Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Mormons

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MORMONS, or LATTER DAY SAINTS, a religious sect in North America, founded by Joseph Smith, Jr., at Fayette, Seneca co., N. Y., in 1830. In 1823, claiming that he was led by the inspiration of an angel who had appeared to him, he claimed to have discovered golden plates on which the records of Mormon were alleged to be inscribed. These, though found in 1823, he was not allowed by the angel to take up till 1827. They were inscribed with characters which were said to be reformed Egyptian, but which he was unable to read. There was, however, in the box where they were found, so he declared, a marvelous instrument called Urim and Thumin, by which he was enabled to read the mysterious letters and translate them into English. In 1830 Smith published an English translation of the plates under the title “The Book of Mormon,” together with certificates of 11 men who claimed to have seen the plates. This book tells in a language which imitates the Scriptures how, at the time of King Zedekiah of Jerusalem, a pious Israelite by the name of Lehi, together with his family, migrated from Palestine to America, and described on these plates the account of his marvellous adventures as well as the revelations which God vouchsafed to him. Many of his sons, like Laman, went out into the wilderness and became the ancestors and chiefs of the North American Indians. The descendants of his son Nephi became good Christians, many centuries before Christ, and among them were preserved the dignity of the priesthood and their sacred plates. To this family also appeared the Christ when He rose from the dead, and He chose from the family 12 apostles who within a brief time converted the whole country to Christianity; but when, at the beginning of the 4th century, the Church, in consequence of wars, became disintegrated. Mormon, a mighty hero and pious Christian, rose and drove out the Lamanites, who had in the meantime become red and fallen into barbarism. Nevertheless they returned about the year 400 and the Nephites perished before them. Mormon's son, Moroni, finished the history of his people in 420. The book was published in 1830, and it was at one time claimed that it was a plagiarism on a novel published in 1812 and written by a clergyman several years before; but recently this book has been discovered and compared with that of Mormon, and it is found that they are entirely different.

The new prophet immediately began to collect followers about him, and by April 6, 1830, he had organized a church at Fayette, N. Y. The next year the sect numbered several hundred members and moved to Kirtland, O., where they increased in numbers and wealth through the efforts of missionaries who were sent out by the prophet. In 1833 they were driven from Jackson co., Mo., and took refuge in Clay county and the surrounding regions. In 1838 Governor Boggs of Missouri issued an exterminating order against the Latter Day Saints, and they were driven out of that State. They went to Illinois, where by 1840, near Commerce, Hancock county, they had founded the city of Nauvoo, over which Smith had extraordinary civil and military authority. The city flourished, soon numbering more than 2,100 houses and having a beautiful temple built according to plans which Smith claimed he had received in a vision. In 1844 a discontented member of the Church issued a newspaper at Nauvoo assailing the prophet and threatening to expose various immoralities and misdeeds. The city council of Nauvoo passed an ordinance declaring the printing office a nuisance. It was destroyed by the officers of the law. Smith was blamed for this and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Before civil war actually broke out, the governor of the State induced Smith to surrender and go to Carthage. On June 27, 1844, a mob attacked the jail, overpowered the guard, killed Smith and his brother Hiram and wounded others of the prophet's party.

This did not put an end to Mormonism. Smith was succeeded by Brigham Young, who early in 1846 left Nauvoo with others. In the spring of 1847 a company of 143 started through the wilderness, and on July 24 arrived at the valley of Salt Lake, which he declared was the promised land. They made Salt Lake their place of settlement. Their new city became an important place on account of its position on the route of wagon trains to and from California.

Brigham Young, on account of his great influence, was named governor of the territory, and Congress granted him $20,000 for the erection of public buildings and $5,000 for a library, but in 1854 the Government appointed Colonel Steptoe as governor, and in 1857 A. Cumming in Brigham Young's place and sent him with 2,500 men to Utah. The expedition met with difficulties on account of the late season of the year and opposition on the part of the Mormons to having an army sent against them in time of peace, as they claimed that they had committed no hostile act against the United States Government. A peace commission was sent to Utah, and the people, who had already commenced to move away from their homes (which they had prepared to burn on the entrance of the army), were induced to return. Young remained governor de facto during the Civil War, 1861-1865. He ruled the community with all the autocratic power of an emperor. Many missionaries were sent out, and the number of Mormons increased with great rapidity. In 1890 was issued the famous manifesto forbidding polygamy. In 1896 Utah became a State.

The membership of the Mormons is about 410,000, and there are flourishing communities in other countries besides the United States. Mormons express their belief in the Trinity, that men will be punished for their sins, that through the atonement of Christ mankind may be saved by faith, in repentance, in baptism, in the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. They believe in a church organization comprising apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists; in the apostolic gifts of tongues, prophecy, visions; in the power of healing; in the Bible as the word of God, and in the book of Mormon as the further word of God. In 1862 the Federal Government enacted a law against polygamy, but little attention was paid to it, and not till twenty years later were severer statutes passed against it. In 1884 the constitutionality of the law was established by the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1887 the Mormon Church was disincorporated by Congress and its immense property was confiscated with the exception of $50,000. Finally, in September, 1890, after the vast property holdings of the Church had been lost, President Woodruff issued his famous proclamation against polygamous marriages.