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‘Mormon Land’: Joseph Smith’s renegade, revolutionary campaign for president and why it still resonates today

Church founder pushed for greater federal power and an end to slavery and prisons, but historian Spencer McBride says the long-shot 1844 run shows the nation still struggles to live up to its ideals.

(Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Church founder Joseph Smith.

Editor’s noteDue to an error with the sound quality in postproduction, a previous version of this episode has been replaced.

Late in 1843, top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent letters to the five leading candidates for the U.S. presidency, asking each what he would do, if elected, to address the persecution the faith had suffered and to protect it from future repression.

Unsatisfied with the responses, they turned to a new candidate: their own prophet, Joseph Smith.

Thus began the church founder’s quixotic quest for the highest political office in the land that ended with his assassination five months later.

While Smith’s short-lived, long-shot bid for the White House focused on securing the constitutional rights of religious minorities, he campaigned on a host of other issues as well, including the abolition of slavery, the expansion of the nation’s borders, the reestablishment a national bank and the elimination of prisons.

Spencer McBride, associate managing historian of the Joseph Smith Papers project, explores that 1844 campaign, including the tug of war between federal power and states’ rights, on this week’s show and in his new book, “Joseph Smith for President: The Prophet, the Assassins, and the Fight for American Religious Freedom.”

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