Book Review: An Authentic Account of the Massacre of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, and Hyrum Smith, His Brother: Together with a Brief History of the Rise and Progress of Mormonism, and All the Circumstances Which Led to Their Death

An Authentic Account of the Massacre of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, and Hyrum Smith, His Brother: Together with a Brief History of the Rise and Progress of Mormonism, and All the Circumstances Which Led to Their Death, by George T.M. Davis

Admittedly, the history of Mormons and Mormonism is not a great subject of interest on this particular blog [1].  Even so, as a student of 19th century history, the history of the Mormon movement in the United States forms at least some part of that study and is something which has an occasional relevance on my own readings.  As such, I was pleased to find this particular classic reprint of a long-forgotten work which provides a detailed if ferociously anti-Mormon account of the acts of vigilantism which led to the death of Joseph Smith and his brother Hiram.  What makes this particular pamphlet notable is the way that the author is relentlessly hostile to the Mormons, but also is hostile to the vigilantes who killed the two Smiths and precipitated the flight of the surviving Mormons of Navoo to Utah shortly thereafter.  As the author takes considerable pains to cite his sources but not to hide his own bias, this book is an interesting account and a worthwhile primary document to a contentious period of history.

This book consists of a short pamphlet of about 48 pages or so, give or take, that is all in one section.  The author includes various contents including the accounts of those who left the Mormons (whom he calls in the language of the 19th century seceeders), as well as letters from the political and military leadership of Illinois, and this work certainly qualifies as a critical work of the highest order.  Included are hostile accounts of the religious practices and beliefs of the Mormons, the way that they used their numbers to have corrupt influence over the government by demanding charters as well as in corrupting the legal processes of their areas, including cases of perjury and the denial of the freedom of the press.  Likewise, the author shows himself to be hostile to the craven behavior of the political leadership and critical of the way that many Mormons were deceived into believing that Governor Ford of Illinois was their friend.  No less unsparing of the enemies of the Mormons, the author also notes that the vigilante posse that killed the Smith brothers was also in the wrong and that the soldiers sent to guard the Mormon prisoners were derelict in their duty.  Overall, the author makes similar points about the downsides of irregular justice that Lincoln did in his own Lyceum speech, and even cites the examples of Lovejoy and the mulatto burned in St. Louis that Lincoln did, even if he ends up being very unsympathetic to the Mormons.

Overall, this particular work is of value in a variety of ways.  For one, it provides a detailed if hostile account of the death of Joseph Smith and the growing hostility to the Mormons that accompanied their increase of numbers and their rise of political power in Illinois.  The author’s citation of early people who left the Mormons gives a picture of early Mormon beliefs and practices and contains heavy criticism of the mythology of Mormon views of Israelite origin that were already extant, as well as the tendency for many Mormon leaders to engage in the vain search for objects of plunder in the area of the old Mississippian culture centered in the region.  As a historical source of unquestionable bias but also considerable even-handedness in its relentless criticism of civil and political elites as well as local vigilantes, the account provides a first-hand but hostile picture of the Mormons in Illinois from a witness of that period of history and provides a resource of worth in looking at the troubled nature of the rule of law in 19th century America, the history of religion as it relates to the Latter Day Saints, and an account of the troubled connection between church and state that remains relevant today.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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