The language of martyrdom and persecution provided Latter-day Saints the linguistic tools by which they could reverse the power relations as they had been defined by the Missourians and Illinoisans. Mormon opponents were successful in expelling the Latter-day Saints from both Missouri and Illinois, prosecuting and imprisoning Mormon leaders for crimes, all while avoiding legal sanctions for non-Mormon vigilantes. Mormon authors were well aware of these inequalities, leading them to imagine a time when God would vindicate their people. Edward Partridge yearned in an 1840 poem for that time:
How long, O my God, shall the enemy reign,
And rob, drive and murder, the saints without cause?
When shall they have power their rights to maintain,
Shall mobs always triumph, in spite of the laws?
Oh! no, for the prophets have foretold a time,
(But not till the Ancient of days shall have sit,)
That saints shall have power, wisdom divine,
The kingdom to take, and then to possess it.
Oh! hasten dear Lord, hasten on that blest day
The Bible provided the Saints a framework by which to understand how this divine vengeance would be brought about. Pleading for “the day of vengeance” served as a means by Mormons contested and inverted their tormentors’ narratives of what had happened in Missouri and Illinois. Rather than being fanatics punished for their crimes, as anti-Mormons conceived the Latter-day Saints, the Mormons reversed those power relations by constructing themselves as God’s people, waiting for a future day when the Lord would rescue his people and punish their enemies, whether in this life or the next.
Latter-day Saints viewed their notions of vengeance through the lens provided in two biblical verses, Genesis 4:10 and Revelation 6:9-11. The fourth chapter of Genesis described Cain’s murder of Abel and God’s punishment of Cain. In the tenth verse, God inquired of Cain concerning Abel: “What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” Latter-day Saints followed 17th century Quakers and Baptists in early New England that used this verse to inform their tormentors that their deaths would be noticed and avenged by God. Joseph Smith for example argued that had the Missourians wanted peace as did the Mormons, then “neither would the cries of orphans and widdows have ascended to God or the blood of the saints have stained the soil, and cried for vengeance against them.” Mormons also used the sixth chapter of St. John’s Revelation, verses nine through eleven, which describe martyrs under the heavenly altar, pleading for God to avenge their deaths:
…I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
These verses, among the most frequently cited in early Mormon martyrological writings, shaped how Latter-day Saints understood the workings of vengeance and functioned as a means by which Mormons defined their relationships with God, ancient martyrs, and other Americans.
As Mormons saw continuity between themselves and persecuted peoples of ancient times, Latter-day Saints imagined their own martyrs as being under the altar with martyrs from earlier ages, pleading with God to bring vengeance upon their tormentors. Parley Pratt imagined this community with the former-day Saints by claiming that “the blood of ancient and modern Saints, will mingle together in cries of vengeance, upon those who are drunken with their blood, till justice will delay no longer to excuse his long suspended mission of vengeance upon the earth.” After Joseph Smith’s death, Pratt penned a poem entitled “Cry of the Martyrs” that described the ancient martyrs under the heavenly altar, pleading to God for vengeance, with a voice answering that they must wait until the Mormons have bled in Missouri and Illinois:
“How long, O Lord! holy and true, dost thou
Not judge and avenge our blood on them that
Dwell on the earth?”
Are these the awful words? And what reply
Is given by the avenging heavens?
BE PATIENT O ye martyred souls and wait
Till your fellow servants who are to be
Killed in like manner shall be fulfilled.
WAIT-till Missouri’s plains are soaked in blood
Of innocence, and the souls of Latter day Saints
Mingle their cries with yours for vengeance on
The earth. Wait, till the plains of Illinois,
And the walls of Carthage, are soaked with
The blood of martyred prophets, whose cries
Ascend to heaven for vengeance on a mob.
By linking Mormon martyrs with ancient martyrs, Pratt and other Mormon authors established authenticity for the Latter-day Saint gospel, and, implicitly, denied the same to other Christians.
Both the image of the blood of the martyr crying to God for vengeance and the picture of ancient and modern martyrs crying for vengeance under the altar involved the dead. But what was the role of the living in this schema of vengeance? For one, Mormons believed that they should continue to expect persecution would until all those that were to be martyred were killed. It also became commonplace for Latter-day Saints to include petitions to God for vengeance in their prayers and rituals. Parley Pratt, for example, wrote in his poem “Zion in Captivity” a plea that God would haste “the day of vengeance on,” teaching the nations that he is God and delivering his captive Saints. Orson Pratt likewise prayed for the hastening of the day of vengeance, but asked in 1845 that the Lord would “destroy not thy people who are poor, with the wicked; but hide them with thine own hand and shield them from judgment.” Mormons then were to add their voices to those of their fallen brethren in pleading to God to bring vengeance on their persecutors.
