Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism
by Dan Vogel
A New Jerusalem
[p.181]For both Mormons and Seekers the end of the world was imminent and the voice of warning urgent. Both shared the view that the world was becoming increasingly wicked and that the Millennium would begin only after Jesus came to destroy the ungodly. Primitivists, along with most eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Protestants, believed that world conditions would improve and that the millennial era would be inaugurated before the Second Coming.
Since the early days of the Christian church believers have tried to anticipate prophesied latter-day events (Acts 1:6-7; Jn. 21:20-24), although the Catholic church declared itself to be the millennial kingdom referred to in Revelation 20:1-6. Millennial questions were revived during the Reformation by Anabaptists and others who saw the Catholic church as an object of divine wrath. In England, during the reign of the Stuarts, respected scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and theologians attempted to decipher the images of Daniel and Revelation and to ascertain the date for the advent of the Millennium, which they variously calculated as sometime between 1640 and 1700.1
The Puritans were caught up in this general millennial excitement. Thomas Brightman, a Puritan writing in the last years of Elizabeth’s reign, expounded a millennialist view which assigned England a prominent role. Brightman believed that the Millennium had begun about the year 1300, that the church and kingdom would gradually become pure, and that Jesus would return to translate his kingdom into heaven and to destroy the great Roman beast.2
The Puritans of New England were avid millennialists. John Cotton believed that the Papacy would be abolished before the beginning of the Millennium and wrote several treatises on the [p.182]subject between 1642 and 1655. In 1660, Cambridge pastor Thomas Shepard warned backsliding Puritans of Jesus’s advent and their duty to be prepared in his book The Parable of the Ten Virgins Opened and Applied.
Puritans could not resist trying to calculate the date of Jesus’ appearance. In 1646 Thomas Parker, minister at Newberry, Massachusetts, published The Visions and Prophecies of Daniel Expounded which predicted the end of the world in about 1859. Deacon William Aspinwall of Boston, published in 1653 A Brief Description of the Fifth Monarchy, or Kingdome That Shortly Is to Come into the World, suggesting that the Millennium would begin no later than 1673. In A Discourse concerning Faith and Fervency in Prayer, and the Glorious Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, on Earth, Now Approaching (1710), Increase Mather contended that the 1,260 years of the Antichrist’s rule mentioned in Revelation 12:6 were “almost finished.”
The Puritans were predictably great watchers of the “signs of the times.” New England’s famous “Dark Day,” 19 May 1780, for example, was seen by Samuel Gatchel, deacon at Marblehead, as the fulfillment of the darkening of the sun preceding Jesus’s advent (Joel 3:15; Acts 2:20).3 The French Revolution (1789-99) occasioned millennial excitement among various religious groups in the new republic. Both liberals, such as Unitarian Joseph Priestley, and conservatives, such as Yale’s president Timothy Dwight, hailed the revolution as another wound upon “Antichristian” Rome.4
In 1794 the Reverend David Austin of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, published The Millennium; or, The Thousand Years of Prosperity, Promised to the Church of God, in the Old Testament and the New, Shortly to Commence, which predicted that Jesus would return on 15 May 1796. After a long, anxious day of waiting, Austin stood before his congregation and preached from the text, “My Lord delayeth his coming.”5 The Reverend Jedediah Morse, a Congregational pastor in Charlestown, Massachusetts, predicted in 1810 that the Millennium would dawn about 1866.6 Ethan Smith made similar calculations in his 1811 book Dissertation on the Prophecies Relative to Antichrist and the Last Times.7
Millennialism was an important element in nineteenth-century revivalism. During the Great Revival of 1800, Peter Cartwright remembered seeing various individuals in trances and visions, predicting the time of the end of the world and the ushering in of the Millennium.8 Revivalism and millennialism fueled [p.183]many of the reform movements of the nineteenth century.9 Revivalists believed in the gradual improvement of society before Jesus’ advent.10
“If the church will do her duty,” preeminent revivalist Charles G. Finney declared in 1835, “the millennium may come in this country in three years.”11 Mark Hopkins, president of Williams College, longed for the time when “wars, and intemperance, and licentiousness, and fraud, and slavery, and all oppression shall cease . . . through the transforming influence of Christianity.”12 However, millennialist optimism cooled somewhat during the Civil War. “We had flattered ourselves,” wrote one editor during the war, “that we should escape the desolating wars which have marked the fluctuating fortunes of European Empire, and that in a pathway of unbroken peace we should sweep forward into the cloudless splendors of the Millennial era.”13
Nineteenth-century America saw many adventist or millenarian groups which thrived primarily on a belief in the imminent appearance of Jesus. Irvingites, Millerites (many of whom became Seventh-Day Adventists), and Russellites (Jehovah’s Witnesses) were among those groups stressing adventism and millenarianism.
Primitivists and Seekers generally differed in their beliefs about the Millennium. Most Primitivists, like the majority of Protestants in antebellum America, were postmillennialists: they believed that Jesus would come again after the Millennium had commenced, when the world had been made ready for him. “The Millennium,” Alexander Campbell declared in 1841, “is to precede the coming of the Lord, the general conflagration, and the creation of new heavens and earth.”14 In contrast, Seekers believed the Millennium would not begin until after Jesus destroyed the ungodly. Therefore their purpose was to call true believers out of spiritual Babylon.
Roger Williams was a literalistic Seeker who believed in the literal return of Jesus and the establishment of his millennial kingdom. Williams disputed with the Quakers because they rejected the physical return of Jesus to establish a literal kingdom.15 Quakers insisted that the thousand year reign of peace had been inaugurated and would continue to spread among true believers. They spiritualized and internalized the meaning of a millennial reign. Williams, like other Seekers, was a premillennialist who believed Jesus would “shortly” return “in flaming fire to burne up millions of ignorant and disobedient” to usher in the Millennium.16
[p.184]For Seekers, the restoration of the true church would come in close proximity to the Millennium. In fact, Roger Williams asserted that the church would not be restored until Jesus’s true apostles appeared to inaugurate the Millennium, which Williams believed was near at hand. He believed that the predicted time of the fulness of the Gentiles was about to begin (Rom. 11:25) and in 1652 declared, “The fullnesse of the Gentiles is not yet come, and probably shall not, untill the downfall of the Papacy.”17 Williams believed that despite the lack of proper authority in any of the churches reformers served as forerunners of the restoration and were inspired by God to witness and testify against the “whore of Rome.”18 “During the dreadfull Apostacy and Desolation, the Lord hath not left the World without witnesse, but hath graciously and wonderfully stirred up his holy Prophets and Witnesses,” Williams explained.19 He interpreted the ministry of the “two witnesses” in the eleventh chapter of Revelation as a reference to those who were persecuted for their dissension from the church of Rome. “The whole Books of Martyrs (or Witnesses) is nothing else but a large Commentary or History, of the Ministry of Witnesses, during all the Reigne of the Beast, to this day.”20 He believed that the period of witness was about to end and a period of restoration would begin, with the overthrow of spiritual Babylon.21 This would not be achieved without “great sufferings and slaughters of the Saints, upon occasion of which Christ Jesus in his holy wrath and jealousie, will burne and teare the bloody whore of Rome, in pieces.”22 Thus according to Williams, ordinances would not be instituted nor churches established until the Millennium, but the saints were to be gathered out of spiritual Babylon to finish their testimony against the Beast.
