Death of Joseph Smith

1844 extrajudicial murder of the founder and leader of the Latter Day Saint movement

Joseph Smith, the founder and leader of the Latter Day Saint movement, and his brother, Hyrum Smith, were killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, United States, on June 27, 1844, while awaiting trial in the town jail.

As mayor of the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph Smith had ordered the destruction of the facilities used to print the Nauvoo Expositor, a newly established newspaper created by a group of non-Mormons and others who had seceded from the church. The newspaper's first (and only) issue was highly critical of Smith and other church leaders, reporting that Smith was practicing polygamy and claiming he intended to set himself up as a theocratic king. In response, a motion to declare the newspaper a public nuisance was passed by the Nauvoo City Council, and Smith consequently ordered its press destroyed.

The destruction of the press led to public outrage, and the Smith brothers and other members of the Nauvoo City Council were charged with inciting a riot. Warrants for Smith's arrest were dismissed by Nauvoo courts. Smith declared martial law in Nauvoo and called on the Nauvoo Legion to protect the city. After briefly fleeing Illinois, Smith returned and the brothers then voluntarily traveled to the county seat at Carthage to face the charges. After surrendering to authorities, the brothers were also charged with treason against Illinois for declaring martial law.

The brothers were in the Carthage Jail awaiting trial when an armed mob of about 200 men stormed the building, their faces painted black with wet gunpowder. Hyrum was killed almost immediately when he was shot in the face, shouting as he fell, "I'm a dead man, Joseph!" After emptying the pistol with which he tried to defend himself, Joseph was then shot several times while trying to escape from a second-story window, and fell from the window as he died.

Five men were indicted for the killings but were acquitted at a jury trial. At the time of his death, Smith was also running for president of the United States, making him the first U.S. presidential candidate to be assassinated. His death marked a turning point for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and since then, members of the Latter Day Saint movement have generally viewed him and his brother as religious martyrs who were "murdered in cold blood".


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