Lloyd Alan Knowles
Appeal and Course of... Sidney Rigdon
East Lansing: Michigan State Ph.D. dis., 2000
Ch. 11 excerpt
THE APPEAL AND COURSE OF CHRISTIAN RESTORATIONISM
ON THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY AMERICAN FRONTIER --
WITH A FOCUS ON SIDNEY RIGDON
AS A CASE STUDY
Lloyd Alan Knowles
Michigan State University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
Department of History
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF FIGURES xix INTRODUCTION: Restorationism - The Concept 1. Elements of Restorationism In Church History 16 2. A Fertile Soil for Restorationism: The New American Republic 33 I. The Post-Revolutionary Era 34 II. The New Frontier 44 III. The Western Reserve 52 The Inception of Pristine Ecumenical Restorationism On The Frontier 59 I. Barton Stone and Holy Spirit Restorationism. 60 4. The Inception of Pristine Ecumenical Restorationism On The Frontier 77 II. Thomas Campbell and Minimalist Doctrinal Restorationism 77 5 Alexander Campbell and the Demarcation and Organization of Restorationism 99 6. Sidney Rigdon and The Attraction of Restorationism 121 7. Walter Scott and the Development of Evangelistic Restorationism 139 8. The Evolution To Isolated Sectarian Restorationism 165 9. The Birth of An Alternative Exclusivistic Restorationism 186 10. Sidney Rigdon and The Attraction of Authoritarian Restorationism 210 11. Quarrelsome Restorationism: Contentions Between The Two Movements 233 The Spaulding Controversy 249 12. Persecuting Restorationism: Violence Between The Two Movements 266 13. Disenchanted Restorationism - Disillusionment and Internal Dissensions 288 14. Dissipating Restorationism - Divisions and Subdivisions 323 I. Other Mormon Divisions and Subdivisions 338 II. Dissension and Division Within The Stone-Campbell Movement 340
15. Conclusion 357 I. An Evaluation of Rigdon 357 II. An Evaluation of Restorationism 362 ADDENDUM: On Alexander Campbell 379 BIBLIOGRAPHY 381 I. Background Readings 381 II. Readings on the Concept of Restorationism 385 III. Readings on The Stone-Campbell Movement 386 IV. Readings on Mormonism 389 V. Readings on Sidney Rigdon 392 VI. Other Works Cited 394
Quarrelsome Restorationism: Contentions Between
The Two Movements
Rigdon believed that be was finally free to begin the restoration of "the fullness of the Gospel." He had left the confinement of a "false" restoration movement upon finding the "true" one. In accepting Mormonism "Rigdon got rid of the restraining hand of Alexander Campbell; he could move about with greater freedom of speech for the Mormons did not limit their 'Restoration' ideas to the New Testament as had been the case with Campbell." 1
At least he had a promising start. McKiernan has argued that "Rigdon was much more to Mormonism than an efficient aid to the Prophet; he was intimately involved in directing every major endeavor of Mormonism during its first decade." 2 This contention in certainly justifiable. He influenced Smith to move the whole church to Kirtland. He helped Smith with his translation work, shared in some visions, and was chosen to the highest offices in the church. He even "gave Mormonism an intellectual respectability of which it could not boast up to that time." 3
Yet in a few years he would experience an even more oppressive dominance by
1 Chase, p. 38.
2 McKiernan, p. 12.
3 Chase, p. 74.
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Joseph Smith. Campbell was an organizer and theologian, but Smith was the revelator through whom God Himself spoke. Campbell could be questioned, or even argued with, but not Smith. As John Lee was to say later, Rigdon eventually evolved to being "the mouthpiece of Joseph Smith, as Aaron was of Moses in olden time." 4
Smith arrived in Kirtland in the way one might expect him to -- in dramatic fashion! Having claimed that he had seen a vision of Newel K. Whitney, a financially successful merchant in Kirtland, Smith arrived with Rigdon, Edward Partridge, and his wife Emma for a visit:
About the first of February, 1831, a sleigh containing four persons drove through the streets of Kirtland and drew up in front of the store of Gilbert and Whitney. One of the men, a young and stalwart personage alighted, and springing up the steps walked into the store to where the junior partner was standing. "Newell K. Whitney! Thou art the man!" he exclaimed, extending his hand cordially, as if to an old and familiar acquaintance. "You have the advantage of me," replied the merchant, as he mechanically took the proffered hand. "I could not call you by name as you have me." "I am Joseph the prophet," said the singer smiling. "You've prayed me here, now what do you want of me?" 5
He and Emma then lived with the Whitneys for "several weeks."
The popularity of the Mormon message was contested, then protested, but not stifled. Even before "the four Lamanite missionaries" had continued on their journey westward from Kirtland, about half of Rigdon's Kirtland congregation had followed him into Mormonism, and the missionaries had baptized around 130 new converts in the Western Reserve. 6 Their restorationist, anti-Calvinistic plea appealed to many in the same
4 John Lee, Mormonism Unveiled (St. Louis: Pease-Taylor Publishers, 1891). p. 61. †
5 Joseph Smith, History of The Church, Vol. I, p. 145-146.
6 Richardson, Vol. II, p. 346, and Backman, p. 347. ‡ Parley Pratt, in his Autobiography, published in 1888, claims 127 baptism "in two or three weeks" (p. 48). §
† Sidney Rigdon was then the mouth-piece of Joseph Smith, as Aaron was of Moses in olden time. Rigdon told the Saints that day that if they did not come up as true Saints and consecrate their property to the Lord, by laying it down at the feet of the apostles, they would in a short time be compelled to consecrate and yield it up to the Gentiles. That if the Saints would be united as one man, in this consecration of their entire wealth to the God of Heaven, by giving it up to the control of the Apostolic Priesthood, then there would be no further danger to the Saints; they would no more be driven from their homes on account of their faith and holy works, for the Lord had revealed to Joseph Smith that He would then fight the battles of His children, and save them from all their enemies. That the Mormon people would never be accepted as the children of God unless they were united as one man, in temporal as well as spiritual affairs...
‡ In the latter part of October 1830, four Mormon missionaries -- Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson -- appeared in Mentor, Ohio, and introduced the restored gospel to one of the influential preachers of the Western Reserve, Elder Sidney Rigdon. Within one week, these elders had not only preached in Mentor, Euclid, and Kirtland but had created the nucleus of a branch of the Church by baptizing seventeen in Kirtland.... When the elders left, about one month after their arrival in Ohio, they had not only proclaimed the restored gospel in many communities of northeastern Ohio but had also baptized approximately 130 settlers... The relative success of the four Latter-day Saint missionaries in Ohio appears most significant when compared to the previous growth of the Church. Six months after the Church had been organized, membership was reported to be sixty-two which was an increase of thirty-five from the preceding conference held three and a half months earlier.
§ at length called on Mr. Rigdon, my former friend and instructor, in the Reformed Baptists Society. He received us cordially and entertained us with hospitality. We soon presented him with a Book of Mormon, and related to him the history of the same. He was much interested, and promised a thorough perusal of the book. We tarried in this region for some time, and devoted our time to the ministry, and visiting from house to house. At length Mr. Rigdon and many others became convinced that they had no authority to minister in the ordinances of God; and that they had not been legally baptized and ordained. They, therefore, came forward and were baptized by us, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost by laying on of hands, and prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. The news of our coming was soon noised abroad, and the news of the discovery of the Book of Mormon and the marvelous events connected with it. The interest and excitement now became general in Kirtland, and in all the region round about. The people thronged us night and day, insomuch that we had no time for rest and retirement. Meetings were convened in different neighborhoods, and multitudes came together soliciting our attendance; while thousands flocked about us daily; some to be taught, some for curiosity, some to obey the gospel, and some to dispute or resist it. In two or three weeks from arrival in the neighborhood with the news, we had baptized one hundred and twenty-seven souls, and this number soon increased to one thousand. The disciples were filled with joy and gladness; while rage and lying was abundantly manifested by gainsayers; faith was strong, joy was great, and persecution heavy. We proceeded to ordain Sidney Rigdon, Isaac Morley, John Murdock, Lyman Wight, Edward Partridge and many others to the ministry; and, leaving them to take care of the churches and to minister the gospel, we took leave of the saints and continued our journey.
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way the Stone-Campbell Movement had.
