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Joseph Smith
Joseph smith
Portrait of Joseph Smith Jr. at age 30.

Full Name

Joseph Smith Jr.

Born

December 23, 1805, Sharon, Green Mountain Republic of Vermont

Died

March 14, 1868, Burlington, People's Republic of the Lord

Leader of the Proletariat

1838-1868

Head of the Church of the Modern-Day Saints

1829-1868

Party

None

Spouse

None

Children

None

Parents

Joseph Smith Sr., Lucy Mack

Joseph Smith Jr. (December 23, 1805- March 14, 1868) also known as Saint Joseph of Swanton, was a preacher, philospher, revolutionary and politician. Smith served as the first Leader of the Proletariat of the People's Republic of the Lord, and was the founder of the Church of the Modern-Day Saints (known informally as the Smithite Cult). Born to a middle-class family in the Green Mountain Republic of Vermont, Smith founded his own religion after recieving "divine visions from the Lord." This new religion also functioned as a political philosophy, based on Christian communalism and utopian socialism. Smith's new ideology sought to establish a "dictatorship of the proletariat" where the workers controlled the means of production, and people lived "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs" under the Christian God. 

After publishing his beliefs in The Manifesto in 1830, his popularity quickly grew as he spread his word. In 1838 Smith led a mob of his followers and slaughtered Vermont's government. He declared a new "People's Republic of the Lord," with himself styled as the unquestioned "Leader of the Proletariat." In other words, a dictator.

Early Years

Joseph Smith Jr. was born on December 23, 1805 to Joseph Smith Sr. and his wife Lucy Mack, in the town of Sharon in the Green Mountain Republic of Vermont. His father was a middle class bussinessman and farmer, who made sure the family was kept well off. Although a very spiritual man, Joseph Smith Sr. belonged to no organized religion. Joseph Smith Jr. was educated from home, although he was better off than most others in the county. As a child he was described as having an aversion to reading, although he was prone to deep thought and meditation. Smith also had a natural gift for speaking, and had knowledge in Native American religious practices. While he had an interest in religion since he was 12, it would be several years before Smith began reading the Bible.

In 1821 Smith was sent to college, and was a member of the first class of Amherst College. That same year he experienced what he called his first vision from God. This deepened his religious conviction, although he had yet to take an official denomination. While he had originally wanted to study theology, his father said the law and government would be a more successful practice. In 1823 Smith dropped out due to low grades, as he was more interested in his own persuits. But he did pick up a large extent of knowledge about the functions and purpose of government, which would mold his beliefs as time passed. Also during college, Smith read works by Adams, Owen, and Sinclair that he said spoke to him as no other books did. 

Work as a Wanderer

Smith's father was greatly disappointed in his son's performance, and temporarily disowned him, believing it would be a good lesson. No longer connected to his family's wealth, he began wandering around New England doing manuel labor. This "fall from grace" was a primary influence on Smith's views on poverty and the proletariat. He saw the great differences between his childhood and the "wage servitude" he worked under. Smith questioned why God would create such an unfair system for his people, but another religious vision (which he had continued to have) told him that the answer would soon be revealed. 

Robert Owen

Socialist Congressman Robert Owen of Polypotamia had a dramatic affect on Smith's views.

Smith never stayed in one place for long, and by 1825 he had traveled to every state in New England and New York. It was that year in New York City that he heard Socialist Congressman Robert Owen give a speech directed at newly arrived immigrants. Smith listened carefully and was greatly impressed by Owen's vision; a communal community where people worked and supported each other. All that was missing was Smith's version of Christianity. After this experience, Smith's interest in socialism increased as he made connections between its political theories and stories from the Bible. Owen was encouraging people to move west, but Smith resolved to stay in the East where work was more plentiful. 

While his father had forgiven him after two years, Smith refused to return home, having "seen the truth of things." Instead he chose a willing life of poverty, believing the Lord would take care of his needs. Every vision he recieved he listened to faithfully, whether it was where to go or what was the correct view of God. 

