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Joseph Smith: Why Did He Do It?

Joseph Smith Jr. was born to Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith on December 23rd, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont. He was the fifth of eleven kids, Alvin, Hyrum, Sophronia, Samuel, Ephraim, William, Katharine, Don, and Lucy. Ephraim and an unnamed child passed away just days after being born. The Smith family was destitute and had many financial difficulties. Including financial problems, the Smiths also had religious issues. Lucy Smith was raised in an unreligious family, but as she grew up, she appeared interested in Protestantism, specifically Presbyterianism, but her husband, Joseph Smith Sr., seemed fascinated by Universalism.

A terrible event happened early in Joseph’s childhood. He caught a harsh infection in his leg at around seven years old, followed by a typhoid fever outbreak. Dr. Nathan Smith, a physician, came to the Smiths’ household to perform surgery on the young boy. Dr. Smith offered Joseph alcohol as anesthesia to reduce the pain as he drilled into Joseph’s bone. However, Joseph refused, as his family believed it was wrong to drink alcohol. The operation was successful, and Joseph walked again. Still, he had a slight limp for the rest of his life.

 Seven years later, Joseph stayed up late at night to read the Bible. There, he was said to have read James 1:5, which says: “If you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Inspired by this verse, Joseph went to the woods near his house to pray to God. As he was praying, the devil tried to stop him. Joseph asked God to ‘free me of my enemy.’ In those words, he was freed from Satan’s presence.

A light then shone down from the sky, and Jesus and God stepped down from heaven. Joseph then asked the Lord which church was true. God answered that no church is correct and that Joseph would be an instrument in the Lord’s hand to create His church. This event is known as the First Vision.

After the First Vision, Joseph followed, trusted, and obeyed the Lord. In 1823, the angel Moroni visited Joseph in a dream. He said that the Golden Plates were hidden under a rock on the Hill Cumorah, and using the stones Urim and Thummim, he could translate the Golden Plates into the Book of Mormon. Moroni saw Joseph three times in the same vision. The next day, Joseph headed to Cumorah. He lifted a rock there and saw beautiful golden plates, the Sword of Laban, the Urim, and Thummim, and a war breastplate, all described as Moroni said.

Joseph was still waiting to be allowed to take the plates. He was instructed to return each year for further instructions. It wasn’t until four years later that he was allowed to translate the plates with the assistance of various scribes, including Oliver Cowdery.

Joseph and Cowdery convinced E.B. Grandin to print 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon on March 26, 1830. Now that Joseph Smith had the Book of Mormon, he needed to create the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and notices were sent around, and fifty-six men, women, and children went to Peter Whitmer Jr.’s house in Fayette, New York, that day Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After he organized the Church, Joseph went to Colesville, New York, to teach his friend, Joseph Knight Sr., about the Church. He and his family believed Joseph’s teachings and wanted to be baptized, so the Knights built a dam around a small river. As the dam began to make a pool, some critics of the Church broke the dam. But the Knights rebuilt the dam, and they, along with some friends, were baptized. Joseph Knight’s son, Joseph Knight Jr., wrote: “That night, our wagons were turned over and wood piled on them, and some sunk in the water, rails were piled against our doors and chains sunk in the stream and a great deal of mischief done.” The same men who broke the dam told the police to arrest Joseph. They said he was an evil man and was misleading people. The Knights hired a lawyer, and the police let Joseph go.

Mobs oppressed Joseph and other leaders. State militia captured Joseph and wanted to kill him. Still, General Alexander Dophinan, the man in charge, refused to kill him. However, the militia held Joseph and another Church member, Parley P. Pratt, for half a year. One night, while he and Pratt tried sleeping on the stone floor, the soldiers got out of control. They were using foul language and confessing horrible things they did to other members in front of the Prophet. Joseph could not listen anymore. Jumping from the floor, he yelled to the guards: “Silence! Ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ, I rebuke you and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk. Or you will die THIS INSTANT!” The guards stopped cursing and knelt and said they were sorry.

When Joseph was released, he found that no member was in Missouri because Governor Lilburn W. Boggs had ordered the execution of all members in Missouri. He found them in Nauvoo, Illinois, next to the Mississippi River. They felt safe from mobs and critics here. They built homes and churches and planted crops. Nauvoo thrived under the guidance of Joseph. 

Unfortunately for Joseph, the Church only enjoyed peace for a few years. Joseph received a letter from Thomas Ford, Governor of Illinois, to come and stand trial. They were charged with falsely disturbing. The governor promised that they would be protected while awaiting a fair trial. Joseph left Nauvoo. He knew it was the last time he would see his family and Nauvoo. As Joseph left home, he said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer’s morning.” His brother, Hyrum, and leaders like John Taylor went with him. Joseph and three other leaders were put in Carthage Jail. Governor Ford did not keep his promise. Two days after their imprisonment, two hundred mob members stormed the prison. They were shot into the jail. Joseph, Hyrum, and Taylor were all shot. Only Taylor survived. Willard Richards, the other leader, was the only man not shot. June 27, 1844, marked the day Joseph Smith died.

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