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Joseph Smith’s Presidential Platform

So, I came across an interview of Richard Bushman at the Pew Research Forum, about both early and modern Mormon politics.  I’ve also been reading a book called The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power by D Michael Quinn on the early leadership of the church.  I want to combine the 2 sources, and talk about Joseph Smith’s presidential plans of 1844.  First, let me quote Bushman.

“Smith was forced into politics by the abuse that the Mormons received. As soon as they were driven out of their first city site in Independence, Mo., he turned to the government for redress. He never obtained it. No level of government, from local justices of the peace to governors to the president of the United States – to whom he constantly appealed – ever came to the defense of the Saints. But Joseph Smith became a great devotee of constitutional rights because they seemed like his only hope. He said some very extravagant things about the Constitution being God-given because of those rights and became quite conversant in constitutional matters. He even visited the president of the United States, Martin Van Buren, in the White House in 1839.

Gradually, then, Joseph Smith backed into American politics. In the fall of 1843, as the 1844 campaign began to take shape, the authorities of the church wrote to all of the known political candidates asking them about their views of the Mormons, and none returned a satisfactory answer from the Mormon point of view. The Mormons wanted a pledge that these candidates would protect them if they were attacked again, and they couldn’t get it.

Joseph Smith was nominated as a protest candidate in February of 1844. Like other protest candidates, he began to warm to his work and got quite excited about it. He may have dreamed for a moment that through some strange concatenation of events, he would get elected. Every candidate has to dream such things.

His involvement in politics was manifested in a political platform of which he was very proud. He would bring it out whenever he had visitors and read from it. It is an interesting document because it represents a man whose world had been his own people, whose own project had been to create a kingdom of God, and who now had to turn his mind to politics.”

I want to address some really interesting parts of Joseph Smith’s platform that I found really interesting.  Regarding slavery, Joseph Smith came up with a solution that would have avoided the Civil War.  He advocated low taxes (just like conservatives do today.)  I found most of his points very appealing.  Let me quote from Quinn’s book, page 119,

“Smith’s Views revealed him as more than a one-issue candidate.  For the reform of government, he intended to reduce the size and salary of Congress.  In judicial reform, he advocated rehabilitation of convicts through work projects and vocational training and liberal pardoning.  In economic reform, he proposed less taxation, free trade, secure international rights on the high seas, and establishment of a national bank in every state and territory.  On the slavery question, he advocated compensated emancipation through the sale of public lands.  To cope with resulting social stress, he advocated the relocation of the several million freed slaves to Texas.  In keeping with the spirit of “Manifest Destiny” in the 1840s, he proposed annexation of Oregon and Texas and whatever parts of Canada wished to join the Union.  As a reflection of the Mormon expulsion from Missouri, Smith’s platform also advocated presidential intervention in civil disturbances within states.  As one author noted, this interventionist impulse ‘did not exist until the Civil War and Reconstruction.'”

So I want to address several points, and give my comments.

1.      Reduce the size and salary of congress.  Wow!  Congress continues to grow in size with each census.  I’d love to cut salary, but on the other hand, the only people who go to Congress are the rich.  Perhaps increasing salary would invite more middle class types.  I’m not sure how cutting the size of congress would impact the nation.  I need a constitutional scholar on this one.

2.      Rehab convicts – I like this idea.  While everyone likes to think they’re tough on crime and wants to throw ’em all in jail and throw away the key, the reality is we can’t build prisons fast enough to keep pace.  And the prisoners we do have end up becoming more skilled at criminal activity.  It seems our current procedures are not working.  I’m with Smith on this one.

3.      Liberal Pardoning – Hmmmm, didn’t we go through that with Bill Clinton?  I’m not sure I like this one as it has the capacity for abuse.

4.      Less taxes – yes, but we need to balance the budget, not simply reduce taxes.

5.      Free trade – I guess he would support NAFTA

6.      Secure International Rights on high seas – It seems pirates are making another comeback.  I’m with Smith on this one.

7.      Establishment of national bank in every state and territory – Bad idea.  We are currently experiencing banking problems with banks getting too big and doing bad mortgages. Joseph has a bad record of running a bank.  See my post on the Kirtland Bank Failure.

