In 1844 when Joseph Smith was running for president of the United States, he proposed a system of gradual emancipation for all slaves. How did that message go over in the South? Hint: not well. In our next conversation, Dr. Derek Sainsbury will tell us some of the stories of these missionaries, and some of the surprising receptiveness to the message in some cases.
GT: I think the interesting thing for me, especially I served my mission in South Carolina, so I’m very familiar with Southern Baptists and Pentecostals and all sorts of things. But, in 1844, slavery was legal and Joseph Smith is talking about freeing the slaves. I don’t think that went very well in the South.
Derek: It didn’t. The one blind spot that I have is, as a historian with this is none of the ones that went in the deep South kept a journal.
GT: Oh really?
Derek: Here’s that same George Miller, a couple days later is walking and a guy stops him in the street and he says, “You best get out of here, because my slaves have been told if they see you, to lynch you, to put you up on the tree and lynch you.” So he’s like, “hmm, I’m moving on to the next town.”
It wasn’t always violent however opposition.
Derek: Right, but this is when it started was in the 40s, 1840, 1844. They’d have these huge barbecues and whiskey and get people to show up and listen. Well, he goes to the other end of the square and stands up on a tree trunk and starts…
GT: The stump. That what they actually called a stump speech.
Derek: That’s right. He starts preaching Joseph Smith, he’s not preaching the gospel. He’s doing electioneer stuff about General Joseph Smith’s run for the presidency. By the time he’s done, the entire crowd is shifted, and is listening to him. When it’s over, they’re saying, “You don’t want any of this guy’s barbecue,” and they take him to the tavern, give him a big meal. He writes about how many of them liked the ideas, even though some of them disliked, well, a lot of them disliked Joseph. This was a common thread not just in the Upper South, but everywhere.
GT: What state was this in?
Derek: This was Kentucky, but even as far up as in Massachusetts, in Boston, there were a lot of people that liked the ideas in the pamphlet, but not so much, Joseph. They would have these conferences where they would come up with these resolutions, for lack of a better word, and they were both Mormon and non-Mormon together, that agreed with these principles. So there was more acceptance than we really knew. Not overwhelming, but there were some out there that also didn’t like the two-party system, didn’t like the Democrats and the Whigs, were looking for another way forward.
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