Asa Wild believed that “various and dreadful judgments [are to be] executed immediately by God, through the instrumentality of the Ministers of the Millenial dispensation,” although the actual Millennium would not begin for another seven years.23 He predicted that the Millennium would be “preceded by a variety of secondary events,” including the calling of apostle-like ministers24 and the punishment of the wicked,25 after which “the Millennium state of the world” would take place.26
Mormons were also Millenarian. In the earliest account of Joseph Smith’s first vision, Jesus says that “mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles. Behold and lo, I [p.185]come quickly as it [is] written of me, in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father.”27 Smith also reported that the angel which visited him three times in 1829 quoted biblical prophecies concerning the Second Coming and the destruction of the wicked.28
The Book of Mormon clearly advocates a premillennialist view. “For the time speedily cometh,” declares Nephi, “that the Lord God shall cause a great division among the people, and the wicked will he destroy; and he will spare his people, yea, even if it so be that he must destroy the wicked by fire” (2 Ne. 30:10). Only after the destruction of the wicked can the words which the prophet Isaiah wrote concerning the earth’s millennial rest be fulfilled (2 Ne. 30:11-15/ Isa. 11:5-9). Again, Nephi explains: “The time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off. . . . For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain . . . must be brought low in the dust; they are those who must be consumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet” (1 Ne. 22:19, 23; cf. Mal. 4:1). It is only after the destruction of the wicked that “Satan has no power” and “the Holy One of Israel must reign in dominion, and might, and power, and great glory” (1 Ne. 22:24, 26).
On 26 September 1830, Smith dictated a revelation in which God declared that “the hour is nigh and the day soon at hand when the earth is ripe; and all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that wickedness shall not be upon the earth. . . . For I will reveal myself from heaven with power and great glory, with all the hosts thereof, and dwell in righteousness with men on earth a thousand years, and the wicked shall not stand” (D&C 29:9, 11). The revelation describes the signs which will precede his coming:
Before this great day shall come the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall be turned into blood, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and there shall be greater signs in heaven above and in the earth beneath; and there shall be weeping and wailing among the hosts of men; and there shall be a great hailstorm sent forth to destroy the crops of the earth. And it shall come to pass, because of the wickedness of the world, that I will take vengeance upon the wicked, for they will not repent; for the cup of mine indignation is full; for behold, my blood shall not cleanse them if they hear me not (vv. 14-17).
[p.186]Early Mormons were biblical literalists.29 This predisposition is reflected in the Book of Mormon, which declares that the words of the prophets concerning the Millennium will be literally fulfilled. Nephi declares that the destruction of the wicked is not only spiritual but “cometh unto men according to the flesh if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel” (1 Ne. 22:18). After Nephi describes the destruction of the wicked and the establishment of the millennial kingdom of God, he states that “all these things must come according to the flesh” (22:27).
In the June 1834 issue of The Evening and the Morning Star, Oliver Cowdery complained of non-Mormon preachers’ attempts to “spiritualize” the Millennium.30 Premillennialists, like Cowdery, often charged postmillennialists with avoiding the clear, literal meaning of biblical prophesy.31 “It is only the weak and vain schemes of men in spiritualizing and interpreting, which have rendered the bible obscure and unintelligible,” Cowdery lamented. “This whole spiritualizing and interpreting business, originated in unbelief.”32
Like the early Puritans, the first Mormons scrutinized the events of their day for signs of God’s providence. The Evening and Morning Star, published at the Mormon Zion (Independence, Missouri) and edited by William W. Phelps, delighted in pointing out various global catastrophes as signs of the end.33 Like Seekers, Mormons believed the restoration of the true church was yet another sign of Jesus’ second advent. Commenting on the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21), Mormon apostle Parley P. Pratt explained in his popular 1837 pamphlet A Voice of Warning: “We . . . learn, that the time of restitution was to be at or near the time of Christ’s second coming, for the heavens are to receive him until the times of restitution, and then the Lord shall send him again to the earth.”34 The Book of Mormon, Pratt wrote, “contains important prophesies, yet to be fulfilled, which immediately concerns the present generation.”35 The Book of Mormon itself was also a sign of Jesus’ return. Mormon writes, “When the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled. And ye may know that the words of the Lord, which have been spoken by the holy prophets, shall all be fulfilled; and ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel” (3 Ne. 29:1-2).
[p.187]Joseph Smith was uncertain how many years a full and complete millennial restoration would require. A revelation, given on 6 December 1832, for example, explained to Smith that the restored “priesthood . . . must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began” (D&C 86:10; cf. 27:6; 127:8). As late as 1836, Smith was praying that God would establish his millennial kingdom in order that “thy church may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness” (D&C 109:73).
Yet Mormonism had its share of millennial prognosticators. During the church’s infancy, when charisma and religious enthusiasm had not yet been tempered by disappointment and delay, Mormons heaped judgments on their enemies and predicted the end within a very short time.36 When the missionaries first arrived in the Ohio Reserve, the Painesville Telegraph reported in November 1830 that Oliver Cowdery “proclaims destruction upon the world within a few years.”37 The following month the Ohio Star reported that the missionaries “predicted the end of the world in 15 years.”38 The Painesville Telegraph also reported that upon his arrival in Kirtland on 12 March 1831, Martin Harris prophesied that “all who believed the new bible [the Book of Mormon] would see Christ within fifteen years, and all who did not would absolutely be destroyed and dam’d.”39 Later, Harris reportedly predicted that “within four years . . . there will not be one wicked person left in the United States; that the righteous will be gathered to Zion, [Missouri,] and that there will be no President over these United States after that time. . . . Every sectarian and religious denomination in the United States shall be broken down, and every Christian shall be gathered unto the Mormonites, and the rest of the human race shall perish.”40
It is important to note that Mormon predictions, like those of Seekers, were based not upon biblical calculations but revelation. Prophecy was one of the spiritual gifts promised the true believer (Moro. 10:13). Missionaries were instructed to “deny not the spirit of revelation, nor the spirit of prophecy” (D&C 11:21). In a revelation Joseph Smith dictated in November 1830, God told Orson Pratt that “the time is soon at hand that I shall come in a cloud with power and great glory.” Pratt was to “lift up your voice and spare not, for the Lord God hath spoken; therefore prophesy, and it shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost” (D&C 34:7, 10).
[p.188]Joseph Smith did not date the Second Coming, but he expected, as did others, that it would take place in the immediate future. Smith’s early revelations often noted the nearness of the return (D&C 33:18; 34:7, 12; 35:15, 27; 38:8; 39:24; 41:4). In June 1831, Levi Hancock reported that Smith said “the kingdom that Christ spoke of . . . would some day come. . . . Some of you shall live to see it come with great glory.”41 On 4 January 1833 Smith wrote to the American Revivalist, and Rochester Observer:
I am prepared to say by the authority of Jesus Christ, that not many years shall pass away before the United States shall present such a scene of bloodshed as has not a parallel in the hystory [sic] of our nation pestalence hail famine and earthquake will sweep the wicked of this generation from off the face of this Land to open and prepare the way for the return of the lost tribes of Israel from the north country—The people of the Lord, those who have complied with the requisitions of the new covenant have already commenced gathering togethe[r] to Zion which is in the State of Missouri. Therefore I declare unto you the warning which the Lord has commanded me to declare unto this generation. . . . The hour of his Judgment is come. Repent ye Repent ye and imbrace the everlasting Covenant and flee to Zion before the overflowing scourge overtake you, For there are those now living upon the earth whose eyes shall not be closed in death until they see all these things which I have spoken fulfilled.42
Early Mormon missionaries believed they were warning those who would face a final holocaust. This was a day of decision, in the words of Nephi, “either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually” (1 Ne. 14:7). “It is the eleventh hour,” God said in October 1830, “and the last time that I shall call laborers into my vineyard” (D&C 33:3; cf. 88:81-85).
