Quest for RefugeQuest for Refuge 
The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism
Marvin S. Hill

on the cover:
The culmination of more than twenty-five years of research by one of Mormonism’s premier historians, this insightful new interpretation of the Latter-day Saint movement explains Mormon religious and political developments in terms of class struggle and a rejection of American pluralism. According to Hill, the Mormon attempt to develop a communal utopia under a theocratic government during the 1830s and early 1840s was in large measure a reaction to the diminishing role of religion in an emerging democratic, competitive, and increasingly secular world. Quest for Refuge skillfully details the religious, economic, political, social, and psychological challenges facing Joseph Smith and other early Mormons in their attempt to build a New Jerusalem in anticipation of the second coming of Jesus Christ.

“From 1827 on,” Hill writes, “Joseph Smith had little good to say about contemporary religion, and his calling as prophet became increasingly important to him. To satisfy his own religious conscience, to escape contending denominations, to reconcile his parents’ differences on religion, to please his new bride, he had to find a church that he could accept and that would accept him. Joseph Smith at this point became a religious seeker. But he began with a much stronger sense of alienation from society than most other seekers of his day. His poverty, his much disparaged career as a money digger, his court trial, and his expulsion from the Methodist church left him outside the usual religious and social circles. He would of necessity have to pursue a course radically different from that of the ordinary seeker.”

Cover and book design by Easton Design Group.
Published by Signature Books.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of
Signature Books, Inc., Salt Lake City.

Quest for Refuge is a thoroughly researched and well-informed history of the development of Mormon doctrines of religious and political anti-pluralism and their impact on Mormon/non-Mormon relations in the East and Midwest. It is doubtful that any scholar or layman has as thorough a grasp of the primary sources of the Joseph Smith period as Marvin Hill.” —Thomas G. Alexander, Professor of History, Brigham Young University, and author, Mormonism in Transition

“In this first-class historical account, Marvin Hill argues that theocratic anti-pluralism was fundamental to the early Mormon experience and constituted ‘the main cause of persecution’ which Mormons essentially brought upon themselves. Hill’s candid narrative is balanced and fair, free of either pro- or anti-Mormon apologetic. Hill adds depth to his analysis by connecting Mormon anti-pluralism not only with theology but also with class structure and bias, politics, and economics. In a word, Hill’s book is a splendid contribution to Mormon historiography.” —Richard T. Hughes, Professor of Religion, Pepperdine University, and co-author, Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630-1875

“Hill’s impressive study carefully outlines early Mormonism’s basic animosity towards a diversity of religious beliefs. Early Latter-day Saints believed that they would not only determine the course of worldwide religious belief but hold all secular political power. Hill’s book is essential reading.” —Newell G. Bringhurst, Professor of History, College of the Sequoias, and author, Brigham Young and the Expanding American Frontier

“Inundated by a virtual avalanche of books on Mormonism, weary readers may well ask if one more interpretation of early Mormon history is really necessary. In the case of Marvin Hill’s Quest for Refuge, the answer is an emphatic yes. Hill shows convincingly that although the Mormons were not the only antebellum Americans to fear pluralism and its consequences, they were perhaps more profoundly affected by this fear than any other religious denomination. Erudite and imaginative, Hill’s work is stimulating, perhaps even controversial, and a major contribution to the on-going quest for a better understanding of one of the most significant—if puzzling—religious and cultural movements of nineteenth-century America.” —Klaus J. Hansen, Professor of History, Queen’s University, Ontario, and author, Mormonism and the American Experience

title page:
Quest for Refuge
The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism
Marvin S. Hill
Signature Books
Salt Lake City

about the author: Marvin S. Hill is a Professor of American History at Brigham Young University. He is co-author, with Dallin H. Oaks, of Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith, winner of the 1975 Best Book Award from the Mormon History Association; with C. Keith Rooker and Larry T. Wimmer, of The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics; and co-editor, with James B. Allen, of Mormonism and American Culture. He is married to Lila Foster. They have six children and currently reside in Provo, Utah.

copyright page:
© 1989 by Signature Books, Inc. All rights reserved
Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hill, Marvin S.
Quest for refuge : the Mormon flight from American Pluralism
p. cm. Includes index.

1. Mormon Church—Northeastern States—History—19th century. 2. Mormon Church—Northwest, Old–History—19th century. 3. Smith, Joseph, 1805-1844. 4. Northeastern States—Church history. 5. Northwest, Old–Church history. 6. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Northeastern States—History—19th century. 7. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Northwest, Old–History—19th century. I. Title.

BX8615.NG9H55 1989
289.3’09’034–dc19 88-30213
ISBN 0-941214-70-2

On the half-title page and jacket: Original rendering of the weather vane on the Nauvoo Temple by William Weeks, circa 1843

Acknowledgments [see below]
Introduction [see below]
01 - Wanted: A Refuge for the Unconverted, Religiously Disoriented, and Poor
02 - “A Principle Means in the Hands of God”
03 - “I Say Unto You, Be One”—Social Unity and Economic Equality
04 - Establishing a Theocratic Government
05 - “In a Military Spirit”
06 - “Everything God Does Is to Aggrandize His Kingdom”
07 - Appeal to a “Higher Authority”
08 - “To the Wilderness for Safety and Refuge”


[p.vii]Because this study began as a Ph.D. dissertation more than twenty-five years ago at the University of Chicago, the number of scholars and others to whom I am indebted is long and there is risk that I may unintentionally overlook some who helped. If so, here is my expression of thanks. Among those who are remembered are Sidney E. Mead, then professor of American Christianity at the Chicago Divinity School, whose classes on American religious history first called my attention to a significant relationship between American pluralism and the rise of Mormonism. Mead left the university before I began research or writing. The rough draft was read and criticized constructively by Martin E. Marty, also of the divinity school, and to him I owe a special thanks. I also am deeply in debt to Daniel J. Boorstin, professor of American intellectual history, who offered in classes and out special encouragement and insight, read the manuscript, and made important suggestions. Although I have made some substantial alterations, in the narrative of the dissertation much of the material remains the same. So too does my gratitude to these three superb historians who inspired and refined the original work.

