‘Mormon Land’: Deconstructing Carthage — Why Joseph was slain and why it was about more than religion

Historian Benjamin Park explores what led to the first assassination of an American while running for president; why the killers felt justified; and what Smith’s death says about faith freedoms in the U.S.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints learn early on about the murder of their faith’s founder, Joseph Smith.

They know that, on June 27, 1844 (179 years ago this month), he and his brother Hyrum were gunned down by a mob at a jail in Carthage, Ill. They know that no one was ever convicted of the killings. And they know that the ugliness that took place outside their “City Beautiful” marked the beginning of the end to the Saints’ stay in nearby Nauvoo.

(Library of Congress) "Martyrdom of Joseph and Hiram Smith in Carthage Jail, June 27th, 1844" lithograph by artist C.G. Crehen. Hyrum Smith's name is misspelled in the title of the piece.

What many insiders and outsiders alike either don’t know or fail to recognize, however, is that Smith’s slaying was not only a religious martyrdom but also a political assassination. They forget that the church leader was a candidate for the U.S. presidency at the time of his death and was the first American to be assassinated while running for the White House.

On this week’s show, with the help of Benjamin Park, author of the acclaimed “Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier,” we revisit the mystique surrounding Carthage, how it happened, why it happened, what can be learned from it.

(Photo by Mike Hoogterp) Benjamin Park, associate professor of history at Sam Houston State University, and the author of "Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier."

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