel, which in the opinion of many of his contemporaries had been corrupted. Under the guidance of an angel he unearthed a set of golden plates from a hill near his parents' farm. He translated these golden plates with divine aid and published the result in 1830 as the Book of Mormon. Smith claimed that this book, named after its ancient American author and compiler, was the sacred history of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of America, migrants from the Near East, some of whom were the ancestors of the American Indians. In 1829 divine messengers had conferred the priesthood—the authority to baptize and act in the name of God—on Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery. Shortly after the publication of the Book of Mormon, Smith and Cowdery officially organized the Church of Christ in Fayette, New York, on April 6, 1830. In 1838 the name was changed to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Prominent among those attracted to Smith's teachings was Sidney Rigdon, erstwhile associate of Alexander Campbell. Rigdon invited Smith and his New York followers to establish a Mormon settlement in Kirtland, Ohio. It was there that Smith greatly amplified and broadened his theological and organizational principles in a series of revelations (first published in 1833 as the Book of Commandments, and later enlarged into the current, canonical Doctrine and Covenants ). The Saints were enjoined to gather in communities as God's chosen people under an egalitarian economic system called the Law of Consecration and Stewardship. They were also directed to build a temple as the sacred center of the community. These revelations initiated a patriarchal order that harkened back to Old Testament traditions. Another ancient source was Smith's translation of some Egyptian papyri published as The Book of Abraham in 1842. This work became a source of some controversy when a modern translation published in 1968 suggested that these papyri were ordinary funerary documents—though the Church has continued to accept The Book of Abraham as canonical.
In the meantime, Smith also established settlements in Missouri, which he regarded as the center of a future Zion. In 1838 economic difficulties and internal dissension forced Smith to give up the Kirtland settlement. His intention of gathering all the Saints in Missouri, however, had to be deferred after the Mormons were ruthlessly driven from the state in 1839. It was in Nauvoo, a settlement founded in 1839 on the Mississippi River, that Smith further expanded his ambitious vision of a Mormon empire that was to be both spiritual and temporal. By 1844 Nauvoo had become the largest city in Illinois, with a population of about eleven thousand. This city was under the full religious, social, economic, and political control of the Mormon kingdom, with Joseph Smith as its charismatic leader.
Some historians suggest that he may have become touched by megalomania; he assumed leadership of the Mormon militia in the resplendent uniform of a lieutenant general and announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. Smith ostensibly made his gesture toward the presidency in order to avoid making a politically difficult choice between the two major parties, but he was also imbued with the millennial belief that if God wanted him to be president and establish Mormon dominion in the United States, no one could hinder him. Innovative ordinances, such as baptism for the dead, and especially plural marriage—with Smith and his closest associates secretly taking numerous wives—offended the religious sensibilities of some Mormons. Likewise, controversial doctrines such as pre-existence, metaphysical materialism, eternal progression, the plurality of gods, and the ability of humans to become divine through the principles of Mormonism, failed to gain universal acceptance among the Saints. A group of alarmed anti-Mormons effectively capitalized on internal dissent and were able to organize a mob that killed Smith and his brother Hyrum on June 27, 1844.
History has shown the killers of the Mormon prophet wrong in thinking that they had delivered a mortal blow to Mormonism, although their crime was an implicit recognition of Smith's crucial role in creating and sustaining the new religion. It was his spirituality, imagination, ego, drive, and charisma that not only started Mormonism but kept it going in the face of nearly insurmountable internal and external opposition. At the same time, these were the very characteristics that had generated much of that opposition. Smith's was a multifaceted and contradictory personality. Reports of encounters with him by both non-Mormons and believers give the impression of a tall, well-built, handsome man whose visionary side was tempered by Yankee practicality, geniality, and a sense of humor that engendered loyalty in willing followers. Though after his death his followers could not all agree on precisely what he had taught and split into several factions, they all accepted Smith's central messages of the restoration of the gospel and the divine status of the Book of Mormon, continuing revelation by prophets, and the establishment of the kingdom of God with Christ as its head.
The literature on Joseph Smith is as controversial as his life. Most of the anti-Smith polemics are based on affidavits collected by Mormon apostate Philastus Hurlbut and published by Eber D. Howe as Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio, 1834). Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, presented the other side in Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet (1853; reprint, New York, 1969). History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by Joseph Smith, Jr., 2d rev. ed., 6 vols., edited by B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City, 1950) is an indispensable source collection. The most authoritative account of Smith's family background and early career is Richard L. Bushman's Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana, Ill., 1984).