I owe much to Don Schmidt and Earl Olson, formerly of the Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, who allowed me free access to a great deal of material not otherwise accessible, as well as to James Kimball who helped me to locate much of these then-unorganized sources. Without their generous cooperation this study would be devoid of a great deal of rich documentation. I am also indebted to Richard P. Howard, of the History Commission of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ [p.viii]of Latter Day Saints in Independence, Missouri, for access to important sources. Many archivists and librarians at several other institutions made similar contributions. Included are those at the University of Chicago, the Chicago Historical Society, the Newberry Library, and the Illinois State Historical Society, as well as Professor Stanley B. Kimball of Southern Illinois University who has collected important material at Edwardsville. I also visited the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland and the library of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In Missouri, several institutions and their staffs contributed, including the Missouri Historical Society at St. Louis, the Missouri State Historical Society at Columbia, and in the same city the University of Missouri with its Western Manuscripts Collection.

I made use of newspapers at the Library of Congress and found other sources there of value. The Huntington Library at San Marino, California, granted me and my sister, Donna Hill, a stipend and access to their rich resources on Mormonism in connection with another work. The Department of History at Yale University offered me a research fellowship for a year to make use of their valuable sources in the Beinecke Library and also to take classes from Sidney B. Ahlstrom and Daniel Howe.

As important as any are archivists and librarians at the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, who have gathered what I consider to be one of the finest collections of Mormon materials in the country. Special Collections administrator Chad Flake and the curator of the Archives of the Mormon Experience, David Whittaker, assisted me on innumerable occasions, the latter going far beyond the routine help that archivists provide in keeping me informed of new sources. Harvard Heath, archivist of Utah and the American West, was also helpful.

There are many others to whom I am indebted. Richard Hughes of Pepperdine University read my dissertation and made suggestions that helped me to eliminate certain superfluous material. Colleagues in the history department at Brigham Young University provided insights and helped me to find material, as well as generated an atmosphere where inquiry into Mormon history is valued. These include James Allen, Thomas Alexander, Ronald Walker, Michael Quinn, and Malcolm Thorp. Several department chairmen over the years—Eugene Campbell, DeLamar Jensen, Ted Warner, James Allen, and Paul Pixton—granted me time free from classes to pursue research [p.ix]and writing. Two deans of the College of Family and Social Sciences—Martin Hickman and Stanley Albrecht—also helped in this way, as did Leonard Arrington and Ronald Esplin of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History.

I owe something special to many family members, including Bob, Donna, Lila (who contributed more than she or I can fully appreciate), Steven who helped with some research, and Leslie who helped with the index. Dallin Oaks, formerly president of Brigham Young University and a friend at Chicago who co-authored a previous book with me, contributed great insight into the trial of the murderers of Joseph Smith.

To the staff at Signature Books—Gary Bergera, Brent Corcoran, Connie Disney, Jani Fleet, and Ronald Priddis—many thanks for encouraging me to revise and update the dissertation and for their editorial efforts which saved errors and ineffectual writing.

To all I express thanks. Yet the ideas and arguments presented here are my own, gleaned from my reading of original sources and the works of other specialists in the field of Mormon history. Not they but I alone am responsible for what follows.


When the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., recalled the beginnings of his movement in a history published in 1842, he noted that a revival he attended in the area around Palmyra, New York, had initially created “unusual excitement” among the people but then divided them, with “priest contending against priest, and convert against convert.” Whatever good will had flourished among his neighbors was soon “lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.” In another version of his experiences, Smith concluded that “if God had a church, it would not be split up into factions.” Thus the prophet spoke of the deep Mormon aversion to religious institutional diversity, which I term here religious pluralism. But in 1834 Oliver Cowdery, Smith’s close friend and co-worker in the Mormon kingdom, remembered in the young church’s Messenger and Advocate that this antipathy extended beyond sectarian rivalry to all voluntary associations in America and predicted their impending doom: “Certain the Gentile world, with all its parties, sects, denominations, reformations, revivals of religion, societies and associations, are devoted to destruction.”1

The Latter-day Saints saw the maelstrom of competing faiths and social institutions as evidence of social upheaval and found confirmation in the rioting and violence that characterized Jacksonian America. One nationally recognized scholar has noted that there was reason for concern, for America was experiencing a degree of social disintegration “unequalled in American history” due to rapid westward expansion and the resulting breakdown of family, church, and community ties.2 [p.xii]Yet as Alexis de Tocqueville perceived, the voluntary reform, religious, and other associations which littered the American landscape were institutional means by which the individualistic, democratic society preserved social cooperation and purpose. If Americans “never acquired the habit of forming associations in ordinary life,” de Tocqueville wrote, “civilization itself would be endangered. A people among whom individuals lost the power of achieving great things single-handed, without acquiring the means of producing them by united exertions, would soon relapse into barbarism.”3 In opposing voluntary associations the Saints were repudiating some of the fundamental ways in which the developing democratic society functioned. Recognition of that attitude and its implications cuts far deeper, I believe, than most historians have realized.

