Mormons and the Murder of Joseph Smith

One of the most consequential crimes in United States history occurred on a summer day in 1844 when a mob stormed a jail in Carthage, Illinois and murdered two of its occupants, Joseph Smith, Jr. and his brother, Hyrum.  The killing of Joseph Smith, the charismatic founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, America's most important homegrown religion, led to a schism among Mormons and the trek west to Utah of Brigham Young and his followers.  The story of the 1844 murders (or "martyrdoms," as they are often called in LDS accounts) and the trial that followed is much less known than it deserves to be--largely owing to the over-sensitivity of American textbook writers on all matters religious.  Events so pivotal in the history of the Mormon Church, which today boasts a worldwide membership of over 14 million and exerts an important influence on debates of moral issues ranging from same-sex marriage to gambling to euthanasia, deserve a broader understanding.

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