In a revelation given in September 1832, God specifically instructed Bishop Newel K. Whitney to “go unto the city of New York, also to the city of Albany, and also the city of Boston, and warn the people of those cities with the sound of the gospel, with a loud voice, of the desolation and utter abolishment which await them if they do reject these things. For if they do reject these things the hour of their judgment is nigh, and their house shall be left unto them desolate” (D&C 84:114).43 And unto “the rest of my servants,” the Lord commanded:
[p.189]go ye forth . . . unto the great and notable cities and villages, reproving the world in righteousness of all their unrighteousness and ungodly deeds, setting forth clearly and understandingly the desolation of abomination in the last days. . . . Yet a little while and ye shall see it, and know that I am, and that I will come and reign with my people (D&C 84:117, 119; cf. 109:39-41).
As late as 1842, Mormon elder Freeman Nickerson published in the local newspaper a warning to the inhabitants of Boston: “I request the citizens and authorities of the city of Boston, to open a house for the servant of the people, that the Lord hath sent to this city to warn the people of the destruction which will take place in this generation, that is now on earth, and teach them how they may escape, and come through and abide the day of the second coming of Christ.”44
The event which made “the desolation of abomination” seem even more imminent and the “voice of warning” even more urgent came on 24 November 1832, when the South Carolina legislature, responding to the federal tariff acts of 1828 and 1832, passed laws to implement the Ordinance of Nullification. President Andrew Jackson countered by threatening to use force if necessary to uphold the new laws in rebellious states. These events were being followed very closely by the newspapers, including the Painesville Telegraph, which declared in mid-December that “civil war” was at hand and “unless some signal interposition shall arrest the course of events . . . our national existence is at an end.”45 On 25 December 1832, when this volatile situation seemed certain to explode at any moment into a national Armageddon, Joseph Smith penned his famous “Prophecy on War.” This prophecy declares in part:
Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls; and the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place. For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations. . . . Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen (D&C 87:1-3, 8).46
[p.190]By March 1833 the immediate threat of civil war had subsided, and Smith chose not to publish his Prophecy on War with his other revelations.47 When the Compromise of 1850 rekindled the conflict and national disaster threatened, the prophecy was included in the The Pearl of Great Price, a pamphlet published in 1851 in England—seven years after Joseph Smith’s death.48
The prospectus to the first Mormon periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star, notes that its purpose is to warn the world of impending destruction and to gather the elect to Zion.49 Such anticipation of swift destruction contributed to a sense of urgency about the need to gather to Zion and conflicted with the popular Protestant view that conversion gathered spiritual Israel to the church. Thus Oliver Cowdery criticized the Campbellites in 1834 for reading references in scripture to the gathering of Israel as figurative.50 In 1842, Joseph Smith announced that one of Mormonism’s distinctive doctrines was belief “in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.”51 The Book of Mormon explained that righteous Gentiles gathered by God’s latter-day messengers are like branches grafted onto the tree of Israel (1 Ne. 10:12-14; Jac. 5:1-6:8) and “shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel” (3 Ne. 16:13; 21:6; 30:2). The Gentiles would assist in gathering the Indian Israelites in the western hemisphere to share in the blessings promised to Israel.
The Book of Mormon describes two gathering places: one in old Jerusalem and the other on the American continent. When the resurrected Jesus visited the Nephites, he spoke about the New Jerusalem which was to be established in America, stating that it would become the center for gathering American Israelites. Jesus reminded these descendants of Lehi that they were “a remnant of the house of Israel” and heirs of the covenant (3 Ne. 20:10, 12). “This people,” speaking of the latter-day Indians, “will I establish in this land, unto the fulfilling of the covenant which I made with your father Jacob; and it shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you” (20:22).
Jesus also spoke of the blessings that awaited the faithful Gentiles in latter-day America:
Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent. . . . If they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall [p.191]come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob [Indians], unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance; and they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem. And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem. And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst (3 Ne. 21:14, 22-25).
The New Jerusalem was to be “a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God” (D&C 45:66): “And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety. And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another” (vv. 68-69).
In September 1830, Smith dictated a revelation in which God declared, “Ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect. . . . Wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked” (D&C 29:7-8). This New Jerusalem, designated as Zion (Independence) Missouri, was to enable the Saints to escape impending destruction and to prepare to receive Jesus Christ.52 “For without Zion, and a place of deliverance we must fall,” Smith explained in 1834. “For God will gather out His Saints from the Gentiles, and then comes desolation and destruction, and none can escape except the pure in heart who are gathered.”53
This notion of gathering went back to early Puritan colonizing in New England.54 John Winthrop believed that one reason for building a New Jerusalem in America was to escape the Lord’s judgments on the English church. Before leaving for New England, Winthrop reasoned that “all other churches of Europe beinge brought to desolation it cannot be but that the like Judgement is comminge upon us and who knoweth but that god hath prepared this place for a refuge for many whome he meaneth to save in the general destruction.”55 Because the Puritans had failed to reform the English churches, America became their last hope for temporal salvation.56
[p.192]Joseph Smith inherited the broad outlines of this concept of a New Jerusalem from his Puritan forefathers. To the Puritans, the New Jerusalem was above all temporal and political.57 They had not come to New England merely to save their souls but to establish the “visible” kingdom of God, a society where God’s laws would be strictly obeyed. “This was New-Englands [sic] glory and design,” wrote James Allen in 1679. “They came not hither to assert the prophetical or Priestly office of Christ so much, that were so fully owned in Old England, but [to assert] his kingly [office], to bear witness to those truths concerning his visible Kingdom.”58 This visible kingdom was, God willing, within human reach. In expressing a similar view, John Cotton disagreed with Roger Williams, who believed the New Jerusalem was closely associated with the advent of the Millennium. Cotton’s postmillennialism caused him to expect a transformation of the world before Jesus’ return. God would bring into being a “visible state of a new Hierusalem [sic], which shall flourish many years upon Earth, before the end of the world.”59 New England was established with this view in mind.60
Some Puritans believed they had come to New England to join with God in “buyldinge his newe Jerusalem” and considered themselves privileged “to laye but one stone in the foundacion of this new Syon.”61 In a short time they announced, “We have created in the wilderness of the western world a commonwealth for Christ, a spiritual New Jerusalem.”62 (This sense of mission would persist in the American psyche.63) Although adversity would threaten this dream, as long as they were faithful to their covenants, God would protect them by punishing their enemies. But when they grew proud and worldly, the Lord sent plagues and Indians to humble them, at least according to certain leading preachers,64 some of whom believed that God’s attention to America indicated the new country’s importance in the divine scheme.65
Not everyone viewed the New World with such optimism. Increase Mather echoed the general Puritan disappointment when he said in 1702 that “God has not seen to take pleasure in the American world, so as to fix and settle his Glory therein.”66 Although the Puritan dream of establishing a New Jerusalem dimmed over time, some continued to hope.67 In 1654, Edward Johnson reminded fellow Puritans that God’s servants had promised that “this is the place where the Lord will create a new Heaven, and a new Earth.” He also believed the colonists were in [p.193]”the service of our Lord Christ, to re-build the most glorious Edifice of Mount Sion in a Wildernesse.”68
In 1684, Samuel Sewall, jurist and commissioner of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, rhetorically asked Cotton Mather “why the Heart of America may not be the seat of the New-Jerusalem.”69 In his 1697 book Phaenomena quaedam Apocalyptica, Sewall again asked readers why America could not be “the place of New Jerusalem.” In his opinion, “America’s Name is to be seen fairly Recorded in Scripture” and America could well be the “seat of New Jerusalem.” Sewall believed the American Indians were descendants of the lost ten tribes of Israel who would be present to hear Jesus’ voice at the Second Coming.70
Cotton Mather likewise discussed the American New Jerusalem. Mather “firmly believed that he had been sent on a special mission by God to lead his own and his father’s generations out of their years of confusion and doubt and into a new time that would see the coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Jerusalem in America.”71 Mather looked “westward” for “the last conflict with antichrist” and quoted Uriah Oakes: “That for the New-Jerusalem, there may/ A Seat be found in wide America.”72 Mather himself argued in 1710 that somewhere in “the brave Countries and Gardens which fill the American Hemesphere”—outside New England—”our Glorious Lord will have an Holy City in America; a City, the Street whereof will be Pure Gold.”73
The Puritan dream of an American New Jerusalem persisted in the post-Puritan imagination. In 1785 a book titled The Golden Age told of its author being taken to a high mountain in the center of North America by an angel and watching the Jews gather to America, the “New Canaan,” to settle a “New Jerusalem.”74 As late as 8 October 1829, the Wayne Sentinel reported that a Mr. McDonald, a gentleman about fifty years of age living near Bowling Green, Kentucky, had “founded a city, which he calls New Jerusalem.” (McDonald believed he and his followers would live forever as promised in the Bible.)