Mormon authors warned the American people that if they did not address and correct the wrongs perpetrated against the Latter-day Saints in Missouri and Illinois, God would punish the nation as a whole. “But, so long as they [the American people] remain indifferent and ignorant on these subjects, and so long as they continue to breathe out slanders, lies, hatred and murder against the Saints and against the remnants of Israel, and to speak evil of and oppose the things which they understand not, so long the blood of the Saints and of the martyrs of Jesus must continue to flow, and the souls to cry from under the altar for vengeance on a guilty land, till the great Messiah shall execute judgment for the Saints, and give them the dominion.” All Americans, by virtue of the ties of citizenship, were for Parley Pratt under condemnation for not helping the Latter-day Saints. “The blood of innocence is crying from the ground against, not only the perpetrators of these crimes, but against the protestants, catholics, clergy, rulers and people, because they were bound by the common ties of humanity, by the common bonds of citizenship, by the laws of God, and by the most sacred obligations of their laws and constitution, to have protected persons and property, and punished crime.” The day of vengeance therefore lay ahead of all Americans that did not come to the aid of the Latter-day Saints.
Latter-day Saints used this understanding of God’s vengeance to assign causation to the subsequent deaths of their persecutors. In his autobiography, Parley Pratt described an incident in 1834 when a rainstorm impeded a mob from attacking a small body of Latter-day Saints. When word came that several of the mobbers had drowned when their boat sank in the rainstorm, Pratt recalled Joseph Smith saying that “it was the angel of the Lord who sank the boat.” Drawing on a centuries-old tradition, Latter-day Saints described the gruesome ends to individuals that had persecuted the Mormons in Missouri and Illinois. Whether there is any truth behind such stories matters less than the function that they played in Mormon discourse during the nineteenth century. Perhaps the most well-known of this retroactive assignment of God’s vengeance on the deaths of perceived enemies was Brigham Young’s 1860 visit to the site of the Mountain Meadows massacre. Young, believing that many of the victims were perpetrators of crimes against the Latter-day Saints, concluded that God had brought his vengeance upon them. These interpretations reassured the Latter-day Saints that God would ultimately bring the vengeance upon their persecutors that the Mormons themselves were powerless to enact themselves.
Although many Latter-day Saints believed that vengeance would be brought about by supernatural means, there is conflicting evidence as to whether Mormons believed that they would be instruments in God’s hands to punish their enemies. For example, William Clayton recorded in his diary on September 19, 1845 that members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “offered up prayers that the Lord would preserve his servants and deliver those who had been active in the mob that killed Joseph and Hyrum into our hands that they might receive their deserts.” This language implies that those involved in the prayer believed that they would be instruments in bringing vengeance on Smith’s murderers. Nine years later in southern Utah, David Lewis, whose brother Benjamin was killed at Haun’s Mill in 1838, related that “My brother Benjamin was killed in Missouri. I am alive to avenge his blood when the Lord will.” In an 1857 speech, George A. Smith reported that a “br. Jameson” in Provo, Utah, who was injured at Haun’s Mill but survived, stated that he had “carried a few ounces of lead in his body ever since the Haun’s Mill massacre in Missouri, and he wants to pay it back with usury, and he undertook to preach at Provo, and prayed that God would send them along, for he wanted to have a chance at them.” These statements imply that at least some Latter-day Saints believed that they themselves would bring vengeance on their enemies.
There is also some indication that Mormon leaders believed that God had authorized them to help any of Smith’s murderers that desired to repent to receive forgiveness by voluntarily allowing Mormon leaders to shed their blood in a procedure known as “blood atonement.” For example, Brigham Young argued in 1855 that the only means by which one of Smith’s murderers could receive forgiveness from God was to shed their own blood.
I will take the Government of the United States, and the laws of Missouri and Illinois, from the year 1833 to 1845, and if they had been carried out according to their letter and spirit, they would have strung up the murderers and mobocrats who illegally and unrighteously killed, plundered, harassed, and expelled us. I will tell you how much I love those characters. If they had any respect to their own welfare, they would come forth and say, whether Joseph Smith was a Prophet or not, “We shed his blood, and now let us atone for it;” and they would be willing to have their heads chopped off, that their blood might run upon the ground, and the smoke of it rise before the Lord as an incense for their sins. I love them that much. But if the Lord wishes them to live and foam out their sins before all men and women, it is all right, I care not where they go, or what they do.
