movement officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter
Day Saints (LDS).
in Salt Lake City, Utah
began in the context of nineteenth-century American evangelicalism.
However, Mormonism soon acquired features so distinctive that few outsiders
regarded it as Christian. These features include new Scriptures, the practice
of polygamy, the belief that humans have the potential to become gods,
and an array of ceremonies not part of Christian churches. Mormonism began
when Joseph Smith (1805-1844) claimed to discover tablets of gold buried
in a hillside in Palmyra, New York; the translations of these tablets
were published as the Book of Mormon in 1830. Smith claimed to
restore Christianity to its ancient practices. But "gentiles" or non-Mormons
objected to Mormon belief and practice. Amid political and financial scandals
Joseph Smith was murdered in a jail cell in Carthage, Illinois; most Mormons
then moved to Utah territory. This great migration took place in 1846-1848
and was led by Brigham Young (1801-1877), who became governor in Utah
territory. The Mormon community became a state within a state and was
suppressed by federal troops in 1857. In 1879 the Supreme Court, interpreting
the constitutional settlement, ruled
that religious freedom was not sufficient grounds for practicing polygamy.
In 1890 the main branch of the LDS church outlawed polygamy, though it
is still practiced by smaller sects. By the close of the Twentieth century
the LDS numbered some 11 million members worldwide.
Map courtesy of General
Libraries, the University of Texas at Austin.
Photo by Nick Utphall.