Tailoring Lectures and Discussions to Students: Teaching Religion and Reform in Early America

This summer, I’m teaching a small section of United States History to 1877. Meeting four days each week for an hour and fifteen minutes, we cover over the course of seven weeks what is typically covered in shorter meetings three days/week over a normal fifteen week semester. This is my first time doing so, and it’s forced me to rewrite and combine some plans for each day’s meeting, and in some cases, to scrap lecture material normally used. Continue reading

On the Joseph Smith Papers, Documentary Editing Projects, and the Public

img_9068On September 19, a team of editors introduced the latest volume from the Joseph Smith Papers Project to a small group of scholars and bloggers gathered both in person and via skype. I readily agreed to participate when invited because of the excitement surrounding this particular volume. The first and only volume in the Project’s Administrative Series, it makes available the complete 1844-1846 record of the Council of Fifty, a secretive religio-political organization founded by Joseph Smith just months before his June 1844 death. The editors informed me that they wanted a representative from The Junto to attend because they anticipate that the volume’s content will be of interest to many early Americanists.  Continue reading

The Mormon National Convention, 1844

Given that we just witnessed the Democrat and Republican national conventions a few weeks ago, I thought I’d draw from a current research project and take a look back at an earlier moment in the development of presidential politics. And if you think Donald Trump’s convention was quixotic, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

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Sutcliffe Maudsley, “Lt. General Joseph Smith In Nauvoo Legion Uniform,” gouache on paper.

Whatever your feelings concerning Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founder, you have to admit the guy was confident. The first decade of his church’s existence was mired in societal and political problems, and the final year of his life was spent trying to find novel and, to some, outlandish solutions. One of his most audacious proposals was his own candidacy for the United States presidency in 1844.

Smith’s presidential run mostly strikes modern readers as amusing. Though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had already drawn around thirty thousand converts since its founding in 1830, a majority of them were located on the banks of the Mississippi River in an Illinois town called Nauvoo. They could hardly manipulate the politics within their own state, let alone those of the nation. How then could the controversial leader of this marginalized sect have such delusions of grandeur? Continue reading

Guest Post: Strange Constitutional Bedfellows: The First and Third Amendments in the Mormon Quest for Religious Liberty

Today’s guest post comes from Spencer W. McBride, who has blogged with us before. Dr. McBride received his PhD at Louisiana State University in 2014 and is now a historian and documentary editor at the Joseph Smith Papers. His research examines the politicization of clergymen during the American Revolution and in the early American republic.

JS LegionOf the ten amendments that comprise the United States Bill of Rights, the third amendment is arguably the least controversial. Go ahead, think back to your high school civics class and try to remember what rights are protected by the third amendment. Can’t remember? Don’t feel too bad. It is rarely invoked by politicians and political activists, it does not often spark heated debates in the media, and the U.S. Supreme Court has never heard a case in which it was the primary basis. Let’s face it, since the adoption of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, Americans have not been overly concerned that the government will quarter troops in the homes of private citizens without their consent. Continue reading