Yet there was also significant resistance to their message. most congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and even Methodists, had to their own church creed as the proper expression of faith. 7 Also, the great majority of people in the Western Reserve were offended by The Book of Mormon, a modern-day prophet with exclusive fights to revelations, and the Mormon community's exclusive and communal postures. Even the Disciples of Christ, after the first "shock-wave" from the inroads of Mormonism, scurried to reinforce their churches against the incursions of the great "delusion." Both Campbells, Scott, Bentley, and others, traveled widely to combat its spread, until men like A. S. Hayden would claims "After its first approach, it boasted of few converts from any of our churches." Whether this claim was actually true or not, Hayden went on to support his opinion:
The reason the delusion made little progress among the Disciples, save only at Kirtland, where the way for it was paved by the common-stock principle, is to be found in the cardinal principle every-where taught and accepted among them, that faith is founded on testimony. 8
Yet numerous conversions did take place among the Disciples, and even among some Methodists, in the towns of Hiram, Mantua, and adjoining towns. Because of the similarities in their positions, the Mormons were more successful proselytizing Disciples of Christ than any other denomination. B. A. Hinsdale would later muse, "How many Disciples were seduced from the faith and were joined to the new idols, probably can not now be determined; but so many were, that for the time it seemed as though the Church
7 Backman, p. 349. †
8 Hayden, pp. 215-216.
† There was also a Baptist society in Kirtland in 1830. This congregation had been admitted into an alliance of closed-communion Calvinist Baptist churches in 1828 called the Grand River Association; and since there was no settled minister to serve the needs of these Protestants, for almost five years this group was irregularly supplied by visiting elders assigned by that alliance. (Grand River Baptist Association Records, 1817-1842, p. 81, Western Reserve Historical Society.) Prior to the arrival of the four Latter-day Saint missionaries in Ohio, the Calvinist Baptists of Kirtland had rejected a view popularized by reforming preachers concerning the need to restore the everlasting gospel. They had committed themselves to the belief that their church creed was a proper expression of faith; and, like most Congregationalists and Methodists of Kirtland, the Baptists were not receptive to the message of the Restoration. Between 1828 and 1834 their membership remained almost the same, fluctuating from twenty-one to twenty-five. The only significant impact the introduction of Mormonism seems to have had on this group is that it failed to grow after the Saints established Kirtland as one of the headquarters of the Church...
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would be broken up." 9 Many in other denominations were unsympathetic to the Campbellite attrition. Hinsdale wrote:
Strenuous opponent[s] of the Campbells and their work, at once exclaimed: "See what deserting the old standards leads to!" "We told you so." My father, who then passed his majority, tells me that the first he ever saw or heard of Mormonism was an article in a newspaper published in Hudson, Ohio, entitled "Campbellism Gone to Seed." 10
Men like Adamson Bentley at Warren and M. S. Clapp at Mentor, Rigdon's old church, helped keep their congregations in the Stone-Campbell orbit. Yet there were many people in the 1830's who believed in the immanence of the Millennium, and Mormonism's emphasis upon that -- as well as on a restoration of spiritual gifts, preached by the mouths of eloquent men -- made Mormonism almost irresistible.
A lawyer named Vernem Card joined Willoughby deputy sheriff John Barr on a horseback trip to Mayfield on one occasion to hear Cowdery and Rigdon preach about the revelations of Mormonism. The road was crowded with people who also were going to hear them. From the context of Barr's statement it seems apparent that the two men went mainly out of curiosity. What happened surprised them both:
Standing in the water, Rigdon gave one of his most powerful exhortations. The assembly became greatly effected. As he proceeded he called for the converts to step forward. They came through the crowd in rapid succession to the number of thirty, and were immersed, with no intermission in the discourse on the part of Rigdon. Mr. Card was apparently the most stoical of men -- of a clear, unexcitable temperament, with unorthodox and vague religious ideas. He afterward became prosecuting attorney for Cuyahoga County. While the exciting scene was transpiring below us in the valley and in the pool, the faces of the crowd expressing the most intense emotion, Mr. Card suddenly seized my arm and said, "Take me away!" Taking his arm, I saw that his face was so pale
9 Hinsdale, p. 19.
10 Ibid., p. 20.
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that he seemed to be about to faint. His frame trembled as we walked away and mounted our horses. We rode a mile toward Willoughby before a word was said. Rising the hill out of the valley, he soared to recover, and said, "Mr. Barr, if you had not been there I certainly should have gone into the water." He said the impulse was irresistible. 11
What was not irresistible, however, to most people was the Kirtland communal experiment. While this era was a time when numerous such efforts were attempted, the vast majority of people had no interest in such an undertaking. They charged that it was simply an effort to gather their property into a common fund and allow certain privileged and lazy people to live without working. 12
Not only did the Mormons receive external criticism for their effort, but internal dissensions began to raise as well. In his history of the Mormon church, John Whitmer reported that "There were some of the Disciples who were flattered into this church because they thought that all things were to be common, therefore they thought to glut themselves upon the labors of others." 13 He also observed:
The Disciples had all things common and were going to destruction very fast as to temporal things, for they considered from reading the scripture that what belonged to one brother, belonged to any of the brethren, therefore they would take each others clothes and other property and use it without leave, which brought on confusion and disappointments for they did not understand the scripture. 14The journal of Levi Hancock, a Latter-Day Saint, who visited the commune, illustrated the developing problem:
11 John Barr, quoted in Mather, p. 207.
12 Wilcox, p. 126.
13 Whitmer, p. 3. †
14 Ibid., p. 2.
† About these days Joseph and Sidney arrived at Kirtland to the joy and satisfaction of the Saints. The disciples had all things common, and were going to destruction very fast as to temporal things; for they considered from reading the scripture that what belonged to a brother, belonged to any of the brethren. Therefore they would take each other's clothes and other property and use it without leave which brought on confusion and disappointments, for they did not understand the scripture.... the elders went forth to proclaim repentance according to commandment, and there were members added to the Church. The Bishop Edward Partridge visited the Church in its several branches, there were some that would not receive the law. The time has not yet come that the law can be fully established, for the disciples live scattered abroad and are not organized, our numbers are small and the disciples untaught, consequently they understand not the things of the kingdom. There were some of the disciples who were flattered into the Church because they thought that all things were to be common, therefore they thought to glut themselves upon the labors of others.
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While I was in the room at "Father Morley’s" or as we all called him.... Herman Bassett came to me and took my watch out of my pocket and walked off as though it was his. I thought he would bring it back soon but was disappointed as he sold it. I asked him what he meant by selling my watch. "O," said he, "I thought it was all in the family." I told him I did not like such family doings and I would not bear it. 15
When Smith realized the transgressions happening at the farm, he abandoned the common-stock experiment for an economic system that became known as The Law of Consecration and Stewardship. Of course, a revelation 16 supported this decision. Rigdon protested the cessation, but acquiesced to the will of the Prophet. In future days he would repeatedly urge a restoration of the effort, but to no avail. Smith "commanded his missionaries to destroy the notion abroad that the church had ever been a common-stock concern." 17
But the dismantling of the common-stock system had little effect upon the growth of Mormonism. Latter-Day Saint evangelism was not buttressed by this world's economics, but by other-worldly miracles. As Robert Kent Fielding has asserted, "These marvelous manifestations of apparently supernatural power were one of the chief means of spreading the fame of Mormonism abroad. People flocked to Kirtland by thousands." 18
Many people believed that Joseph Smith could perform miracles. According to Parley Pratt the number of baptized saints in the area around Kirtland "soon increased to
15 Van Wagoner, p. 94, and Parkin, p. 99, both quote this selection from the journal of Levi Hancock (p. 45), which may be found in the Special Collections section of Lee Library at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. †
16 See Doctrine and Covenants, Section 42. Also Max Parkin has a good explanation and elaboration of the transition to the new system on p. 99. Especially footnote 33.
17 Brodie, pp. 141-142.
18 Fielding, p. 43.
† I dare not come out against anything that an elder should say for fear I should speak against the Holy Ghost. I let them go on in this manner until the people got mad at them and tried to convince me that I was led astray. They said I was honest and the dream I had they did not doubt but the doctrine was false. One girl said she would rather go to hell than believe it, and in a short time she died. I could not help thinking she was taken at her word. There were many that said nothing that belonged to the church. All of this took place in the winter of 1831. By February we started for Kirtland. I bore the expense of them all, we took North on the turnpike leading from Ashtabula to Warren, Ohio. We traveled on to Ostinsburg and put up there. I saw a man by the name of Crawel. I was slightly acquainted with him as he was a lawyer. He said he would keep me but not the others, so I thanked him, and we all went to the tavern and I paid the bill. The next day we went on to Unionville where we stayed over night. I paid all the bills there too. The following day we got to Painville, as we were all weary we were glad to rest. We found brethren here who said they would take us to Kirtland the next day. We had been traveling through snow, which was deep and I was so lame I could scarcely walk. I had paid one dollar to a man this day to haul just four miles. The next morning brother Harvey Redfield took us to Brother Isaac Morley's who was a cooper by trade and one of the most honest, patient men I ever saw. The company he maintained looked large enough to bring on a famine. I do not know if they lived on him all the time or not. While I was in the room at "Father Morley's" as we all called him, this same Hermon Bassett came to me and took my watch out of my pocket and walked off as though it was his. I thought he would bring it back soon but was disappointed as he sold it. I asked him what he meant by selling my watch."Oh, said he, I though it was all in the family." I told him I did not like such family doing and I would not bear it. I then went to hold meetings in Chagrin Township of Mayfield. By this time there were quite a number of Elders ordained and among them was my brother Soloman Hancock I had heard that he had joined the church but had not seen him since he joined. He was a Methodist when I last saw him. I found my father and mother strong in the faith which gave me great joy. I felt happy for nearly all of my folks had joined the church by now.
