Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Joseph Smith III was the son of Joseph Smith, Jr., the Mormon Prophet. Born in late 1832, as a boy young Smith learned the Mormon faith from his father and experienced some of its hardships and trials as the church founded a succession of settlements at Kirtland, Ohio, Far West, Missouri, and Nauvoo, Illinois. Young Joseph witnessed and, in some measure, participated in the events that culminated in his father's murder by a mob in Carthage, Illinois in 1844. After the prophet's death a number of would-be successors put forth their claims to the presidency of the church, but in the struggle for power Brigham Young succeeded in assuming leadership over most of the membership. The other contenders formed splinter groups of Mormons and each tried to bring Joseph III into his movement because of his prestige as the son of the prophet. During the 1850s remnants of these Mormon factions coalesced to form the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. During those years young Joseph acquired an education and engaged in a number of political and business ventures with indifferent success. Acceding to the Reorganization's repeated overtures, Joseph finally agreed to accept the leadership of the church, and on April 6, 1860 became its president. During his fifty-four year tenure as president Smith built the Reorganization into a major Mormon church. His main objectives were to consolidate the movement under his leadership, give it a strong central administration, and purge it of radical doctrines, such as plural marriage. By the time of his death in December 1914 Smith had largely accomplished these goals. He had assisted in the anti-polygamy struggle of the Gilded Age, had converted several thousand Mormons to his sect, and had built an administration that would continue to function effectively after his death. The main source of material for this dissertation was the papers of Joseph Smith III, located principally in the Reorganized Church archives in Independence, Missouri. Additional important sources were the papers of other Mormon leaders, newspapers, and government documents.