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tv   Spencer Mc Bride Joseph Smith for President  CSPAN  September 7, 2021 6:16pm-7:10pm EDT

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starting at the height of the syrian conflict and the proxy wars between saudi arabia beginning in yemen so is a very awful time and looking how we can cooperate between majority nations for vaccine development. we have made drivers but the point is i think this is the time we need it more than ever and we can talk about what we are seeing now with what rush is doing and what china is doing to some extent and now this very antiscience disinformation campaign launched by russia so how do we walk all this back and restore vaccine diplomacy to its rightful place because of its track record of success?
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>> i'm so please to have with us this evening spencer mcbride associate management historian author of tonight's book "joseph smith for president." in conversation with him is the p. harry williams professor of american history at lsu and author of a best-selling book quite trashed, nancy isenberg. welcome both of you. i'm so excited to have you with us and we are all looking forward to hearing from you. >> thank you so much. good to be with you. and it's good to be talking with you nancy. >> so let's get into it.
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your book looks at the early years of the mormon in illinois and joseph smith. what i found most fascinating about your interpretation of genesis smith and the mormon committee is how they embraced -- democracy all the legal and political strategies. joseph smith went to the white house and spoke directly with president martin van buren. he was unimpressed and dismissed smith short and fast. he would address the larger issue of exactly how smith viewed the role of the federal
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government and state power. >> absolutely. as i have immersed myself in the surviving documents it became clear to me that joseph smith was in the political man. he was a man who aspired to be in political leadership and the common line of politician as i'm not a politician. i think it's really true with smith. the mormons were content to be left alone and it's when they weren't left alone that joseph smith was forced to engage in the political system. after he was expelled from missouri under threat of extermination the order from the government was get out of the state or you'll be exterminated. joseph smith's travels to washington d.c. and we had all this land taken from us in missouri and members were killed
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raped abused and something needed to be done. joseph goes to meet with martin van buren hoping to get van buren to take aside and use his way with congress. van buren doesn't demonstrate any against the mormons for their beliefs. it's pure political calculation. he says their cause is just that i can did nothing for you but essentially if for helping i'm going to lose re-election because i will lose the state of missouri. martin van buren realizes that injustice is a thing and congress has a hearing in the judiciary committee and not considering whether the more should get reparations are not but does the federal government have any will to fight here and this is one of the reasons i wrote the book. this is like that forgotten part
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of our constitutional history part of our collectible historical amnesia. the bill of rights did not apply to individual states prior to the 14th amendment and we forget that. all of a sudden we see joseph smith who was not a constitutional scholar who was not a great legal mind what was the leader of a small group and finds himself by accident on the vanguard. hey there something wrong here. there something wrong that a state can expel a religious authority in the government says our hands are tied. that's where joseph smith comes in and at the crux of his petitioning is this idea of the states rights doctrine. while on the surface that has nothing to do with religion it's very much used to manipulate the government to protect but no one else is looking at it as this is
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going to hurt religion and joseph smith is one of these early americans who says hey i love my country but there something wrong with the constitution lets fix fix it. that's where congress refuses to help and he petitions every single year until his death and at the heart of his ever does this constitutional reform. the bill of rights needs to protect the people when the states fail to do so. >> i think you make a very convincing case about the dangers they face and that's where the story was missed. it's so narrowly drawn. this could be applied in the variety of different ways. when a group is designated as a dangerous minority which as you said when the governor of missouri claimed mormons are our a danger to the state and a danger to the nation in really
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extreme language calling them traitors and calling them a danger and it opens the door for that sort of abuse. that is followed up with the next question i have because part of the reason they are a huge minority and very much threatened is that your book shows repeatedly the way in which violent mobs not only being an anomaly are actually seen as a democratic process. this alone should be very troubling to your readers and it reminds us as of today we have to take this seriously but in fact in 1923 a highly-regarded jurist marshall towns wrote in his book criminal justice in america the average american is prone to take the law into their own hands and to write their own laws organized vigilante
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committees and exert offhand extralegal pressure. if we think about the mormons not only did they get threatened to be exterminated as we know -- was murdered by a mob so if you could just kind of expand on the very serious dangers that they face and in a sense why it made it even more horrifying? >> as you mentioned this idea of violence is a hallmark of early american democracy. to present from the beginning so while we look at the american south and we see enshrined in these founding documents lofty rhetoric of freedom and universal freedom the reality is it's far from it.