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one thousand." 19 And the numbers continued to swell as more and more reports of miracles were given.
In February of 1832 Joseph and Sidney both supposedly shared in a vision with around twelve witnesses present. The vision displayed a trinity of kingdoms -- the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial worlds -- into which all people would be sorted at the day of judgment. 20 According to Philo Dibble, who was one of the twelve witnesses, he could not see the vision, but he could see the glory and feel the power all around him. 21 As the two men were entranced, sporadically Joseph would marvel and say, "What do I see?" Then he would describe the scene and Rigdon, also transfixed, would respond, "I see the same." This scene kept repeating at intervals for over an hour. At its conclusion Rigdon was exhausted, but Smith seemed to be rejuvenated. When questioned about the disparity in the demeanors of both men, Smith grinned and quipped, "Sidney is not as used to it as I am." 22
There are many who advocate that the greatest miracle Smith performed at Kirtland was the healing of a Hiram woman with a rheumatic arm. After commanding her to "be whole," Smith left the room and, allegedly, the woman raised her arm above her head with no more pain. The next day she washed her clothes "unassisted," and shortly afterward, joined the Mormon church. 23
19 Pratt, Autobiography, p. 48.
20 One can read the text of the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76, and a description of the event in The Evening and Morning Star (December, 1833).
21 Barett, p. 204, quoting The Juvenile Instructor, Vol. 27 (May 15, 1892), pp. 303-304.†
22 Brodie, p. 118. Also quoted in Barrett, p. 204, and Bushman, pp. 23-24.
23 For a more complete description of the event, see Fielding, p. 42.
† When Joseph was ready to go back to Hiram, I took him in my carriage. Soon afterwards I had occasion to visit Hiram again. On my way there I was persuaded to stop at the Hulet settlement and attend a meeting. When I arrived at Father Johnson's the next morning, Joseph and Sidney had just finished washing up from being tarred and feathered the night before. Joseph said to Sidney: "We can now go on our mission to Jackson County." I felt to regret very much that I had not been with them the evening before, but it was perhaps providential that I was not. On a subsequent visit to Hiram, I arrived at Father Johnson's just as Joseph and Sidney were coming out of the vision alluded to in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, in which mention is made of the three glories. Joseph wore black clothes, but at this time seemed to be dressed in an element of glorious white, and his face shone as if it were transparent, but I did not see the same glory attending Sidney. Joseph appeared as strong as a lion, but Sidney seemed as weak as water, and Joseph, noticing his condition smiled and said, "Brother Sidney is not as used to it as I am."
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Such instances only increased Smith’s notoriety. According to the Lake County Historical Association:
Claims of the prophet’s spectacular healing miracles among his sick followers, with news of strange and wonderful new languages and manifestations from the Lord, brought wagon loads of both converts and curiosity seekers to our Kirtland hills. Soon the Mormon colony numbered three thousand people. This rapid increase alarmed their neighbors. 24
This heightened apprehension spawned rumors, and condemnation among the general public. Many anti-Mormon stories were based upon the truth, some were half-truths, and others were distorted or embellished beyond recognition, or even fabricated, It has been contended that the Mormons themselves even circulated incredible anti-Mormon tales in an effort to make the other side look ridiculous. Often the other side didn’t even need their help! 25
Yet the Mormons themselves regularly plowed and fertilized the ground into which these seeds of dissension fell. They made claims and prophesied supernatural events that, when unfulfilled, required some creative explanation. When the sick were not healed it was because they lacked faith, or because it was their "appointed" time: "He that has faith in me to be healed and is not appointed unto death [italics mine], shall be healed." 26 Apparently Oliver Cowdery tried to heal a young female confined to her bed for two years. He commanded her to rise up and walk, which she did for a few steps and then
24 The Lake County Historical Society, Here is Lake County, Ohio (Cleveland: Howard Allen Inc., Publishers, 1964), p. 62.
25 For full accounts of many of these anti-Mormon tales, see Pancoast, pp. 83-93, and Parkin, pp. 235-247.
26 Pancoast, p. 84, quoting The Evening And Morning Star (July, 1832), p. 31.
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fainted. He failed, and she remained confined to her bed. Again there were explanations:
...the Mormonites have endeavored to save the credit of their prophets, by declaring that they never pronounced these people whole but only prayed for them -- but when confronted by one of the disciples in Kirtland upon the instance just mentioned, as it was so public they could not deny it, one of them said that he did not know but Cowdery did command her to arise, but if he did it was in a laughing, jesting way!!! -- Another of the Mormonites said Cowdery did not command her to rise, but merely asked her why she did not arise. 27
In foretelling the future the Mormons often fared no better. Martin Harris predicted that Christ would return within fifteen years and that anyone not accepting The Book of Mormon by that time would be destroyed. Even more specifically, he prophesied that -- within four years of September, 1832 -- there would not be one wicked person left in the United States; there would be no more presidents over the nation; and every Christian would have become a Mormon. He then upped the ante to his claim by saying, "If these things do not take place, I will hereby consent to have my hand separated from my body." 28 Of course, he kept his hand. Richard S. Van Wagoner, a Utah Mormon, has honestly conceded, "In presenting their colorful history to the world, twentieth-century Mormons overlook or are unaware of the fact that many of the divine predictions of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Willford Woodruff and other church leaders did not materialize." 29
It is human nature to seek verification of truth claims, especially supernatural ones. A Campbellite minister challenged Joseph Smith to perform a miracle for him, promising
27 "Mormonism," The [Painesville] Telegraph (February 15, 1831), p. 1.
28 Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, pp. 14-15.
29 Van Wagoner, p. 457. †
† That kind of idiosyncratic behavior was the measure of Rigdon's life, especially as he aged. Stressful circumstances exacerbated his symptoms of chronic manic-depressive illness. Nevertheless, true mystics have always walked perilously close to the abyss of madness. In his classic treatise on the subject, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James concluded that "As a matter of fact a religious life, exclusively pursued, does tend to make the person exceptional and eccentric." Moreover, "religious geniuses" like Rigdon "often... have led a discordant inner life, and had melancholy during a part of their career. They have known no measure, been liable to obsessions and fixed ideas; and frequently they have fallen into trances, heard voices, seen visions, and presented all sorts of peculiarities which are ordinarily classed as pathological. Often, moreover, these pathological features in their career have helped to give them their religious authority and influence." Perhaps Rigdon erred most seriously in outliving Joseph Smith, in having functioned as the prophet's right arm too effectively, in wanting too much to carry Smith's prophetic legacy forward. After Nauvoo, Rigdon's contemporaries peered down their collective noses at him, considered him a has-been, a fraud, and a lunatic. Dauntless, he nevertheless took most of his dreams, unrealized visions, and prophecies to the grave. Rigdon was not unique in such prophetic unfulfillment. Failed prophecies appear in the pronouncements of virtually all nineteenth-century millenialists. In presenting their colorful history to the world, twentieth-century Mormons overlook or are unaware of the fact that many of the divine predictions of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, and other church leaders did not materialize. (Prophets from Joseph Smith through Wilford Woodruff... declared on numerous occasions in the name of the Lord that the Saints would redeem Zion [Jackson County] "in this generation," meaning those who were alive in 1832. This promise was one of nineteenth-century Mormonism's holiest grails. Additionally, Joseph Smith, aside from predicting Zion's redemption by 11 Sept. 1836... prophesied that the world would end in 1891... Although the prophet's well-known 25 December 1832 "Revelation and Prophecy on War" was correct in forseeing that the war would begin "at the rebellion of South Carolina," the most important event predicted in that renowned revelation did not occur. The Civil War did not engulf"all nations" in war as portended).
