Early National Systems. Slavery and Its American Social Constructs: part 2.

By the time Joseph Smith moved from Vermont to New York, ca. 1816, there were 8.5 million people in the US. Of those 8.5 million, 1.5 million or so were part of a hereditary slavery system, the property of their white male owners (a few were held by Native Americans).
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Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation

I’ve got a book in the editing process at Greg Kofford Books. With luck, it may appear this December or possibly February 2017. Here’s a bit of the preface (excuse typos, it’s in progress):

The July 12, 1843 revelation was the last of Joseph Smith’s formal written revelations and it was a watershed in Mormonism. Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation, constitutes a study of the text of that revelation, its genetic profile as an endpoint for a number of trajectories in Mormon thought, liturgy, and priestly cosmology, together with a brief exploration of its historical influence and interpretation.

Here's the planned cover. It's Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar (my original title was: The Restoration of Hagar: Doctrine and Covenants 132, or something of the sort.

Here’s the planned cover. It’s Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar (my original title was: The Restoration of Hagar: Doctrine and Covenants 132, or something of the sort.


Polygamy, the main theme of the July 12 revelation, is a complex subject in Mormonism. This short work can only hope to discuss a few aspects of that institution as it relates specifically to that revelation. Essentially beginning in Nauvoo, Mormon polygamy functioned as a threshold of loyalty to Joseph Smith and his priestly office. Taking the step of participating in polygamy was a high cost commitment for women and men, and that high cost generally translated to high value in the memories of those who participated in it. Thus, polygamy not only tested loyalty to Smith, —it increased that loyalty well beyond the death of the Prophet. While Smith generally invited those into polygamy who were already close to him and had demonstrated their commitment to Mormonism, it was risky to challenge fundamental boundaries of the religious and social landscape— and that risk turned to danger in some cases when initiates could not pass the threshold of belief and practice. Some of those dissenters, like First Presidency counselor William Law, acted to publically oppose
Smith.

My general plan follows from the shift in scripture studies in the academy over the last few decades. Instead of appealing just to the historical-critical method, I consider the evolving influence and interpretation of the revelation over time. Peter Martens’s work on Origen is an example (Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life (Oxford Early Christian Studies).

In other news, I’ve been working with the Joseph Smith sermon book, the current working title is this: Every Word Seasoned with Grace: A Textual Study of the Funeral Sermons of Joseph Smith. I like the title for its reference to the text of one of Smith’s sermons that in turn depends on one of Paul’s letters (Col. 4:6).

Early National Systems: Millennial Hopes, III (Catholics in America)

Catholics in America were Millennialists, not in name or official doctrine, but in other more fundamental ways. Should a visiting alien observe antebellum America’s religious practice, he/she/it would find rather interesting parallels among the practices of Protestant pre-millennialist sects, post-millennial socialism, and Roman Catholics. To be sure, Catholics were more staid, less free to experiment in some ways, but they didn’t shy from revival methodology, and centuries long Catholic practice could be seen in double exposure among various American Millennialist offshoots, including Shakers, Owenites, Albert Brisbane, and others.
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Early National Systems: Millennial Hope, II. William Miller.

Joseph Smith seems wedged in the creases of nineteenth-century Protestant worldviews in any number of ways. From Election to Scripture, to Millennial aspiration, he separated, combined, and “synergized” a vibrant world that respected a deep tie between science, such as it was, and a fractured system of religious beliefs that overlay a diverse and growing marketplace of ideas and economies. Smith interacted, mostly at a distance, with the lights of his day and one of those was William Miller. Shaken from a Deistic picture of God’s interaction with the world by what he, as a eighteen-year-old captain in the war of 1812, saw as divine intervention, Miller began a religious journey of devotion and disappointment. That journey turned out to be a microcosm that portended the larger society’s gradual descent from optimism to a grudging acceptance of lesser purpose.
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Early National Systems: Millennial Hope, I

Many Americans in antebellum times saw their nation as an engine for the bright future of biblical end times. Ranging from Henry Clay’s practical and even semi-realistic “American System”[1] to social engineering designed to hurry Christ’s return to earth, it was characteristic of the age that even non-believers saw the idea as a comfortable metaphor for the destiny of what they considered a political example to the world. Modern Americans seem far from such notions, but there are pockets of American society where those nineteenth-century ideas persuade and guide the minds of dedicated souls, Mormons among them.
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Hyrum on Prophets

Hiram said before the High councel that no prophet ever did trangress but was directed by the impulse of the spirit involuntarily Also He said that a man shall take his brothers wife and raise up seed unto him as it was in israel must be again established

A youthful Franklin D. Richards (in a few years, Apostle Richards) recorded a number of sermons in Nauvoo. Hyrum Smith was the occasional object of Richards’s jottings. Richards didn’t take his little notebook to sermon events, rather, he wrote down what he heard either from notes, or memory. No notes are in evidence, but that was often the case for early sermon reporters. An excellent example is John Quincy Adams. Adams reported Sunday sermons in his journal after the fact, and often he was not friendly about it, in great contrast to Hyrum who was evidently as loyal as concrete. The remark has obvious references to Joseph, who was far from perfect—a man of sometimes towering temper and odd claims on subjects ranging from politics to anthropology to medicine (and of course, polygamy).

The point of the post is really that Richards’s youthful ardor for the cause meant that he often left little on the floor. He didn’t give all the details perhaps, but he is useful in a number ways. One of those ways is as an illustration of how sermon events were (and are) remembered for the most part. They were almost never perfect transcriptions (even in Utah when shorthand methods grew into use). But they are revealing with respect to reception and the way recorders assimilated, processed, and saw meaning in their own thought-worlds. You can see more of Richards’s reports of Joseph Smith sermons in particular by going over to the Parallel Joseph at BoAp.org and searching on “Scriptural Items,” the name Richards attached to his little record book. Have fun!

Joseph Smith Papers Newsletter: Number 1.

To have a look at the first newsletter for the JSPP, click through.