An "American Mahomet": Joseph Smith, Muhammad, and the Problem of Prophets in Antebellum America


Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Islam, Book of Mormon, Prophets, Mormon history, Christian history, United States history, Catholicism


In 1851, Charles Mackay, the noted British poet and journalist, treated the reading public to a lively rehearsal of Mormon history, such as it was after scarcely two decades. The book's five English, six American, French, German, and Swedish editions testified to the Mormon story's appeal (or infamy), marked the entrance of Mormonism as a topic into the world of an international educated class, and set the framework for many subsequent treatments of Mormonism.1 His title also sounded a telling comparison: The Mormons; or, Latter-day Saints, with Memoirs of the Life and Death of Joseph Smith, the "American Mahomet." That same year, the American Whig Review ran a retrospective piece on Smith (who had been assassinated in 1844), under the title, "The Yankee Mahomet." The latter author, certain that in Smith the nation had seen the "most dangerous religious impostor that has appeared for centuries," explained that while Mormon theology appeared to share much with American Christian churches, Mormonism's "main features [bear] considerable resemblance to [those] propagated by Mahomet.

Original Publication Citation

“An ‘American Mahomet’: Joseph Smith, Muhammad, and the Problem of Prophets in Antebellum America,” Journal of Mormon History 34, no. 3 (Summer, 2008): 23-45. *T. Edgar Lyon Best Article Award, Mormon History Association, 2009

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

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Journal of Mormon Studies




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor