By Sharon Lindbloom
The following was originally printed in the March-April 2009 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
Mormonism has a history of changing history. From the written history of the LDS Church to its recorded revelations, changes are ever-present. Today a new spin on a historical LDS event is in the air. Credo, a faith blog written by a team of bloggers from various religious backgrounds, tackled the subject of “constitutional government from the Mormon perspective.” After making a case for the americentric “Mormon experience,” blogger Justin Hart commented, “There are many levels of irony here considering Mormons were essentially expelled from the United States in the mid-1800s and later re-patriated back into the fold.”
Mormons were “expelled” from Missouri in 1838, moving east to Illinois. They were asked to leave several places where they had settled throughout the early history of the LDS Church. Mormons were even asked to clear out of Nauvoo, the last place they occupied before leaving the United States in 1846. However, the Mormons were never expelled from the U.S.
Before his death in 1844, Mormonism’s first leader, Joseph Smith, envisioned a type of theocracy, a governmental system wherein the laws of God would rule the land. However, it became increasingly clear, as evidenced in the Church’s short, discord-laden history, that maintaining this form of government was impossible while living among American “Gentiles” (i.e., non-Mormons) who were partial to the Republic as it stood.
In 1844 Smith formed The Council of Fifty, a group intended to provide “a pattern of political government under priesthood and revelation. It was, to its members, the nucleus or focus of God’s latter-day kingdom” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:326). According to historian D. Michael Quinn, when Brigham Young took control of Church leadership after Smith’s death,
“Young was not going to suspend forever Smith’s theocratic vision. On the day he began appointing new members [to the Council of Fifty, March 1, 1845], the Council of Fifty voted ‘to [ful]fill Joseph’s measures originally adopted in this Council by going West to seek out a location and a home where the Saints can dwell in peace and health and where they can erect the ensign and standard of liberty for the nations, and live by the laws of God without being oppressed and mobbed under a tyrannical government, without protection from the laws’” (The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, p. 231.).
Mormons were not “expelled” from the United States. They willingly followed Brigham Young beyond the borders of the nation in an effort to accomplish their political ideal of a theocratic government.