There is no reliable evidence that any of the murderers of Joseph Smith sought this procedure, but this statement does suggest that Mormon leaders did believe that in some instances they themselves would enact vengeance against their persecutors.
There is also an abundance of evidence that Mormon leaders preached patience and forbearance in the aftermath of persecution, and enjoined the Latter-day Saints to allow God to bring vengeance. Shortly after the expulsion from Missouri Brigham Young wrote to the scattered Latter-day Saints to acknowledge their sufferings while encouraging them to wait until God brings vengeance rather than seeking it themselves. Following the murder of Joseph Smith, church leaders again publicly admonished the Latter-day Saints not seek vengeance. Less than a month after the murder, Parley Pratt wrote that “[a]s to our country and nation, we have more reason to weep for them, than for those they have murdered; for they are destroying themselves and their institutions and there is no remedy; and as to feelings of revenge, let them not have place for one moment in our bosoms, for God’s vengeance will speedily consume to that degree that we would fain be hid away and not endure the sight.” In later narratives, Latter-day Saint authors pointed to Mormon forbearance immediately following Smith’s death as evidence that the Latter-day Saints did not believe in taking vengeance into their own hands. What accounts for these seemingly contradictory impulses in Mormon thought remains unknown, and deserves further attention by historians.
There was also a sense in Mormon writings of the time that even if God did not intervene in this life to give the Latter-day Saints the ability to take the kingdom, that in the next life the Mormons would have power over their enemies. Mormon authors yearned for a future home where mobs would not be able to torment the Latter-day Saints. An unnamed poet for example wrote not long after Joseph Smith’s death that “[h]e is where he will ever be,/ Beyond the reach of mobs and strife,/ He rests unharm’d in endless life,/ His home’s in the sky;-he dwells with the Gods,/ Far from the furious rage of mobs.” While the Latter-day Saints resided in this heavenly bliss and peace, their persecutors would face punishment and judgment in the world to come. But perhaps most tellingly, Latter-day Saint authors envisioned a time when Joseph Smith would rule over the Mormons’ tormentors. Orson Hyde, referring to the second chapter of the Revelation of John, argued in 1845 that “[b]y his [Smith’s] death has he become the ruler over the nations of the earth, and he will break them to pieces, as the vessels of a potter; and he will so order the evens to bring it about.” Parley Pratt likewise foresaw a time when the Prophet’s persecutors would beg Smith for forgiveness and be condemned to be his servants for eternity. In these fantasies of the afterlife, Latter-day Saint authors were therefore able to imagine a future world where they would have power to take the kingdom and rule over their enemies, yearnings that eluded the Mormons in this life.
 Edward Partridge, “A Hymn,” Times and Seasons, April 1840, 95.
 This language of blood crying from the ground was also reflected in Mormon scriptures in 2 Nephi 28:10, Mormon 8:27, and Doctrine Covenants 136:36.
 David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (New York: Knopf, 1989), 187-89.
 Joseph Smith, Liberty, Missouri, to Edward Partridge, Quincy, Illinois, 20 March 1839, Times and Seasons, May 1840, 100. See also Pratt, History, 36 and James Riley, “To the Ladies and Gentlemen of St. Louis,” Times and Seasons, January 15, 1845, 782.
 Brigham Young and others to the Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to the Churches Scattered Abroad, and to all the Saints, Times and Seasons, November 1839, 12.
 Pratt, History, 56.
 Parley P. Pratt, “Cry of the Martyrs,” Times and Seasons, September 2, 1844, 639. See also Pratt, “Literal Fulfillent of Prophecy,” October 7, 1855, Journal of Discourses, 3:137.
 Pratt, “Zion in Captivity,” in Pratt, The Millennium, 73. See also [Alexander Niebaur], “Lamentation,” Times and Seasons, July 15, 1844, 591 and Pratt, “Reflections,” in Pratt, The Millennium, 62.
 “Farewell Message of Orson Pratt,” Times and Seasons, December 1, 1845, 1042.
 [Pratt], Proclamation of the Twelve, 12-13.
 Parley P. Pratt, Proclamation Extraordinary, in Parker Pratt Robison, ed., Writings of Parley Parker Pratt: One of the First Missionaries and a Member of the First Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1952), 158.
 Pratt, Autobiography, 125. See also George A. Smith, “Reminiscences of the Jackson County Mob, the Evacuation of Nauvoo, and the Settlement of Great Salt Lake City,” July 24, 1854, Journal of Discourses 2:24.