The Latter-day Saints were influenced in their social theory by their unique scripture, the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith said was translated in 1829 from golden plates buried in the earth for more than fourteen hundred years. The text described a society of ancient Americans faced with social disintegration, brought on by religious disbelief, rampant materialism, indifference toward the poor, political corruption, and war, all of which threatened their survival. Book of Mormon society was divided into two main factions: Nephites who were true Christians and who established a theocratic government to offset social disintegration, and Lamanites who were atheists and who waged a war of extermination on God’s elect. The scripture describes a thousand years of such warfare between the two groups, until the Nephites succumbed to materialism, declining faith, and destruction. Nephite society thrived only at times when prophet-statesmen controlled the government and sustained the support of the faithful. Thus Nephite society was anti-pluralistic, for dissent and diversity were always atheistic and destructive.4

Despite this, Nephites believed in individual freedom—freedom to choose between two opposites, faith and disbelief, good and evil. Thus the Nephite concept of freedom fell far short of the religious freedom being advanced in the United States in 1830. Reminiscent in some ways of the beliefs of early Massachusetts Bay Puritans, Nephites wanted freedom mainly to preserve their own true religion but were reluctant to allow others the might to oppose it. Although one Book of Mormon prophet recorded that laws were passed to allow disbelievers to hold their own opinions without sanctions by church or state, false prophets were nonetheless punished and judged for wrong thinking. It is unlikely that dissenters were [p.xiii]truly free to express their opinions openly. One of these preached his views for a time but was confronted by ecclesiastical and civil authorities, banned from the society, and subsequently killed. Thus the true faith was preserved.5 The dominant message of the Book of Mormon is not merely that the nation must believe in the true gospel of Jesus Christ to survive, but that godly men must rule. When they do not society is imperiled.

In the years prior to 1830 when the Book of Mormon was published and the Mormon church organized, some Americans had argued for an exclusively Christian nation, but the founding fathers through the Constitution had established a society based on different principles.6 Instead of concentrating power in the hands of a single religious or political group, they created a government which diffused such power through a network of checks and balances between the states and the branches of the national government. Certainly the new Constitution licensed a stronger central government than had the Articles of Confederation. But according to James Madison of Virginia, this new institutional power would be moderated by the expanse of the nation and by the greater diversity of peoples and interests competing within its boundaries. No single interest group or “faction” would be able to dominate.7 Thus pluralism would help preserve American freedom. Madison’s argument was effective in helping to get the new Constitution adopted, because the American people were suspicious of power held in the hands of a few individuals.

The founding fathers abandoned the idea predominant in Europe of an established church supported by state taxes and favored by the government. America’s founders introduced a concept of religious freedom which left every person free to choose a denomination or to choose none and believe none. No religious requirements were to be imposed on those seeking public office.8 Madison and Thomas Jefferson best articulated this principle. Jefferson first advanced his ideas in Virginia in 1776, arguing that religion is a personal matter between God and the individual and that the state should not intrude. He stated his beliefs in Virginia’s famous Bill for Religious Freedom adopted in 1785:

No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, or shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; [p.xiv]but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

Jefferson believed that people are molded by experience and that each mind is therefore unique. To coerce conscience is to create hypocrites. Clearly Jefferson did not want religious groups to have special political prerogatives, although he would leave them free to promote their cause.9

The founding fathers adopted Jefferson’s perspective in the Constitutional Convention but largely from necessity. They could not agree whether an established church was necessary or which church to establish.10 The eventual disestablishment of religion in America created a society that was potentially religious should people voluntarily support the churches but also potentially secular should they not do so. Jefferson held that religion if true would prevail in the open market. Such a belief encouraged the multiplication of sects and, inevitably, conflict among them, but it also guaranteed that no one denomination would gain national political dominance.

Most nineteenth-century Americans supported this enshrinement of religious pluralism in the Constitution. Their ideal national government consisted of civilians governing a diverse, competitive, secular society, where no religious group had priority.11 Mormons with their ideal of a society in which the godly ruled over a unified, religious people stood in sharp contrast. Ideally, the Mormon “kingdom” was an all-inclusive community with social, economic, religious, and political aspects. The political dimension was certainly its most controversial aspect and perhaps its most significant.

Until recently Mormon writers, with rare exceptions, have maintained that the Latter-day Saints were first and foremost loyal citizens of the United States, holding no other political allegiance.12 Non-Mormons from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century usually held otherwise.13 Although the ideals of gathering to a central kingdom have since died, in the early part of the nineteenth century Mormons were evolving toward what sociologist Thomas F. O’Dea termed “incipient nationality.”14 As a result, they vacillated between two strong and conflicting loyalties.

Mormon political ambitions grew out of millennial expectations and a desire for sovereignty, and were reinforced by the persecutions their ideals engendered. Still, the ideals came first and were [p.xv]more important than some have supposed.15 Within the vast territorial expanse which engulfed Americans during this period (and which had much to do with fostering two American nations between 1861 and 1865), Mormons—uprooted and on the move—dreamed of an empire in the West where they could have both a home and home-rule, a chance to perfect their institutions. Many other Americans shared such visions of a new society,16 and Mormon expectations were one variation on a popular theme.

