Religious Persecution

Even though the United States was founded on religious freedom, not all religions escaped persecution in the 19th century. The Second Great Awakening was instrumental in the rise of Evangelicals, Methodists, Baptists, and Protestants in the United States.

Other new religions formed during this time period too. The Church of Latter-Day Saints, also known as Mormonism, was formed by their leader Joseph Smith. The new religion was viewed by other religious institutions with skepticism and controversy from the beginning.

By the middle of the 19th century, Catholicism was also taking hold in the United States. Catholicism grew in popularity as the Great Potato Famine in Ireland took hold, and thousands of Irish Catholics immigrated to the United States.

Great Potato Famine

Religious Persecution Facts for kids

  • The United States guarantees freedom of religion within the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment.
  • Religious persecution in the United States against other religions was favored by Puritan based religions like Protestant, Baptist, Lutheran, and Methodist.
  • Joseph Smith is the founder of the Mormon religion, which would later become the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
  • The Book of Mormonwas viewed by Mormons like the New Testament is viewed by Puritan based religions.
  • The Mormons were first forced out of New York and several other states such as Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. Their move to the Utah Territory is known as the Mormon Exodus.
  • The United States government passed laws outlawing polygamy, which was practiced by Mormons. The U.S. government seized assets of the Church of Latter-Day Saints until the Mormons put a stop to polygamy.
  • Catholics were not liked by Puritan based religions because they are foreign, and took orders from the Pope.
  • The U.S. Congress passed laws to limit the immigration of people from predominantly Catholic countries like Ireland.

 Church of the Latter Day Saints or Mormonism

Much like the Quakers and Amish people, the Mormons preferred settling in groups. The religion itself was started by Joseph Smith in upstate New York in an area named the Burned-Over District. This area of New York had few clergies and established churches, which made the area perfect for new movements, social movements, and religious innovations.

Mormonism was based on The Book of Mormon. The book outlined a new type of religion centered on Christianity. The Book of Mormon was viewed by Mormons in a similar light as the New Testament was for Protestants and other Puritan based religions. Sermons in the new church often included members who have visions, speaking in tongue, fainting, and loud chants praising the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Mormonism was being magical with superstitious origins. Other Puritan based religions did not take kindly to the new religion. They criticized the new Mormon religion. After criticizing, the other Puritan based religions began outright attacks on Mormons in New York and other places, forcing the Mormons out of New York.

The Mormons traveled from New York to Missouri, Ohio, and eventually the Utah Territory in the West. This event was known as the Mormon Exodus.

There were even laws passed by the U.S. Congress in later years that prohibited some of the religious practices and beliefs of Mormons. The 1882 Edmunds Act made polygamy or a man’s marriage to over one woman illegal. The law removed a polygamists’ right to vote, made them ineligible for political office, and jury service. A few years later, the Church of Latter-Day Saints was dis-incorporated in 1887 under the Edmunds-Tuck Act. The U.S. government confiscated church assets. Other provisions within the law included removed Mormon officials from schools, local judges were removed, mandated a civil marriage license, and members were required to take an anti-polygamy oath before being allowed to vote.

Many Mormons moved to Canada and Mexico in the later years of the 19th century. But now that the primary problem of polygamy was solved, the U.S. government pardoned church leaders were in hiding, gave the church back their seized assets, and Utah was granted statehood in 1896.

Catholicism and immigration

When the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland in the latter part of the 1840s, many Irish Catholics immigrated to the United States. This made the main street life in the United States much different. Puritan based religions believed Catholics took orders from the Pope.

Because the immigrants were poor, foreign, and different, the upper class viewed them as lazy, dirty, and dangerous people. The lower class in the United States believed the recent immigrants were stealing jobs from native-born Christians in the United States.

Protestants spread rumors about the Catholics. Soon Catholics were refused jobs by business owners, blamed for higher crime rates, rented the worst apartments, and banks would not loan money to them. The Protestants viewed the United States as a Puritan nation and were afraid that the United States would become a Catholic country.

Eventually, Catholics were accepted in society, but the United States government toward the turn of the 20th century passed several anti-immigration laws restricting Catholics from specific countries like Ireland.


  1. Who created The Book of Mormon?
    Joseph Smith
  1. Where was the Mormon religion first introduced?
    Upstate New York
  1. What was the key problem with the Mormon religion, according to the U.S. government?
  1. Why did thousands of Catholics immigrate to the United States during the 1840s and 1850s?
    Great Potato Famine
  1. The move of Mormons from the Midwest to Utah is called?
    The Mormon Exodus