Smithism and The Manifesto

In mid-1827. Smith said he recieved a vision from an angel named Moroni to travel to Manchester in western New York. When he arrived there later that year, he was directed to a wooded hill where he was told he would be given a gift. According to Smith, the Angel appeared before him and gave him two golden plates on September 22. On the plates were writing, in what Smith said was ancient Egyptian. Moroni told Smith he had to translate the plates, and then he would have his answer. 

Continuing his physical work to make a living, Smith spent the next two years translating the plates. No other person ever saw these plates, and when he was finished with the translation, Smith claimed Moroni returned and took them back. According to Smith they were written directly by God, telling mankind the proper way to worship and live. Smith called the final translation simply, The Manifesto

In The Manifesto, a new political, social, and religous ideology was described in detail. According to Smith's analysis, class conflict within capitalism arises due to intensifying contradictions between highly-productive mechanized and socialized production performed by the proletariat, and private ownership and private appropriation of profit by a small minority of private owners called the "bourgeoisie." This harsh and immoral system was created by man against God's will, and it had become a testing ground for true follower's of the faith. As the contradiction becomes more well known to the proletariat, social unrest between the two antagonistic classes intensifies, culminating in a social revolution. The revolution would be led by a single man selected by the Lord to unite the world under a single heavenly kingdom, and the revolution would be ultimately successful due to intervention by God himself. The outcome of the world revolution would be the establishment of a socioeconomic system based on cooperative ownership of the means of production, distribution based on one's contribution, and production organized directly for use. An all powerful government led by the chosen man would institute these reforms, and act as God's voice on Earth; his will was not to be questioned, as it was the will and decry of the Lord. As production and technology progressed, the government would release its power. A classless, stateless, and moneyless society based on common ownership and the principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" would come to fruition. This new world would be directly managed by God, who would reveal himself to all remaining mortals at the moment this ideology reached perfection. 

Smithism

The sickle, hammer, and cross combined have become the international sign of Smithism. The sickle to represent the peasantry, the hammer to represent the industrial workers, and the cross to represent Smith's Christian ideal.

This ideology was termed "Smithism," as Smith saw himself as the chosen man to be God's voice. Once the proletariat had been educated and he had gained enough true believers, he would personally lead a revolution in a single country. There he would begin the implementation of Smithism. Over a period of years every country would fall to Smithism, as was God's will. Eventually the world would be run by a single Smithist government, and after every tenet came into existence, paradise would come into being. This was Smith's vision, and his goal. As for the bourgeoisie and the opponents of revolution, they were to be destroyed as heathens and traitors to justice. A true believer must be willing to spill blood to please God. Smith's organization of believers would become known as the Church of the Modern-Day Saints, or as its detractors would call it, the Smithite Cult. 

On March 26, 1830, The Manifesto was published in the URAS. By the end of the year it could be purchased anywhere on the continent, and by the end of the next year it was availible in Europe. Smith's writing had an immediate effect on people. Many saw the truth in what he was saying, and people who had grown disillusioned with mainstream religion through their lot in with Smith. He also succeeded in splitting the already radical Socialist Party; some immediately saw Smith as a visionary for his writings, while others, specifically athiest socialists, said he was insane. The leader of the American Socialist Party and an early inspiration for Smith, Congressman Robert Owen of Polypotamia, said described him as: "A man that got it wrong, believing himself a general instead of a comrade of ours, who wrote a book to inspire dreams and hopes that are fundamentally right. May those dreams, and not his delusions of grandeur, make the difference one day." Queen Gwendolyn Sinclair of Canada, who many later historians claimed had Socialist sympathies, said of them: "A disgusting religious cult deforming a somewhat-valid ideology for their own ends." 