8.      Sale of public lands for sale of slaves –  I like it.  That’s a much better solution than the Civil War was.  Richard Bushman commented about this at the Pew Research Forum,

He began by citing the Declaration of Independence, the famous passages about all men being equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights, which of course could be a lead-in to religious rights. But he didn’t use it that way. Instead, in the very next sentence, he talked about the obvious contradiction: “Some two or three million people are held as slaves for life because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin than ours.” His platform called for the elimination of slavery, proposing that the funds from the sale of Western lands, a major source of revenue along with the tariff in those days, be devoted to purchasing slaves from their masters in order to avoid the conflict that would otherwise ensue.

Josiah Quincy, soon to be mayor of Boston, visited Joseph Smith in the spring of 1844 when this platform was in circulation. Much later, Quincy wrote about that visit, saying that Joseph Smith’s proposal for ending slavery resembled one that Emerson made 11 years later in 1855.

As Quincy put it, writing retrospectively in the 1880s, “We, who can look back upon the terrible cost of the fratricidal war which put an end to slavery, now say that such a solution of the difficulty” – Joseph Smith’s and Emerson’s – “would have been worthy a Christian statesman. But if the retired scholar was in advance of his time when he advocated this disposition of the public property in 1855, what shall I say of the political and religious leader who had committed himself, in print, as well as in conversation, to the same course in 1844?”

9.      Send all the freed slaves to Texas – Wow, what would Texas be like if that happened?  Remember at this time, Texas was trying to become independent nation from Mexico.  About 1848 came the Mexican-American War, freeing Texas from Mexico and establishing Texas as an independent nation.  (Texas was later annexed into the US.)

10.  Annex Texas, Oregon, and parts of Canada??? I know Canadians like the US, but I didn’t know they wanted to be part of our union!!!  FD, are you aware of this?

11.  Presidential authority to get involved in state disturbances.  As I mentioned in my Sidney Rigdon post, Van Buren refused to get involved in Missouri because he didn’t feel that was a federal mandate.  Joseph was 20 years ahead of actions which resulted in the Civil War.  It’s interesting to see how Joseph would have wanted to handle the federal raid in Waco, and the state raid of the FLDS (both in Texas.)

Finally, let me conclude with Bushman again.

This part of his platform accords perfectly with what modern people like us would have liked a candidate in 1844 to say. But Smith went beyond our sense of political propriety in other parts of his platform: he blended his role as candidate with his role as prophet. He was already mayor of Nauvoo and lieutenant general of the Nauvoo Legion when he ran for the presidency. He seemingly had no sense that church and state should be separated. He gave no hint that he was going to give up his religious offices if he were to become president of the United States.

In the closing peroration of his platform, Joseph Smith indirectly, but I think clearly, offered himself to be the priest of the people, as well as the president. “I would, as the universal friend of man, open the prisons, open the eyes, open the ears, and open the hearts of all people to behold and enjoy freedom, unadulterated freedom; and God, who once cleansed the violence of the earth with flood, whose Son laid down his life for the salvation of all his father gave him out of the world, and who has promised that he will come and purify the world again with fire in the last days, should be supplicated by me for the good of all the people.” He would be the intercessor as priest as well as prophet.

Of course, that is point at which moderns part company with Joseph Smith. We don’t want a prophet with his authoritative words from God governing the nation. That seems to lead to the exclusion of unbelievers and the repression of naysayers. All the alarm bells go off when we see these roles merging.

But I would appeal to you, before you turn away completely from that idea, to pay heed to the underlying theme of that platform and that proposal. I think it can be argued that Joseph Smith actually felt he was fulfilling one of America’s dreams. We think of the American dream as the promise of ascent for the wretched refuse of the teeming shores – the promise that in America, everyone has a chance to prosper and to achieve respectability. That is a dream for the individual.

So, what do you think of Smith’s platform?

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15 comments on “Joseph Smith’s Presidential Platform

  1. About deficit spending, I am with you 100%. However, deficit spending was very minimal and almost unheard of until the Federal Reserve and the income tax were created in the early 20th Century. In other words, low taxes mean low government revenue and small government.

    His plans to eradicate slavery were similar to what was done in much of the West (I mean Europe) to eradicate slavery peacefully.

