American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church
At thirty-nine years old, Smith had already lived an outsized life. In addition to starting his own religion and creating his own “Golden Bible”—the Book of Mormon—he had worked as a water-dowser and treasure hunter. He’d led his people to Ohio, then Missouri, then Illinois, where he founded a city larger than fledgling Chicago. He was running for president. And, secretly, he had married more than thirty women.
In American Crucifixion, Alex Beam tells how Smith went from charismatic leader to public enemy: How his most seismic revelation—the doctrine of polygamy—created a rift among his people; how that schism turned to violence; and how, ultimately, Smith could not escape the consequences of his ambition and pride.
Mormonism is America’s largest and most enduring native religion, and the “martyrdom” of Joseph Smith is one of its transformational events. Smith’s brutal assassination propelled the Mormons to colonize the American West and claim their place in the mainstream of American history. American Crucifixion is a gripping story of scandal and violence, with deep roots in our national identity.
Brigham Young ordered the bishops in the audience to haul fifty buckets of cool water from nearby City Creek into the gabled building, and he provided ladles so the crowd could drink. The Saints had again founded a new Zion, one outside the borders of the formally settled United States that had so bedeviled them in Missouri and Illinois. The leading citizens of Hancock County had hoped to extinguish Mormonism by killing its founding prophet. The opposite occurred. Brigham Young proved to be more
John Hay. 184 in a tut-tutting mood: Roberts, ed., History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 623. 184 painstakingly carved: David E. Miller and Della S. Miller, Nauvoo: The City of Joseph (Santa Barbara and Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1974), p. 116. 185 Ford’s account differs: Thomas Ford, A History of Illinois, from Its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847 (Chicago: S. C. Griggs, 1845), p. 336. 185 patrolled the prairies: Thomas Barnes trial testimony, Illinois v. Williams: Trial of the
in the Mormon bible: “I, Nephi, have been born of goodly parents. . . .” When she returned the book early the next morning, her neighbor chided her. “I guess you did not read much in it.” “Actually, I read quite a lot,” she insisted. “I don’t believe you can tell me one word of it,” the skeptical man replied. “I then repeated the first verse, also the outlines of the history of Nephi,” Mary remembered. “Child, take this book home and finish it,” her neighbor replied. “I can wait.” Soon
to take on other wives. God also included a special message for “mine handmaid Emma,” whom he correctly imagined might greet the new doctrine with muted enthusiasm: And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law (Doctrine and Covenants 132:54). A decade earlier, God had issued a
of learned Counsellors against one. I was commanded to seek assistance, but it cannot be had. I therefore stand alone, in this trial and in this community, unaided by council, to vindicate the Law of Man.” It didn’t matter whether Joseph Smith was innocent or guilty of the charges that imprisoned him, Lamborn said, “but he has suffered an awful atonement, for any offence he might have committed . . . a reckless mob, came here, on these peacable prairies, and took that man from Jail and murdered