As soon as the Mormon church had come out of the wilderness of apostasy it headed for the American wilderness to establish the New Jerusalem. The location of the Mormon New Jerusalem was revealed to Joseph Smith in July 1831, only one year after the founding of the Church of Christ (D&C 57:1-3).75 That August, Smith’s counselor Sidney Rigdon dedicated a temple [p.194]site at what was foreseen to be the center of the new city. And on 22 September 1832, Smith was instructed to begin building:
The city of New Jerusalem . . . shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri. . . . The city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation. For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house (D&C 84:2-5).
On 25 June 1833, Smith sent city plans and temple specifications to the leaders of the church in Missouri. According to Smith, the city of Zion would begin with a “plat . . . one mile square.” “When this square is thus laid off and supplied,” he continued, “lay off another in the same way, and so fill up the world in these last days.”76 Thus Mormonism attempted to recapture the Puritan dream of an ideal community—including theocratic government.77 Unfortunately, before they could build their model city, they would be driven from Missouri in 1839.78
The Book of Mormon describes an American-based New Jerusalem as well as a holy city descending out of heaven. The Book of Mormon prophet Ether speaks of both “a New Jerusalem [that] should be built up upon this land [of America]” and “the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven” (13:3, 6). The heavenly New Jerusalem would come at a time when “there shall be a new heaven and a new earth” (see 13:9-12).
In December 1830 Joseph Smith received a revelation, known in part as the “Prophecy of Enoch,” which told of the Old Testament City of Enoch being taken into heaven:
So great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled; . . . and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch. . . . And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. And Enoch . . . built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even ZION. . . . [And] the Lord said unto Enoch: Zion have I blessed, but the residue of the people have I cursed. And it came to pass that the Lord showed unto Enoch all the inhabitants of the earth; and he [p.195]beheld, and lo, Zion, in process of time, was taken up into heaven (Moses 7:13, 18-21).
An extract of this revelation was published in The Evening and the Morning Star in August 1832. In this important portion of the revelation God tells Enoch about the establishment of a latter-day Zion and the eventual union of the two Zions.
And truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem. . . . Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and . . . there shall be mine abode, . . . and for the space of a thousand years the earth shall rest (Moses 7:60-64).
In March 1832, the new Mormon settlement in Missouri was referred to in a revelation symbolically as “the city of Enoch” and Joseph Smith was called “Enoch” (D&C 78:1, 4). The revelation promised that the church would be lifted up “in a cloud” to meet Jesus (vv. 20-21). Those who did not gather to Zion to be caught up at Jesus’ return would be destroyed (D&C 76:99-106; 88:92-98). Thus Paul’s words to the Thessalonians–that those alive at Christ’s return “shall be caught up . . . in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thes. 4:17)—applied to the church as a group rather than to individuals. In May 1833, The Evening and the Morning Star published the words to the Mormon hymn “Songs of Zion,” which elaborated on the expected levitation of the church: “Behold the church, it soars on high,/ To meet the saints amid the sky;/ To hail the King in clouds of fire:/ And strike and tune th’ immortal lyre.”79
The doctrine of “translation”—the changing from a mortal state to an immortal state without necessarily dying first—figures prominently in early Mormon thinking. Early in their work on the Book of Mormon, Smith and Cowdery came to a passage which tried to explain the disappearance of Alma the Younger in language which left the matter undecided as to whether “he was taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses” (Al. 45:18-19; cf. 3 Ne. 1:2; 2:9). Also about this time (April 1829) Smith and Cowdery argued over a disputed passage in the New Testament about the apostle John living until Jesus returned (Jn. 21:20-24).80 When Smith asked God about this, a revelation declared that John had indeed been translated and was ministering on earth until Jesus’s [p.196]return (D&C 7). The following month Smith come to a portion of the plates which described the translation of three of the Nephite disciples and explained in detail the nature of translated beings (3 Ne. 28).
In December 1830, while revising the Bible, Smith learned that not only had Enoch’s city been taken to heaven but afterwards “the Holy Ghost fell on many, and they were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion” (Moses 7:27). Early the next year Smith added to the Genesis account regarding Melchizedek that the priest of Salem “was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch. . . . And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.” Melchizedek preached peace to his people, who “wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world; and hath said, and sworn with an oath, that the heavens and the earth should come together” (Gen. 14:27, 32, 34-35, “Inspired Version”).
Melchizedek’s fate is alluded to in the Book of Mormon. Melchizedek, Alma explains, was “ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest . . . and there were many, exceeding great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God” (Al. 13:6, 12). Alma further explains that Melchizedek and other ancient high priests were “ordained after the order of his [God’s] Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption” (13:2). Early Mormons would thus have connected the doctrine of the high priesthood with translation. William W. Phelps, for example, said “Enoch . . . preached the resurrection, and confirmed the doctrine by being translated, with Zion, to the bosom of God.”81
According to a February 1832 revelation, those who would ultimately be saved in the highest heavenly kingdom were those “priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek. . . . These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven. . . . These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all. These are they who have come to an [p.197]innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn” (D&C 76:57, 63, 66-67).82
Early Mormon historian John Whitmer recorded that there was a tradition among some Mormons “that those who obeyed the covenant in the last days, would never die; but by experience, they have learned to the contrary.”83 On 5 April 1831 the Painesville Telegraph reported that one Mormon refused to call a physician because he believed he would never die. On 18 April 1832, the Wayne Sentinel described the beliefs of Mormons in Mendon, New York, home of recent converts Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. “The preacher says he shall never die, but be translated, after the manner of Enoch, and that in eighteen months Mormonism will be the prevailing religion; and that in five years, the wicked are to be swept from the face of the earth.”