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that if he could do so the minister would convert to Mormonism and bring his congregation of "several hundreds" with him into the fold. However, he likewise threatened Smith that if he could not perform a miracle, he would become his "worst and bitterest enemy." Smith accepted the challenge and offered the minister his choice of four miracles: to be struck blind, made dumb, rendered paralyzed, or have a withered hand. The preacher declined any of these, perhaps fearing that Smith or God just might do it. So Smith retorted, "Then, Sir, I can perform none. I am not going to bring any trouble upon anybody else, Sir, [just] to convince you." 30
Sometimes the Mormons themselves needed reinforcement and failed to get it. When an old Mormon named John Morse died, someone hurriedly sent for Smith to revive him. Viewing the lifeless body, Smith refused, claiming it would be unkind to reanimate him just to have him suffer from rheumatism and die again so soon anyway. 31
The Mormon belief in miracles and continual revelation engendered a considerable amount of ridicule -- and sometimes even apostasy -- on the early Western Reserve. Ezra Booth, a respected and "celebrated" Methodist preacher from Mantua, had converted to Mormonism in May of 1831 when he witnessed Joseph Smith's healing of "Mrs. Johnson's" lame arm. 32 Yet he apostatized just five months later. Believing he had been deceived, he wrote a series of nine articles in The Ohio Star, which were also reprinted in The [Painesville] Telegraph. In a personal note to the editor, he listed his reasons for doing so:
30 Werner, pp. 81-82. Also found in Pancoast, p. 85. 1855 original
31 This story is told (retold? No footnotes) in Mather’s "The Early Days of Mormonism," p. 203.
32 Hayden, pp. 250-251.
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1st. To discharge a duty which I owe to God and the public. 2d. To rescue, if possible, the honest and contentious who are involved in it. 3d. To prevent others from falling into it. 4th. To comply with the request of a number who have solicited an exposure to Mormonism. 33
That which precipitated his apostasy involved Joseph Smith's declaration on June third that God would choose twenty-eight elders for a journey to "the Promised land" in Missouri where He had been building up a wonderful "City of Zion." He then endowed them with miraculous gifts and supernatural powers to preach in tongues, raise the dead, heal the sick and cast out demons. When they departed they informed the rest of "the flock" that few, if any, would be returning and that they would summon the rest when all was ready. 34
Ezra Booth was one who made the thousand-mile journey. Upon arrival he experienced a great disappointment. "We expected to find a large church," he lamented, "which Smith said was revealed to him in a vision, Oliver had raised up there. This large church was found to consist of four females." 35 He also expected to see miracles performed, and none were! Eventually complaining that "revelations which come from him [Joseph Smith] are something short of infallible," 36 Booth alluded to his whole experience as a lesson for others:
33 Ezra Booth, letter to The Ohio Star (Ravenna, Geauga County, Ohio), Vol. II, No. 52 (October 20, 1831), p. 3.
34 The [Painesville] Telegraph (Painesville, Geauga County, Ohio). Vol. II. No. 52 (June 14, 1831), p. 3. According to another article in The [Painesville] Telegraph, Vol. III. No. 2 (June 28, 1831), p. 3. the Mormon leaders had by then departed for Missouri, but before doing so, had ordered around twenty families from Thompson Township to leave to with them or "be deprived of all the blessings of Mormonism." Most of them obeyed, "leaving their spring crops all upon the ground."
35 Ezra Booth, "Mormonism #5," The [Painesville] Telegraph, Vol. III, No. 23 (November 22, 1831), p. 2. See also The Ohio Star (November 7, 1831).
36 Ezra Booth, "Mormonism #7," The [Painesville] Telegraph, Vol. III, No. 25 (December 6, 1831), p. 1. See also The Ohio Star (November 21, 1831).
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It has taught me quite beyond my knowledge, the imbecility of human nature, and especially my own weakness. It has unfolded in its proper character, a delusion to which I had fallen a victim....
Yet tales about the Latter-Day Saints were told and re-told, especially from such anti-Mormon sources as the Disciples. Parkin judiciously observed that "When such reports were reprinted at places distant from their Ohio source, they found a credulous audience; one senses that twice told tales began to invite unrealistic embellishments." 38 In many cases it now seems impossible to sort out the truth or fiction in them, Two widely-published stories were re-published by the Mormon Messenger And Advocate in Kirtland with the intention of exposing their folly and refuting them.
The first appeared in numerous sources, but perhaps first in the New York Mercury on June 25, 1835. Entitled "An Angel Caught," it claimed that Joseph Smith "sought to give additional solemnity to the baptismal rite, by affirming that on each occasion an angel would appear on the opposite side of the stream, and there remain till the conclusion of the ceremony." Then, at each baptismal event, a figure dressed in white was present on the opposite bank until its conclusion, which bolstered the faith of all
37 Ezra Booth, "Mormonism #1," The [Painesville] Telegraph, Vol. III, No. 19 (October 25, 1831), p. 1. See also The Ohio Star (October 13, 1831), p. 3.
38 Parkin, p. 238.
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present. But on one occasion some suspicious young "unbelievers" concealed themselves until the angel appeared, and then charged out forcing it into the stream. Even though "its efforts at escape were powerful" they managed to get him out of the stream only to discover that it was the Prophet himself in disguise! 39
The second commonly-told tale likewise appeared in multiple sources, and it had many variations, unless a similar circumstance happened on numerous occasions. In one version two disciples named J. J. Moss and Isaac Moore feigned interest in Mormonism in order to infiltrate it and expose its vulnerabilities. Moss wrote in his diary that it was common to witness an angel walking on water at night baptisms, as if to give divine approval. During daylight hours Moss and Moore found a two-inch plank just below the water's surface. They sawed it almost in half and the next night when the angel walked on water, the plank broke "causing a mighty splash and a very un-angelic shriek!" 40 Another version identifies the angel as a Mormon elder, 41 while a third version -- reprinted by the Mormons -- identifies the angel as a Mormon preacher who drowned as a result of the prank! 42 A fourth perspective was given by Lucia Goldsmith, who claimed she was present "with an equestrian party of eight" in the fall of 1835 when Joseph Smith supposedly healed a man. She then added:
Perhaps you have read of the Prophet's attempt to walk on the
39 Oliver Cowdery, ed., "Slanderous," The Messenger And Advocate (Kirtland), Vol. I, No. 10 (July, 1835), pp. 148-149.
40 Shaw, p. 84. quoting M. M. Moss (Ed.), "Autobiography of a Pioneer Preacher," The Christian Standard (January 15, 1938).
41 Parkin, p. 242.
42 W. W. Phelps, "Thou Shalt Not Lie," The Messenger And Advocate, Vol. II, No. 3 (December, 1835), pp. 230-231. quoting the story entitled "Tragical Event" from The Philadelphia Saturday Courier.
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water (?). There was a shallow place in the river them where he was to perform the miracle. A moon light eve was chosen, a crowd had collected. Smith started boldly out for a few feet -- when his faith -- or something failed, and down he sank. Some wicked (?) one had removed the support at the place of the plank he had placed just under the surface of the water. He never made the attempt again here -- but any way, he had his final baptism in Kirtland. 43
Such stories alienated the Mormons even further from the mainstream society around them. As Max Parkin has stated, "The active tongue of the story-teller multiplied the abuse amassed upon the Saints of the Latter-days and particularly their leader and Prophet." 44 Sidney Rigdon would also find himself embroiled in the controversies, although he was more interested in winning new converts than striving with old associates.
Contentions between both restoration movements escalated during their eight-year cohabitation on the Western Reserve. Campbellites suffered more losses of membership and leadership to the Mormons than any other religious group in Ohio. 45 A. S. Hayden reported that "It caused a great shock" among their community, and he dramatized the extent of this alarm with the simile, "The force of this shock was like an earthquake." 46 A Portage County man observed in 1832 that "The Mormonites in some places seem to be swallowing Campbellites...." 47
An examination of the major denominational publications of the era has revealed
43 Lucia Goldsmith, "Sidney Rigdon, The First Mormon Elder," found in the papers of Lucia A. Goldsmith, Manuscripts Collection, The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio.
44 Parkin, p. 247.
45 Ibid., p. 226.
46 Hayden, p. 240.
47 Parkin, p. 227. Quoting from The Battleboro Messenger (B[r]attleboro, Vermont), Vol. XI, No. 9 (March 24, 1832), p. 1.
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that the Disciples of Christ issued more anti-Mormon books and tracts than any other denomination in the nineteenth century. 48 The Mormons often responded in kind with equally vituperative rejoinders. In Alexander Campbell's February, 1831, twelve-page essay entitled "Delusions," Campbell began with the statement, "Every age of the world has produced impostors and delusions," and proceeded on to identify Joseph Smith as an "impious fraud. 49 Sidney Rigdon later responded to him with a boast:
"Delusion" said Mr. A. Campbell in 1831, soon after the church of the Saints began to be established in this place; but unfortunately for his purposes, if a purpose he had, his cry was unheard, the cause still progressed and continues to progress. 50
In July of 1831 Campbell wrote in his Millennial Harbinger that Sidney Rigdon had confided in him that "were Joseph to be proved a liar, or say himself that he never found The Book of Mormon as he has reported, still he would believe it, and believe that all who did not believe it shall be damned." 51 He then continued on for many years to attack Mormonism itself as an "imposture." In one article he wrote:
This meanest, vilest, and most diabolical of frauds ever practiced in the encyclopedia of delusions and impostures, has grown up to such an enormous stature of impudence, arrogance, and malignity, as to call forth the attention remonstrance, and abhorrence of all well-meaning men, religious, moral, and political. Its arrogance and impiety are daily growing more and more obnoxious to the reprobation of all sorts and degrees of philanthropists. 52
48 Ibid., p 235. See especially footnote 27 for source reference.
49 Alexander Campbell, "Delusions," The Millennial Harbinger, Vol. II, No. 2 (February 7, 1831), pp. 85 and 91.
50 Sidney Rigdon, "Delusion," The Messenger And Advocate, Vol. I, no. 6 (March, 1835), p. 90.
51 Alexander Campbell, "Mormonism," The Millennial Harbinger, Vol. II, No. 7 (July 4, 1831) p. 332.
52 Alexander Campbell, "Mormonism In An Agony," The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. VI, No. VIII (August 1842), pp. 358-359.
