June 27th, 2010 is the 166th anniversary of the assassination of the first President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Prophet Joseph Smith. On June 27th, 1844, after having given himself up to Illinois authorities in good faith that they'd be given a fair trial, with guarantees of his safety extended by Illinois Governor Thomas Ford, Joseph Smith and his party ended up facing a mob, made up of members of the town militia who were in charge of protecting Joseph, which overran the jail in Carthage, Illinois. The mob climbed up to the second floor of the jail, forced the door open and poked their gun barrels into the room. They began shooting, despite efforts by Willard Richards to deflect the gun barrels with his walking stick. Hyrum Smith was shot multiple times and died, falling to the floor. John Taylor was also shot in several places. He was not killed but sought refuge by rolling under the bed. Joseph Smith ran toward the window where he was shot in the back from inside the jail and shot in the chest from outside the jail. He either fell or leaped out of the window, landing on the ground outside the jail, where he was again shot by members of the mob. The Prophet Joseph Smith died at that time.
But when the mob took the life of Joseph Smith, they not only killed a prophet, but also a possible President of the United States. For it was in 1844 that Joseph Smith, tired of the authorities' unwillingness and ability to protect the Saints against mob activity, decided to run for President. Had he succeeded and been elected, it is possible that the slavery problem would have been resolved peacefully, the Civil War might have been averted, the slaves themselves to have received more just treatment, and the United States might have grown into a full-blown North American Union, including Canada and Mexico.
The first embers of a campaign were actually stirred up in Nauvoo on October 1st, 1843, when the Times and Seasons published an editorial entitled “Who Shall Be Our Next President?” While it did not suggest any specific names, it concluded that the candidate must be the man who will be the most likely to render assistance in obtaining redress for Mormon grievances. On November 4th, 1843, Joseph Smith wrote letters to John C. Calhoun, Lewis Cass, Richard M. Johnson, Henry Clay, and Martin Van Buren, the five leading candidates for the presidency of the United States. Each letter described the persecutions the Mormons had suffered at the hands of the state of Missouri and then asked the pointed question, "What will be your rule of action relative to us as a people, should fortune favor your ascension to the chief magistracy" Only Calhoun, Cass, and Clay responded to Joseph Smith’s letters, and they expressed little sympathy for the cause of the Saints.
When Joseph Smith realized that none of the leading candidates for the presidency would pledge to support redress for the Saints, he held a meeting in the mayor’s office at Nauvoo on January 29th, 1844, with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and others. It was unanimously decided that Joseph Smith would run for president of the United States on an independent platform. Shortly thereafter, Joseph Smith published his platform in the form of a short pamphlet entitled "General Smith’s Views of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States". 1,500 copies of the pamphlet were printed, and copies mailed to the President of the United States and his cabinet, the justices of the Supreme Court, senators, representatives, editors of principal newspapers, postmasters, and other prominent citizens. To help further publicize the campaign, missionaries were called and set apart to go forth to do both proselyting and electioneering.
The pamphlet has been re-posted in full HERE. The highlights of Joseph Smith's platform are provided below:
-- Give the President full power to send an army to suppress mobs without requiring the governor of a state to make the demand.
-- Abolish slavery by having Congress pay every man a reasonable price for his slaves out of the surplus revenue arising from the sale of public lands, and from the deduction of pay from members of Congress.
-- Reduce congressional pay from eight dollars to two dollars per day; fix the number of members of Congress at two Senators per state and two Representatives per one million in population.
-- Reduce the number of prisons and the types of offenses requiring imprisonment; transform remaining prisons into rehabilitation centers; allow convicts to rehabilitate through useful labor. Abolish imprisonment for debt.
-- Abolish the practice in the military of trying men by court-martial for desertion. If a soldier or marine runs away, send him his wages, with this instruction, that his country will never trust him again; he has forfeited his honor.
-- Create a national bank with branches in every state, where the capital stock shall be held by the nation for the central bank, and by the states and territories for the branches.
-- Annex Oregon and Texas; extend the United States “from the east to the west sea,” but only if American Indians gave their consent.
-- Eventually offer Canada and Mexico the opportunity to join the United States voluntarily.
Many of Joseph Smith's enemies understood the appeal of Joseph Smith's platform, and began plotting his demise. On June 27th, 1844, Joseph Smith's Presidential campaign came to an abrupt end as he was called upon to seal his testimony with his blood. Nevertheless, many of Joseph Smith’s proposals eventually came to pass, although not necessarily in the way he had envisioned. The power of the presidency was increased by Abraham Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War; the Civil War led to emancipation of the slaves; the penal system improved, although not to the extent that Joseph prescribed; and Oregon and Texas did become part of the United States. The Union’s borders soon stretched from sea to sea, but without the consent of American Indians.