On January 29, 1844, Joseph Smith launched an independent campaign for the White House (Garr 2007). The first member of the clergy to run for president, Smith was described as a “prophet, priest, and king.” These titles reflected Smith’s concept of “theo-democracy” and his combined roles as mayor and general of the militia in the Mormon settlement of Nauvoo, Illinois (Wicks and Foister 2005, 105–7). The Church was central to the operation of the campaign: his vice-presidential running mate, Sidney Rigdon, was also a Mormon leader; the effort was managed by a newly founded “Council of Fifty”; and nearly 600 missionaries, elders, and apostles were dispatched across the country to campaign (Robertson 2000). These activities, plus the possibility of a Mormon “bloc vote” determining the outcome in Illinois, gave the campaign potential influence in the close presidential contest.
Styled as “General” Smith in his campaign, the candidate was described as “an independent man with American principles,” in contrast to his major party rivals, Democrat James K. Polk and Whig Henry Clay (Wicks and Foister 2005, 127). In this regard, Smith offered a broad agenda of reform that cut across major party lines, including western territorial expansion, the abolition of slavery, founding a national bank, and the end of penitentiaries. One of his most controversial proposals was the use of the federal army to protect religious minorities. The campaign argued that Mormons could no longer be “oppressed and mobbed under a tyrannical government” and compared their mistreatment to that of Catholics, abolitionists, and African Americans (Bringhurst and Foster 2011, 43).