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His numerous printed criticisms eventually draw a response from Joseph Smith:
I have, of late, been perusing Mr. A. Campbell's "Millennial Harbinger." I never have rejoiced to see men of corrupt hearts step forward and assume the authority and pretend to teach the ways of God -- this it, and always has been a matter of grief, therefore I cannot but be thankful, that I have been instrumental in the providence of our heavenly father in drawing forth, before the eyes of the world, the spirits by which certain ones, who profess to be "Reformers, and Restorers of ancient principles," are actuated! I have always had the satisfaction of seeing the truth triumph over error, and darkness give way before light, when such men were provoked to expose the corruption of their own hearts by crying delusion, deception, and false prophets, accusing the innocent, and condemning the guiltless, and exalting themselves to the stations of gods, to lead blind fold men to perdition! 53
Disputes between these restoration cousins (Disciples and Mormons) continued well beyond the deaths of Smith and Campbell. In 1884 a more formal and polite public debate was held in Kirtland, Ohio, between a Mormon named Kelley and a Disciple named Braden. But vicious verbal assaults continued to be launched as well. In 1887 a deputy U.S. Marshal said the following regarding the Latter-Day Saints:
As their creed is different from any other, "thou shalt not bear false witness," from what I have seen, must read in their catechism, "thou shalt be when it suits thy purpose;" for, of all the square, single-handed liars on earth Mormons stand out pre-eminent.... they are taught to lie from their cradles. 54
But of all the controversies between the Disciples Of Christ and the Mormons, the one which has probably received the most print and attention was the Spaulding Controversy. Originating in 1834, this thesis struck at the very heart of the Mormon
53 Parkin, Appendix D, p. 370, reprinting a letter from Joseph Smith (dated September 24, 1834) to Oliver Cowdery, editor of The Evening And Morning Star.
54 Fred E. Bennett, Fred Bennett, The Mormon Detective; or Adventures in The Wild West, Mormonism Unmasked (Chicago: Laird and Lee, 1887), micropublished in Western Americana: Frontier History of The Trans-Mississippi West, 1550-1900 (New Haven, Conn.: Research Publications, Inc., 1975), p. 25. Filmed from the holdings of Yale University's Beinecke Library.
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faith -- The Book of Mormon itself. The attempt endeavored to prove that the book was nothing more than an elaborate plagiarism and conspiracy, with Sidney Rigdon at the center of it.
The Spaulding Controversy
Of all the quarrels between the two restoration movements, the Spaulding Controversy lasted the longest and has probably produced the most literature. Since the arguments involve the integrity of The Book of Mormon itself, "literally hundreds of articles and books have been written purporting to prove the fraudulent character of the book, or to confound those who thus sought to disprove its divine origin." 55 Even though this debate scents finally to be resolved, some discussion of it is appropriate here for two reasons. First, it was the most significant dispute between the Disciples and Mormons, lasting well into the twentieth century. And second, Sidney Rigdon was the central character implicated in the authorship of The Book of Mormon. However, a simple overview and cursory discussion will serve the purposes of this work, especially since the topic has been thoroughly analyzed in other works. 56
In February of 1831, shortly after the publication of The Book of Mormon, Alexander Campbell affirmed his opinion as to its authorship, insisting that "there never
55 Pancoast, p. 11.
56 For a much more extensive and thorough analysis of the Spaulding Controversy, see Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Did Spaulding Write The Book of Mormon?" (Salt Lake City, Utah Lighthouse Ministries, 1977), which includes a 1910 copy of Solomon Spalding's Manuscript Found story. Also Daryl Chase, in "Sidney Rigdon -- Early Mormon," and Fawn Brodie, in No Man Knows My History (Appendix B, pp. 419-433), have prolonged analyses of the Spaulding Thesis. For the affidavits of the eight witnesses affirming Smith's plagiarism of Spaulding, see Eber D. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed, Ch. 19 (pp. 278-290).
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was a book more evidently written by one set of fingers, nor more certainly conceived in one cranium...." He then identified the author "And as Joseph Smith is a very ignorant man and is called the author on the tide page, I cannot doubt for a single moment but that he is the sole author and proprietor of it." 57 Fawn Brodie has contended that the Mormon church, rather than contest this identification of Joseph Smith with ignorance, has even exaggerated his superficiality "since the more meager his learning, the more divine must be his book." 58
However in 1834 a work was published which caused many to question the book's authorship, and Campbell to change his opinion. Entitled Mormonism Unvailed, and supposedly written and published by Eber D. Howe, editor of The [Painesville] Telegraph, the thesis of the book was that The Book of Mormon was nothing more than a clever conspiracy and a treacherous plagiarism concocted by Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith to dupe the public, and perhaps gain money and positions of significant influence. Howe, who was apparently prodded to produce the volume by a man named Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, 59 claimed the altruistic high ground for his effort:
57 Alexander Campbell, "Delusions," The Millennial Harbinger, Vol. II, no. 2 (February 7, 1831), p. 93.
58 Brodie, p. 69.
59 "Doctor" was apparently his given name, and not a title or earned degree (see Dean Hughes, The Mormon Church -– A Basic History, p. 54). Also, many sources spell (or misspell) his last name as "Hurlburt," but the most reliable sources spell it as I use it.
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Figure 8. Eber D. Howe (1798-1885) (Used through the courtesy
and permission of the Lake County [Ohio] Historical Society.)
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The following work was undertaken with reluctance, at the earnest solicitation of a great number of friends, who had, with the author, long looked upon the subject of which it treats with mingled feelings of abhorrence and pity -- the Impostors and their victims of delusion, were viewed through these two different media. 60
After referring to the Mormons as "designing knaves," "impostors," "false prophets' "false Messiahs," and "fanatics, 61 he resolutely says:
We anticipate the bitter vituperation and sneers of the Mormon leaders and their influence over their already numerous followers, and do not expect to accomplish a reformation amongst them, but if we shall serve to enlighten any, who are not already the slaves of Mormon madness, alias the Devil we will feel richly compensated. 62
In Mormonism Unvailed Howe postulates that The Book of Mormon is, in essence, a religiously amended copy of an earlier work entitled Manuscript Found written by a minister named Solomon Spaulding. Spaulding had been a Connecticut soldier during the American Revolution and, after due, a Dartmouth college graduate in 1785. 63 But subsequently his life appears to have been a series of failures. As a minister he lost his faith, as a merchant his trade failed; as an industrialist his iron foundry became bankrupt; and as an author his works went unpublished. 64
In an effort to raise money to live on, he composed a romantic work about aboriginal America which he called The Manuscript Story or Manuscript Found. 65
60 Eber D. Howe, "Advertisement," found as a preface to Mormonism Unvailed.
61 Ibid., pp. V-IX.
62 Ibid., p. 94.
63 Mathes, p. 205.
64 McKiernan, p. 37.
65 These may be referring to the same document, or two documents, one amending the other. This possible discrepancy will be discussed later.
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According to a number of witnesses, Spaulding read passages of the book to them while he was composing it. Solomon's brother John Spaulding later testified to the following:
He then told me [he had] been writing a book, which he intended to have printed the avails of which he thought would enable him to pay all his debts. The book was entitled the "Manuscript Found," of which he read to m many passages. -- It was an historical romance of the first settlers of America, endeavoring to show that the American Indians are the descendants of the Jews, or the lost tribes. 66
According to Matilda Davison, Spaulding's wife, who remarried after his death in 1816, he completed his work around 1812. 67 Then Henry Lake, Spaulding's business partner, encouraged him to have it published:
Spaulding left here (Conneaut, Ohio) in 1812, and I furnished him with the means to carry him to Pittsburgh, where he said he would get the book printed, and pay me. But I never heard any more from him or his writings, till I saw them in The Book of Mormon. 68
In Pittsburgh Spaulding submitted his Manuscript Found story to the printing office of Patterson and Lambdin for publication. Patterson allegedly requested that Spaulding write a title page and preface for the book 69 but his wife said, "This Mr. S. refused to do, for reasons which I cannot now state," 70 and the book languished on the shelf of the printing office. Spaulding died in 1816, and the printing establishment was dissolved and broken up. Mr. Patterson supposedly reported that Spaulding's written
66 Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, p. 279.
67 Matilda Davison, "The Mormon Bible," The Millennial Harbinger, New Series, Vol. III, No. 6 (June, 1839), p. 266.
68 Howe, p. 282.
69 Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of the Book of Mormon (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Co., 1914), p. 119.
