PROVO — In 1844, early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were presented with two unpromising presidential nominees: the Democratic candidate, James K. Polk, or the Whig candidate, Henry Clay.
Neither man was going to help the early Saints get back their confiscated lands and inheritance. They therefore decided to back a dark-horse candidate, Gen. Joseph Smith, the church's prophet.
Susan Easton Black, a professor of church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, presented on Aug. 15, during BYU's Campus Education Week, a historical look at the circumstances surrounding the Prophet Joseph Smith's presidential run.
In the Red Brick Store in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith agreed to run, but he needed a vice-presidential running mate. The first two men he asked, James Arlington Bennett and Col. Solomon Copeland, turned him down flat, Black said. They wanted no association with Joseph nor his reputation, she said.
Joseph then turned to Sidney Rigdon, who accepted his offer even though he had previously left the church, she said.
The Reform Party platform — written by W.W. Phelps — promised a great many changes, including reclamation of the LDS people's lands of inheritance in Jackson County, Missouri, a reduction of Congress' size and a pay cut for congressmen to $2 a day (the same wage farmers earned), the elimination of slavery without compensation, jail reform, standardization of the monetary system and an expansionist plan.
Although he was officially on the ballot, Joseph did not openly campaign much between January and March, Black said, but he did ask for political volunteers (and garnered around 350). He organized a Council of Fifty that included Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to help support his bid for election.
"Was he a serious candidate? Probably," said Black.
At one point, Joseph said although he'd never been popular and he'd been persecuted in his life, he was "afraid he was going to win!" Black said.
After the Nauvoo Expositor ran an editorial that accused Joseph of a number of horrible deeds, she added, it set into motion events that resulted in the Prophet and candidate's death in Carthage Jail at age 38 in June 1844, prematurely and tragically ending his political effort.
Black and George Durrant will speak on “Joseph Smith: Candidate for U.S. President" on Thursday, Sept. 15, 7 p.m. at the LDS Church History Museum Theater, 45 N. West Temple, as part of the Evenings at the Museum series. The event is free and open to the public. See history.lds.org for information.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.
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