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those who had freedom and that is almost universally often white protestant men. they often had to resort to extralegal mob violence to maintain that privileged position. especially when the laws are written in this idealistic way. everyone deserves freedom but they don't want that to come into play so when they are. this position don't let them win they turn to mob violence and they see it as not persecution. they see it as a legitimizing force to save democracy and that means the forest is saved their power and democracy. so these mobs again maybe in your mind we have visions of pitchforks and guns but often
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they would draft a proclamation or if justification basically telling themselves in the public hey we are doing this to save democracy and that's what the mob in missouri did. they declared they were driving the mormons out as they were a danger to democracy and they pledge their lives their fortunes and their sacred honor and then they proceeded to shared burn hang in raped in the name of democracy. and so this is a really troubling part of the american past is extralegal violence was seen not as an aberration of the democratic state and the still lives with us to this day. i'd like to think that is badly but recent events have caused me to reevaluate that this idea of extralegal violence taking matters into your own hands when you don't get your way is really
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troubling in the mormons become a case study of this in early america. mobs acting undemocratically in the name of democracy. >> if you think about the january 6 in mobs that were used against abolitionists. they would rely on common law and claim that they had to -- the right to attack anything that was a threat and they see the mob itself as the will of the people and that's the most troubling thing. who really are the people when we think about the constitution and who are we talking about? some people when they take power into their own hands imagine they are representing the
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people. they are exercising their rights and this is a problem with language because it's often about someone using their right to defraud someone else's right in most cases it's a minority group being trampled on as in the case of the mormons. get there and just in character that comes up in your book and when we discuss this i agree it's kind of a con man affair not do with john c. bennett and it's truly interesting. you can talk about why he got involved in why he was attracted to it but he was a thorn in joseph smith side. he writes an exposé in 1942 and one of the things that i thought was most interesting because it's resonant at this time in antebellum america but he not only portrays smith as it
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traitor but he portrays him as someone who -- in the western territory and are mightily the same arguments. and many that are prevalent in popular in the 19th century but he said it would be up like salt and fallen to the immense labyrinth of a prophetic dominion. even at this stage what do the mormons tell us about the tension surrounding empires in the 19th century and how this kind of rhetoric of conquest sometimes is endorsed another times is seen as a danger so i thought maybe that comment about that particularly in relationship to bennett. >> john c. bennett is one of those really colorful characters and it was fun to write this but for broader general audience.
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those who know mormon history well know who john c. bennett is so it's fun to get their reaction from readers. whenever you have a new religious group in one that gathers in the community you attract on this seekers but you also attract people with nefarious goals or intentions and john save bennett is the latter. john c. bennett was the quartermaster of the illinois state militia so he had position respectability and justice smith buys into that because someone who i seems to be on the defensive here someone of authority who is seeking his side and wants to join his church and wants to support him and so looking back it seems joseph smith it was a sign that joseph smith that should have been aware of that he did not see with john c. bennett and it leads to a lot of trouble.
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.. as you mention focuses on the biggest risk. >> the west was at risk. this is a long-standing language of manifest destiny and empire were the american saw the western territory as inevitably there's british theirs by right. they would eventually fill seated signing shining sea. as much as they wanted to claim the land it was on the ground the claim was contested. russia could move in and a rush i was encroaching on the west coast. the republic of texas was a
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threat. all the sudden the british are back in north america, and they're going to fill up the west. there was this concern even as americans believe the western portion of what we know as the united states was inevitably going to be theirs, they knew it was not certain. so he invokes this fear the latter day saints are going to essentially move west and set up their own empire as a rival to the united states. if you want to make that bogeyman more scary in the minds of americans the mormons of this dispossessed minority group are going to team up with the needs of america, free people of color, they're going to cause a slave revolt that is enough to scare into action. when bennett makes those claims he knows what he is
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doing. this is a touchy spot for americans. it will undo manifest destiny. the other surprising thing is that smith and the more of a community drafted an extremely powerful charter for the new city in illinois. you call a city/state on the hill. this was kind of shocking to me. its own documents on its own terms. it seems to go against all of the hostility, why was it minority granted such expanded powers. why did the legislature in illinois tolerate this?