70 Davison, "The Mormon Bible," p. 266.
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work "remained upon their shelves for years, without being printed, or even examined." 71
Mr. Lambdin, having failed in business came into contact with Sidney Rigdon, as the tale goes, who had begun a three year residency in Pittsburgh in 1822, and he gave Rigdon the manuscript "to be embellished altered, and added to" as he saw fit. 72 But when Lambdin died, Rigdon despaired of ever getting the work published, until he came into contact with Joseph Smith, as early as 1827 according to some witnesses. 73 Then he and Smith connived a scheme in which Manuscript Found with many additions and changes, evolved into The Book of Mormon.
Many connections were made between Rigdon and the printing office. Some asserted that he had even worked there. Walter Scott, Rigdon's cohort in Pittsburgh could not confirm his employment at the office, but he did affirm the following:
That Rigdon was ever connected with the printing office of Mr. Patterson or that this gentlemen ever possessed a printing office in Pittsburgh, is unknown to me, although I lived there, and also know Mr. Patterson very well, who is a book seller. But Rigdon was a Baptist minister in Pittsburgh and I knew him to be perfectly known to Mr. Robert Patterson. 74
Rigdon was even accused of stealing the article from the office. James M. Mathes wrote that Spaulding's story "was purloined; and Rigdon was blamed with the theft." He
71 Quoted in D. P. Kidder, Mormonism and The Mormons (New York G. Lane and C. P. Trippett for the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1844), p. 36.
72 Ibid., p. 48.
73 James H. Snowden, The Truth About Mormonism (New York: George Doran Co., 1926). pp. 89-91, says that "several neighbors of the Smiths in Palmyra testify they had personal knowledge of visits of Rigdon with Smith before 1830," and proceeds to list four of them by name with their comments. These three pages make interesting reading, especially when compared to Fawn Brodie. pp. 430-432.
74 Walter Scott, "The Mormon Bible," The Evangelist, Vol. VII, No. 7 (July 1, 1839), pp. 160-161. Hans Rollman, in his The Early Baptist Career of Sidney Rigdon in Warren, Ohio (pp. 41-42), discusses the possibility that Rigdon knew Solomon Spaulding, which he doubts. Spaulding died in 1816. However, since Rigdon grew up at Peter's Creek, near Pittsburgh, it is still possible.
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then added that "In 1823, while pastor of the Baptist church in Pittsburgh, Rigdon showed to Dr. Winter, one of the most reliable citizens of Pittsburgh, Spauding's M.S. [Manuscript Story]." 75
Others added more pieces to the puzzle. Matilda Davison, Spaulding's widow, boldly asserted that:
Sidney Rigdon, who had figured so largely in the history of the Mormons, was at this time connected with the printing office of Mr. Patterson, as is well known in that region, and as Rigdon himself has frequently stated. Here he had ample opportunity to become acquainted with Mr. Spaulding's manuscript, and to copy it if he chose. 76
Rigdon immediately responded with a written refutation of her charges in The Boston Recorder on May 27, 1839, and proposed that "If I were to say that I ever heard of the Rev. Solomon Spaulding and his hopeful wife, until Dr. P. Hurlbut wrote his lie about me, I should be a liar like unto themselves." 77
But the accusations continued anyway. Darwin Atwater recalled:
That he knew before of the coming of The Book of Mormon is to me certain, from what he said the first of his visits at my father's, some years before. He gave a wonderful description of the mounds and other antiquities found in some parts of America, and said that they must have been made by the Aborigines. He said there was a book to be published containing an account of those things. 78
Adamson Bentley, Rigdon's brother-in-law wrote, "I know that Sydney [sic] Rigdon told me there was a book coming out (the manuscript of which had been found engraved on gold plates), as much as two years before the Mormon book made its
75 Mathes, p, 144.
76 Davison, "The Mormon Bible," p. 267.
77 Quoted in Brodie, p. 427.
78 Darwin Atwater letter, reproduced in Hayden pp. 239-240.
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appearance in this country or had been heard of by me." He then concluded that "It was got up to deceive the people and obtain their property, and was a wicked contrivance with Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith, Jr." 79 Robert Richardson also accused Rigdon of entering into a clandestined conspiracy:
Having copied or obtained possession of this manuscript, Rigdon seems to have secretly occupied himself during several years in altering and arranging it to suit his purposes; and discovering, at Palmyra, New York, as early as 1827, a suitable coadjutor in the person of Joseph Smith. 80
Smith and Rigdon vehemently denied these accusations, insisting that they had not even met until 1830. Furthermore, Rigdon always maintained that he never saw The Book of Mormon until the four Lamanite missionaries presented it to him that October day in 1830. His daughter Nancy corroborated his story remembering that, as an eight-year-old, "I saw them hand him the book and am as positive as can be that he never saw it before...." 81
His son John (Wickliffe), having returned from a trip to Salt Lake City in 1865, and having become disillusioned with the bad behavior of the Mormons there, wanted to know from his fisher if "it was all a humbug." Sidney, very near the end of his life, responded as sincerely as he could, "My son I will swear before God that what I have told you about The Book of Mormon is true. I did not write or have anything to do with its production and if Joseph Smith ever got that other [than) from which he always told me... Smith guarded his secret well for he never let me know by mood or action that he
79 Adamson Bentley, "Mistakes Touching The Book of Mormon," The Millennial Harbinger, Third Series, Vol. I, No. 1 (January, 1844), pp. 38-39.
80 Richardson, Vol. II, p. 345.
81 Quoted by Thomas Lee Scott, Jr., p. 10.
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got them differently." 82 Almost twenty years later Clark Braden, suspicious because for the rest of his life "He [Rigdon] lived in ease, with no visible means of support," leveled the accusation that "Rigdon lived on Mormon money, paid to keep him silent." 83 Nonetheless, Rigdon swore allegiance to The Book of Mormon to his dying day.
But Hurlbut had spent much of 1833 voraciously assembling affidavits from more than a hundred people who knew Smith or Spaulding, 84 and the sheer volume of testimonies seemed overwhelming. Many claimed to have read or heard the story of Manuscript Found, and all of those said they recognized its substance, expressions, and even characters in The Book of Mormon when they encountered it. John Spaulding Solomon's brother, testified:
I have recently read The Book of Mormon, and to my great surprize I find nearly the same historical matter, names, etc. as they were in my brother's writings. I well remember that he wrote in the old style, and commenced about every sentence with "and it came to pass," or "now it cam to pass," the same as in The Book of Mormon, and according to the best of my recollection and belief, it is the same as my brother Solomon wrote, with the exception of the religious matter. -- By what means it has fallen into the hands of Joseph Smith, Jr. I am unable to determine." 85
Henry Lake, Solomon's business partner, also said that, upon examining The Book of Mormon, he had "no hesitation in saying that the historical part of it is principally, if not wholly taken from the 'Manuscript Found.’" 86 Isaac Hale, Smith's father-in-law, called
82 John Wickliffe Rigdon, "Lecture Written By John W. Rigdon On The Early History Of The Mormon Church" (BYU, Harold B. Lee Library, "Special Collections"), pp. 27-28. †
83 Braden-Kelley Debate, "Mr. Braden's Sixth Speech, Col. 1. p. 357.
84 Brodie, p. 143.
85 John Spaulding's testimony, in Howe, p. 280.
86 Henry Lake's testimony, Ibid., p. 282.
† I wanted to know how the Book of Mormon came into existence for he owed it to his family to tell all he knew about it and should not go down to his grave with any such grave secrets. He said "My son I will swear before God that what I have told you about the Book of Mormon is true. I did not write or have anything to do with its production and if Joseph Smith ever got that other from which he always told me that an angel appeared and told him where to go to find the plates upon which the Book was engraved in a hill near Palmera Smith guarded his secret well for he never let me know by mood or action that he got them differently and I believe he did find them as he said and that Joe Smith was a Prophet and this world will find it out someday." I was surprised smarting under what he thought was ingratitude of the Church for turning him down and not having been with them for over 25 years. I must believe he thought he was telling the truth. He was at this time in full possession of his faculties what object had he in concealing the fact any longer if he did write it. My father died in 1876 at the age of 83 a firm believer in the Mormon Church. After my fathers death I told mother what my father had told me about the Book of Mormon. She said "your father told you the truth. He did not write it and I know as he could not have written without my knowing it for we were married several years before the Book was published and if he wrote it, it must have been since our marriage...
