Joseph Smith, Jr. (December 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844) was the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement and an important religious and political figure in the western United States. Beginning in 1827, Smith gathered a religious following after announcing that an angel had given him a set of golden plates describing the history of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In 1830, Smith published what he said was a translation of these plates as the Book of Mormon and organized a restorationist denomination called the Church of Christ, its members known as Latter Day Saints.
For most of the 1830s, Smith and the majority of his church lived in Kirtland, Ohio, where he built an impressive temple. He also sent colonists to Jackson County, Missouri, where he hoped to establish a city of Zion as the biblical New Jerusalem. In early 1838, after a financial scandal effectively caused the collapse of the Ohio church, Smith fled an arrest warrant and joined his followers in Missouri. Tensions between the Latter Day Saints and old Missouri settlers quickly escalated into the 1838 Mormon War, leading to the Saints' expulsion from Missouri. Smith and his people then settled in Nauvoo, Illinois where they began building a second temple. Smith became the mayor of Nauvoo and commander of a large militia. In 1844, after a local newspaper exposed the practice of polygamy within the church and accused Smith of acting the tyrant, Smith and the Nauvoo city council suppressed the paper as a nuisance and then attempted to meet the ensuing outrage by declaring martial law. Accused of treason, he was jailed by Illinois state authorities and was assassinated by a mob.
Smith's followers consider him a prophet and have canonized some of his revelations including the Book of Mormon as sacred texts, esteemed to be of equal authority with the Bible. His teachings include unique views of the nature of godhood, cosmology, family structures, political organization, and religious collectivism. His legacy includes several religious denominations which collectively claim a growing membership of nearly 14 million worldwide.
- Dobner, Jennifer (April 10, 2009), Editor: Statistics show fast Mormon church growth, http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/states/utah/2009-04-10-42998841_x.htm (LDS Church claims 13,508,509 members as of end of 2008); Community of Christ (2009), General Denominational Information, http://www.cofchrist.org/news/GeneralInfo.asp#membership, retrieved December 17, 2009 (second largest Latter Day Saint movement denomination claiming approximately 250,000 members).
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