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>> it becomes a key moment in the history of joseph smith and naboo. eventually leads to some of their undoing and that place. but in 1840, 1841 the mormons are already kind of disenchanted with the american ideal. missouri did was an aberration. the federal governments want to take our side and when they do all will be right again from the government refuses to get involved, the mormons wise up a bit. they said we are going to hope illinois going to be better. but just in case we need to put safeguards at the local city level to protect our rights so this does not happen again. there could not been a more opportune time in illinois politics need remaking and roads, such as abraham lincoln
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were rising to prominence. democrats like steven a douglas were also rising to promise for these were not big national names but they were there in illinois politics. the whigs and democrats saw this group of mormons who tended to vote together as the way of essentially protecting their power. and so they all wanted to do this as a favor to the mormons thinking it would curry favor with them. every power that was in the naboo charter, each one existed in some other illinois city charter. the mormons were not inventing these powers. what makes the naboo charter so unique as it aggregates all of these powers. no city had all of them. the cities we talk about the community militia which is connected to the state militia. but eventually they have a 2500 militia when the standing army of the united states is at the same time with 8000 men.
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that is how big the more of a militia was. they have rights to habeas corpus which means the city council of someone comes out from naboo there unjust. there's all these powers within the next five years, that creek tart charter becomes a target. that charter protects the mormons too much. the mormons see it as necessary when things get bad in illinois, as they eventually do, the charter becomes a target of their
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opponents and they want to revoke his charter. >> so let's get on to smith's presidential run. the presidential platform is both surprising and it different people have different expectations. can you explain why smith thought, why he made that final step but a presidential run more of a missionary work like political campaigning because they talk about his presidency is presidential bid. >> we talk about the beginning
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the opposition to the states rights doctrine stays at the front of the mind. that is at the heart of his campaign, november 1843 they are still seeking reparations from missouri. things are starting to look bad in illinois. it appears what happened in missouri is going to happen again in illinois in joseph smith once protection for he writes the five men expected to run for president, henry clay, anybody in history wanted to be president more than henry clay did. van buren, richard mentor johnson, taft, and calhoun. he writes each one the letters essentially saying what will be your policy towards us as a people if you are elected. the implication is if you answer this right you have the more of a vote, nationwide but especially concentrated in illinois.
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they offer sympathy, they ultimately say the states right doctrine keep us from doing anything and that's what should be. that really irritates joseph smith. but perhaps even more henry clay gives a most politician answer expresses sympathy and understanding. since i don't want to the offices making any promises and making a statement in the campaign. that seems to irritate joseph smith even more. in january church of jesus christ of letter dates saints meat and naboo and say let's run an independent candidate what to be called a third-party candidate. joseph smith is going to be that candidate were going to try to elect impaired hanging over the whole endeavor is a question of was he serious? because there is no weight joseph smith is going to win. there's no way there's anyone who's not a wig or democrat has ever won a presidential election in the united
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states. it is not going to happen in 1844. part of it is a pr, a public relations thing for this is going to raise awareness of the mormons plight and maybe in running a real campaign they can force one party or the other to adopt some of these into their platform. but joseph's about this even though he was realistic he was not going to win, he sees this as a necessary step to do everything he knows how to do to help his people. so at the core of the campaign is a stronger federal government empowered to help minority groups. he is not a one issue candidate. he puts forth this pamphlet circulates out the country called general smith's views on the policies and powers of the united states government. he begins it in the very first
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paragraph lamenting slavery. he says or something wrong we claim all men are created equal and millions of men, women, children are enslaved because of the color of the skin that covers their soul is different than ours. and so he calls for the towable abolition of slavery but is very pragmatic on his solution from a calls for the federal government to purchase the freedom of enslaved men and women. which on a pragmatic level makes sense but it's also in conflict with itself. the idea these men and women should be free yet we pay their enslavers because they are property. criminal justice reform closing the penitentiaries, sank while they claim to be reforming men, ultimately they are creating a permanent class.