By the 1840s the Mormon dream of a kingdom had become such a concrete social and political entity in Illinois that notable Americans including Thomas Ford,17 Josiah Quincy,18 and even the itinerant preacher Peter Cartwright remarked upon the unusually ambitious temporal designs of the Mormons and their prophet. Cartwright maintained that in 1839 Joseph Smith said, “I will raise up a government in these United States which will overturn the present government and I will raise up a new religion that will overturn every other form of religion in the country.”19

Six years later, on 6 April 1845, less than a year after the prophet’s death, Brigham Young announced that the divine government envisioned by Joseph Smith had been established. The proclamation, addressed to “All the Kings of the World, to the President of the United States of America, to the Governors of the Several States, and to the Rulers and Peoples of All Nations,” maintained that “the Kingdom of God has come, as has been predicted by the ancient prophets … even that Kingdom which shall fill the whole earth and stand forever.” The decree went on to warn the world leaders: “You cannot … stand idle and disinterested spectators of the scenes and events which are calculated, in their very nature, to reduce all nations and creeds to one political and religious standard, and thus put an end to Babel forms and names and to strife and war.”20

According to Young, this theocratic empire would provide a single political and religious standard for absorbing the multitude of societies and groups which had emerged in the nineteenth century under the aegis of “Freedom’s Ferment.” In an article about the Millennium written for the Mormons’ first newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star, in 1834, the author viewed with nostalgia the theocratic kingdom of God which he believed had existed anciently among the Jews. With inspired prophets to allay every disagreement, the ancient Hebrews “put an end to all strife” and were “of one heart and one mind.”21

[p.xvi]For a time, recently, scholars showed a renewed interest in the Mormon kingdom and studied its economic, social, and political aspects,22 but there has been little effort to relate these aspects to religious ideals.23 Klaus J. Hansen’s 1967 study, Quest for Empire, is the most able attempt to date.24 Hansen shows that the Saints indeed formed an independent government by 1844,25 but by focusing too much on the role of the secret Council of Fifty, the governing body of the Mormon political system,26 and not enough on the complex origin and nature of Mormon ideals, he tends to see the political conception of the kingdom as a late development in Smith’s mind. Hansen argues that only in 1844 did the kingdom take on political ramifications.27

More recently, D. Michael Quinn has criticized Hansen and others in what he terms the “kingdom school” for the “confusion of symbol and substance” in their “failure to separate the temporal realities of the Mormon Kingdom of God from its unachieved millennial anticipations.” Quinn insists that the Council of Fifty was “most often not functioning and was only a symbolic formality when it was functioning,” that it did not meet from the time of the prophet’s death in June 1844 until February 1845 and only sporadically thereafter. He admits, however, that it planned and carried out Smith’s campaign for the presidency of the United States in 1844 and much of the exodus from Nauvoo to the Rocky Mountains. Whether the Council of Fifty was central, mere symbol, or a revolutionary government, it came as the culmination of a long period of church political involvement in which the Saints sought to have the political balance of power.28

It may be that the Mormon quest for political power came not from a rising estimation of man’s capabilities to usher in his own millennium, as Hansen supposed, but rather from a terrible fear that the people could not govern themselves without divine direction.29 In 1842 Smith affirmed publicly that human beings are incapable of self-government and that all must yield to “the Government of God.” Behind the prophet’s political theory was a Calvinistic-like skepticism.

The great and wise of ancient days have failed in all their attempts to promote eternal power, peace, and happiness. Their nations have crumbled to pieces, their thrones have been cast down in their turn; and their cities and their mightiest works of art, have been annihilated. … They proclaim as with a voice of [p.xvii]thunder, those imperishable truths—that man’s strength is a weakness, his wisdom is folly, his glory is his shame.

Monarchical, aristocratic, and republican forms of government, of their various kinds and grades, have in their turn been raised to dignity and prostrated in the dust. The plans of the greatest politicians, the wisest senators, and the most profound statesman have been exploded.

The only solution to humanity’s uniform failure to govern justly is to establish the government of God. It has been, Smith explained,

the design of Jehovah, from the commencement of the world, and his purpose now, to regulate the affairs of the world in his own time; to stand as the head of the universe, and take the reigns of government into his own hand. When that is done judgment will be administered in righteousness; anarchy and confusion will be destroyed, and “nations will learn war no more.” It is for want of this great governing principle that all this confusion has existed; “for it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”30

Eight years earlier in 1834, the prophet had written a long letter to the elders of the church which argued that the true members of Christ’s kingdom must obey the laws of God. If they would do so, they would reign on the earth with Christ during the Millennium. He summarized his discourse by promising the brethren that “there is to be a day when all will be judged of their works, and rewarded according to the same; that those who have kept the faith will be crowned with a crown of righteousness; be clothed in white raiment; be admitted to the marriage feast; be free from every affliction, and reign with Christ on the earth, where, according to the ancient promise, they will partake of the fruit of the vine new in the glorious kingdom with Him.”31

This kingdom was clearly a millennial one; there is no indication here that Joseph Smith expected the Saints to rule before that time. (Such may have been anticipated, however, for one Mormon suggested in 1834 that “previous to the Millennium there must be great changes take place in the world, both political and religious … to prepare the way for the Son of Man.”32) By 1840 the prophet had come to the view that the task of administering the millennial kingdom was to be left mostly to the Saints. The editor of the Quincy Whig quoted the prophet in answer to his question whether Mormons believed in Christ’s personal reign on earth during the Millennium: “I believe that Christ will descend, but will immediately return to [p.xviii]heaven. Some of our elders, before I had found time to instruct them better, have unadvisedly propagated some such opinion; but I tell my people it is absurd.”33

Thus the Saints believed from early on that they would be responsible to govern, and it made little practical difference to them whether the kingdom was the church or a distinct political organization. Benjamin Winchester, a Mormon elder who edited the Gospel Reflector in New York in 1841, identified the kingdom as “the church militant” and held that “when we speak of the kingdom of God … we mean to be understood as speaking of an organized government on earth.”34 According to his view, Christ would be the king and all earthly empires would be swept from the earth “just prior to the millennium.”35

Speaking at a church conference in 1844, Sidney Rigdon, a former Campbellite minister, remembered that when he joined the Mormons in 1830, the political side of their apocalyptic expectations was already well developed. He described his visit to the Mormons in Waterloo, New York, in 1830.