The nineteenth-century theory that the Book of Mormon was Sidney Rigdon's plagiarized version of a novel by Solomon Spaulding was first demolished by I. Woodbridge Riley in The Founder of Mormonism: A Psychological Study of Joseph Smith, Jr. (New York, 1902). David Persuitte has revived the argument that the Book of Mormon, especially its claim for the Israelite origins of the American Indians, was influenced by Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews (Poultney, Vt., 1823) in Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (Jefferson, N.C., 2000). The first modern interpretation is Fawn M. Brodie's No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet (1945; 2d ed., rev. & enl., New York, 1971), which advances a psychoanalytic interpretation and sees him as a product of his cultural environment. Mormons prefer Donna Hill's less critical Joseph Smith, the First Mormon (Garden City, N. Y., 1977), though scholars cannot afford to bypass Brodie. The most successful attempt to avoid the prophet-fraud dichotomy is Jan Shipps's Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana, Ill., 1984). A short biography in the Penguin series by the distinguished Jacksonian scholar Robert V. Remini, Joseph Smith (New York, 2000), is essentially a PR job, skirting controversial issues. There is no reliable up-to-date biography of Smith.
Klaus J. Hansen (1987 and 2005)
Smith, Joseph (1805-1844)
Joseph Smith (1805-1844)
Family Background. Crafty charlatan, brilliant psychopath, inspired prophet—such were the varied conclusions drawn by contemporaries and later writers about the person of Joseph Smith. He was born in Western New York to Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, the third of eight children. The recollections of his mother are the primary source for his early family life, but they were written after her son’s death and so contain the inevitable distortion of hindsight. By all accounts the family was a closely knit circle whose bonds were strengthened by repeated disappointments. Lucy had come from wealthy New England stock, but her own parents had struggled on the edge of poverty. Although she and Joseph Smith Sr. began their marriage in comfortable circumstances, with a small farm and store in Vermont, Joseph was cheated in a speculative venture. Overwhelmed by debt, the couple became tenants in 1803. From that time until the founding of Nauvoo, the Smith family lived in the midst of economic uncertainty, with periods of brief prosperity sabotaged by unexpected setbacks. Driven by changing circumstances, the family moved frequently; the children thus grew up painfully aware of the insecurity facing those on the margins of the market economy. In 1825, at last on the verge of landownership, Lucy and Joseph found themselves at the mercy of an unscrupulous land agent and were once more reduced to tenancy. From her reminiscences it is apparent that Lucy bore these misfortunes with long-suffering indignation, believing the family deserved better for all their industry and virtuous living.
A Family of Seekers. In their religious inclinations both Joseph and Lucy were “seekers,” concerned with matters of faith but unchurched because of their disdain for denominational strife and discord. Lucy would get swept up in revival preaching but then find no merit in the churches themselves. She eventually joined a Presbyterian church in Palmyra and took some of the younger children on occasion, but for the most part the family worshiped together by means of Bible reading and family prayers. Joseph Sr. had at least seven visions (inspirational dreams) during his adult life, which he reported to his wife. All of them expressed his search for a religious home and confirmed his belief that he would find no solace in contemporary churches. Their spiritual journeys reflected the negative side of revivalism, when raised expectations evaporated for lack of sustenance.
Early Life. Joseph Jr., born 23 December 1805, received basic schooling at home from his parents and participated in the family economy at an early age. However, when he was 7, he fell victim to the typhoid epidemic raging through the region. The infection (osteomyelitis) invaded his shin bone, and he had to undergo painful surgery to remove diseased sections. Joseph was so weak that his mother had to carry him from place to place, and for three years he was more or less an invalid. When he was about fifteen, he evinced a serious concern for the state of his soul. As with his father, Joseph’s religious inquiry gravitated to the revelations imparted in visions. While deep in prayer one night, he believed that God and Jesus Christ appeared before him, assuring him that his sins were forgiven and that his dissatisfaction with the contemporary churches was well-placed since all were false. The apparitions also hinted at his future role in the restoration of the true church. Like his parents, the young Joseph had rejected the churches around Palmyra, but his vision suggested a deeper critique: all churches had turned away from God, and therefore none possessed religious authority. The emotionalism of the revivals had simply masked the emptiness of their claims of truth. Several years passed. Then, on the night of 21 September 1823, as Smith again sought divine guidance through prayer, the angel Moroni visited him and told him of ancient gold plates buried nearby that contained a previously unknown religious history. Following Moroni’s directions, Smith uncovered a box with the plates and two stones, Urim and Thummim, to be used in translation, though he was not permitted to remove them from their hiding place. According to his mother’s later narrative the family rejoiced when Smith related what had transpired, having now found “something upon which we could stay our minds.”
