Junius and Joseph: Presidential Politics and the Assassination of the First Mormon Prophet

In what has been called the Age of the Common Man, Andrew Jackson’s Democrats invented a new style of politics. The founding fathers, who were suspicious of political parties and omitted them from the United States Constitution, would have spun in their graves if they could have seen the parades, barbecues, and rallies that roused the party faithful for Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson. The Democrats’ opponents assembled themselves into a loose coalition of moralists, capitalists, and antislavery advocates so bereft of a unifying ideology that they had to borrow their name—Whig—from history. All they knew was that they could not stand Democrats and King Andrew. Elections became no-holds-barred battles for white male voters, who turned out in droves to cast their ballots. For the next two decades, Whigs would spar with the Democrats, winning only one decisive presidential victory and then fade into oblivion as the new Republican party formed in 1854.

It is against this backdrop of partisan warfare that the authors of Junius and Joseph stage their story. Previous works on the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith have focused on the trial of their accused killers, the fate of the attackers, or the assassination as a pivotal event in the history of God’s chosen people. My own work analyzed the event from the point of view of Hancock County’s old settlers, particularly those in the rural areas who burned out the Mormons and drove them toward Nauvoo.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 45:4
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