“Mormons and Mormonism.” Christian Register and Boston Observer (Boston) 20,no. 52 (25 December 1841).
The following account of the Mormon leader Smith, and his deluded followers, from an intelligent and trustworthy gentleman formerly of this city but now residing in St. Louis, while it cannot be read without emotions of the most painful kind, may suggest some topics of reflection which may be useful to not a few; and in more respects that one, even in a community as intelligent and sober as our own. Possibly some movements amongst us are to be ascribed to impulses not much unlike those which have produced the absurd extravagances of the Latter Day Saints at Nauvoo.
St. Louis, Nov. 29, 1811.
Messrs. Editors,—It has been my lot to see the city of the ‘Latter Day Saints’ which they call Nauvoo; and to be an eye-witness of the proceedings of the Mormons of Missouri. They number at present upwards of 5000 souls and more are rapidly coming in from abroad. England has been the chief source of accession and where their zealous preachers have made the most converts. Two hundred and fifty or three hundred in a single steamboat sometimes pass St. Louis on their way to the city. They are occasionally very well in funds, though, so far as I can find, most of them are but one remove from poverty. Sometimes there is an importation here of those who would perhaps in England be called ‘paupers.’ The passage of such is paid by their more wealthy brethren. There seems to be a truly self-sacrificing spirit among them, and they certainly endure enough for conscience sake to entitle them to some sympathy. Many of them have given up home and friends in obedience to what they consider the call of Christ, their Master. There is indeed an alarming amount of ignorance among them—ignorance that is in many the parent of superstition, and in some, of crime. Their leaders rather decry human knowledge and have made as yet little or no provision for education. Both leaders and people seem to be bigoted to the last degree. The Mormons not only claim to be Christians, but the only Christians. Especially as they condemn (see P. P. Pratt’s work, ‘ The voice of warning’) all preachers who are not Mormons, and who do not, like them, exhibit visible miracles as proof of their commission. A needless mystery hangs about their belief and operations; and many still say, ‘Let them alone:’ ‘They seek nothing more than persecution and notoriety:’ ‘You are only helping their cause by keeping it before the public.’ Now I say, let in the light, and see how much of this thing is of God, and how much of the Devil.
1st, As to their settlement, it is just like any other infant settlement of two years— a gathering of log cabins; some with a window in them and some without; in most cases consisting of but a single room, with a rude chimney built against the outside of the house, from the ground to the ridgepole, and made of turf or of sticks interlined with mud. There are at present, unless we counted wrong, only about twenty or thirty buildings in all the city, that rise into two stories, and very few houses of brick or stone.
2d. Their operations are simply those of a people providing for the first necessities of nature, food and shelter. On the Sabbath there is preaching by any one of the gathering who is ‘moved’ to speak. Often, as I am told, it is in a tongue unknown to the speaker himself and interpreted by some one whose gift is ‘the interpretation of tongues.’ Their leaders occasionally preach and prophecy; and give directions to the credulous people. They set them about one or another piece of work (in which they themselves may or may not be pecuniarily interested) by a simple revelation. ‘Go and build here, or remove your family there: thus saith the Lord.’ You have seen their Newspaper, ‘The Times and Seasons.’ It is full of such revelations and of expressions that seem little short of blasphemy.