Between Visitations. In his youth Joseph had found that, with the help of a seerstone, he could locate items not visible to the naked eye. A local farmer heard of this reputation and contracted Joseph in 1825 to search for a Spanish treasure that he believed was buried on his property in northeastern Pennsylvania. This stint as a money digger was to dog Smith all his life, as was his arrest on a charge of disturbing the peace in connection with a treasure hunt. During 1826, as he waited for the angel Moroni to allow him to remove the plates, he worked on the farm of Isaac Hale in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and he fell in love with Hale’s daughter Emma. Isaac disapproved of the match, questioning Joseph’s prospects, but the pair eloped anyway in January 1827. Then, on 22 September, Joseph took possession of the golden plates and began their translation. His first assistants were Emma and Martin Harris, a local farmer and benefactor of the young seer in this early period. Progress was slow until Oliver Cowdery, a Palmyra schoolteacher, became involved. From April to July 1829 the bulk of the work was transcribed.
Witnesses to the Translation. According to David Whitmer, one of his first converts, as Joseph held the sacred stones Urim and Thummim to his eyes, a symbol would appear on the plate with the English translation below it. Joseph would dictate the translation, the scribe would read it back for verification, and then another symbol would replace the one translated. That Joseph was more than a lens in this work was demonstrated when Cowdery became insistent about attempting a translation. Joseph finally relented, but Oliver was unable to fathom the markings. Emma also was convinced of the divine inspiration behind the translation, telling of the steady stream of dictation that always began where it left off without any prompting from the scribe. She declared that “for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.” The Book of Mormon included a statement from Smith’s three associates in the work of translation—Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer—as to the reality of the engraved plates and the veracity of the translation. Smith had acquiesced to their entreaties and led them in prayer one day until the angel Moroni appeared. Moroni allowed the trio to see what Smith had seen on the plates. The three were ecstatic, though when pressed, Harris could simply report that the engravings were discernible only “with the eye of faith.” Smith then returned the plates and sacred stones to Moroni. Although Cowdery, Harris, and Whitmer all eventually left the church, they never recanted their witness to the divine origin of The Book of Mormon.
Joseph Becomes the Prophet. Historians have scrutinized Joseph Smith’s early origins for clues to the man, the movement, and the times because, with the publication of The Book of Mormon in 1830, Joseph’s personal life became inseparable from his role as the prophet of God. By all accounts the role came to him naturally. Whether he was hated or loved, one fact is apparent from the historical record: Joseph Smith was a man of remarkable magnetism and persuasive power. He recognized talent and surrounded himself with trusted apostles and counselors, but he never doubted his authority as prophet and freely excommunicated any who questioned him. The currents surrounding his early life doubtless influenced the type of religious movement he created, in which order, certainty, structure, and divine charisma replaced the chaos of the times. From the standpoint of biography rather than hagiography, his martyr’s death at the hands of a Carthage mob on 27 June 1844 turned him from religious leader to insoluble enigma. Whatever one’s verdict on Joseph Smith personally, the testimony of Mormonism’s growth made him impossible to dismiss lightly.
Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-Day Saints (New York: Knopf, 1979);
Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984).
(b. 31 October 1901 in Scranton, Pennsylvania; d. 19 May 1993 at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland), United States Air Force general who made contributions to the development of modern strategic bombardment, air transport, humanitarian operations, military education, and senior-level military planning.
