Question: What were the causes of Joseph and Hyrum Smith's martyrdom?

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Question: What were the causes of Joseph and Hyrum Smith's martyrdom?

Political tensions, theological disagreements, rumors of polygamy and the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor

There were many contributing factors which led to the martyrdom. Chief among these include:

  1. political tensions
  2. theological disagreements
  3. rumors of polygamy
  4. destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor

The factors which led to the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith are complex and multi-faceted. They included the following:

  1. Politics: Local, and, eventually, national, politics involving the Saints and their non-Mormon neighbors were often heated, given the fact that the Saints voted as a block and given Joseph Smith's commanding influence on how the Saints voted. This easily led to antagonism and rivalry between Mormons and non-Mormons over political issues. Joseph, being the mayor of Nauvoo and eventually a presidential candidate, was right in the middle of many of these controversies. Being the president of the Church and considered a prophet by his followers also generated suspicion in plenty of non-Mormons that Joseph was transgressing state-church boundaries, which furthered hostilities.
  2. Theology Mormons, both in the 19th century and even today, are and have been considered either fanatics or blasphemous in their radical break from many mainstream, conventional Christian doctrines about the nature of God, scripture, revelation, etc. Joseph Smith's Nauvoo-era theology led to further rifts that can be seen even today. Some of his most radical teachings about the nature of God and the potential of man alienated his theological rivals and furthered tensions.
  3. Polygamy: By Joseph's martyrdom in 1844, rumors of polygamy had begun circulating in Nauvoo and surrounding areas, prompting both members within the Church and non-members to come to see Joseph Smith as morally contemptible and even dangerous. Joseph made admittedly awkwardly-worded public denials of polygamy, but with the rumor-mongering and distortions of such men as John C. Bennett, polygamy was a charged issue. As Joseph privately taught his version of plural marriage—which differed markedly from the libertinism and seduction practiced by Bennett—rumors began to circulate, and some members became concerned that Joseph was either a fallen prophet, or one who was teaching false doctrine.

There were other factors that led to Joseph's martyrdom, including economic, social, and cultural tensions between Mormons and non-Mormons.

All of this was dry powder that was finally sparked by the publication and suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor. If one reads the Expositor, one can see all of the reasons listed above as grievances dissenters gave against Joseph Smith. Because of its highly incendiary and threatening language, the Nauvoo city council deemed the paper a public nuisance and voted to stop its publication out of fear that allowing its continued publication would lead to mobs and violence against the Saints. Acting under the direction of the city council and Joseph Smith, the Nauvoo city marshal destroyed the press that printed the Expositor.

This, naturally, led to a public outcry against Joseph Smith. Thomas Sharp, the virulent anti-Mormon editor of the Warsaw Signal, infamous proclaimed upon hearing about the destruction of the Expositor,

War and extermination is inevitable! Citizens ARISE, ONE and ALL!!!—Can you stand by, and suffer such INFERNAL DEVILS! to ROB men of their property and RIGHTS, without avenging them. We have no time for comment, every man will make his own. LET IT BE MADE WITH POWDER AND BALL!!!

At the behest of governor Thomas Ford, and after being discharged of charges of inciting a riot by a non-Mormon justice of the peace, Joseph went to the county seat in Carthage, where he again faced charges of inciting a riot and the destruction of private property. After paying bail of $500 dollars, there suddenly came the bogus charge of "treason," a non-bailable offense, by dissenter Augustine Spencer, and justice of the peace Robert Smith order Joseph and Hyrum kept in Carthage. To be frank, the charge of treason was probably little more than a legal pretext to keep Joseph in Carthage, and was likely part of Thomas Sharp's conspiracy to lynch Joseph.

Despite his pledge to protect Joseph, Ford, at the last minute, disbanded his militia troops, apparently out of a concern that if they accompanied him to Nauvoo they'd cause trouble, and told them to go home. But left behind in Carthage as Ford traveled to Nauvoo were the Carthage Greys, in whose ranks some of the most fanatical and bloodthirsty anti-Mormons, including members of Thomas Sharp's Warsaw militia and Sharp himself, were marshaled. Small wonder that Joseph was murdered by the Greys almost as soon as Ford left Carthage for Nauvoo.


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