3d, As to their belief, it is founded on a literal interpretation of isolated passages of Scripture. Everything that is spoken of the miraculous powers of St. Paul and the earliest disciples, they apply directly to themselves: and, strange to say, persuade themselves that they or their leaders actually possess these powers. They pretend to have the gift of the Holy Ghost; of foretelling the future; of speaking new languages on the spur of a moment and of interpreting tongues, spoken or hieroglyphic. (This interpreting of tongues, (hieroglyphic) their head prophet Smith does, with some writings on papyrus taken from an Egyptian mummy [copy illegible] by him to be a supplement to the Bible, written, he says, by the hand of Abraham, &c. This is quite another thing than the ‘Book of Mormon,’ and of it Smith makes what use he pleases. They say they can heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead by a word. If a visible sign be asked, they reply: ‘No sign shall be given to a wicked and adulterous generation.’ The gift of tongues is the most that the common people pretend to: and some strange cases of this have been testified to by many. The train of Scripture evidence or rather of Scripture quotation which they adduce is quite plausible enough to make the ignorant and credulous believe either that their (Mormon) views of Christianity are true or that the Bible is false. With the reception of their doctrine of present miracles, that of the speedy personal appearance of Christ on earth (at Nauvoo) to judge and burn all but the saints—that of baptism for the dead, and a few other peculiarities, they hold points in common with some denominations of Christians. They go with Swedenborg in their doctrine of intercourse with angels and departed spirits; with the Quakers, in holding to conscience or the Holy Ghost as parmount to all other testimony; with the Campbellites, and others in their doctrine of human freedom as modifying the sovereignty or decrees of God; and with the Restorationists in thinking that all will eventually (be Mormons and) be saved. They are technically speaking a strongly fanatical people and gather up the radicalisms of all sects—credulous on the one, and bigoted on the other. The book of Mormon seems to be a secondary thing by the more intelligent and is by none of them ‘ put instead of the Bible.’ One of their leading preachers told me that the expression of ‘ great doubts’ with regard to this book, had been, in certain cases, no bar to baptism. In other words, there are Mormons who believe not the traditions of Joseph Smith concerning the Book of Mormon,—his finding the gold plates in Ontario County, N. Y., &c. &c. In laying out to us the grounds of his faith and of the faith of his people, Mr Smith made no reference whatever to that Book. He might have had his own reasons for it, but, in talking with us he grounded all on the Bible, making, to be sure, little use of the four gospels and much of certain expressions in the book of Acts and in some of the Epistles. I confess, while he was presenting his chosen texts, one by one, I could not but think of Dr. Franklin’s comment on this mode of proof. You remember how the acute Doctor, after hearing out his theological opponent brought the ‘reductio ad absurdum’ over the whole. ‘My dear Sir, said he, I have just thought of it, but the Bible certainly commands suicide, and that by a specific method.’ Read, Sir, here; ‘Judas went and hanged himself;’ and again, here;
‘Go and do thou likewise.’ In this way truly, ‘you can play upon the Bible what tune you please.’
Their chief Mormon city, the spot, as they maintain, where Christ is soon to dwell in bodily presence with men, is Nauvoo. This is on the Illinois side of the Mississippi river, a day’s journey above Quincy. Four or five other settlements are in existence elsewhere. From what I have seen and heard at Nauvoo I must believe that their head man, Smith, is not at all times self-deluded; in other words that he sometimes acts from interested motives and deceives men under the cloak of religion for sheer money-making, and nothing higher; yet I hope that I mistake in this. That you may, as it were, see the man for yourself, I send with this letter a copy of the ‘Missouri Republican,’ containing a brief account, I was requested by one of the Editors to furnish for that paper, of a conversation which took place between Smith and myself, during my visit, at Nauvoo, three weeks ago.
Respectfully and truly yours,
C. H. A. D.
(From the Missouri Republican.)
Nauvoo, Nov. 4, 1841.
Dear Sir,—We were yesterday enjoying the hospitality of Joseph Smith, the leading prophet of the Latter Day Saints, the Mormons * * * * At your request, I give, though somewhat reluctantly, I confess, on account of my interview with him. As he pretended to discover and promptly declared to me that I was worthy of no man’s trust, I can certainly betray no confidence in this case, try as I may. The facts, as they lie fresh in my memory, are simply these: Yesterday afternoon, in company with a friend, I entered the house of this strange man, intending to trespass but a few minutes on his hospitalities.
I expected to have seen a person of some dignity and reserve, and with at least an outside of austere piety. The Prophet was asleep, in his rocking-chair, when we entered. His wife and children were busy about the room, ironing, &c., and one or two Mormon preachers, lately returned from England, were sitting by the large log fire. After having been introduced, the following talk ensued.
A. ‘You have the beginning of a great city here, Mr. Smith.’
[Here came in the more prominent objects of the city. The expenses of the temple, Mr. Smith thought, would be $260,000 or $3000,000. The temple is 127 feet side, by 88 feet front; and by its plan, which was kindly shown us, will fall short of some of our public buildings. As yet, only the foundations are laid. Mr. Smith then spoke of the ‘false’ reports current about himself, and ‘supposed we have heard enough of them.’
A. ‘You know, sir, persecution sometimes drives ‘the wise man mad.’
Mr S. (laughing.) ‘Ah, sir, you must not put me among the wise men; my place is not there. I make no pretensions to piety, either. If you give me credit for any thing, let it be for being a good manager. A good manager I do claim to be.’