Smith was one of three children of Jacob Smith, an immigrant from England, and Yetta Kabatchnick, a homemaker. Jacob Smith was a local businessman and alderman. Smith left high school before graduating to help in World War I farm production. He later attended Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, and entered the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, graduating with a B.S. degree in 1923. First assigned to the Eighth Cavalry in Texas, Smith, a lover of horses, foresaw that the horse cavalry did not have a long future in the age of aviation. In November 1927 he asked to be sent to the Air Corps Primary Flying School in Brooks Field, Texas, transferring to the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, in July 1928. He graduated in 1928 with Claire Chennault, the future leader of the Flying Tigers in China during World War II, as his final check pilot. In December 1928 he was sent to Camp Nichols in the Philippine Islands where he flew the MB-1 bomber. The following month Smith officially left the cavalry to join the Army Air Corps (which later became the Air Force), where he was to spend the remainder of his career.
Smith returned to the Air Corps flying school in Brooks Field in March 1931. There he met Anna Pearle Krausse, whom he married on 23 September 1933. They had two
children. From March to May 1934, Smith worked for the legendary Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold in the Air Corps’s effort to show both its capabilities and its needs. Successfully flying the hazardous Salt Lake City, Utah, airmail route to Cheyenne, Wyoming, under all conditions in those early airplanes earned Smith the honor of membership in the Air Force’s Gathering of Eagles in 1991.
Smith’s work with the mail was followed by tours with bombardment units and as an instructor and student in schools such as the Air Corps Tactical School from August 1936 to June 1937. Significantly, in September 1938, he attended the Army’s Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, graduating the following June. Smith then returned to his previous duties as the operations officer of the Ninth Bombardment Group at Mitchell Field for a year.
In July 1940 Smith began a series of increasingly important assignments in Washington, D.C., and at Langley Field, Virginia. He served on the staffs of the Air Corps’s General Headquarters and of the Air Corps Combat Command. In March 1942, four months after the entry of the United States into World War II, Smith joined the Strategy Section in the Operations Division of the War Department General Staff. In April 1943 he became the senior Air Corps member of the Joint War Plans Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he represented Army Air Force interests at the highest levels of strategic planning. In this position, he traveled with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and senior leaders to the Cairo Conference to develop war strategy with America’s allies.
In January 1944 Smith left Washington to become the chief of staff of the Third Air Force in Tampa, Florida. In May 1944 the Air Force promoted him to brigadier general. He was sent to India in January 1945 to join the Twentieth Bomber Command. As the war in the Pacific was ending that August, Smith moved to Okinawa as deputy chief of staff of the Eighth Air Force.
When the military demobilized after the war, Smith temporarily returned to Washington in October 1945 as the assistant chief of the air staff for plans. The next month Smith moved to Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, to help establish the Air University there. In August 1946 he established and headed the new Air Tactical School at Tyndall Field, Florida.
In November 1947 Smith went to Wiesbaden, Germany, to take charge of the headquarters of U.S. Air Forces in Europe. In June 1948 the Soviets cut off all road, rail, and water links between West Berlin and the Western Zones. The task of supplying Berlin by air devolved upon the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, commanded by Major General Curtis E. LeMay. He entrusted the operation to Smith, who called it Operation Vittles because “We’re hauling grub.” The first deliveries took place on 26 June 1948, when twin-engine Douglas C-47s made thirty-two flights into Berlin with eighty tons of cargo consisting mainly of powdered milk, flour, and medicine. As the days passed, General Smith increased the use of his aircraft by dispatching planes according to a block system that grouped them according to type, allowing radar controllers on the ground to deal more easily with strings of aircraft having the same flight characteristics. By the end of the first month, Smith was sending 3,028 tons of supplies into West Berlin daily, the largest humanitarian air operation of the twentieth century. The Berlin Airlift lasted for fifteen months, making a total of 276, 926 flights into West Berlin. Smith felt that this was his proudest accomplishment.
That November, while the airlift was still going on, Smith returned to the Air Staff in Washington. He was promoted to major general on 11 September 1949. In November 1951, as the Korean War was still being fought, Smith took command of the Military Air Transport Service at Andrews Air Force Base. He also received his third star, rising to the grade of lieutenant general. He remained at Andrews Air Force Base for the last seven years of his career. During his career, he received the Legion of Merit award with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Bronze Star, and the Medal for Human Action.
The Military Air Transport Service was an outgrowth of the earlier establishment of the Department of Defense and the combining of the navy and air force air transport systems on 1 June 1948. Smith, in an unusually long tenure of seven years, modernized his air fleet and ran several urgent large airlifts. He also had to work with the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, whose civilian airline components carefully monitored how much military transportation he used and how much work he gave to the civilian airlines. But as the demands of the Korean War were ending, Smith’s planes moved French soldiers wounded in Indochina from hospitals in Japan to France. In 1956 he had to move United Nations peacekeepers into Egypt and ferry approximately 14,000 political refugees from Hungary to the United States, all actions in aid of peace and humanity. Near the end of his tenure, he again had to modernize his air fleet so that it could move the new larger missiles coming into America’s cold war defenses.