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hope for the annexation of texas taking all of national expansion to and mexico. he calls for the end of debtor prison. he sees it as entirely unjust. he calls for new national bank which is a hot button issue and has been for a long time. he is saying this bank will be different because it will be paid $2 a day but they will not get rich by leading this bank for this bank will not be designed to enrich investors is designed as a public service to stabilize the economy. it's a very progressive, it is very relevant. sometimes it borders on naïve and the idea these policies could be enacted so simply. but he is not a one issue candidate even though there's one issue that drove him into the race. one advantage he had that
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other independent third party candidates didn't come he had this core of experienced missionaries, men that had gone out and preached religion trying to make converts. he essentially sends them out as election nears saco preach politics. some of them loved it, they felt really comfortable doing that. others still only knew how to preach religion. for then they would still preach religion safe i convert somebody in summary joins the church that is a vote for joseph smith even if i convince somebody. this is a time on presidential campaigning is rapidly evolving. all of a sudden a part of the evolution of campaigning. he sends hundreds. [inaudible] >> under a single platform. he's echoing ideas that are out there in the political realm.
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davy crockett was against a debt that's a big hot issue goes all the back to the 1800s about getting rid of debtor's of prison and debt, how that penalizes people. even the idea of purchasing slaves, that is in an idea forwarded it's the whole issue, it is that debate over how you convince slaveowners to give up their slaves. you compensate them for it. that's what is interesting. he's clearly paying attention to what is being debated politically. he does not just on the fringes. in many ways is trying to put together real platforms that addresses what are the issues that are relevant to people at the time he is running. he is listening. he may not be a political animal that he was the student of to figure out what were the political issues that people cared about. >> even in a writing this book, something that was not apparent to me at the very beginning but became apparent as i wrote it, joseph's
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development for money shows up at the white house i need to make my case the course will see the merits of it and take our side. by 1844 he realizes you have to play political hardball part have to take on these big issues front and center. it really has developed from the novice who shows up in the white house in 1839 and the man who runs in 1844. >> there is another big issue in your book. it seems that one of the undercurrents of hostility is the mormons are constantly attacked as acting as a group rather than individuals. it's both a power and a danger. there is a tension there because smith held sway over the community. there is this belief he was chosen by god. the community is hierarchical.
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it seems to challenge the idea of individual life. we note today americans voted. why did this image of the mormons generate so much hostility? even if we think about, this is something that is more clear later about the idea that also seems to threaten conventional notions of individuals, the idea of monogamy, one man, one husband, one life. the more of a the idea of being a community, a political community as well as a religious community seems to threaten or is used as a weapon, seems to be seen as a threat to the american creed of individualism. >> as you mentioned where polygamy comes in, it was
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still being practiced pretty secretly. only people in western illinois had a sense of what was going on in nauvoo. in fact received the response to joseph smith's political ambitions, no one is worried he might become president. but people who are close to nauvoo who are non- more of a and anti- more of a see this as a dangerous sign that someone like smith -- rick they it as foulest ambition. beyond people may not be taking their campaign seriously but they right there something dangerous about mixing civil and religious authority for this predates the united states. john locke and with most significant statements makes a case white catholics the idea that the pope could tell him what to do. americans has voted as tribes, even today they see a certain
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letter next to a candidates name on the ballot that might not know a thing about him or her but will vote for him or her. there's always been this long-standing tension of people voting together if they are being influenced by a religious meter. that was certainly the case with joseph smith. to block voting and of the people in illinois loved it when the mormons voted their way as a block. what they didn't, this does not go away. we look in the 20th century when john f. kennedy ran in 1960 gives his famous speech, essentially trying to assuage fears that he would take orders from the pope as the president. mitt romney had to do this as a candidate for president still the 21st century. this fear of people voting as a group and directed by religious leaders in their voting as kind of a long
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standing worry in american political culture. that we pick and choose when it worries us. because people do not seem to be worried when leaders today mega churches tell people how to vote. they get very worried when religious minority groups vote together at the direction of their leaders. even only point to the principle of a religious leader taking civil authority, americans pick and choose when that bothers them. >> this is one of the arguments used against women's rights advocates. the idea you can only follow one authority. women have to follow the authority of her husband or is she an independent actor. is she going to the activity of the state. there is nothing democratic about that. there are these old ideas of these conflicts that are also
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contradictory in terms of where the threat lies and why it seems to provoke that kind of fear. it's the fear that somehow groups like going to be the pockets of some foreign entity. the dangers of force that is again going to be subversive force. we never quite free ourselves from that danger of when we see people. the cold war was also drive from religion. somehow they are being brainwashed. that comes from the same anti- more of a rhetoric that was so prevalent in the 19th century. okay, where are we, we know the destruction of the navajo
