Mormons had been gathering and settling in Missouri territory since the summer of 1831. Initially-for approximately two years-the gathering of the Saints in Smith's land of Zion was rather peaceful. But Mormons kept flooding into Independence, and the original non-Mormon settlers of the region became very concerned about being outnumbered and overtaken. The tensions between the Mormons and the state of Missouri continued to heat up, eventually disintegrating into mob violence.
On July 20, 1833, many of the non-Mormon settlers entered Independence and demanded that the Mormons leave immediately. When the Mormons refused, a violent mob went on a rampage, destroying the Mormon printing press, stores, and houses. The Mormons were eventually expelled from Jackson County, and they fled across the Missouri River into Clay County, where they set up temporary residences.
Aware of the ongoing tribulations of the Missouri Mormons, Joseph Smith-now only twenty-eight years old and still living in Ohio-decided in February 1834 to organize a Mormon Army of God called Zion's Camp and to go and defend the Saints in Missouri from the violent "Mormon-haters." Although full of good intentions, Zion's Camp would never be able to fight hundreds of armed Missouri settlers. The Mormon army faced insurmountable odds. Soon Joseph Smith received a revelation in which he announced that the redemption day of Zion had not yet arrived. He dismantled Zion's army and sent his Mormon soldiers back to Ohio.
As a result of Smith's dismantling of his army, the disillusionment among the Mormons grew. Many disgusted Mormons left Smith, but those who remained faithful-such as Brigham Young-were rewarded and promoted into the top echelons of Mormon Church leadership.
Taking Refuge in Northern Missouri
As the situation was getting worse in Independence, Missouri, Mormons began fleeing into Clay County, where they started a new Mormon city at Far West. It was in Far West that Joseph Smith and the Mormon leadership would eventually make their headquarters in March 1838 after abandoning Ohio. And it was here in Far West that the secret military group called the Danites was organized to defend the Mormons.
Attempting to get a new start, reestablish authority, and obtain badly needed finances, Joseph Smith changed the name of the Mormon Church to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints on April 26, 1838, attributing the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1-10 to himself instead of Jesus Christ. Smith presented and implemented his vision of the Law of Tithing at Far West as well.
As opposition to the Mormons continued to increase in Clay County, the Missouri legislature decided to create Caldwell County, where the Mormons could live in isolation from non- Mormons. From Caldwell, Joseph Smith began searching for other locations in northern Missouri where emigrating Saints could create new settlements.
In May 1838, Joseph Smith made one of the most astonishing declarations he had ever made. While visiting Daviess County, seventy miles to the north of the city of Independence, Smith claimed to have discovered the literal spot where Adam had settled after God expelled him and Eve from the garden of Eden, and where Adam would return before the second coming of Christ. Smith apparently pointed out the exact spot where he said Adam had once had his altar. The Mormons called this newly dedicated settlement Adam-ondi-Ahman, which apparently means "the place or land of God where Adam dwelt" in the pure Adamic language, according to Smith. Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie describes this LDS teaching:
At that great gathering Adam offered sacrifices on an altar built for the purpose. A remnant of that very altar remained on the spot down through the ages. On May 19, 1838 Joseph Smith and a number of his associates stood on the remainder of the pile of stones at a place called Spring Hill, Daviess County, Missouri. There the Prophet taught them that Adam again would visit in the Valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, holding a great council as a prelude to the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
During the summer months of 1838, northern Missouri was getting dangerous as a "Mormon War" was feared. The locals believed that the Mormons were preparing to conquer all of Missouri, and they wanted them to leave their state. When Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders were jailed at the end of 1838, the Mormons fled Missouri into Illinois and Iowa under the leadership of Brigham Young.
The Mormons in Illinois (1839-1846)
By the thousands, desperate Mormons fled east across the Mississippi River into the area of Quincy, Illinois-approximately two hundred miles from Far West-where they settled temporarily. After Joseph Smith-now thirty-three years old-was released from jail in April 1839, he immediately joined his Mormon flock in Illinois.
Under Smith's leadership, the Mormons looked once again for a permanent gathering place. They purchased land on the Mississippi River and began to build their new Mormon city they called Nauvoo-meaning "city beautiful"-where the Latter-day Saints would live out their faith for approximately the next five years until the death of their Prophet, Joseph Smith.
The Problems of Theocracy and Polygamy
The Mormons lived peacefully in Nauvoo from 1839 to 1842, but then major trouble began. The primary problems were rooted in the fact that the Mormons ran Nauvoo as a powerful church-theocracy with their own militia, and also practiced polygamy. Theocracy and polygamy in Illinois were simply not acceptable to the local non-Mormon population.
Joseph Smith's Controversial Revelations and Sermon
During Joseph Smith's last few years in the city of Nauvoo before his death in 1844, many of his most unusual and controversial revelations, teachings, and rituals were introduced and developed in the LDS Church. Along with Smith's becoming a Master Mason in March 1842, he revealed his doctrines of water baptism for the dead, a special endowment ritual, God's having a body of flesh and bones, and eternal marriage and polygamy.
Many Latter-day Saints consider Joseph Smith's outdoor sermon at the funeral of Mormon Elder King Follett on April 7, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois, to be one of his greatest. This sermon was part of the general church conference, and it was also one of the last sermons Smith preached. He died less than three months after delivering it. Joseph Smith's "King Follett Discourse" was certainly one of his most revealing and troubling sermons from a doctrinal perspective.
Smith's King Follett sermon unveiled his beliefs that God had once been a man, that a human could become a god, that matter is eternal, and that many gods together had organized- not created-the world out of chaotic matter. The content of Smith's Follett sermon has long been recognized, quoted, and affirmed as containing official Mormon doctrine. By the Nauvoo years, it had become clear that the teaching and practices of Joseph Smith's LDS Church resembled none of the major branches of Christianity.
Joseph Smith Runs for President
Joseph Smith decided to run for the presidency of the United States in January 1844, at which time he rejected America's political parties and founded the Council of Fifty to direct his presidential campaign. Smith desired to establish God's political kingdom over non-Mormons in preparation for the second coming of Christ. He sent out Mormon missionaries across the nation to promote his presidential candidacy. But Smith's grand political scheme collapsed when he was arrested with other Mormon leaders for treason and jailed in the city of Carthage, Missouri.
The Death of Joseph Smith
While Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders were awaiting trial in the Carthage jail, a group of men entered and shot Joseph and his brother Hyrum to death. June 27, 1844, is recognized by the LDS Church as the day in which their Prophet was martyred at the young age of thirty-eight. The next day, on June 28, Joseph Smith's body was returned to Nauvoo, where thousands of Mormons were in shock that their founder and Prophet was dead. What would they do now?