The Road to Revolution

Once several people joined Smith in his wandering lifestyle, he realized he would have to move somewhere permanently. He decided to return to the Green Mountain Republic, where he thought his help was most needed and it would be the easiest to ferment a revolutionary zeal. He used donations to purchase a large home in Whitingham, just along the American-Vermont border. It was there he met carpenter and blacksmith Brigham Young, who was four years his elder. Although a Methodist, Young had been impressed by The Manifesto, and after meeting Smith in person, was quickly converted to the new faith. Young would quickly become Smith's right-hand man, and a lifelong friend. 

Smith, a friendly man, quickly made many friends in Whitingham. Within time, most had either converted to the Church of the Modern-Day Saints, or tolerated its presence. The individuals that were against it and thought Smith a madman had quickly found themselves outnumbered, and most moved to the URAS in the coming years. In March, 1833 the first assasination attempt on Smith's life took place when he was almost shot in a crowd of people. The would-be assassin was a local Catholic priest who had lost most of his congregation to the new Church and saw Smith as a "dangerous" man. Smith survived unscathed, although the elderly priest was quickly beaten to death by the crowd. While some men would be brought down by their near demise, Smith had the opposite reaction. He saw the priest's failure as a message that he was doing God's work, and that he was now well known enough to carry the message even further. 

Joseph Smith2

Portrait of Joseph Smith spreading the word of God while reading from The Manifesto.

Smith began to travel around the Green Mountain Republic giving speeches and making appearances. He traveled to every small town, and spoke to as many Church congregations as he could. He shook the hands of the farmer, and swung the hammer alongside the worker. Copies of The Manifesto were passed out, and chapters of the Church were set up as many places as possible. He even spoke at the capital of Burlington from time to time, rallying against the "corrupt" and "reactionary" government. On occasion he'd be run out of town, or there would be a violent confrontation between his followers and local law enforcement. But each time he left unharmed, according to Smith further proof of God's power, but more realistically due to his fervently dedicated and well-armed body guards. 

During the 1830s, Smith made several inroads in the URAS. Chapters of the Church of the Modern-Day Saints sprang up in communities all over the country, including Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Springfield, Massachusetts Bay, New York City, New York, Harrisontown, Illinoisa, and even in Richmond, Virginia. But while Smith traveled to the URAS to give speeches and spread his word, he rarely went south of New York. But in 1837 he made his most western stop to Franklin Mills, Polypotamia. It was there he met the Connecticut-born John Brown, who had just moved there the previous year. Brown was nearly six years older than Smith, and was currently running a tannery. He had always been religious, and since the imprisonment of William Lloyd Garrison and the repression of his newspaper, as fervant abolitionist. Brown was not a man use to doing things half-way, and it took only a night's discussion with Smith to convert him to the Church. While not the biggest promoter of "Smithism" as an ideology, Brown did believe that Smith was God's messanger, and it was his duty to help him on the Lord's path. After Smith returned to the Green Mountain Republic, he and Brown continued to correspond through the mail, and together they wrote the Ten Points of Smithism, a pamphlet outlaying the ten most important features of a Smithist country. 

Only July 12, 1838, the President of the Green Mountain Republic of Vermont, Ezra Butler, died at the age of 74. Having served since 1824, he had overseen the entire devolopment of the Church of the Modern-Day Saints. While many said the group should havebeen made illegal, Butler had claimed this would only make them martyrs, and promote violence. Now that he was dead, the legislators in Burlington would choose a new President. Smith immediately placed his name into consideration. He had become very popular across the country, and he demanded that the legislators listen to the voice of the people, and even more importantly, that of God's. The legislators had long thought Smith insane, and many would rather have him arrested than leading the country. His name was never even considered, and William A. Palmer was inaugurated as the new President on August 1. Palmer was extremely against Smith, and his first act in office was to declare the Church of the Modern-Day Saints an illegal organization, despite the fact that Vermont had a guaranteed the freedom of religion.  Palmer had acted right into Smith's hands. He had never expected to become President, but even he didn't think they'd go so far as to put a conservative like Palmer into office. Officially, Smith was now a criminal, and he used this to his advantage. In a public statement, he declared the officials in Burlington to be a "false government," and Palmer to be a "usurper." "They have betrayed the people's trust, and now they shall pay for it with their blood" declared Smith. He demanded every true believer to march with him to Burlington to overthrow "the devil's work" and institute "the first administration of the people, and of God." Thousands took up the call, and swarmed to the capital. 