Smith retired from the air force on 30 June 1958. He continued his interests in military affairs, serving on the Defense Department’s Bolte Board that reviewed promotion and separation laws for the officers of the armed forces. He was a founder of the National Association for Uniformed Services in 1968 to work for better rights and benefits for the members of the military establishment. He died of respiratory and heart failure at the hospital at Andrews Air Force Base where he had spent so much of his career. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Smith was a pivotal figure in the development of the jet-age U.S. Air Force. His career spanned the post-World War airplanes to modern, large jet-powered transports and bombers. His ability to start operations such as the Berlin Airlift, which defeated communist efforts to starve West Berlin into submission, and the Hungarian Airlift, which rescued pro-western refugees, showed an important non-combatant role for air power. With his background in bombers and long-distance air transports he also understood the nature of air power in strategic planning and in education. In that area, he helped establish the modern air force school system. From his early love of horses to his concern for the quality of life of the armed forces, Smith’s career shows the coming of age of America’s defense establishment.
One of the best sources about the life of Joseph Smith is the biographical files in the History Office, Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. This command is the successor to the Military Air Transport Service. The Military Air Transport Service itself is described in “MATS: America’s Long Arm of the Air,” National Geographic (Mar. 1957). An obituary is in Assembly July 1994 (Association of Graduates: West Point, N.Y.): 144. Information about Smith’s family came in a brief oral history interview the author conducted with Mrs. Smith on 21 September 2000.
Martin K. Gordon
Joseph Smith (1805-1844), American religious leader, was the founder of a unique American sect, the Mormons, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
On Dec. 23, 1805, Joseph Smith was born in Vermont; in 1816 his family migrated to western New York. Among the more prominent features of the terrain were the Indian mounds containing the skeletons of long-dead warriors. Shortly after his marriage in 1827, Smith began to talk of some golden plates he had discovered in these mounds under an angel's guidance, as well as magic spectacles that enabled him to decipher the tablets' hieroglyphics. Moving to Pennsylvania, he worked on the translation, which turned out, he said, to be a history by Mormon, an American prophet and historian of the 4th century, telling of two Jewish peoples who had migrated to North America and whom Jesus visited after his ascension. In 1830 the Book of Mormon appeared for sale and quickly became important in spreading the Mormon faith.
Smith soon announced the founding of a restored Christian church and proclaimed himself a "seer, a Translator, a Prophet, an Apostle of Jesus Christ and Elder of the Church." Eventually, his claim to special revelations stirred hostility among the residents of New York and Pennsylvania, and in 1831 he summoned his ever-increasing flock to an exodus. Settling in Kirtland, Ohio, the Mormon community evolved into a utopian communal experiment in which the church held all property and each family received sustenance from a common storehouse. When dissension inspired some to move to Independence, Mo., Smith joined them briefly to consecrate ground for a new temple.
In 1833 Smith published the "Word of Wisdom," which encouraged members of the church to abstain from tobacco, alcohol, and hot drinks and to eat meat only in winter. In 1836 Mormon temperance advocates forced a vote for total abstinence. Increasing criticism over his inept management of Kirtland's financial affairs caused Smith to rejoin his Missouri followers. That colony, too, attracted hostility, and Smith had to flee under sentence of death, leading a migration to Nauvoo, Ill.
In the 1840s Smith published a work which elaborated upon the "Hamitic curse" in such a way as to exclude blacks from the Mormon priesthood. At the same time he undertook a history of the Mormon Church. He had also arrived at a doctrinal position which permitted polygamy. He kept this potentially dangerous practice a secret, revealing it only to a privileged few. By 1844 Smith had come to regard Nauvoo as an enclave independent of the United States, and the leaders of his church crowned him king of this new kingdom of God on earth. That same year Smith offered himself for president of the United States, advocating the establishment of a "theodemocracy" and the abolition of slavery.
