On Nov. 3, the Ask. Ponder. Educate. [X]. program welcomed author and historian Spencer McBride to the Great Hall in the Hunter Alumni Center to speak about the interaction between religion and politics.
Author of “Joseph Smith for President: The Prophet, the Assassins, and the Fight for American Religious Freedom,” McBride detailed the historic difficulty that third-party candidates such as American socialist Eugene Debs and four-time candidate Ralph Nader have faced before highlighting the importance of the political campaign of religious leader Joseph Smith.
In 1830, Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and published the Book of Mormon, a religious text of the church.
McBride explained that in the 1800s, Smith and his followers were facing harsh persecution for their religion. During this time period, the Bill of Rights, which granted several different liberties to citizens of the United States, could be overruled by laws of the individual states. The weak federal government of the time meant that those that held power in the nation couldn’t grant the group religious freedom.
According to McBride, Smith’s solution to the problem was to run for presidency himself.
“Through his candidacy, Smith promoted the idea that, as important as rooting out prejudice and misunderstanding was to the cause of universal religious freedom, Americans would never experience it in its true form until they could also address the flaws in their laws and government that maintained, promoted and empowered such systemic inequality,” McBride said.
While Smith was the first presidential candidate to be assassinated prior to the election, McBride said that the values Smith and other third-party candidates stood for left a lingering impact on American government and the religious freedoms we have today.
Smith’s candidacy brought attention to problems regarding the American governmental system, as well as institutions of culture at the time, such as slavery. McBride said that while the candidate never gained enough power to change the system, his efforts softened the government so that when the later abolitionist movement was facing persecution, the federal government was able to involve themselves.
Story and Photos by: Kale Nelson