    By the way, the Civil War was fought over preserving the Union, not eradicating slavery. That’s a popular myth. Lincoln himself admitted he would have permitted slavery if it would have preserved the Union.

    Rehabbing convicts is great.

    By free trade, he means no tariffs with other countries. This has nothing to do with NAFTA, which is a modern-day bureaucratic organization dedicated to free trade in name only. He does not advocate compromising national sovereignty by getting involved in entangling alliances. This was a no-no until Woodrow Wilson in the early 20th Century. He means that with no tariffs, Americans would be able to export and import very inexpensively.

    I agree a National Bank is a very bad idea. Andrew Jackson successfully defeated the first American Central Bank a few years before his run. The Federal Reserve is the most destructive economic institution in America, and is almost singlehandedly responsible for every bust and boom since its creation. I think I can safely say that. Far better to support a hard monetary, free banking policy.

    Getting involved in state disturbances would be a potentially dangerous move away from federalism (balance of power between state and federal governments). But if he restricts his involvement to restoring confiscated property in ways that states could not resolve, this may not be a bad idea. Of course, we believe in federalism today in name only.

    Annexing large areas would be not ideal, but it happened anyway. A skeptic may call James K. Polk quite an imperialist. Not sure about Canada: War of 1812 didn’t go so well, and I don’t think the U.S. was ready for war with Britain again.

    In summary, a huge upgrade from anything available today, with the exception of the National Bank.

  2. MP,

    How do you think Joseph would have reacted in the Waco raid?

  3. Great post, MH!

    I’ve heard things over the years about Canadians wanting to join the US, but usually it’s said in jest or anger at Canadian policies. During the Bush years, I often heard the opposite: that Americans wanted to move to Canada. 🙂

    Anyways, I got my history lesson for the week because there’s an interesting article about annexation movements in Canada.

    I also really like the idea about rehabilitating convicts You may remember discussing on my blog a few months ago. I think this is especially a relevant topic for Americans, since your prisons are overflowing and the rate of convicts is growing. The current system is not working and the cost to society goes way beyond simply what it costs to imprison and feed these people. If some of them can be rehabilititated (and I realize that’s a big “if” in some cases), it could potentially save the country millions and millions of dollars by having these people live lives of normal, contributing members of society. I’m skeptical about how this will work with violent criminals and those who have committed sex crimes, but I’m sure that the jails are filled with people who have committed lesser crimes which, though still serious, carry a stronger hope and potential for rehabilitation. A lot of people object to certain prisoners being given the opportunity to earn a college degree at the tax payer’s expense and I can understand their objections. After all, it seems unfair that criminals are getting their degree from the comfort of their cell, while law-abiding citizens struggle to be able to afford to send their kids to college. But when you think ahead to the time when that prisoner gets out of jail and sees no other option but to go on welfare, I wonder how a society can afford NOT to do more to get prisoners ready for the real world again.

    I think that balance is important. There is often a debate in Scandinavia, which has a very low crime rate, but a very lax prison system in the eyes of many. For instance, a “life sentence” in Norway is 21 years. Personally, I think it’s crazy that a violent criminal who rapes and kills someone will only be in jail for 21 years. (There are certain cases where a life sentence truly is a life sentence, but I think it’s relatively rare.) But then there are plenty of non-violent criminals who are serving sentences which are combined with mandatory community work, perhaps house arrest, and where they are allowed to go to their job but virtually nothing else. It’s really hard to know sometimes who deserves a second chance and who doesn’t. I don’t think we can let guys like Bernie Madoff off with a slap on the wrist simply because he isn’t a violent criminal. And yet it seems equally crazy to lock up 18 and 19 year-olds for petty crimes without considering how or why they got there and why they become repeat offenders. I don’t think we can “save” everyone, but I think that we can do more. And that goes for any society.

    In regards to taxation, I disagree with JS on low taxation simply because I see things from a modern perspective. In his day, things like a complex modern infrastructure, universal health care, maternity leave, , unemployment insurance, pension plans, etc, probably weren’t even on the radar. Today, we (or at least I 🙂 ) need and want these things and the money has to come from somewhere. So, while I don’t believe that people should be taxed through the roof, I don’t believe that people are necessarily better off just because they pay little tax.

