Ed. Note: In the last presidential election cycle, Mitt Romney was billed as the first Mormon presidential candidate. History, however, tells the story of the forgotten first Mormon to run for President in our country…
Mitt Romney was not the first Mormon to run for the presidency. One of the founders, if not the founder, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or Mormonism), Joseph Smith, actually ran for the presidency in the election of 1844. The period when Mormonism began in America was a time much like our own. There were several new religious and social movements that sprang up, such as the various Utopian Socialist Movements (Robert Owen’s New Harmony, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Brook Farm, John Noyes’ Oneida Community); the Shakers and Mother Ann Lee Stanley; and the Baptist William Miller and the beginning of Seventh Day Adventism. These and other such movements influenced the Second Great Awakening and what the historical scholar Nathan O. Hatch has termed The Democratization of American Christianity (Yale, 1989).
Joseph Smith had a very engaging and encouraging platform that set him apart from his other colleagues in 1844. Smith was running against James K. Polk (who was the winner of the election) and Henry Clay as the major candidates. The scholar Richard L. Bushman discusses Smith’s candidacy in his award-winning biography entitled Joseph Smith — Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism. Bushman is a practicing Mormon and was the Gouverneur Morris Professor of History at Columbia University for many years. His biography of Smith is balanced and is certainly a scholarly treatment. Bushman discusses the development of Smith’s platform, which was promoted as “General Smith’s Views of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States.” Several of the points stressed in his platform were vexing and divisive. Bushman wrote, “He took positions on the great issues of the day: the national bank, and the annexation of Texas as a slave state, which raised the question of slavery in the West.” Smith turned out to be an independent candidate, not a Whig candidate, due to his positions on the bank and expansionism, including the annexation of Texas (which he supported with qualifications).
Smith’s platform is revealing and, for that day, extremely progressive. He stood for territorial expansion with certain clear limits. He wanted to recreate the national bank to enhance the economy for the nation. He wanted to abolish slavery by 1850 and pay the slave owners for their losses by selling government land. This is one of the most creative and reasonable objectives in Smith’s platform. He also wanted to reduce the size of Congress as a cost-saving initiative. Given the struggle that Smith and the Mormons were having with enemies and with local and state governments, Smith wanted to amend the Constitution to give the President the power to deal with mob violence without a Governor’s request or consent.
Smith and his brother were both slain in June of 1844, ending his candidacy for the presidency. This action raised the questions of religious freedom and the rule of law in dealing with such movements. Given the discussion of Romney’s presidential campaign and his religious faith, these questions have not faded. While I disagree with Romney theologically, I agree with him on our economic situation and the role of the government in our country. We need less government and fewer regulations. As in that 1844 presidential campaign season, we have some critically important issues facing us as a nation. Not the least of these issues is economics, including our massive multi-trillion-dollar debt, our bloated federal and governmental bureaucracies, our rampant immorality, and political dishonesty. The problems we face are the results of bipartisan Congressional leadership, which makes “tea party” politics all the more important.
The Tea Party movement at this time in American history is critically important. It is a grassroots movement committed to the common man’s empowerment and liberty. Government has become far too powerful and far too expensive. We are wasting billions of dollars on useless things and persons who do not appreciate us, who do not want us to go on as the Founders intended, or who do not believe in “the American way.” Let us quit funding them! We need to stop wasteful expenditures that have done nothing to improve things, such as the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency. These have become tools in the hands of socialist bureaucrats whose aim is to dictate and dominate all our lives. These folks need to join the ranks of the unemployed and thereby gain some idea of what we common citizens are experiencing as a result of their actions.
Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a history professor at East Texas Baptist University and a freelance columnist living in Marshall, TX. Contact him at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.
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