William A. Palmer

President William A. Palmer of the Green Mountain Republic of Vermont

Palmer and the legislators were in a frenzy. Under no circumstances could they negotiate with Smith, and even if they wanted to, Smith was a man with a mission. Word was sent to Philadelphia to ask Prime Minister Lewis Cass for military support to crush the revolution, but Cass refused. He had had a peaceful term thus far, and he wasn't about to start a new military conflict, especially one that would set off revolts from the American members of the Church. With no support coming, Palmer set up a defense. But Vermont's military was almost nonexistent, and only about two hundred troops were able to arrive at the capital in time. When the thousands of armed followers, led by Smith, arrived, at least half of the soldiers surrendered immediately and lowered their arms. The remaining troops fought as long as they could, which amounted to only twenty minutes. Almost two hundred and fifty Church followers were killed, although every remaining soldier was massacred in the fighting.

Arriving outside the capitol building in the middle of Burlington where the government officials had gathered, Smith commanded the mob to stop. There he walked up the government steps, and walked inside, alongside a dozen guards. Legislators remained quiet with horrified faces as Smith walked by, and once coming upon the President, he personally arrested Palmer for his "crimes against proletariat and the Lord." Smith walked outside with Palmer in chains, and after giving a quick speech the masses, allowed them to pillage the capitol. People stormed the building on mass, destroying and stealing whatever they could; any government worker or legislator caught was killed on sight by mob. Smith later called this the first taste of social justice. The next day President Palmer was publically executed by the guillotine in front of a cheering crowd. When asked if he should have been given a trial, Smith simply responded "He was already found guilty by God himself, and there is no higher court than that." 

The People's Republic of the Lord

Joseph Smith3

Official portrait of Joseph Smith, the first Leader of the Proletariat. He is shown in front of a church, holding a copy of The Manifesto.

Instead of declaring himself the new President as some thought he would, Smith declared the dissolution of the Green Mountain Republic of Vermont. On August 29, Joseph Smith declared the founding of the People's Republic of the Lord. Despite its name the new country would be a dictatorship under Smith, who was titled "Leader of the Proletariat," or simply the Leader informally. Leader Smith immediately began his program to fulfill his vision, and complete the job he believed God himself had ordained him to do. 

Overthrowing the Bourgeoisie 

Immediately after seizing power, Smith released a list of four hundred names that were to be immediately executed for crimes against the state. Most of these people included the few wealthy people living in the country, lawyers, judges, and sherrifs. Smith also stated they were not to be hanged, which was now an illegal way of executing the guilty. They were to either be shot by a firing squad or beheaded in order to "spill [the criminal's] blood on the ground, and let the smoke  thereof ascend up to God." Within the next two weeks these listed people would either be killed or forced to flee the country. But more died than were meant too; people took this time to rid themselves of lifelong enemies, using Smith's orders as an excuse. And even more died from defending their friends and family who were listed. In total, it is thought that nearly two thousand people would die due to the "Second Reign of Horror." 

All those who died, their wealth was taken by the government. Smith announced the abolishment of private property; all things belonged to the government and community, excluding personal possessions. All businesses were nationalized and were to be overseen by the government. The former owners were to submit or be declared an enemy of the proletariat and killed. If they submitted, they could become workers in their former business. Things would now revolve around the community. Work was to be done communally, and the benefits were to be equally shared. 

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