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The Book of Mormon "a silly fabrication of falsehood and wickedness, got up for speculation, and with a design to dupe the credulous and unwary -- and in order that its fabricators may live upon the spoils of those who swallow the deception." 87 And Lucy Harris, the wife of Martin Harris -- one of "the three witnesses" to the authenticity of The Book of Mormon -- testified that the "whole object was to make money by it." 88 In light of these and many more similar testimonies, Howe concluded:
We therefore, must hold out Sidney Rigdon to the world as being the original "author and proprietor" of the whole Mormon conspiracy, until further light is elicited upon the lost writings of Solomon Spaulding. 89
As convincing as the Spaulding thesis sounds -- and the more testimonials one reads the more pervasive the thesis becomes, at least at the initial exposure -- there are many inconsistent or even contradictory factors that defy credibility. For example, as Fawn Brodie has noticed, all of the witnesses seem to have remembered an unbelievable number of details about Manuscript Found, considering it had been twenty years since they had heard it read. 90 Furthermore, they all tended to "remember" the same items in which the Manuscript Found resembled The Book of Mormon, and even tended to phrase their observations in the same way. One is suspicious that Hurlbut prompted the memories of his interviewees, especially when both John Spaulding's and Martha Spaulding's separate testimonies contained the same explanatory line -- "by land and sea, till they arrived in
87 Isaac Hale's testimony, Ibid., p. 265-266.
88 Lucy Harris' testimony, Ibid., p. 255.
89 Howe, p. 290.
90 Brodie, p. 143.
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America" -- matching each other word for word! 91 Also, that Hurlbut was the ghostwriter for each affidavit can be clearly evidenced by the uniformity of penmanship style. 92
Then too, there was the question of motives. Howe and Hurlbut could hardly be regarded as impartial and objective. Howe, it was said had a prolonged grudge against the Mormons because his wife had joined their church, 93 and he had been very critical of them in The [Painesville] Telegraph ever since 1831. But Hurlbut apparently had even more motivation for resentment. He had been excommunicated from the Mormon church in June of 1833 on charges of adultery and threatening the life of Joseph Smith. 94 There were many Mormons and even some Gentile sources which identified Hurlbut as the real author of Mormonism Unvailed. 95 Joseph Smith was one of these plaintiffs, maintaining that Howe had to claim its authorship "as Mr. Hurlbut, about this time, was bound over to court, for threatening life." 96 He elaborated his conviction three years later:
While Hurlburt was held in bounds by the church, and made to behave himself he was denounced by the priests as one of the worst of men, but no sooner was he excluded from the church for adultery, than instantly he became one of the finest men in the world, old deacon Clapp of Mentor ran and took him and his family into the house with himself, and so exceedingly was he pleased with himself that purely out of respect to him he went to bed with his wife. This great kindness and respect Hurlburt did not feel just so well about but the pious old deacon gave him a hundred dollars and a yoke of oxen, and all was well again.
91 Compare both testimonies in Howe, pp. 279- 280.
92 Brodie, p. 423.
93 McKiernan, p. 37.
94 Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries And Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999). pp. 19-20. †
95 See Pancoast, Appendix I.
96 Joseph Smith, "To The Elders of The Church of the Latter-Day Saints," The Messenger And Advocate, Vol. II, No. 3 (December, 1835), p. 228.
† On the 13th of March A. D. 1833, Doctor P. Hurlbut came to my house. I conversed with him considerably about the book of Mormon. He was ordained to the office of an elder in the Church under the hand of Sidney Rigdon on the 18th of March in the same year above written. According to my best recollection, I heard him say, in the course of conversing with him, that if he ever became convinced that the book of Mormon was false, he would be the cause of my destruction, &c. He was tried before a counsel of high priests on the 21st day of June, 1833, and his license restored to him again, it [he] previously having been taken by the church at [cut off from the] Church by the bishop's court. He was finally cut off from the church a few days after having his license restored, on the 21st of June.... and then saught the distruction of the saints in this place and more particularly myself and family and as the Lord has in his mercy Delivered me out of his hand till the present and also the church that he has not prevailed viz the 28 day of Jany 1834 for which I off[er] the gratitud[e] of my heart to Allmighty God for the same and on this night Bro Oliv[er] and bro Frederick and my self bowed before the Lord being agred and united in pray[er] that God would continue to deliver me and my brethren from [him] that he may not prevail again[st] us in the law suit that is pending...
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This is the Hurlburt, that was the author of a book which bears the name of E. D. Howe, but it was this said Hurburt that was the author of it; but after the affair of Hurlburt's wife and the pious old deacon, the persecutors thought it better to put some other name as author to their book than Hurlburt, so E. D. Howe substituted his name. 97
Nonetheless Mormonism Unvailed was quite convincing to those with a propensity to distrust Mormon origins. Alexander Campbell changed his mind about Joseph Smith being the author of The Book of Mormon. He admitted that "Since reading 'Mormonism Unvailed' we had but little doubt that Sidney Rigdon is the leading conjuror in this diabolical affair,...." 98 Oliver Cowdery, reacting to Campbell's altered opinion, melodramatically wrote in his Messenger And Advocate:
He has recently begun to howl most prodigiously; calling upon the people in great agony to read Mr. How's [sic) book, as a sure antidote against delusion. As this is all that Mr. Campbell can do, or dare do, we do not wish to deprive him of this privilege.
But Campbell continued to believe Rigdon to be a conspiratorial author of The Book of Mormon for the rest of his life. In July of 1839 Walter Scott identified many elements of Mormon theology as those he had developed earlier, and claimed that
97 Joseph Smith, ed., "Argument To Argument Where I Find It; Ridicule To Ridicule; and Scorn To Scorn," The Elders Journal, Vol. I, No. 4 (August, 1838), pp. 59-60.
98 Quoted by Walter Scott in "The Mormon Bible," The Evangelist, Vol. VII, No. 7 (July 1, 1839), p. 160.
99 Oliver Cowdery, ed., "A Summary," The Messenger And Advocate, Vol. I, No. 5 (February, 1835), pp. 76-77.
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Mormonism was using the simplicity of the Restoration (Disciples) plea as a host for its parasitic evangelistic success. He dearly charged "that Rigdon filched from us that elementary method of stating the gospel which has so completely brought it within the grasp of everyone who hears it." 100 Campbell concurred. Then in 1844 Campbell reasserted his conviction "that Sidney Rigdon had a hand in the manufacture of the religious part of The Book of Mormon is clearly established from this fact and from other expressions in that book, as certainly 'stolen' from our brethren as that he once was amongst them." 101 And once again in 1856 he reaffirmed his opinion that "The real high- Priest of Joe Smith, he certainly was, and the available author of The Book of Mormon, as I have, at least to myself, evidences ample and satisfactory." 102
After the publication of Mormonism Unvailed, Mormon refutations were printed in volumes almost equal to the assertions of their detractors. In 1838 Parley Pratt replied with Mormonism Unveiled [italics mine], and in 1840 Benjamin Winchester released his exposé The Origin of The Spaulding Story. So Hurlbut decided to go for the jugular. He visited Matilda Davison in Massachusetts and secured permission to publish Manuscript Found, offering her half of the profits. But the document he obtained did not bear a resemblance to The Book of Mormon, and Spaulding's neighbors denied that it was the Manuscript Found with which they were familiar. 103
100 Walter Scott, "The Mormon Bible," p. 160.
101 Alexander Campbell, "Mistakes Touching The Book of Mormon." The Millennial Harbinger, Third Series, Vol. I, No. 1 (January, 1844), p. 40.
102 Alexander Campbell, "Millennium," The Millennial Harbinger, Fourth Series, Vol. VI, No. 12 (December, 1856), p. 699.
103 Brodie, pp. 427 and 424.
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Eber D. Howe wrote to Robert Patterson inquiring about Manuscript Found, and Patterson responded by saying that "he had no recollection" of any such manuscript, and that he and Lambdin did not form their partnership until 1818. which was two years after the death of Solomon Spaulding. 104 Apparently seeing no advantage in the version of Manuscript Found in their custody, Howe and Hurlbut smothered it to public awareness, 105 and eventually its whereabouts was unknown. However in 1884 it was rediscovered by L. L. Rice, the successor of Howe as editor of The [Painesville] Telegraph, in a trunk of Howe's old papers in Honolulu, Hawaii! Labeled in pencil "Manuscript Story-Conneaut Creek," the document was copied and given to President J. H. Fairchild of Oberlin College, who carefully perused it and pronounced that it was definitely not the precursor to The Book of Mormon. 106 The 1910 publication of Manuscript Found has a Publishers' Preface which states that "Mr. Spaulding's 'Manuscript Story' no more resembles The Book of Mormon than 'Gulliver's Travels' is like the Gospel of Saint Matthew." 107
Although the publication of Manuscript Found resolved the controversy for most people, a few retained the conviction that there had been two manuscripts, not one, written by Spaulding. Howe had postulated way back in 1834 that Spaulding "had altered his first
104 Ibid., p. 425. †
105 The "Publisher’s Preface" to the 1910 edition of the original of the "Manuscript Story," p. IV., claims that Hurlburt, "discovering " that it would, if published, prove fateful to his assumptions, he suppressed it." See Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Did Spaulding Write The Book of Mormon?, Part 2, p. IV.
106 Ibid. See also Van Wagoner, p. 139, footnote 21 ‡ ; and Joseph H. Fairchild, "Solomon Spaulding and The Book of Mormon," Western Reserve Historical Society Tract No. 77, Vol. III (March 23, 1886), pp. 197-198. §
107 See "Publishers’ Preface" (re. footnote 104), p. iii; although this preface erroneously spells it Mormonism Unveiled (like Pratt's spelling, and gives a wrong publication date of 1836 instead of 1834.