I met the whole church of Christ in a little log house about 20 feet square … and we began to talk about the kingdom of God as if we had the world at our command; we talked with great confidence, and talked big things, although we were not many people, we had big feelings; we knew fourteen years ago that the church would become as large as it is to-day; we were as big then, as we shall ever be; we began to talk like men in authority and power—we looked upon men of the earth as grasshoppers; if we did not see this people, we saw by vision, the church of God, a thousand times larger; and when men would come in, they would say we wanted to upset the government, although we were not enough to well man a farm. … And if we had talked in public they would have ridiculed us more than we were, the world being entirely ignorant of the testimony of the prophets, and without knowledge of what God was about to do … we talked about the people coming as doves to the windows, that all nations should flock unto it; that they should come bending to the standard of Jesus, saying our fathers have taught falsehood and things in which there is no profit; and of whole nations being born in one day; we talked such big things that men could not bear them.36

Rigdon indicated that they had expected Old and New Testament prophecies regarding the ultimate triumph of God’s elect to have been fulfilled very soon. According to the editor of the [p.xix]Painesville Telegraph, Book of Mormon scribe Martin Harris similarly predicted in 1832:

Within four years there will not be one wicked person left in the United States; … the righteous will be gathered to Zion. … and there will be no President over these United States, after that time.

I do hereby assert and declare that in four years from the date thereof [September] every sectarian and religious denomination in the United States will be broken down, and every Christian shall be gathered unto the Mormonites, and the rest of the human race shall perish.37

By 1837 or 1838 it seems likely that the notion that the Latter-day Saints were soon to rule on the earth had become a widely accepted principle among them. In a popular Mormon pamphlet, A Voice of Warning,38 which according to its author, Mormon apostle Parley P. Pratt, sold over forty thousand copies by the mid-1850s,39 attention centered on the kingdom of God as foreseen by the prophet Daniel.40 Pratt proclaimed in his work that sectarians had misapplied the text of chapter 7, thinking that it symbolized the churchly kingdom as established by Christ. Pratt insisted that Christ’s kingdom had been “prevailed against” and had fallen due to apostasy. The kingdom envisioned by Daniel, however, would never falter but would “break all others into pieces.”41 This kingdom would constitute God’s “organized government on earth” and would be composed of a king, commissioned officers, a divine code of laws, and lawful subjects.42

As Pratt foresaw it, no sectarian effort could establish such a kingdom, which would require a manifestation of divine power. The kingdom would come “without the aid of human institutions or the precepts of men.”43 This did not mean that God’s authorized servants would not have a part to play in the divine drama. They would gather the elect from the scattered tribes of Israel into a city, Zion, or the New Jerusalem, which they would soon build.44 Most of the actual work would be accomplished by the American Indians, the “seed of Joseph.” In fact, even now the U.S. government was helping to fulfill prophecy by gathering the Indians to the western frontier where the city and God’s temple would be erected.45 The New Jerusalem would provide an asylum for the weary, the humble, and the poor in spirit who harkened to God’s commands. An ensign to the nations, all the righteous would soon be gathered there to hide [p.xx]from God’s wrath, for those who would not “serve the city” would perish.46

In a subsequent pamphlet written in 1838, a year after his Voice of Warning, Apostle Pratt made certain implications of his prophetic views clearer. He wrote that the Book of Mormon was intended as an ensign to prepare the people for the gathering. The Mormon scripture

set the time for the overthrow of our government and all other Gentile governments on the American continent, but the way and means of this utter destruction are clearly foretold, namely the remnant of Jacob [the Indians] will go through among the Gentiles and tear them to pieces, like a lion among the flocks of sheep. … This destruction includes an utter overthrow, and desolation of all our cities, Forts, and Strong Holds—an entire annihilation of our race, except such as embrace the covenant, and are numbered among Israel.

Pratt added, “I will state as a prophecy, that there will not be an unbelieving Gentile upon this continent 50 years hence; and if they are not greatly scourged, and in a great measure overthrown, within five or ten years of this date, then the Book of Mormon will have proved itself false.”47

Pratt’s interpretation of scriptural prophecy had something in common with the apocalypticism of Alexander Campbell. According to Disciples of Christ historian Amos Hayden, in the Western Reserve in 1830

the restoration of the ancient gospel was looked upon as the initiatory movement, which, it was thought, would spread so rapidly that existing denominations would almost immediately be reorganized; that the true people of whom it was believed that Christ had a remnant among the sects, would at once embrace them, and thus form the union so long prayed for; and so would establish the Kingdom of Jesus, in form, as well as fact. … All the powers in array against this newly established kingdom … would soon surrender at the demand of the king of kings.48

Mormons juxtaposed such millenarian beliefs, including the conviction that they themselves must build and establish the kingdom,49 with the notion that the Millennium would come instantaneously through the unsheathed sword of the great Jehovah.50 They were not always clear in their own minds how the power of God would be applied, sometimes holding that he would employ a human agent [p.xxi]to effect his destruction of the wicked. The Mormons thus not only combined a do-it-yourself psychology with a very literalistic interpretation of prophetic judgment, but they also formulated a precise scheme of interpretation as to the sequence in which the pre-millennial events would occur. They believed that the “ensign to the nations” had come in the form of a new scripture, published in 1830, and that the gathering, commencing just at that time, would bring the elect to their specifically designated place of refuge, Zion, in Missouri. God’s time-table allowed for the building of the city and its temple by the Indians who were just then gathering, and this task must be accomplished before the Lord would appear. In the minds of many Saints a divine blueprint of events could be matched neatly with the unfolding affairs of everyday life. As Parley P. Pratt put it, “The predictions of the prophets can be clearly understood as much as the Almanac.”51

