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Did Joseph Smith exhibit racist views or behavior?

Joseph Smith’s views on race were influenced by his culture and circumstances but they also evolved over his lifetime. Mormon views on Black people were as varied as the people who joined the church. When Smith lived in Ohio and Missouri, he was concerned with the persecution that church members were receiving. To try and reduce the violence, Smith sought to convince their persecutors that Mormons were not abolitionists. The records also show that Smith maintained the common Christian belief that slavery was the curse of Cain or the curse of Canaan. However, Smith also believed that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church, was for everyone, “black and white, bond and free, male and female.”

After the Mormons were driven out of Ohio and expelled from Missouri, they settled in Illinois. While in Illinois, Smith’s views on race and slavery changed. He did not believe that Black people were biologically inferior, as many people did. He believed that their lack of education, because of slavery, was the reason that many Black people couldn’t read or were deprived of other opportunities. He believed the Book of Acts when it said that God had made “one blood of all nations.” Despite this, the historical record shows that Smith did not believe in interracial marriage. However, the historical record also shows that white Mormons and Blacks did get married. 

While in Illinois, Smith also began a campaign to run for President of the United States. A part of his campaign platform was a national plan for abolition, where enslavers in the South would be compensated for their slaves. The national government would pay for this with the sale of public lands. Smith also proposed the drafting of a new constitution that would get rid of the contradiction between the Declaration of Independence, which stated that “all men are created equal,” and the U.S. Constitution’s protections of slavery through things like the three-fifths compromise.

  • References
    1.  Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33
    2. Acts of the Apostles 17:26
    3. Reeve, Let’s Talk About Race and the Priesthood, 64-67.