† R. Patterson had in his employment Silas Engles at the time [c. 1812-13] a foreman printer, and general superintendent of the printing business. As he (S. E.) was an excellent scholar, as well as a good printer, to him was entrusted the entire concerns of the office. He even decided on the propriety or otherwise of publishing manuscripts when offered -- as to their morality, scholarship, &c., &c. In this character he informed R. P. that a gentleman, from the East originally, had put into his hands a manuscript of a singular work, chiefly in the style of our English translation of the Bible, and handed the copy to R. P., who read only a few pages, and finding nothing apparently exceptionable, he (R. P.) said to Engles, he might publish it, if the author furnished the funds or good security. He (the author) failing to comply with the terms, Mr. Engles returned the manuscript, as I supposed at that time, after it had been some weeks in his possession with other manuscripts in the office. This communication written and signed 2d April, 1842, ROBERT PATTERSON. Patterson, April, 1842
In connection with John E. Page I called upon General [sic. - Rev.?] Patterson, the publisher, and asked him the following questions, and received his replies as given: Q. - Did Sidney Rigdon have any connection with your office at the time you had the Solomon Spaulding manuscript? A. - No. Q. - Did Sidney Rigdon obtain the Spaulding story at that office? A. - No. He [Rev. Robert Patterson] also stated to us that the Solomon Spaulding manuscript was brought to him by the widow of Solomon Spaulding to be published, and that she offered to give him half the profits for his pay, if he would publish it; but after it had laid there for some time, and after he had due time to consider it, he determined not to publish it. She then came and received the manuscript from his hands, and took it away. He also stated that Sidney Rigdon was not connected with the office for several years afterwards. Gen. Patterson also made affidavit to the above statement.... WILLIAM SMALL. Patterson, Spring, 1842
‡ 21. The title "Manuscript Found," often given to this manuscript, is not based on wording found in the original. A faint notation, "Manuscript Story-Conneaut Creek," was penciled on the document's paper wrapper sometime before it came into the possession of Lewis L. Rice, according to his statement to James H. Fairchild, 12 June 1885 (Broadhurst Collection).
§ With regard to the manuscript of Mr. Spaulding now in the Library of Oberlin College, I have never stated, and know of no one who can state, that it is the only manuscript which Spaulding wrote, or that it is [certainly] the one which has been supposed to be the original of the Book of Mormon. The discovery of this manuscript does not prove that there may not have been another, which became the basis of the Book of Mormon. The use which has been made of statements emanating from me [as] implying the contrary of the above is entirely unwarranted. 1900 J. H. Fairchild Statement
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plan of writing, by going further back with data and writing in the old scriptural style in order that it might appear more ancient." Howe also stated that some of the witnesses were shown the older manuscript and recognized it as Spaulding's, though they added that it bore no resemblance to the newer manuscript. 108 The latter is the one purported to have been used by Rigdon and Smith. Charles Shook has identified the Oberlin holding as the earlier effort, "Manuscript Story," but the true "Manuscript Found," he contends, remain undiscovered. 109
However, even non-Mormons who have carefully scrutinized the matter see no substantial evidence for the Spaulding thesis. John Corrill, who apostacized from the Mormon church, admitted, "As to the origin of the Book, I made very diligent inquiry, and from all I could learn, I became satisfied that Smith was the author, and I never have been able to trace it to any other source." 110 And Jerald and Sandra Tanner, two modern-day avid anti-Mormon researchers and publishers, have carefully investigated the whole matter and concluded that there is no legitimate foundation for the Spaulding theory, or for the idea of two manuscripts. 111
Recently, in June of 1977, three California researchers and handwriting experts caused a stir with an assertion that twelve pages of the Mormon Book of First Nephi
108 Howe, p. 288.
109 See Shook, especially pp. 184-187, for details and arguments. Snowden (The Truth About Mormonism, p. 90) is another author who accepts this two-manuscript thesis.
110 John Corrill, A Brief History of The Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, (commonly called Mormons;) Including An Account of Their Doctrine and Discipline With The Reasons of The Author For Leaving The Church (St. Louis: "Printed For The Author," 1839). p. 11.
111 Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Did Spaulding Write The Book of Mormon?, pp. 1-33 (see specifically pp. 16-17 for comments regarding the two manuscript theory).
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appear to have been written by Solomon Spaulding. William Kaye, one of the men, stated in a letter dated September 9, 1977, "It is my considered opinion and conclusion... that the questioned handwriting in the above named Mormon document and the known handwriting in the above named Spalding [sic] documents undoubtedly have all been executed by the same person." 112 Again, after deliberate consideration of the evidence, the Tanners "had to state the case as we saw it":
For a number of years we have published material critical of the Mormon Church, and for this reason we were deluged with requests for information on this new discovery. Under the circumstances it was almost impossible to keep out of the controversy. Since we do not believe in the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, nothing could have pleased us more than to have seen the conclusions of the California researchers verified. Nevertheless, we had grave doubts about the new find, and after an examination of the documents we were forced to the conclusion that the discovery would not stand up under rigorous examination. 113
Joseph Smith, just one year after Mormonism Unvailed was released to the public, seems to have been prophetic when he gloated that The Book of Mormon, "like an impenetrable, immoveable rock in the midst of the mighty deep, exposed [to the] storms and tempests of satan [sic],... has, thus far, remained steadfast and is still braving the mountain waves of opposition...." 114 This confidence in its authenticity was not confined to the Prophet, either. In 1835 Mormonism Unvailed sold for eighteen and three quarter cents per copy, while The Book of Mormon retailed for two dollars. Elders Orson Hyde and W. E. McLellin literally issued a dare to non-Mormons, challenging them to "Tell
112 Ibid., p. 18. For the original article see Russell Chandler, "Trio Challenges Authenticity of Mormon Book," The Los Angeles Times (June 25, 1977).
113 Ibid., p. 5 and 1.
114 Joseph Smith, "To the Elders of The Church of the Latter Day Saints," p. 227.
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everybody to buy and read 'Mormonism Unveiled' if they wish, for we are convinced of Paul's statement, where he says, 'Ye can do nothing against the truth but for the truth.'" 115
From the Mormon perspective, this controversy was well summarized by M. R. Werner:
The whole Spaulding story is an instance of the feverish efforts of Anti-Mormons to prove that Joseph Smith was incapable of writing the Book of Mormon without the aid of God, and they refused to admit for a moment that he did so with the aid of God. 116
115 Orson Hyde and W. E. McLellin, "For the Messenger And Advocate," The Messenger And Advocate, Vol. I, No. 8 (May, 1835), p. 116.
116 Werner, p. 60.
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Dr. Knowles' 2000 Dissertation & 2003 Article
Generally speaking, Ph.D. dissertations are written in order to make a significant contribution to knowledge; thus, the uninformed reader might expect that Dr. Knowles has communicated important, hitherto unknown discoveries regarding Sidney Rigdon, in his 2000 doctoral thesis, "The Appeal and Course of Christian Restorationism on the Early Nineteenth Century Frontier -- With a Focus on Sidney Rigdon as a Case Study." However, rather than offering his readers new facts about Rigdon, Knowles instead presents Rigdon as a special example of how "Restorationist" religion often fails in the basic purpose of unifying contending Christian sects. His readers will have to determine for themselves how well Dr. Knowles has succeeded in his task -- the purpose of this review is to examine his statements regarding Rigdon's possible role in the origin of Mormonism.
Although an occasional past writer has attempted to connect Sidney Rigdon to Mormon origins without recourse to the famous "Spalding-Rigdon theory" for Book of Mormon authorship, Knowles reporting on the matter falls squarely within the pale of the he Spalding controversy (which he spells "Spaulding" Controversy). The writer's report on this topic is not a lengthy one: it barely covers 17 double-spaced pages in the dissertation. His implied assumptions and conclusions about this 170 year controversy can be summarized as follows:
(2) Spalding's story, recovered in Hawaii, bears no significant resemblance to the Book of Mormon
(3) If points 1 & 2 are true, Sidney Rigdon evidently had no connection with the writing of the Mormon book
(4) If Rigdon wrote none of the book, he evidently had no direct connections with pre-1830 Mormon origins
(5) Since Rigdon had no such pre-1830 Mormon connections, his unique version of "restorationism" was not incipient Mormonism
Although Dr. Knowles has communicated to the current reviewer, disavowing the above five points as his assumptions and conclusions, he has nevertheless made several statements in his dissertation which might lead his readers to believe that he does not accept the arguments of past writers (such as Williams, Kidder, Caswell, Cobb, Patterson, Braden, Gregg, Whitsitt, Schroeder, Arbaugh, White and Holley) crediting the Rev. Sidney Rigdon's unique brand of "Campbellism" as being the primary influence upon pre-1830 Mormonism. The remainder of this review will be devoted to an inspection of Dr. Knowles' seemingly problematic statements, references and sources.
Problems with Knowles' Chapter 11