 See for example George A. Smith, “Gathering and Sanctification of the People of God,” March 18, 1855 Journal of Discourses 2:216-17 and Pratt, Autobiography, 475-77. Such lurid descriptions of the fate of the persecutors had cultural precedents reaching back centuries in the writings of Christians. This tradition was perhaps most readily available to Pratt in the form of Stephen Cattley, ed, The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, 8 vols. (London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1837-1841), 7: 656-7 and Charles Buck, A Theological Dictionary: Containing Definitions of all Religious Terms: A Comprehensive View of Every Article in the System of Divinity, an Impartial Account of all the Principal Denominations which have subsisted in the Religious World from the Birth of Christ to the Present Day: Together with an Accurate Statement of the Most Remarkable Transactions and Events Recorded in Ecclesiastical History (Philadelphia: J. J. Woodward, 1837), 282. I am indebted to Samuel Brown for these references.
 For an analysis of these stories within the context of American folklore, see Richard C. Poulsen, “Fate of the Persecutors of Joseph Smith: Transmutations of an American Myth,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 11, no. 4 (Winter 1978): 63-70.
 “Pres. Young Said that the company that was used up at the Mountain Meadowes were the Fathers, Mothe[rs], Bros., Sisters & connections of those that Muerders the Prophets; they Merritd their fate…when he [Young] came to the Monument that contained their [the victims] Bones, he made this remark, Vengeance is Mine Saith the Lord, & I have taken a litle of it” (John D. Lee, Journal, May 30, 1861, in A Mormon Chronicle: The Diaries of John D. Lee, 1848-1876, eds. Robert Glass Cleland and Juanita Brooks, 2 vols. [San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1955, 2003], 1:314).
 William Clayton, An Intimate Chronicle: The Diaries of William Clayton, ed. George D. Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991), 183. Heber C. Kimball likewise recorded in his diary that “ever since Joseph’s death…seven to twelve persons who had met together every day to pray…have covenanted, and never will rest…until those men who killed Joseph & Hyrum have been wiped out of the earth” (Heber C. Kimball, diary, 21 December 1845, quoted in David John Buerger, “The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20, no. 4 [Winter 1987]: 53. The original journal is housed in the LDS Church archives, but was not included in Heber C. Kimball, On the Potter’s Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball, ed. Stanley B. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987], apparently because the diary is restricted.).
 David Lewis, May 14, 1854, quoted in Juanita Brooks, “Indian Relations on the Mormon Frontier,” Utah Historical Quarterly 12 (January-April 1944): 21. Lewis’ statement also indicated that Native Americans would help the Mormons bring vengeance on their persecutors (see Will Bagley, Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows [Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002], 23-37).
 George A. Smith, September 13, 1857, Deseret News, 23 September 1857, 227.
 Brigham Young, “The Priesthood and Satan-The Constitution and Government of the United States-Rights and Policy of the Latter-Day Saints,” February 15, 1855, Journal of Discourses 2:186-87. See also see also Brigham Young, “Necessity of Building Temples-The Endowment,” April 6, 1853, Journal of Discourses 2:32.
 Brigham Young and others to the Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to the Churches Scattered Abroad, and to all the Saints, Times and Seasons, November 1839, 12. See also “Persecution,” Times and Seasons, August 15, 1842, 887-88.
 Pratt and others to the Saints Abroad, Times and Seasons, July 15, 1844, 586. See also Nauvoo City Council minutes, Times and Seasons, July 1, 1844, 566; Orson Hyde, discourse, June 15, 1845, Times and Seasons, August 15, 1845, 1004-1005; George A. Smith, “Report of a Visit to the Southern Country,” September 13, 1857, Journal of Discourses, 5:223-24.
 See Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 89-90 and Brigham Young, “The Constitution and Government of the United States-Rights and Policy of the Latter-Day Saints,” February 18, 1855, Journal of Discourses, 2:173.
 “The Seer,” Times and Seasons, January 1, 1845, 767. See also P.H. Young, “The Infant’s Grave,” Times and Seasons, December 1, 1841, 622; Parley P. Pratt, “Directions for my Funeral and Epitaph,” Pratt collection, Perry Special Collections.
 Parley P. Pratt, “”One Hundred Years Hence,” in Pratt, The Essential Parley P. Pratt, 143; Editorial Note, Times and Seasons, September 1840, 169; P.H. Young, “The Infant’s Grave,” Times and Seasons, December 1, 1841, 622.
 “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations” (Revelation 2:26). Orson Hyde, discourse, June 15, 1845, Times and Seasons, August 15, 1845, 1003.
 Pratt, Autobiography, 466.