More than 600 men and women were called to be electioneer missionaries on behalf of Joseph Smith’s campaign for president. It was the largest missionary force for more than 50 years. In our next conversation with Dr. Derek Sainsbury, we’ll talk about some of these missionaries.
Derek: There’s this call to all available Elders to try and make General Conference in April because they’re going to have a meeting. So in General Conference in April–it’s a four day conference, the last conference is just a meeting of the Elders. It’s run by Brigham Young and the Twelve Apostles. They say, “We’re going to send out electioneer missionaries, and you will preach and politic. We’re going to set up these conferences in all of these different states and the Twelve will come and meet you in these conferences, until we have a convention in July, in Baltimore.” This is where the Whigs and the Democrats were also having their convention.
GT: Both parties were having it in the same city? Wow.
Derek: Yes so that his would have been the third convention in Baltimore, obviously, not anywhere near as big. But that was the thinking that was going into it. They call for volunteers and 277 of them volunteer that day. By the time they print their names and assignments in the newspaper, a week later, there are over 300. In my research over the past 15 years, I have the number up now to 621. So this is a huge missionary effort, which is one of the reasons we know that it was a serious effort.
GT: I know you mentioned in your book that it was the largest proportion of missionaries that the church has ever had.
Derek: Ever! Until today.
GT: Let’s say, how many people do we have in our church now?
Derek: Over sixteen million.
GT : Sixteen million. So 600 missionaries back then, proportionately, what would be the same number for us today?
Derek: Oh, so, we’re looking at, jeez, can I use my calculator? You’re looking at in the hundreds of thousands of missionaries,
GT: Hundreds of thousands. I know we’ve got the Coronavirus, but we were we were having 60,000.
Derek: You’re looking at a lot more than that. You’re looking at hundreds of thousands.
Were you aware how large the missionary force was for Joseph? I also asked Derek which modern politicians compared most to Joseph Smith, such as Pat Robertson, Jesse Jackson, or others. Who do you think is most similar?
Joseph Smith and Bobby Kennedy were both killed while running for president of the United States. Dr. Derek Sainsbury tells us more about these two men, and I was surprised to hear about their surprising similarity.
GT: I mean, I think the closest modern day equivalent is probably Bobby Kennedy.
Derek: Yeah. In fact, that’s the next book I’m already writing is a comparison between those two.
GT: Oh really? Oh, wow. That’ll be interesting.
Derek: Because he’s the only other candidate in the history of the United States–
GT: [George] Wallace got shot I guess.
Derek: Shot but not killed. Yeah.
GT: Oh, really? So those are the only two people that have been killed is Joseph Smith and Bobby Kennedy?
We also talk about the convention for Smith held in Baltimore in July 1844. Because news traveled slowly, those planning the convention found out Joseph died just the day before the convention and were crushed at the news. Were you aware of this similarity between Kennedy & Smith? What are your thoughts of Joseph’s run for President? What are your thoughts concerning their murders?
It seems like Nauvoo was about setting up a theocracy in which Joseph Smith could run the Church AND every aspect of community (the legal system, commerce, etc.). Unlike today, where we are asked to integrate into society while adhering to our beliefs and standards, the saints in Nauvoo attempted to set themselves apart from greater society with JS and the Bretheren in charge. In fact, they viewed America and the American experiment as a failed concept in which rights were trampled upon and immorality ruled the day. So it’s hard for me to understand how JS envisioned being president of the US when he viewed the US as such a flawed out-of-control republic. And did he really think he could expand his theocracy outside of greater Nauvoo? I think his presidential run was about as serious as Kanye West’s.
I think Joseph Smith’s candidacy was an effort to draw attention to the story of their mistreatment by Missouri (the expulsion and expropriation of property) and the United States (inaction), as well as to preach. If neither party would pay attention to Latter-day Saint needs, then he would start his own party. More like Ross Perot than Bobby Kennedy.
I am sure that Joseph wanted to draw attention to the Mormon cause and persecution. As we mentioned last week, Mormons were swing voters, and I think Joseph expected to use that power to be able to negotiate with the eventual winner to obtain the Mormon vote.
Joseph wasn’t nearly as successful as Ross Perot, and to my memory, Ross wasn’t a religious leader and didn’t get shot.