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this is again were a another critic sets up a paper, and criticizes smith and the mormons. it does set the stage for smith's demise. the mormons and wanted to protect themselves against mobs, defend first amendment rights. then they get caught in a bind. are they going to tolerate a newspaper mixes sensationalism and criticism? and then they end up looking for an argument. they call the paper a public nuisance is the same strategy that was used with their enemies against them. why do you think, noah had a long debate about this but why do you think they decided to mobilize their own mob law which seems a very and bound to invite retaliation. hills like they had no other choice or why did they make that choice? >> and for those who have not dived into the book just yet,
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this is the event that precipitates his assassination. there are people as early
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conclusion. in 1854 the mormons have used out to eat utah territory. missouri is against dealing with a political minority. they're causing problems in missouri for the leadership. david atchison the sitting
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u.s. senator back in the 1830s was one of the militiamen who expelled the mormons. the rights of jefferson davis and explains what he means by more of a party uses more of a as a verb and said it means we'll be forced to burn, hang, and shoot to get rid of this minority group. they done it to the mormons and got away with it. why not do it again. that's exactly what they do. in that sense joseph smith was right that the doctrine condoned mob violence as a way of done with unwanted minority groups. on one should be the view of the majority. there were it's not mine. >> that's my last question looks like were for q&a from the audience. weldon spencer.
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>> it was so lovely to hear from you, earlier before things started, nancy says that she and spencer speak the same historian language, which is very true. it was so delightful sure you ask questions with the kind of knowledge and a background that you have and get to hear the things that you know so well has been such a treat. so all of you in the audience please go ahead and put them in the chat, we will filter them up to our guest. we have one from megan. this wood is fascinating thank you. could you say more about the council of 50 with the presidential run?
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>> the council of 50 is an organization, it is a secret organization that joseph smith creates an avenue. originally it's created to answer one question, should the mormons move to texas? even as joseph smith is running for president he's looking for other options to get on states rights. one of those options was to leave the united states altogether. texas had a problem, they had a disputed border with new mexico. the best solution was to get settlers there. at the settlers came with their own militia, even better. the mormons entered secret negotiations with sam houston in texas but they never amount to anything. the council of 50 is formed for that purpose. the nay began having these questions of politics and religion. this idea of the second coming of jesus christ is going to lead to a millennial government. what is that government going to look like? can we get a head start?
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essentially can we get started? but the council of 50 then becomes this catch all for political questions and napo. it manages much of joseph smith's political campaign. they petition, or their influential and tensioning not boot turning into a city. another way were on the states rights documents, let's mcnabb elect washington d.c. but let's give the mormons a liberal tract of land in the western territories or they can live by themselves. until this council at 50 much like a political advisory group for joseph smith along other things. it's also joseph smith appears to be a very moderate voice. most rooms joseph smith was not a moderate voice. you get people in brigham young who would go on to utah and we get some sense of brigham young's view of politics.
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becomes a very important feature in naboo in those last months of joseph smith's life. it becomes a place all these questions of politics go too. >> fascinating. i have another one here, how much did joseph's notion of polygamy factor in their persecution? >> was interesting about polygamy and the nominal time period of more of a history, it is being practiced secretly. most people who are not involved don't really know much about it. there are rumors that kind of filter out, but they are sensational they seem difficult to believe. and they are sensationalized. so generally speaking it does not have a lot to do with the persecution. where it does come into play is in many of the people who lead the church joseph smith was leading, and they publish
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the newspaper they ultimately ordered destroyed but what they are trying to expose in the practice of polygamy. and so joseph smith sees this as a great danger, not just how sensationalist polygamy but it's going to bring more attention onto the practice. so eventually will people think of mormons and polygamy, they think of brigham young practicing it out in utah. it's practiced out in the open. it was not practiced like that in naboo. it was practiced by a very small circle. i did draw some higher event with the marital practice, great question. >> host: someone else has a question two. i have one but i will ask casey's first. you mentioned returned missionaries of political
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helpers for justice smith. what exactly did they do? did they go door to door? >> if you see mark missionaries today they are hard to miss. i often do go door to door. back then they would travel the country but they would have more public meetings. often they go back to the states mood preaching religion , they would have religious meetings at politics. they gathered smith's supporters and selected electors just in case he won the popular vote. which was not going to happen for that's one of the signs they were taking this seriously. i voted so many presidential elections i cannot type the name of a single elector i voted for ever. if this was just a public relations you do not need to select a lector.