Many early Mormon blessings reveal this literal belief in the doctrine of translation. “President Z[ebedee]. Coltrin ordained me as a member of the first Seventy & Pronounced great blessings upon my head by the Spirit of Prophecy & Revelation,” Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal on 3 January 1837. Among other things, the blessing promised that “I should then return & stand upon Mount Zion in the flesh even in Jackson County Missouri at the Cumming of Christ & that I should be caught up to meet him in the Clouds of heaven for he said this was the word of God unto me & Also that I should visit COLUB & Preach to the spirits in Prision.”84 On 7 December 1836, William Huntington blessed his thirteen-year-old son, Oliver: “thou shalt have power with God even to translate thyself to Heaven, & preach to the inhabitants of the moon or planets, if it shall be expedient.”85 The following week, Lorenzo Snow received a blessing from Joseph Smith, Sr., which promised “thou shalt have power to translate thyself from one planet to another, power to go to the moon if thou shalt desire it, power to preach to the spirits in prison. Power like Enoch to translate thyself to heaven.”86 Caroline Barnes Crosby copied into her journal a blessing her husband, Jonathan Crosby, received on 21 February 1836 from Joseph Smith, Sr.:
Thou shalt . . . by the power of God, Be caught up to the third heavens, and behold unspeakable things, whether in the body or out. Thou shalt see thy Redeemer in the flesh, and know that He lives. Angels shall minister unto thee, and protect thee from thine enemies, so that none shall be able to take thy life. And when thy mission is full here, thou shalt visit other worlds, and remain a Priest in Eternity. Thou shalt [p.198]stand upon the earth ’till the Redeemer comes, See the end of this generation, and when the heavens rend, thou shalt rise and meet thy God in the air.87
The doctrine of translation was also a part of the beliefs of Asa Wild. Wild admonished readers to persevere until “being made fully ‘meet for the inheritance of the saints in light,’ and being so filled with God and glory that earth can no longer contain you, like Enoch and Elijah, you are translated to a brighter world.”88 The group which founded the New Jerusalem in Kentucky also believed they would “live forever as promised in the Bible.”89
Mormons thought that contemporary Indian policy validated their belief that they were viewing the last events of world history. The 1830 Indian Removal Act, which relocated the Indian nations just a few miles west of the revealed site of the New Jerusalem, was seen as providential since “Lamanites” were to be the primary occupants of the New Jerusalem (3 Ne. 21:24).90 For example, Parley P. Pratt wrote in 1837 that “the government of the United States has been engaged, for upwards of nine years, in gathering the remnant of Joseph to the very place they will finally build a New Jerusalem, a city of Zion, with the assistance of the Gentiles, who will gather them from all the face of the land: and this gathering is clearly predicted in the Book of Mormon, and other revelations, and the place before appointed, and the time set for its fulfillment.”91 This event combined with signs that Armageddon was about to sweep through the United States must have greatly intensified the Saints’ millenarian expectations.
However, such optimism was premature. In April 1833 about three hundred citizens met in Independence to plan the removal or destruction of their Mormon neighbors. On 20 July 1833 a mob destroyed the church’s printing office in Independence. By 7 November approximately 1,200 Mormon residents had been driven from Jackson County, most of whom found temporary refuge in nearby Clay County.92 Instead of a place of refuge for the Saints, Zion had become a place of danger, a place from which the Saints had to flee.
But as late as 2 August 1833 Smith dictated a revelation which directed the Saints to build the temple in Zion: “It is my will that a house should be built unto me in the land of Zion, like unto the pattern which I have given you. Yea, let it be built speedily, by the tithing of my people. Behold, this is the tithing and the sacrifice which I, the Lord, require at their hands, that there may [p.199]be a house built unto me for the salvation of Zion” (D&C 97:10-12). Shortly thereafter, Smith received news of the growing antagonism against the church in Missouri.93 On 6 August, four days after the above revelation, Smith dictated another revelation, advising the Saints to obey the law, “waiting patiently on the Lord . . . [For] all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord; . . . and I will try you and prove you herewith” (D&C 98:2, 3, 12). In October God promised, “Zion shall be redeemed, although she is chastened for a little season” (D&C 100:13).
On 10 December 1833, Smith wrote to his brethren in Zion, “I know that Zion, in the own due time of the Lord will be redeemed, but how many will be the days of her purification, tribulation and affliction, the Lord has kept from my eyes; and when I enquire concerning this subject the voice of the Lord is, Be still, and know that I am God!” In the same letter, Smith advised those in Missouri to “retain your lands even unto the uttermost, and seeking ev[e]ry lawful means to obtain redress of your enemies &c &c and pray to God day and night to return you in peace and in safety to the Lands of your inheritance.” What Smith meant by “uttermost” was explained by his comment that “it is better that you should die in the ey[e]s of God, then that you should give up the Land of Zion.”94
On 16 December, Smith dictated a revelation which explained that the Saints were afflicted in Missouri “in consequence of their transgressions” (D&C 101:2). The revelation instructed the Saints in Zion to make their redresses before the law: “let them importune at the feet of the judge; and if he heed them not, let them importune at the feet of the governor; and if the governor heed them not, let them importune at the feet of the president; and if the president heed them not, then will the Lord arise and come forth out of his hiding place, and in his fury vex the nation” (101:86-89). According to Parley P. Pratt, “the revelation was printed at the time, and a copy of it sent to the Governor of Missouri, and another to President Jackson.”95
When peaceful attempts to redeem Zion failed, Smith began to organize a more aggressive effort. A revelation given on 24 February 1834 declared “the redemption of Zion must needs come by power. . . . Let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake” (D&C 103:15, 27). “I have decreed,” God states, “that your brethren which have been scattered shall return to the lands of their inheritances, and shall build up the waste places of Zion” [p.200](103:11). In a 10 April 1834 letter to John F. Boynton, Oliver Cowdery explained the importance of redeeming Zion: “You will undoubtedly see that it is of but little consequence to proclaim the everlasting gospel to men, and warn them to flee to Zion for refuge, when there is no Zion, but that which is in possession of the wicked. So, Zion must be redeemed, and then the saints can have a place to flee to for safety.”96
On 5 May 1834, Smith left Kirtland, Ohio, with a paramilitary group called “Zion’s Camp” and headed for Zion “for the purpose of carrying some supplies to the afflicted and persecuted Saints in Missouri, and to reinforce and strengthen them; and, if possible, to influence the Governor of the State to call out sufficient additional force to cooperate in restoring them to their rights.”97 Gathering recruits along the way, Smith arrived in Missouri with some 205 armed men. However, the camp was suffering a cholera epidemic.98 On 22 June Smith received a revelation at their Fishing River encampment which explained that “were it not for the transgressions of my people, . . . they might have been redeemed even now. . . . Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion” (D&C 105:2, 9). With that pronouncement, Smith discharged the members of Zion’s Camp on 30 June.99
Smith soon announced that 11 September 1836 was “the appointed time for the redemption of Zion.”100 In October 1835, Smith indicated to bishops Edward Partridge and Newel K. Whitney that he was still committed to the predicted date for the return to Independence.101 The proceedings at the dedication of the Kirtland temple in March 1836 were replete with references to the redemption of Zion. The endowment of spiritual power was seen as a necessary prerequisite to that event.102 The church officers who had formerly presided over the Zion church retained their titles and were thus generally considered to be the Zion church in exile ready to take their former positions at the appointed time.103
Smith’s prediction of vindication was taken seriously by his followers. Traveler Edmund Flagg, while in the “far west” during the summer of 1836, met a company of Mormons on their way to Zion who explained that they were on their way to “Mount Zion” and that “the Saviour was about to descend in Jackson county, Missouri; the millennium was dawning, and that all who [p.201]were not baptized . . . and forthwith repaired to Mount Zion . . . would assuredly be cut off, and that without remedy.”104
During a special conference of the church on 2 April 1836, Smith and Cowdery were appointed by a committee to raise as much money as they could “for a season” and to send it to the leaders in Zion to purchase land.105 Even before the failure of Zion’s Camp, church leaders in Kirtland had considered buying out their opponents.106 Just before the appointed time, Smith and others made a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, seeking “treasure . . . for the benefit of Zion” (D&C 111:2).107 However, when Smith did not obtain the treasure he sought, he “returned to Kirtland, sometime in the month of September.”108