These apocalyptic views were doctrinaire, revolutionary, at times hostile in implication and suggest that the Saints’ reaction to religious pluralism was much sharper than anything experienced by the Campbellites. What saved the Saints, perhaps, from acting upon these views with reckless and destructive abandon was that the blueprint was incomplete until they could first build the Holy City. Although Martin Harris, Parley P. Pratt, and presumably others were certain of the imminence of the ultimate consummation, the Mormon prophet generally52 pushed the terminal day into the distant future so that tendencies toward unusually radical behavior were somewhat diverted. Thus in 1835 Smith predicted that “the coming of the Lord was nigh” but added “fifty-six years should wind up the scene.”53

In April 1843 Smith was no less certain that more time must elapse before the Millennium would begin. Willard Richards noted his saying,

Were I going to prophecy I would prophecy the end will not come in 1844 or 5 or 6 or 40 years ["more" deleted] there are those of the rising generation who shall not taste of death till christ comes. I was once praying earnestly upon this subject, and a voice said unto me. My son, if thou livest till thou are 85 years of age, thou shalt see the face of the son of man.—I was left to draw my own conclusions concerning this & took the liberty to conclude that if I did live till that time ["Jesus" deleted] he would make his appearance.—but I do not say whether he will make his appear[a]nce or I shall go where he is.—

[p.xxii]I prophecy in the name of the Lord God.—& let it be written that the Son of Man will not come in the heavens till I am 85 years old 48 years hence or about 1890…

Jerusalem must be rebuilt.—& Judah return, must return & the temple water come out from under the temple—the waters of the dead sea be healed.—it will take some time to build the walls & the Temple. &c & all this must be done before the Son of Man will make his appearance; wars & rumors of wars.54

This postponement of the consummate day became necessary as day-by-day events seemed to frustrate the initial ideal. Postponement allowed the Saints an opportunity to focus their immediate attention on the task of building the kingdom in preparation for that day. This responsibility would temper the raw thrust of their chiliastic expectations and divert their idealism into constructive channels. Nonetheless, the Saints understood that the time for the establishment of the government of God on earth was at hand and that they were to effect it. This provided a strong stimulus to the collective political activity that would be resented by other Americans.

The point of the study that follows is not that the Mormons were the only religious people to fear pluralism and its consequences but that they may have comprised the denomination upon which this reaction has had its most power influence.55


BC: [Joseph Smith, Jr.,] A Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ (Zion, MO: by W. W. Phelps & Co., 1833).

BM: [Joseph Smith, Jr.,] The Book of Mormon (Palmyra, NY: E. B. Grandin, For the Author, 1830).

Brodie: Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A.Knopf, 1945).

Bushman: Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984).

DC: [Joseph Smith, Jr., et al.,] Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1921), followed by section and verse numbers.

Faulring: Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1987).

HC: Joseph Smith, Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols., ed. Brigham H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1951).

JD: Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool and London: F. D. Richards and S. W. Richards, 1853-86).

JH: Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, LDSCA.

Kenney: Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1983-85).

LDSCA: Archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

LDSMS: Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, followed by volume and page numbers.

LMSms: Lucy Mack Smith, preliminary manuscript to her history of Joseph Smith, LDSCA.

PGP: [Joseph Smith, Jr.,] The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1928).

PW: Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984).

RLDSCA: Archives, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, The Auditorium, Independence, Missouri.


[p.184]1. Times and Seasons 3 (15 March 1842): 727; Daniel Rupp, comp., An Original History of Religious Denominations Existing in the United States (Philadelphia: J. Y. Humphreys, 1844), 404; 1 (Dec. 1834): 39.

2. See “Is the End Near?” in Messenger and Advocate 1 (July 1835): 149; compare Michael Feldberg, The Turbulent Era: Riot and Disorder in Jacksonian America (New York: Oxford University PRess, 1980), 5-6, who finds “a higher frequency and variety of urban collective violence and disorder among private groups than in any equivalent period in the nation’s past in the 1830s and 1840s.” Gordon Wood, “Evangelical America and Early Mormonism,” New York History 61 (Oct. 1980): 365-66.

3. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1955), 2:115-16, esp. pp. 105-28.

4. An entire reading of the Book of Mormon makes this point clear, but see 1 Ne. 18:9-11; 2 Ne. 19-24; Jac. 115; Enos 20; Mos. 11:1-22, 26:1-12; Al. 1:23, 30:1-59, 45:23-24, 46:13-15, 48.

5. 2 Ne. 2:11 (1920 ed.). Mos. 1:15-16 (1920 ed.). The mouths of the false Christs were “shut” and false teachers and prophets were “punished according to their crimes.” Apparently their crimes consisted of stirring up controversy. Al. 30 (1920 ed.). Alma approved of this dissenter’s fate, saying, “thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord.”

6. Martin E. Marty, Righteous Empire: Protestant Experience in America (New York: Dial Press, 1970), 44-77. The Constitution was a compromise document, but most scholars concede that Madison had a major role in its shaping by drawing up the Virginia Plan and writing some of the most important Federalist Papers.