In 1844 an apostate published an exposé of Mormon polygamy. Smith ill-advisedly permitted his followers to destroy the defector's press, which gave the surrounding "Gentiles" an excuse to retaliate against the Mormons. The Illinois governor sent the militia to arrest Smith for riot, but the militiamen exceeded their orders and brutally murdered Smith on June 27, 1844.
Until recently the literature on Mormonism has been polemical, and the biographies of Smith have reflected either the uncritical views of his followers or the diatribes of disaffected converts. John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith: An American Prophet (1933), is a sympathetic account marred by important omissions. The most comprehensive treatment is Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet (1945; 2d ed. 1971), which implicitly discounts Smith's claims of special gifts of revelation and prophecy but arrives at a favorable view of his accomplishments. Robert Bruce Flanders, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (1965), adds information on Smith's years in Illinois. □
Joseph Smith, 1805–44, American Mormon leader, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, b. Sharon, Vt. When he was a boy his family moved to Palmyra, N.Y., where he experienced the poverty and hardships of life on a rough frontier. He had visions when he was still young and later recorded that he was first told in a vision in 1823 of the existence of secret records, but it was not until 1827 that the hiding place of the records was revealed to him. According to his account, in 1827 he unearthed golden tablets inscribed with sacred writings that he translated. Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and others transcribed these records from his dictation, and the Book of Mormon was published in 1830. Further revelations led him to found a new religion after priesthood had been conferred upon him and Cowdery by an
As prophet and seer he founded (1830) his church in Fayette, N.Y. (see Latter-day Saints, Church of Jesus Christ of).
The hostility of his neighbors forced him to move his headquarters to Kirtland, Ohio, where with the help of Sidney Rigdon and others he embarked on extensive business affairs. The Panic of 1837 was one of the reasons for removal farther west to Missouri. There the industrious and self-contained members of his faith again ran into difficulties with their neighbors. Smith and others were arrested but escaped, and his faithful followers were driven from Missouri.
Having obtained a favorable charter from Illinois, Smith founded the settlement of Nauvoo, which soon flourished, thanks to the concerted efforts of the members of his church. Disaffection grew, however, and some of the dissident members founded a newspaper, the Expositor, in which they bitterly criticized him. He put down the opposition, thereby giving the hostile non-Mormons a pretext for attacking him. When in 1844 he announced himself as candidate for the presidency of the United States, his enemies moved against him. He and his brother Hyrum were arrested on charges of treason and conspiracy. They were lodged in the jail at Carthage, Ill., and there on June 27, 1844, they were murdered by a mob.
The revelations experienced by Smith—including one enjoining plural marriage, which later caused the Mormons much trouble—were the foundation stones of a faith that after his death grew to be one of the great religions of the United States. Because he was a highly controversial figure, the literature on him is also controversial, and the Mormon church itself did not issue an official acknowledgment of Smith's multiple marriages until 2014.
See biographies by L. Smith (1908, repr. 1969), F. M. Brodie (1954, repr. 1995), R. V. Remini (2002), and R. L. Bushman (2005); studies by R. L. Anderson (1971), R. L. Bushman (1984), and A. Beam (2014).
Founder and first president of the Mormon Church; b. Sharon, Vt., Dec. 23, 1805; d. Carthage, Ill., June 27, 1844. His parents, Joseph and Lucy (Mack) Smith, were poor and migrated to upstate New York about 1816. Joseph claimed visions from 1820 on and in 1830 published The Book of Mormon as a divinely rediscovered scripture linking pre-Columbian civilizations with the ancient Hebrews. On April 6, 1830, he founded the Church of Jesus Christ of latterday saints (Mormons) at Fayette, N.Y. He started Mormon communities in Kirtland, Ohio; Independence and Far West, Mo.; and Nauvoo, Ill. His movement evoked considerable opposition. The Kirtland effort ended in financial disaster, and the Saints were driven from Missouri by mob action. In Illinois, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were murdered in the Carthage jail by a mob that included uniformed militia. Heroism in death made Smith a martyr as well as a prophet to his followers. The revelations he claimed, The Book of Mormon, A Book of Commandments (1833), Doctrine and Covenants (1835), and Pearl of Great Price (1842) are, together with the Bible, accepted as scripture by the Mormon Church.
Bibliography: f. m. brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York 1945). w. a. linn, The Story of the Mormons (New York 1902). t. f. o'dea, The Mormons (Chicago 1957).
[t. f. o'dea]