Mormon Persecution in Missouri in 1838 and the Profit Motive

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

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.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

6 thoughts on “Mormon Persecution in Missouri in 1838 and the Profit Motive

  1. After reading early church history and the concerns the non-Mormons of Missouri had in driving up real estate prices by such large numbers of members moving in (and the council that Joseph Smith gave about not going there without a recommend from the bishop so it would be done in an orderly way) to Missouri this was some what of a given to me. Further, some members would build much nicer new England homes as compared to the substandard way many of the Missourians lived causing increased prices.

    Of corse this is easy for me to say in hind sight of reading that history and watching people move into my city and bid up the price of houses rather than bid them down because they came from a place where the real estate they sold was twice or three times as expensive. On a some what related blog the statement was made saying that our church does not even own the real estate to build the promised temple in Missouri. Then I remembered hearing a story how some members are now moving back to that area because they want to be close to the area and are driving up housing prices and how some non-Mormons are having concerns about it. It would be easy for the church to flood the area with money driving up the prices and if the people around the area did not sell then start pulling out the money and keep doing this until they were willing to sell to the church.

    Without any proof on my part except what I have read of the early years of the church I could easily see that the early Mormon Missouri experience could have been about a land grab by Missourians and the then Governor Boggs.

  2. The part of the church not currently owning “the Temple Lot” can be easily corrected with one transaction between the current owner and the church.

    God has a way of changing people’s minds. He did mine.

    So the church would not necessarily have to do anything. The current or future owner may very well indeed approach the church and initiate the transaction.

    I’ve read that the LDS church (the SLC-based LDS church, just to be clear) does already own much land in Missouri, and even Jackson county, including much undeveloped or partially developed land that is zoned residential.

  3. Yes, greed was a prime motivator in anti-Mormon activism. However, the heart of Anti-Mormonism is religious or anti-religious in nature. Missouri is an example of a tiny group successfully linking Mormonism to larger issues that are important to large number of people. My money is still on the Abolitionist-Mormon link. A lot of money was invested in slaves. Joseph Smith was killed a few months after announcing his candidacy for President with a very anti-slavery platform. Smith in 1844 advocated the abolition of slavery by 1850 if not sooner. Abe Lincoln took a much more moderate approach 16 years later (1860).

  4. I am not sure if we know for sure who was part of he group that killed Joseph Smith or who took the guards away to give them access but Govener Boggs made it clear it was leagal to kill Mormons. They all ready had the land in Missouri so slavery will be a logical conclusion. They took their slavery very seriously. Mormons were at cross currents with many view of that time.

  5. I'm confused. Couldn't the attack on the defectors in Gallatin be seen as greed on the part of the mormons?

    They burn the city to the ground, and ride off with what was in the stores/houses.

    Plundering fellow citizens seems like a possible greed-driven, religiously motivated move as well.

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