7. See Federalist 10 in Michael Kammen, ed., The Origins of the American Constitution (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 145-52.

8. In Article 6 the Constitution provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

[p.185]9. On Thomas Jefferson’s religious views, see Dumas Malone, Jefferson the Virginian, vol. 1 of Jefferson and His Time (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1948), 274-79. For an understanding of Jefferson’s epistemology, see Daniel Boorstin, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (Boston: Beacon Press, 1948), 119-23. The Virginia legislature modified Jefferson’s Bill for Religious Freedom but retained its basic ideas.

10. For the conflicting views of the founding fathers on establishment, see Winthrop Hudson, Religion in America (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981), 104-105; see also Edwin S. Gaustad, A Religious History of America (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 124.

11. As one historian has said, “The culture allows no City of God to rule, much less chiefly to inspire, all its many cities of man.” For a perceptive analysis of the role of religion in America as a consequence of pluralism and the “wall between church and state,” see William A. Clebsch, From Sacred to Profane: The Role of Religion in American History (Ann Arbor: Scholars Press, 1968). The quotation is on page 218.

12. Compare B. H. Roberts’s vigorous affirmation of Mormon loyalty to the United States in Mormonism, Its Origin and History (Independence, MO: Press of Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1923), 24-28. Roberts claimed that the Saints were “misrepresented in the East” by the charge that Brigham Young headed a government “superior to the United States, in civil as in religious affairs.” But compare an earlier work by Roberts wherein he writes that “the kingdom of God … is to be a political institution that shall hold sway over all the earth; to which all other governments will be subordinate and by which they will be dominated” (The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1900], 180).

13. No non-Mormon looked with favor upon the Mormon kingdom in the late nineteenth century, as it was viewed as undemocratic and dangerous. More will be said on early nineteenth-century views, but see Bruce Kinney, Mormonism the Islam of America (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1912), 6-9, who wrote, “The hierarchy has extended its influence into so many lines of our national concern, that Mormonism has ceased to be of merely theological or religious significance. It must be studied in relationship to government and commerce. … They are promising their followers nothing less than that they will in time control things politically in the United States.”

Hyrum L. Andrus’s Joseph Smith and World Government (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1958) acknowledges that Smith organized a political government in preparation for the Millennium but insists, strangely, that it embodied the principle of separation of church and state, since the political government would constitute a separate body, with some non-Mormons in it. He maintains that the kingdom would be basically democratic, because although fundamental decisions would be made by the priesthood, the citizenry would have the right to approve. He contends that under such a [p.186]system there would be no need for divisive politicking and that parties would be unnecessary. He attempts to compare this ideal form of government with that intended by the founding fathers, since they had not planned for parties under the Constitution.

14.Thomas F. O’Dea, “Mormonism and the Avoidance of Sectarian Stagnation: A Study of Church, Sect, and Incipient Nationality,” The American Journal of Sociology 60 (Nov. 1954): 285-93.

15. E. E. Ericksen does not deal with the kingdom to any extent but does discuss perceptively the growth of what might be called Mormon isolationism. He sees their exclusiveness as mostly due to persecution. Most Mormon ethical values, he insists, came from this experience. This insight is, nonetheless, in some respects erroneous, as I hope to demonstrate in what follows. See his The Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Mormon Group Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922), vii, 4, 8-9.

16. See Arthur E. Bestor’s article on the communitarian movement which flourished in western New York and the Old Northwest in this period, “Patent-Office Models of the Good Society: Some Relationships Between Social Reform and Westward Expansion,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 58 (April 1953): 505-26. The name of this periodical has since been changed to Journal of American History.

17. Thomas Ford, History of Illinois (Chicago: S.C. Greggs, 1954), 268.

18. Quincy’s visit to Nauvoo in 1844 formed the basis for his comments. They were published in his Figures of the Past (Boston, 1883) but are more accessible in William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen, eds., Among the Mormons: Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958), 142.

19. W. P. Strickland, ed., Autobiography of Peter Cartwright (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1857), 345. Some support for the accuracy of Cartwright’s recollection comes from the statements of apostles Orson Hyde and Thomas B. Marsh, who in 1838 were temporarily estranged from the Saints in Missouri and testified at the trial of Joseph Smith for treason. They affirmed that the prophet intended “taking the United States, and ultimately the world.” See Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &c., in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons and the Evidence Given Before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, on the Trial of Joseph Smith Jr., and Others for High Treason and Other Crimes Against the State (Fayette, MO: Published by order of the General Assembly at the office of Boon’s Lick Democrat, 1841), 57-59. This will be referred to as Correspondence and Orders.

20. Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To All the Kings of the World, to the President of the United States of America; to the Governors of the Several States, and to the Rulers and People of All Nations (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1845), 1, 6. A copy of this proclamation is in the [p.187]Yale University Library and is also quoted in part in G. Homer Durham, “A political Interpretation of Mormon History,” Pacific Historical Review 13 (June 1944): 141.

21. 2 (Aug. 1834): 353. Compare also Messenger and Advocate 1 (Dec. 1834): 40.

22. The kingdom in Utah has been studied from an economic standpoint by Leonard J. Arrington, Feramorz Fox, and Dean L. May, Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation Among the Mormons (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976). Robert Bruce Flanders’s Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965) surveyed both political and economic aspects but neglected some of the doctrinal developments. Warren Abner Jennings in a dissertation at the University of Florida in 1962 studied Mormon-Gentile social relationships in Jackson County, Missouri. His work is entitled “Zion is Fled: The Expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County, Missouri.”