On 5 February 1838 David Whitmer and others were tried at Far West, Missouri, for selling their Zion lands, which was considered a “denial of the faith.” The following year, on 9 March, Smith finally advised Mormons to “sell all the land in Jackson, and all other lands in the State [of Missouri]”—thus cooling any ideas that Zion was to be redeemed soon.109
Disappointment and impatience are discernible in Parley P. Pratt’s 4 December 1841 letter to Joseph Smith from Manchester, England. Seeking “a word of encouragement,” Pratt apologetically requests answers from Smith to the following:
When Will The “purchased possesion” be Redeemed and the temple and city commence in Jackson Co. Mo.[?] . . . When Will the ungodly, lying, Gentiles begin to loose their Power and cease to Rule; and We who have now spent half our lives for them, be privaledged to turn from the Gentiles and go in full power to the Remnants of Joseph [Indians] and Israel?110
In the wake of such apparent failure, Smith’s prophetic powers were openly challenged. When the camp returned to Kirtland, newspaper editor E. D. Howe reported, “there was a constant uproar among the brethren, for three or four weeks, which only terminated in a sham trial of the Prophet.”111 Some “were doubting the truth of the book of mormon, others denying the faith,” early Mormon historian John Whitmer recorded.112 On 16 August 1834, Smith wrote to his brethren in Missouri that Sylvester Smith and others “stirred up a great difficulty in the Church against me. Accordingly I was met in the face and eyes, as soon as I had got home, with a catalogue of charges . . . the cry was Tyrant—Pope—King—Usurper—Abuser of men—Angel—False Prophet—Prophesying lies in the name of the Lord—Taking consecrated [p.202]monies—and every other lie to fill up and complete the catalogue.”113
The failure of Zion’s Camp made it all the more imperative for Smith to complete the transition from charismatic source of authority to one more stable and enduring. Perhaps the initial delay in organizing the church’s government and hierarchy related to millennial expectations, but now Smith moved quickly to further institutionalize authority. Even before he left Missouri, Smith organized a high council for Zion just as he had done in Kirtland. In February 1835 he organized the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and the First Quorum of Seventy. Zion’s Camp may not have been a complete failure since virtually all the leaders chosen for these two hierarchical bodies were previously members of the camp who had thus been tested and proven loyal. The organization of these two quorums also provided the leadership for the increased missionary effort which Mormons would soon launch.
The month following Smith’s return from Zion’s Camp, he assisted Cowdery in preparing “a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints,” which included the first published version of the angelic ordination of Smith and Cowdery to “the holy priesthood.”114 Smith’s efforts to publish his revelations were finally realized in September 1835 when the Doctrine and Covenants went on sale.
After the failure to establish Zion, church leaders began to deemphasize the nearness of Jesus’ return and the destruction of the wicked. An important change in one of the early revelations shows the shift in the early Mormon position regarding the nearness of the Millennium. Book of Commandments 4:6, given in March 1829, warned “this generation” that “the sword of justice hangeth over their heads, and if they persist in the hardness of their hearts, the time cometh that it must fall upon them.”115 However, by the time the revelation was being prepared for the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Mormon millennialism had cooled and the idea that the end was near and the wicked would be destroyed no longer seemed tenable. Consequently, the words were replaced with something less decisive: “For a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming” (D&C 5:19).
[p.203]Also about this time Smith made statements which otherwise placed Jesus’ return at a more comfortable distance. On 14 February 1835, during a meeting at which the twelve apostles were chosen and ordained, Smith himself declared that Zion would yet be redeemed and that “the coming of the Lord . . . was nigh—even fifty-six years should wind up the scene.”116 On another occasion Smith had said he was once praying “very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man,” when he heard a voice declaring: “Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man” (D&C 130:14-15). Both statements point to the year 1891, which became a significant year for some first generation Mormons.117 However, Smith was unsure “whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face.” He knew that “the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time” (D&C 130:16-17).118
Still, Smith had not placed the coming much farther in the future. When he organized the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1835, he promised that several of them would live until Christ came.119 “Were I going to prophesy,” Smith said in April 1843, “I would say the end would not come in 1844, 5, or 6, or in forty years. There are those of the rising generation who shall not taste of death till Christ comes.”120 The 3 January 1836 “Zion Blessing” of Lorenzo Barnes (1812-42) given by Joseph Smith, Jr., Hyrum Smith, and Sidney Rigdon promised: “Thou shalt have length of days & Thy years shall be many. . . . Thou shalt remane until The comeing of The Son of man [in] The clowds of heaven ya Thou shalt See The winding up seen of all Things & stand with The hundred forty & four Thousand on Mount Zion.”121
When William Miller calculated the date of Jesus’ return as 1843 or 1844, Smith emphatically denounced the date, declaring in March 1844 that “Christ will not come this year, as Father Miller has prophesied. . . . I also prophesy, in the name of the Lord, that Christ will not come in forty years.”122
On 19 January 1841, Joseph Smith received a revelation in the new Mormon settlement of Nauvoo, Illinois, which rescinded the “commandment . . . to build up a city and a house unto my name, in Jackson county, Missouri” (D&C 124:49, 51).123 However, many faithful Mormons continued to believe in the prophecy that the temple “shall be reared in this generation” and that [p.204]”this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord.”
Mormon leader George Q. Cannon declared in 1864 that “the day is near when a Temple shall be reared in the Center Stake of Zion, and the Lord has said his glory shall rest on that House in this generation in which the revelation was given, which is upwards of thirty years ago.”124 Mormon apostle Orson Pratt said in 1870 that Mormons in Utah still had “confidence in returning to Jackson County and the building of a great central city. . . . There are many of the old stock, . . . still living, whose faith in returning to Jackson county, . . . is as firm and fixed as the throne of the Almighty.”125 On 23 August 1862, Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal that Brigham Young said the Mormons “have to go back to Jackson county which [he] Expect[s] will be in 7 years.”126 Mormon millennial expectations were reignited in the period of national calamity surrounding the Civil War.127
New adjustments were thus demanded by the final decades of the nineteenth century, but fundamental transformations had already occurred in Smith’s lifetime.128 A shift in the concept of gathering to Zion was already discernible in a speech Smith gave in July 1839:
There will be here & there a stake [of Zion] &c. For the gathering of the Saints[.] Some may have cried peace, but the Saints & the world will have little peace from henceforth. Let this not hinder us from going to the Stakes, for God has told us to flee not dallying, or we shall be scattered, one here, another there. . . . We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object.—when wars come we shall have to flee to Zion, the cry is to make haste. . . . The time is soon coming when no man will have any peace but in Zion & her Stakes.129
The shift in the millenarian emphasis of early Mormonism parallels shifts in concepts of religious authority and church government already discussed. “The inevitable fate of all millenarian movements is failure and collapse,” observes historian John G. Gager. “They either—and the majority would certainly fall into this class—disintegrate and disappear when their millennial expectations remain unfulfilled or—and here I think of both Christianity and Mormonism—they cease to be millenarian in the strict sense.” Gager argues that “those movements which survive the trauma of non-fulfillment usually do so in rather predictable ways” [p.205]and lists four approaches to adjustment which can apply to Mormonism: (1) “they generate a series of rational explanations for the non-arrival of the millennium”; (2) “they reach out and seek to persuade others of the truth of their religion”; (3) “they redirect their energies away from preparing for the End and toward the development of institutional structures”; and (4) “as an essential part of this reorientation, they either forget or suppress the memory of their millenarian origins, for it is precisely in the transformation of millennial energies into other forms of action that we can locate the key to survival and success, on the one hand, or disintegration and collapse on the other.”130
Primitivists generally believed that Jesus would return at the end of the Millennium, while Seekers and Mormons believed he would initiate the Millennium, and were thus easily spun into a frenzy by the whirl of millennial expectations in nineteenth-century America. Both post-Revolutionary Seekers and Mormons set out to warn the world of Jesus’ imminent advent and the destruction of the wicked. When the rhetoric of apocalypse was tempered by delay and disappointment, Mormonism was purged of another trace of its charismatic origins.