A. ‘You have great influence here, Mr. Smith.’
Mr S. ‘Yes; I have. I bought 900 acres here, a few years ago, and they all have their lands of me. My influence, however, is ecclesiastical only; in civil affairs, I am but a common citizen. To be sure, I am a member of the City Council, and Lieutenant General of the Nauvoo Legion. I can command a thousand men to the field, at any moment, to support the laws. I had hard work to make them turn out and form the ‘Legion,’ until I shouldered my musket, and entered the ranks myself. Now, they have nearly all provided themselves with a good uniform, poor as they are. By the way, we had a regular ‘set to’ up here, a day or two since. The City Council ordered a liquor seller to leave the place, when his time was up; and, he still remained, they directed that this house should be pulled down about his ears. They gave me a hand in the scrape; and I had occasion to knock a man down more than once. They mustered so strong an opposition, that it was either ‘knock down,’ or ‘be knocked down.’
We beat him off, at least; and are determined to have no grog shops in or about our grounds.’
[The conversation flowed on pleasantly, until my friend, to fill a pause that occurred, referred to my calling as a preacher.]
Mr S. ‘Well, I suppose (turning from me) he is one of the craft trained to his creed.’
A. ‘My creed, sir, is the New Testament’.
Mr S. ‘Then, sir, we shall see truth alike; for the scripture says, ‘They shall see, eye to eye.’ All who are true men, must read the bible alike, must they not?’
A. ‘True, Mr. Smith; and yet I doubt if they will see it precisely alike. If no two blades of grass are precisely alike for a higher reason, it seems that no two intellects are.’
Mr S. (getting warm.) ‘There—I told you so. You don’t come here to seek truth.
You being with taking the place of opposition. Now, say what I may, you have but to answer, ‘Not two men can see alike.’
A. ‘Mr. Smith, I said not that no two could see alike; but that no two could see, on the whole pricisely alike.’
Mr S. ‘Does not the scripture say, ‘They shall see eye to eye?’
A. ‘Granted, sir; but be good enough to take a case; The words ‘all and ‘all things’ were brought up as meaning at one time, universal creation. And again: ‘One believeth that he may eat all things,’ i. e. any thing, or, as we say, every thing.’
Mr S. You may explain away the bible, sir, as much as you please. I ask you, have you ever been baptized?”
A. ‘Yes sir, I think I have.’
Mr S. ‘Can you prophesy?’
A. ‘Well, sir, that depends on the meaning you give the word. I grant that it generally means to foretell; but I believe that it often means, to preach the gospel. In this sense, sir, I can prophesy.’
Mr. S. ‘You lie, sir; and you know it.’
A. ‘It is as easy for me to impugn your motives, Mr. Smith, as for you to impugn mine.’
Mr. S. ‘I tell you, you don’t seek to know the truth. You are a hypocrite: I saw it when you first began to speak.’
A. ‘It is plain, Mr. Smith, that we differ in opinion. Now, one man’s opinion is as good as another’s, until some third party comes in to strike a balance between them.’
Mr. S. ‘I want no third party, sir. You are a fool, sir, to talk as you do. Have I not seen twice the years that you have? (Joseph Smith is 36 years old; the speaker, A., was 10 years younger.) I say, sir, you are no gentleman. I would’nt trust you with my purse across the street.’
[Here my frend interposed’ saying; ‘I don’t believe, Mr. Smith, that this gentleman came to your house to insult you. He had heard all sorts of accounts of your people, and came simply to see with his own eyes.’]
Mr. S. ‘I have no ill feelings towards the gentleman. He is welcome to my house; but what I see to be the truth, I must speak out; I flatter no man. I tell you, sir, that man is a hypocrite. You’ll find him out, if you’re long enough with him. I tell you, I would’nt trust him as far as I could see him. What right has he to speak so to me? Am I not the leader of a great people? He, himself, will not blame me for speaking the truth plainly.’
[Here kind expressions passed on both sides, and we were rising to go]
Mr. S. ‘Don’t be going, gentleman. Do take bread and salt with us; our tea is on the table.
We staid accordingly, and made up around his smoking and well piled table.
I have been careful, especially towards the close of this talk, to give the words that were used, omitting nothing but conversational byplay, and some of the filling up.
The skeleton is complete. So much for this man at his own fireside.