Junto Post: Joseph Smith’s 1844 National Convention

Over at The Junto I wrote about the 1844 National Convention planned by the Mormons for Joseph Smiths presidential campaign. This is an outgrowth of my current research on the political culture of Mormon Nauvoo, which I promise is a lot of fun. In this particular post I talk about what these conventions tell us about America’s developing party rituals during the antebellum period. A taste:

There are many striking things about this sequence of events. But what stood out to me was the importance of political parties and organized mobilization. In 1844, political conventions were less than two decades old, and Americans were only just becoming accustomed to organized parties dominating the national landscape. The Anti-Masonic Party in 1831 was the first to hold a national convention, and the Democratic Convention in 1840 was the first to adopt a platform. These practices were a result of the Jacksonian impulse to expand decision-making power to a broader array of delegates. The platforms were meant to systematize national principles and policies. Even in Mormonism, where authority was based in a top-down structure, and even when it was obvious that Smith would gain the support of those in his faith, Smith’s followers elected to mimic national precedent by holding a series of state conventions, climaxing in a national convention. And even if they didn’t have an official platform, they at least had a series of resolutions meant to permeate national publications. Such a process would assure a democratic election. This attempt at expansive organization displayed the increasingly organized nature of American campaigns and electoral proceedings.

If you think this is fun, wait until my essay on the Council of Fifty, which will come out in a few weeks. It will go live as the Joseph Smith Papers Project publishes, for the first time, the minutes from that secretive organization. Be excited.

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