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chapter 1 “That These Things Might Come Forth” Early Mormonism and the American Republic In the spring of 1820, a fourteen-year-old New England farm boy retired to the woods to seek guidance from God. The fervent religious sentiment stirred up bytheSecondGreatAwakeninghadconfusedyoungJosephSmith,Jr.Godansweredhisyouthfulprayerwithaseriesofvisionsoverthenextseveralyears — visions that gave rise to the largest religion ever founded on American soil.1 Beforehisdeathin1844,Smithwouldarticulateabroadclusterofcontroversial doctrines and practices that placed Mormons at odds with other Americans throughout the nineteenth century. In 1852, eight years after Smith’s death, his most controversial doctrine—plural marriage—would set the nation alight withdebate.Polygamy,centraltoearlyMormonism,fueledearlyanti-Mormon sentiment and accusationsofpoliticaltheocracy, which became more virulent as the century progressed. Yet despite conflicts with other Americans that led to the expulsion of Mormons from New York and Ohio, then Missouri, and finally Illinois, Mormons retained a special place for the United States in their theology. In fact, Mormons believed they had a divine mandate to uphold religious freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution. ThischapterdelineateshowaNewEngland farm boy changed the religious landscapeofAmericaandlaysthegroundworkforunderstandingtheideological battle known as “the Mormon question” in the nineteenth century. Three yearsafterhisfirstdivineencounter—aneventknownamongMormonsasthe Talbot_Text.indd 19 9/5/13 8:49 AM 20 chapter 1 “First Vision”—seventeen-year-old Joseph received a second divine contact in a series of visions revealing to him the location of ancient buried golden plates that he would eventually obtain, translate, and call the Book of Mormon. While translating, he received a number of revelations that were later compiled and publishedfirstastheBookofCommandmentsandlaterwithfurtheradditionsas theDoctrineandCovenants,acceptedbyMormonsalongwiththeBibleandthe Book of Mormon as scripture. In May of 1829, John the Baptist conferred upon Smith“thePriesthoodofAaron,whichholdsthekeysof. . .baptismbyimmersion for the remission of sins.”2 A higher priesthood, the Melchizedek, would come later. The next year Smith received a “Revelation on Church Organization and Government,” which “regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country” the structure of priesthood authority and responsibility .3 Smith, then twenty-four years old, organized the Church of Christ on April 6, 1830, in accordance with that revelation. The initial organization had six members, though others joined the fledgling religion that same day. Over the next several years, Smith established the essential doctrines that governed priesthood offices, Church organization, and leadership in the young religion. Beginning almost immediately, local persecution of the Mormon community drove a series of migrations that would eventually lead the Saints to Illinois, where locals were temporarily more tolerant.4 In the relative safety of western Illinois, the Saints gathered their resources, purchasedland,andpurchasedthetownofCommerce,laterchangingthename to Nauvoo. In 1840 the Illinois legislature approved their application to be recognizedunderstatelaw .TheNauvooCharterincorporatedthecityandgranted theMormonsanunexpectedmeasureofself-government.Thecreationofacity council, courts, a city police force, and even a militia marked the beginning of the Church’s commitment to self-government and isolationism. Through the NauvooCharter,Mormonsimaginedtheyweresecuringlocalpowertoprotect themselves against abuses of democracy and to shore up the true intentions of theAmericanConstitution—religiouslibertyandself-government.Mormons viewedtheNauvoocitycharterasasortofConstitutioninminiature,granting thembroadpowersoflocalcontrolmoreconsistentwithrepublicanprinciples. Previously, the law had not been friendly to Mormons, especially in Missouri, where the governor had issued an “extermination order,” in effect equating the Mormon settlements with an infestation. Presumably, with a city charter, things would be different. According to one Mormon historian, “By invoking primary bases of law, [Smith in Nauvoo] attempted to avoid what he termed rapacious and evil misuses of the law.”5 Talbot_Text.indd 20 9/5/13 8:49 AM 21 Early Mormonism and the American Republic Plural Marriage and the Nauvoo Doctrines In the relative quiet of Nauvoo in the early 1840s, Smith devoted more of his energy to the development of Church doctrine. Though initiated before 1840, the full doctrine of polygamy evolved during this period. Smith anticipated resistancefrombothChurchmembershipandAmericaatlarge,soatfirstonly the highest Mormon officials were taught the doctrine and allowed to live its principles. Scholars of early Mormonism have hotly debated the place of polygamy in Mormonism for decades. But despite its being officially abandoned by the contemporary mainstream Church, polygamy fits in too neatly with otheraspectsofearlyMormontheology,aspectswhichonlymakesenseaspart and parcel of each other, to be considered incidental to the overall theological system. Plural marriage was a key element within that system. While absolute secrecysurroundedpluralmarriageinNauvoo,anairofmysteryalsoenveloped the rest of the constellation of theological claims that surrounded polygamy, now knownamong scholarsasthe “Nauvoodoctrines.”6 Thedoctrineofplural marriage cannot be understood outside the following interrelated doctrinal concepts: the plan of salvation; priesthood and the powers of sealing, adoption , and ordinance work for the dead; and, of paramount importance, eternal increase.7 Smith taught these interconnected ideas mostly in private sermons and conversations, and no single doctrine took shape without...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780252095351
Related ISBN
9780252038082
MARC Record
OCLC
862745819
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-27
Language
English
Open Access
No
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