[p.205]1. B. S. Capp, The Fifth Monarchy Men: A Study in Seventeenth-Century English Millenarianism (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), 13-22; Christopher Hill, Antichrist in Seventeenth-Century England (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), 149; Hugh R. Trevor-Roper, Religion, the Reformation and Social Change (London: McMillan, 1967), 237-93; Charles Webster, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine and Reform, 1626-1660 (London: Duckworth Press, 1975).
2. Thomas Brightman, A Revelation of the Apocalypse, in The Works of That Famous, Reverend, and Learned Divine. Mr. Tho: Brightman (London, 1644), 162, 380-82, 607, 701, 824. Brightman has been characterized as postmillennialist by Peter Toon, “The Latter-Day Glory,” in Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel: Puritan Eschatology, 1600 to 1660, ed. Peter Toon (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1970), 31. Postmillennialists believed that Jesus Christ would come after the Millennium began, Premillennialists that he would usher in the Millennium.
3. Samuel Gatchel, The Signs of the Times: or Some Expositions and Remarks on Sundry Texts of Scripture, Relative to the Remarkable Phenomenon, or Dark-Day, Which Appeared in New-England on the Nineteenth of May, 1780: by Which It Appears That New England Is the Place that the Prophet Joel Calls Zion and Jerusalem (Danvers, MA, 1781), 15.
[p.206]4. Joseph Priestley, The Present State of Europe Compared with the Antient Prophecies (London, 1794), 20; Timothy Dwight, The Duty of Americans, at the Present Crisis, Illustrated in a Discourse, Preached on the Fourth of July, 1798 at the Request of the Citizens of New Haven (New Haven, 1798), 31.
9. See David M. Ludlum, Social Ferment in Vermont, 1791-1850 (New York, 1939), 69-70, 109-10, 156, 238; Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 (Ithaca, 1950), 165, 224.
14. In Royal Humbert, A Compend of Alexander Campbell’s Theology (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1961), 269. On Alexander Campbell’s postmillennialism, see Robert Frederick West, Alexander Campbell and Natural Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948), 185-86, 202. However, after 1860, Campbell’s millennialism cooled. West, 212-15.
20. Ibid., 5; see also 2, 21. Cf. John Fox, Fox’s Book of Martyrs: A History of the Lives, Sufferings and Triumphant Deaths of the Early Christian and the Protestant Martyrs, ed. William Byron Forbush (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1967).
24. [Asa Wild], A Short Sketch of the Religious Experience, and Spiritual Travels of Asa Wild, of Amsterdam, N.Y. Written by himself by Divine Command, and the most infallible Inspiration (Amsterdam, NY: printed for the author by D. Wells, 1824), 78-79.
28. In his 1832 history, Smith said the angel “revealed unto me many things concerning the inhabitants of the earth which since have been revealed in commandments and revelations” (Faulring, American Prophet’s Record, 6). However, this account was expanded in the 1838 account, where Smith said that the angel quoted from Mal. chaps. 3 and 4, Isa. chap. 11, and Acts 3:22-23 (see Joseph Smith, Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev., 7 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1964], 1:12-13, hereafter HC; cf. Dean C. Jessee, ed., Personal Writings of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984], 203-204.
33. For a treatment of the apocalyptic nature of The Evening and the Morning Star, see Stephen J. Stein, “Signs of the Times: The Theological Foundations of Early Mormon Apocalyptic,” Sunstone 8 (Jan.-April 1983): 59-65.
36. For early Mormon beliefs about the nearness of the advent and the effects of its delay, see Keith D. Norman, “How Long, O Lord? The Delay of the Parousia in Mormonism,” Sunstone 8 (Jan.-April 1983): 49-58.
42. Jessee, Personal Writings, 273-74, 672. In quoting Jessee’s transcription, I have excluded his editorial marks, corrected the punctuation of the original in one instance, and added emphasis; cf. HC 1:315-16. The last paragraph of Smith’s letter, which included the words here quoted, was published in the American Revivalist, and Rochester Observer on 2 Feb. 1833. In a subsequent letter, dated 12 Feb. 1833, Smith complained that his previous letter had not been printed in its entirety and mentioned that it had been written “by the commandment of God” (Jessee, Personal Writings, 275). This is similar to the written warnings of Seekers Asa Wild and Erastus Hanchett published in the Wayne Sentinel on 22 Oct. 1823 and 23 Feb. 1825.
43. When the Albany Express reported on 17 August 1848 that a “destructive fire” had occurred in that city, Mormon apostle Orson Pratt reprinted in the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star the article along with the 1832 prophecy (Millennial Star 10 [15 Sept. 1848]: 286-87).
46. On the historical context of Smith’s prophecy, see Richard P. Howard, “Christmas Day, 1832: Joseph Smith Responds to the Nullification Crisis,” Saints’ Herald 116 (May 1969): 54; Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants (Provo, UT: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1981), 180.
48. While some have asserted that the prophecy was fulfilled in the Civil War, according to Richard P. Howard, “a careful, contextual study” of the entire prophecy as well as the full text of the Saxton letter “shows that neither on December 25, 1832, nor on January 4, 1833, was Joseph Smith merely predicting a civil war. These documents disclose his view that the soon expected division of the Union would be a portent of the culmination of world history in divine judgment.” See Howard, “Christmas Day, 1832,” 54.
49. The prospectus appeared in the Times and Seasons, which was serially publishing Joseph Smith’s history, but was subsequently removed when Smith’s history was re-edited by B. H. Roberts. See Times and Seasons 5 (15 Aug. 1844): 610.
54. See William Mulder, “Mormonism’s `Gathering’: An American Doctrine With a Difference,” Church History 23 (Sept. 1954): 248-64. “Descendants of Puritans and Patriots should have recognized the doctrine [of gathering the elect],” Mulder says (248; see also 257).
56. Winthrop’s plea for a pure church in order to escape divine destruction was an established Puritan goal. “Either must we have a right ministry of God, and a right government of his church, according to the scriptures set up (both of which we lack) or else there can be no right religion, nor yet for contempt thereof God’s plagues be from us any while diferred.” [Thomas Wilcox and John Field], An Admonition to Parliament , in W. H. Frere and C. B. Douglas, Puritan Manifestoes (London, 1907), 6.
57. The concept of establishing the political kingdom of God on earth was also held by the sixteenth-century Anabaptists of Europe. Though more radical and militant than the Puritans of New England, these Anabaptists also attempted to set up the New Jerusalem on the continent in Munster and to establish their prophets as theocratic rulers. See Norman Cohn, Pursuit of the Millennium, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 283-306.