    I wonder what he meant by “liberal pardoning.” Are you able to elaborate on that any more?

    Also, when it comes to securing international rights on the high seas, that certainly seems relevant today. I’m assuming that there are established international laws at sea, although I don’t really know anything about them, and that all these pirates are in violation of them. Which is why I would have liked to see an international court handle this Somali pirate case instead of some court in New York. I think that we’re all a little skeptical of such things after Guantanamo Bay. 🙂

  4. Sorry, that first link didn’t work. Here it is again. 🙂

  5. FD,

    Thanks for the Wiki link–that was really interesting. The 1837 part was fascinating because that is during Joseph’s lifetime and adds some interesting perspective! I hope Ray stops by–he is our resident Manifest Destiny expert. I see this annexation of Canada as based on MD principles.

    I know that the Mexican-American which freed Texas from Mexico was viewed by many prominent Americans (such as Abraham Lincoln, Generals Sherman, Grant, and Lee) as an immoral war where the US took advantage of Mexico’s weakness and grabbed much of their land. However, I am also aware that Mexico had a standing policy that Catholicism was the state religion, though it was obviously not enforced well in outlying areas.

    Texas has some really interesting history. Clean Cut did a nice post on the Mormon movement in Texas.

    And one other thing, FD, you need to get a gravatar!!! Check out my post with that name (it’s 3 down).

  6. Yeah, you’re right! I need to update my Blogger gravatar as well, so I’ll get one up soon. 🙂

  7. […] actively trying to expand the borders, including areas of Canada (as I mentioned in my post about Joseph Smith’s Presidential platform.)  Quinn also states (without footnotes to back it up) on page 134, that Joseph “had […]

  8. Here’s the actual platform.
    Discussion at: http://www.mormonapologetics.org/topic/48064-joseph-smith-for-president-fact-check-please/

    ===========
    1. A central banking system owned by the government, with the mother bank at Washington, and branch banks in the several states.

    2. The annexation of Texas upon her application, and the extending of an invitation to Mexico and Canada to become parts of the United States of America.

    3. The immediate occupation and settlement of the Oregon region.

    4. The reduction of the National Congress, the House two-thirds and the Senate one-half.

    5. The freedom of the slaves through purchase by the Federal Government; the funds to be obtained by the sale of public lands.

    6. A reform of the prison system, which would make the prisons workhouses and seminaries of learning.

    7. The building by the government of a dam across the Mississippi River at Keokuk (just below Nauvoo) and the construction of locks to aid shipping around the rapids at that place.

    8. A reform of the strict military punishment for desertion in time of war.

    9. A high tariff to protect young industries.
    (William Edwin Berrett, “The Restored Church”, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 14th ed., pg. 179
    ================

    BTW–a central banking system owned by the government is not the same as the privately owned Federal Reserve. However, no a days the government is owned by the bank cartel, so it’s too late for this solution.

  9. BTW–here’s another great write up on Smith’s platform, with comparisons to modern politicians, some history of how Smith got involved and quotes from the period:

    http://www.examiner.com/x-12813-LDS-Church-Examiner~y2009m7d10-Liberal-or-conservative-Joseph-Smiths-1844-presidential-platform

  10. Thanks Chris, that 2nd link was fascinating!

  11. […] a previous blog post about Joseph Smith’s Presidential Platform, I quoted from Michael Quinn’s book called The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power page 119, […]

  12. […]  This money would be disbursed to slave-owners to free slaves.  In a previous blog post about Joseph Smith’s Presidential Platform, I quoted from Michael Quinn’s book called The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power page 119, […]

  13. […] who is credited with this re-evaluation of Thomas Jefferson.  I’ve previously blogged about Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign in which he proposed selling public lands to compensate slave-owners to free their slaves, and it […]

  14. […] the Council of Fifty, it was a “quorum” set up by Joseph Smith in preparation for his U.S. Presidential campaign in 1844.  One of the most unusual aspect of this council was the fact that it contained 3 […]

  15. […] the Council of Fifty, it was a “quorum” set up by Joseph Smith in preparation for his U.S. Presidential campaign in 1844.  One of the most unusual aspect of this council was the fact that it contained 3 […]

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