Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chair(s)

Philip Barlow


Philip Barlow


Kyle T. Bulthuis


Clint Pumphrey


Dissent riddled Mormonism almost from the day of its inception. Competing prophets and dissatisfied adherents challenged Joseph Smith’s leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Perhaps the most serious of Smith’s challengers was the dissent of his counselor William Law. In 1844, Law confronted Smith over the implementation of the latter’s doctrinal innovations (particularly plural marriage) and Zion building activities in Nauvoo, Illinois. At the height of the dissent movement, anti-Mormon citizens in the region (some say inflamed by Law’s newspaper the Nauvoo Expositor)assassinated Smith. The assassination caused a religious rupture in Mormonism called the Succession Crisis.

This thesis examines identity formation, maintenance, and evolution in Law’s 1844 dissenting group. It argues that several factors, notably estrangement and social networks, were key in forming the group’s identity. As other scholars acknowledge, the group intended on a Mormon reformation. It also argues that a more accurate understanding of the dissent organization is one of an extralegal internal reform body rather than (as current scholarship puts forth) an external separatist church. The reform sect maintained their distinct identity during the closing months of 1844, but evolved into the 1845 Church of Christ that Sidney Rigdon helmed. Lastly, this thesis surveys the reformers’ navigation of a turbulent religious climate and offers some analysis on why those reformers most committed to Mormonism ultimately rested in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.