61. See Edward Howes to John Winthrop, 9 Nov. 1631, Winthrop Papers, 3:54; and Arthur Tyndal to John Winthrop, 10 Nov. 1629, Ibid., 2:166. On the Puritan concept of an American New Jerusalem, see Alan Heinert, “Puritanism, the Wilderness, and the Frontier,” New England Quarterly 26 (Sept. 1953): 361-62. For a comparison of Puritan and Mormon concepts of the New Jerusalem, see Gustav H. Blanke and Karen Lynn, “‘God’s Base of Operations’: Mormon Variations on the American Sense of Mission,” Brigham Young University Studies 20 (Fall 1979): 83-92.
63. For a discussion of early Americans’ interpretation of their own history, see, among others, Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America’s Millennial Role (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968); Russel B. Nye, This Almost Chosen People: Essays in the History of American Ideas (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1966), esp. chap. 4.
65. Jonathan Edwards, “Some Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England in 1740,” in Works (New York, 1830): 4:132; 3:316, 376; “An Humble Attempt . . . for the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth Pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Last Time” (Boston, 1747), 5, 169.
69. In Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. 1 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society Fifth Series, 1878), 58. See also Ola Elizabeth Winslow, Samuel Sewall of Boston (New York: Macmillan Co., 1964), 152-56.
75. Joseph Smith was told in September 1830, five months after the organization of the church, that the New Jerusalem would be built “on the borders by the Lamanites” (D&C 28:9). Missionaries were sent to Indian tribes in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Kansas. That December, Smith was told that the Old Testament prophet Enoch had foreseen the New [p.210]Jerusalem in the New World (Moses 7:62). This New Jerusalem was mentioned in at least two revelations in early 1831 before the location of the city of decided on. See D&C 42:34-36, 62; 45:64-69, 71.
76. HC 1:358. See Richard H Jackson, “The Mormon Village: Genesis and Antecedents of the City of Zion Plan,” Brigham Young University Studies 17 (Winter 1977): 223-40, where he concludes that “in general . . . the grid pattern layout and the reasons given for establishing the city [of Zion] in its prescribed form vary but little from those used elsewhere in the trans-Appalachian region” (224).
77. This aspect of the Book of Mormon has been seen by others. See, for example, Marvin S. Hill, “Quest for Refuge: An Hypothesis as to the Social Origins and Nature of the Mormon Political Kingdom,” Journal of Mormon History 2 (1975): 12; and Thomas F. O’Dea, The Mormons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 34-35.
78. On Mormon anti-pluralism as a contributing factor of Mormon-Gentile conflict, see Hill, “Role of Christian Primitivism.” On the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri, see Warren A. Jennings, “Zion is Fled: The Expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County, Missouri,” Ph.D., diss., University of Florida, 1962; and Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1987).
82. A September 1832 revelation explained that the high priesthood included the power to “behold the face of God” and to “enter into his rest, . . . which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:23, 24, 29). Those who are faithful to “the oath and covenant” of the high priesthood shall be “sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies” (84:33, 39). Joseph Smith added in March 1835 that the Melchizedek Priesthood (which by that time included elders) gave the recipient “the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 107:19). Speaking about the Melchizedek Priesthood in 1840, Smith noted that “the doctrine of translation is a power which belongs to this Priesthood.” HC 4:209.
98. On the cholera epidemic, see Robert T. Divett, “His Chastening Rod: Cholera Epidemics and the Mormons,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 (Fall 1979): 10-12. On the need for additional military support, see Peter Crawley and Richard L. Anderson, “The Political and Social Realities of Zion’s Camp,” Brigham Young University Studies 14 (Summer 1974): 406-20.
101. HC 2:294 reports: “Bishop Whitney observed to Bishop Partridge that the thought had just occurred to his mind that perhaps in about one year from this time they might be seated together around a table on the land of Zion. . . . My heart responded, Amen. God grant it, I ask in the name of Jesus Christ.” Cf. Faulring, An American Prophet’s Record, 42-43.
107. See James Collin Brewster, Very important! To the Mormon money-diggers. Why do the Mormons rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? (Springfield, IL, ); The Return 1:105-106; Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, 19 Aug. 1836, in The Saints’ Herald, 1 Dec. 1879, 357. See also David R. Proper in Essex Institute Historical Collections 100 (April 1964): 93-97.
115. Concerning the change in this passage, Richard P. Howard has written: “Facing up to the cruel realities of the situation [in Missouri] through which the church had so recently passed, Joseph Smith stated essentially the same kind of judgment and promise but in more general and less vindictive language than he had used previously.” See Restoration Scriptures: A Study of Their Textual Development (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1969), 211.
117. For example, Oliver B. Huntington recorded in 1875: “On the 14th of Feb. 1835, Joseph Smith said that God had revealed to him that the coming of Christ would be within 56 years, which being added to 1835 shows that before 1891 and the 14th of Feb. the Savior of the world would make his appearance again upon the earth and the winding up scene take place. In connection with this event, [which] was related by my brother Dimick Huntington, the fact that when Joseph and Hyrum Smith submitted in their feelings to consent to give themselves up to the state mob at Nauvoo Illinois, after they had passed the Mississippi River. Joseph said ‘if they shed my blood it shall shorten this work 10 years.’ That taken from 1891 would reduce the time to 1881 which if true time within which the Savior should come must be crowded into 6 years.” See Oliver B. Huntington Journal, 2:129, typescript, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University Library.
118. Richard Anderson thus argues that Smith was cautious about setting an exact date for the Second Coming. However, Anderson fails to consider Mormonism’s general millenarian shift after the failure of Zion’s Camp. Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Joseph Smith and the Millenarian Time Table,” Brigham Young University Studies 3 (Spring-Summer 1961): 55-66.
123. Possibly referring to the revocation of the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 84, Smith exclaimed, “A man would Command his son to dig potatoes, saddle his horse but before he had done either tell him to do sumthing els. This is all considered right. But as soon as the Lord gives a commandment & revokes that decree & commands something else then the prophet is considerd fallen &c.” Wilford Woodruff journal, 19 Dec. 1841, in Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols. (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983-85), 2:143. For a history of the plans for an Independence temple, see H. Michael Marquardt, “The Independence Temple of Zion,” Restoration 5 (Oct. 1986): 13-17.
126. Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 6:71. See also Historian’s Private Journal, kept by Wilford Woodruff, 22 Aug. 1862, 24, LDS church archives, where the same information is recorded; and Times and Seasons 6 (1 July 1845): 956.
127. Eugene E. Campbell, “Pioneers and Patriotism: Conflicting Loyalties,” in New Views of Mormon History: Essays in Honor of Leonard J. Arrington, eds. Davis Bitton and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987), 315.
128. The shift from the imminent advent of Jesus and impending destruction of the wicked to a delay of at least fifty years had an obvious dampening effect on the Saints’ millennial enthusiasm. The adjustment was made by focusing on events expected to precede the Second Coming. See, for example, Joseph Smith’s statement in HC 5:336-37.
129. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1980), 11; cf. HC 3:390-91.
130. John G. Gager, “Early Mormonism and Early Christianity: Some Parallels and Their Consequences For the Study of New Religions,” Journal of Mormon History 9 (1982): 56-57. See also Gager’s Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975), esp. 37-49; L. Festinger, H. W. Riecken, and S. Schacter, When Prophecy Fails (New York: Harper and Row, 1956).