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instead of a religious attractive general smith's views on the policy and powers of the united states government in their hands. this caused problems for some of them. in tennessee, and many of the southern states there were laws against distributing abolitionist literature. because the pamphlet called for the end of slavery, they are incidents in tennessee where the more of a missionaries were surrounded by mobs. not because of their religious beliefs but because they had a pamphlet they were reading from that condemned slavery. yet in kentucky, another slave state, this four shadow in the civil war, even though they were involved against distributing abolitionist material, there was a willingness to at least talk about in kentucky.
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they started a newspaper on printers wrote. if anyone knows the geography there. he published a newspaper to get the campaign out into the newspaper exchange. we reprint them, the mormons are very savvy about the spread very long shot presidential every avenue we canvas with public meetings and distribution of the pamphlet. >> it's good training for that kind of canvassing it's part and parcel of politics now. that's another one from the audience. to joseph smith contention his
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future chosen should be a religious leader to be a presidential candidate? >> that is a good question. that was a religious leader but the followers believe him to be a prophet. similar to moses or abraham in the bible. for his followers for members of the church of jeter jesus christ of latter-day saints that the benefit. this idea we could profit i think for others, i don't know if it increase the already existing fear of combining religious and >> leadership. did send them up for a mockery of a pastor or minister of their church ran for office. they just set him up for jokes
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about a man who can speak with god be informed of what is to come, why is he running for president, so on and so forth. i have overdrew any extra higher the idea he was viewed as a prophet. it certainly set him up for mockery and did lead to bigger conversations. people who were not afraid he would win. force conversations the public sphere about what it means to have such a person run for political office. okay, thanks. we have used all of the audience questions now i will ask mine. i'm pretty sure it is the question every author dreads hearing or promoting a new book. but i am curious, in your role
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with the justice smith papers project have you found any other aspects of his life that you are hoping to write about, when you have time to finish talking all about the presidential campaign? >> it is a blessing and a curse when you work with such a corpus of documents and they are brought to your office whenever you need them. essentially you have a research agenda for life if you want one. there are so many aspects of this i would love to write about. but, this is the trouble of being a historian is actively reading and writing there so many books i would love to write there's just not enough time. i may one day write another book about joseph smith the early more of a history. my initial training is religion and politics, broadly speaking in early america. i have some ideas related to these figures from the founding era, people like
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thomas paine i think i would like to explore two. the material is there if i ever go back to it. there are so many other projects : i think i'm leaning towards one in that area next. >> that sounds great i am always fascinated after they have submitted a manuscript in its come back from a printer and it's now an readers hand. >> this part is to finish a project you've got before they start a new one. >> i think this to regardless of any creative practice. as the parent of any creative kid why they have not finished whatever things they have started. i am so glad that both of you were able to join us this
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evening. and to nancy eisenberg, it has been a delight to hear you. thank you for everyone who joined us this evening. it is a thrill to be coming to you from the actual store, here in los angeles, the oldest independent bookstore. up at the link to the book one more time into the chat. i do see a couple other questions have come in. i will pass on this comment to you, doctor eisenberg. one of our audience members says a red short biography. it's interesting to see about the partisanship memories of
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smith. clearly we were not the only ones who thought you two would be great in conversations together. thank you all again, this video will be available on our youtube channel and a couple of days. and again you can order signed copies of the book. thank you all, have a great night. ♪ ♪ weekends on cspan2 are an intellectual feat. every saturday american history tv documents marca story. book tv brings latest nonfiction books and authors. including buckeye broadband. >> ♪ ♪ >> okay


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