There have been many theories for the intensity of anti-Mormon activism in Missouri in 1838. Religious bigotry, political concerns over the abolitionist tendencies of Mormons, social and civic misunderstandings, Mormon missteps, and economic concerns over the growing influence of Mormons all may have played a role. But new evidence points to the profit motive of the anti-Mormon elements as being more important than previously recognized.
As I mention in my Mormon Answers (LDSFAQ) page on the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, one of the best sources of information about that complex time is the work of Alexander L. Baugh, A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri (Provo, Utah: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History and BYU Studies, 2000). Although Dr. Baugh is LDS and may have his biases, he provides a careful analysis of primary sources and is able to explain why one witness might be more reliable than another in evaluating conflicting reports. And in that work, he does recognize that financial incentives of the anti-Mormon mobs may have played a role. But more significant confirmation of that factor comes from the more recent research of Jeffrey N. Walker in the latest volume of BYU Studies (not yet available online). For an overview, see “Greed Drove 1838 Persecution, BYU Studies Article Says” by Kimberly Reid and James T. Summerhays over at MormonTimes.com.
Never underestimate the power of greed! Sadly, this has been a recurring lesson I have seen in the business world. In fact, greed may be a far more important factor in explaining what really is going on in many areas where religious bigotry is used as the standing explanation. Follow the money, not the hate. But that’s a topic for another discourse sometime.