23. The above work by Arrington, Fox, and May is an exception but deals with economics, not politics.

24. Klaus J. Hansen, Quest for Empire (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967).

25. Fawn Brodie mentions charges of Mormon apostates that the Saints had established an independent government but fails to give it credence (pp. 244, 314-15). Compare Hansen, 4-5, 11, 65-66. Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton largely ignore it (The Mormon Experience [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979], 52, 206).

26. See James R. Clark, “The Kingdom of God, the Council of Fifty, and the State of Deseret,” Utah Historical Quarterly 26 (April 1958): 131-48. For a short time the council contained a small number of non-Mormons.

27. Hansen, 7-9.

28. D. Michael Quinn, “The Council of Fifty and its Members, 1844 to 1945,” Brigham Young University Studies 20 (Winter 1980): 163-93. That the council was not convened by the twelve apostles until February 1845 may only mean that they were struggling to establish their own authority in the confusion following Joseph Smith’s 1844 assassination and that they were fearful to convene a rival. This says nothing about what the council meant to Joseph Smith, who thought the end of the U.S. government was at hand and that the kingdom would replace it. See the “Journal of William Clayton” (LDSCA) where, on 13 April 1844, Smith “prophesied the entire overthrow of the nation in a few years.”

29. Thus Hansen argues (pp. 20-21) that the Saints by 1844 had tied themselves to the idea of progress and had become determined that they would build the kingdom themselves, with a minimum amount of help from the Lord. There is some truth in this, but it captures only part of their thought.

[p.188]30. Times and Seasons 3 (15 July 1842): 855-56. There is some evidence to suggest that some of the prophet’s theocratic ideas may have come from his paternal grandfather, Asael Smith, who wrote, “For my part I am willing to trust the government of the world in the hand of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe…He has conducted us through a glorious Revolution and brought us into the promised land of peace and liberty; and I believe that He is about to bring all the world in the same latitude in His own time and way…And I believe that the stone is now cut out of the mountain, without hands, spoken of by Daniel, and has smitten the image upon his feet … (viz. all the monarchical and ecclesiastical tyranny) shall be broken to pieces and become as chaff” (The Historical Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society 10:74-76).

31. HC 2:4-24 (the quotation is on p. 21).

32. Messenger and Advocate 1 (Dec. 1834): 40.

33. Mulder and Mortensen, 115. Compare also the Gospel Reflector 1 (15 May 1841):261, where Benjamin Winchester argues a similar idea.

34. The Gospel Reflector 1 (15 Jan. 1841): 38.

35. Ibid., 39, and 1 (15 April 1841): 202-203.

36. The Prophet 4 (8 June 1844): 2. Some support for Rigdon’s contention that the early Saints believed in the triumph of the kingdom is seen in Nancy Towles comment in 1831 that the Mormons expected to “increase and tread down all their enemies and bruise them beneath their feet” (Mulder and Mortensen, 60). E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: for the author, 1834) noted that the Saints planned an empire that would begin in Kirtland and reach all the way to the Pacific Ocean. He wrote (pp. no, 145) that they intended to control “all the secular power in the country.” And W. W. Phelps exclaimed in the Messenger and Advocate in 1834, “Away with crowns, and Kingdoms, away with fame and fashions—all are vanity … when the Lord comes, the riches of eternity will be given the Saints … the whole world will become the garden of God and his people. The land of the north, the land of the east, the land of the south, and the land of the ‘west’ will be the land of Israel … and the seat of the beloved city.” Theocratic ideas in the Book of Mormon also suggest the early commitments to the theocratic kingdom.

37. Howe, 14.

38. Parley P. Pratt, A Voice of Warning (London: F. D. Richards, 1854).

39. Pratt, Autobiography, 160.

40. Pratt, A Voice of Warning, 26-30.

41. Ibid., 30

42. Ibid., 96.

43. Ibid., 31.

44. Ibid., 71-77, 92.

45. Ibid., 185-86. Compare The Evening and the Morning Star I (Oct. 1832): 79 and 1 (Dec. 1832): 107.

[p.189]46. Ibid., 176. Compare Parley P. Pratt’s Millennium and Other Poems (New York: W. Molineux, 1840), 1-2, and Mormonism Unvailed (New York, 1838), 5. Pratt comments in the latter that “if God has provided the great west for a refuge, from … wrath, it is no more than he has done for his saints in former ages.”

47. Pratt, Mormonism Unvailed, 15. Compare BM, 500-501, 512, 520. Parley’s brother Orson wrote in An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (New York: Joseph W. Harrison, 1841), 32-33, “We believe that the nations are fast ripening in wickedness, and that judgments, fearful and terrible, speedily await them. … In the midst of all these commotions, just as every government seems to be on the very eve of crumbling to pieces, … a way of safety for the meek of the earth is clearly pointed out. The kingdom of God is reorganized on earth, which alone will stand secure and triumphant in the midst of the dissolution of all earthly governments.”

48. Amos Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio (Cincinnati: Chase & Hall, 1876), 183.

49. Pratt, A Voice of Warning, 177. Pratt insists if the city is not built by the Saints the Lord will not come.

50. DC 1:1-14, 35.

51. Pratt, A Voice of Warning, 13.

52. Missouri in 1838 may have been an exception.

53. HC 2:182.

54. Faulring, 349.

55. See Clebsch, 212, for the gradual adjustment most denominations made in the nineteenth century to pluralism. But compare Sidney E. Mead, The Old Religion in the Brave New World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), 88-90, for some of the difficulties American religious leaders have had. A very good recent discussion of Mormon anti-pluralism is Richard T. Hughes and C. Leonard Allen, Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630-1875 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 133-52.