"Dictated by Christ" : Joseph Smith and the Politics of Revelation
Journal of the Early Republic
Some critics have claimed that the early followers of Joseph Smith were all poor, drifters who were carried away by evangelical fever. However, in examining some early converts such as Martin Harris, Joseph Knight, Edward Partridge, and Newell K. Whitney, it is obvious that this is not a correct assumption. All of these men were respected and fairly prosperous. So if people were not attaching themselves to Joseph Smith for social or economic reasons, what did bring them to the Church? Harper states that it was the idea of continuous revelation. Those who believed that God would and should speak to a prophet on the earth were drawn to the Mormon religion. They felt that "revelation did not circumscribe their liberties; it empowered them with certain knowledge of the divine will and gave them the agency to act it out." However, it was this same idea of revelation that caused problems for Smith and his people. Harper terms it as "the politics of revelation." Settlers of Ohio and Missouri felt that supreme political power rested with the people. On the other hand, members of the Mormon faith "objected to the process of transferring sovereignty from God to the people." Agency belonged to the individual, but God was the sovereign authority and He spoke through his prophet. This led to confrontations and mob violence as the people of Missouri, Ohio, and eventually Illinois saw the Mormons as political threats and as a people who were simply trying to seize political power.