Bjorn recently left a comment on one of my old posts about Mitt Romney reminding us that "Romney wasn't the only Mormon candidate for president" and including an excerpt on Joseph Smith's political platform. (You can read Joseph Smith's platform unabridged, here. It is titled "Views on the Powers and Policy of the Government of the U.S.) Indeed Bjorn is right. Most recently, Utah's Senator Orrin Hatch (taking some time off from his bizarre music career, apparently) made an embarrassingly short-lived bid for president in 2000. Before that, Romney's own father put himself in the race for the republican nomination in 1968. A strong supporter of civil rights, Romney was a moderate republican, and as such was a bit of a dying breed. The general consensus is that his strong anti-war stance cost him the nomination. A Romney nomination (in 1964, that is) would have raised interesting constitutional questions because Romney was a U.S. citizen by birth, having been born to U.S. citizens living in Colonia Dublan, Chihuahua, Mexico. The fact that he was born outside of the U.S., some argued, made him a U.S. citizen, but not a "natural born citizen" as the constitution requires.
The excerpt Bjorn included comes from 1902 book written by William Linn called "The Story of the Mormons, From the Date of their Origin to the Year 1902. Though I have seen Linn's name mentioned in other Mormon history texts, I am unfamiliar with him and his work. Just cursorily skimming his preface I saw what seemed like a fairly unabashed anti-Mormon agenda with a moderate dose of sarcasm. But having not read the book, I am probably unqualified to make a an informed judgment. (You can read it, among other places, here.) My knowledge of Joseph Smith's candidacy comes mostly from Richard Bushman's and Donna Hill's work. Linn's final assessment of Joseph Smith's candidacy (in the part that Bjorn excerpted anyway) is that "there was nothing modest about Mormon political ambition."
It is this final comment that interests me. In some ways, he's absolutely right. Joseph Smith did have a vast amount of political clout in local politics and was a considerable force in state politics as well. While he always preserved the forms and the procedures of democracy, his concurrent positions in political and ecclesiastical leadership blurred the line for many people. The Nauvoo charter gave the city government considerable (though not unheard-of) independence from state government. Nauvoo itself was bigger than Chicago in its heyday. Fears of a Mormon bloc vote and the substantial political power of the Mormon community (along with dislike of the fact that most Mormons opposed slavery) were in large part what fueled anti-Mormon sentiment and politics years before in Missouri.
But on the other hand, Linn's comment makes it seem like Joseph Smith was not just a political force to be reckoned with, but that he was delusionally ambitious as well, which I'm not sure is accurate. It is true that when Joseph declared his candidacy, the whole church got involved. Missionaries became campaign canvassers, church papers took up the call, and amid the frenzy of hyperbole that characterized 19th-century politics, many Mormons probably believed that their prophet would actually win. Joseph himself postured and strutted in earnest like any candidate worth his salt. But did he actually think he had a chance of winning?
I don't think he did. That would have been so quixotic as to make Ralph Nader a paragon of pragmatism by comparison. Bare political ambition is too simplistic a motive. Early in the election, Joseph wrote each of the candidates then running asking what would be his policy toward the saints. The candidates essentially dismissed the question. Most notably, John Calhoun and Martin Van Buren cited concerns of federalism and state sovereignty to say that the "Mormon question" did not fall under federal jurisdiction. Joseph thought it was unreasonable that the President could call out the militia to suppress an insurrection at any time, but not to protect the lives and property of the citizens of a state unless requested by the governor. Unsatisfied, Joseph ran for president not because he expected to win, but to deprive unworthy candidates of the Mormon vote.
That's my take on it anyway. What do you think? Why did Joseph Smith run for president in 1844?