Ep 38 – Nigh Pandemonium of 1837
On this episode, we begin with the Panic of 1837 and how it affected Mormon history. The world economy was in the early stages of a deep depression that lasted for more than half a decade. Monetary strains really begin to take their toll on everybody with money from the Kirtland Safety Society company as rapid inflation drives up their total portfolio to nearly $4 million. The real infighting begins as conflicting complaints are filed, and P-cubed (Parley P. Pratt) preaches a sermon about the decline of the church and lies coming from the leadership. D-Day David Whitmer, John Goebbels Whitmer, along with Ollie Cowdung (Oliver Cowdery) and Not-So-Smarty-Martin Harris are all considered to be in transgression and need to be straightened out. Never has dissent and blasphemy run so rampant through the quiet streets of Kirtland, Ohio. We finish up with a detail I didn’t originally perceive concerning the 1836 treasure digging trip to Salem, Massachusetts as well as some speculation on the human behind the historical Joseph Smith.
Outro music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Voicemail Line (864)Nake-dMo (625-3366)
John Corrill’s Brief History of the Church
Bloody Brigham Young Autobiograhpy
Welcome to Episode 38 of the Naked Mormonism Podcast, the serial Mormon history podcast. Today is Thursday September 8th 2016, my name is Bryce Blankenagel and thank you for joining me.
After more than a month break from the historical timeline, we are well overdue for advancing through 1837 in our narrative. Let’s briefly review what happened last timeline episode for a bit of milk to whet our palette, after which we’ll dive right into the meat of today’s episode.
If we recall, the Kirtland Safety Society anti-Bank-ing Company had been incorporated and began printing its own money in early 1837. Last episode began with Joe and Hingepin Rigdon dissolving the Oliver Cowdery & Co. printing press to be absorbed into the KSS company. This really expresses to us just how much power was being wielded upon the establishment of this company, and nobody was around that could reign it in or check the power balance.
After that we talked a little about the political atmosphere that was surrounding the mid-1830’s. After Andrew Jackson’s hotly controversial presidency, the Whig party devised some interesting plans to get a Whig president elected, as opposed to another Democrat like Jackson was. People back then were just as adamantly opinionated about politics as we are today, the parties simply had different labels and fought for or against important topics of that time. The Mormons living in Missouri were in a somewhat hostile situation, not only because of their inherent abolitionist leanings, but also because of the political turmoil between them and the established citizens of Missouri.
We ended the last historical timeline episode with a discussion about Joe evading a possible coup. By mid-1837, a lot of the church leadership didn’t like the direction in which the church was heading, so, from first appearances, it looks like they tried to take over by means of killing Joe. Joe survived this one, but he won’t survive another coup attempt that happens 7 years from this point in our timeline.
That did it for the meat of the last historical timeline episode, and fills us with the milk for today’s episode. Now let’s jump into the meat of this episode.
Our timeline sits at the end of May 1837, but something important did happen on Andrew Jackson’s way out of office in March of 37, he essentially caused the greatest economic depression seen in the entire history of the United States up to that point. When we talk about the KSS company, Joe and Rigdon weren’t the only people in America that were founding bullshit companies to print proprietary money, it was happening constantly. Hundreds of companies were operating just like the KSS company, and had been for decades before the KSS came along.
There are always myriad factors that contribute to an economic depression. Jackson wasn’t the most popular president in many ways. He was the president that signed into law the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This point in American History directly overlays our historical timeline in the mid 1830’s. The Indian Removal Act made it not only legal, but presidentially mandated, to remove the Natives from their homelands and relocate them to states west of the Mississippi. A lot of the removals came after 1838 when Martin Van Buren, another democrat, had assumed office, but treaties were in the works throughout all of 1830 to remove the Natives. Headlines were circulating about battles breaking out between the Native and American troops during the removal of the Seminoles from Florida and other tribes from other places. It was an ugly time for the office of president, if you were one of the people that sympathized with the Native’s or wanted non-violent cultural assimilation, it was easy to dislike the democrats.
Beyond that, Jackson refused to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the US in 1832, which led to a 4-year redistribution of wealth to the largest private banks, colloquially referred to as “pet-banks”. In March of 1837, right before leaving his office to Van Buren, Jackson signed the Specie Circular, which made it so any land that was being expanded west-ward would have to be purchased from the Government in hard gold or silver. This made it so hundreds of banks or companies like the KSS company that were buying and lending with paper money in the constantly expanding, newly appropriated western frontier, lost everything. The paper they were running their business around became essentially valueless because the government wouldn’t accept it any longer.
Like at any time in economics, when a currency dips, it creates panic; when a currency becomes worthless, it creates pandemonium. Not only that, but the cash reserves of the Bank of England were dangerously low because of a couple years of bad wheat harvest among other factors. The world’s largest economy was running a deficit and reducing its spending to match. The Bank of England was lending with tighter restrictions and higher interest rates, so their economy was in a decline, slowing the economy of the entire modernized world. From February of 1837 to March of the same year, one month, cotton prices in the U.S. fell 25%, that’s indicative of just how impactful this depression was, and how lightning quick it affected the commodities market, and the economy as a whole.
Keep in mind, the church had established the KSS company to issue notes to anybody that would use them as currency, and was purchasing land in Missouri on credit with their own currency. Just to reiterate, the Mormon bank wasn’t the only one to do this. During the 7-year depression from 1837 to 1843/4/5, of the 850 banks in service across the United States, 343 closed permanently, and 62 partially failed.
This was nearly 100 years before the FDIC insurance was formed, if you had money in any of those banks that failed, instantly, all your money was gone. Overnight, millions of people with nothing more than proprietary notes from banks or companies like the KSS company bank notes, lost everything. It was a bubble that had been inflating for decades and the pop nearly crumbled society, just like every other depression. Some estimate the highest unemployment to be 25-30% in some places, but that’s kind of hard to verify given the nature of the information.
Hopefully we can understand from the economic and political atmosphere of the time that current events were stressful for a lot of farmers or anybody that made a living off speculation, land or otherwise.
At this time in early to mid-1837, the church was teetering on a knife edge with their gratuitous level of accrued debt and shady business practices that were fucking investors over left and right. Most of those fucked over investors were members in the church at high leadership levels, essentially putting 100% of their faith, and life savings, in the hands of the 31-year-old prophet. With this massive economic collapse, is it any wonder why so many people wanted to remove Joe from the role of prophet, people that were working as his underlings and closest advisors?
The drama of church leadership really begins to come into focus, doesn’t it? When we understand the social and political pressures driving Joe and his friends to do what they did, suddenly they seem to come into focus as human beings.
Hopefully everybody listening can remember back to the 2008 economic collapse and the subsequent recession in the following years. Do you remember the feeling of desperation when people’s retirements and assets were just evaporating into thin air? Remember how powerless we all felt, and how badly we wanted answers or for somebody to go to jail? The people living in 1837 were feeling the same thing toward the companies that had lost all their money, it just turns out that people that had invested in the church could only blame the leadership for making poor monetary decisions with the KSS company, which brings up tough questions.
How could somebody that’s a prophet engage in such activities? How could God not warn his prophet that the economy was going to collapse and founding the KSS company was a bad idea? Let me read a chunk from Wilford Woodruff’s journal. He chronicled things religiously and was a faithful member until he became prophet in 1889 in SLC and died in 1898. This is from his journal beginning in early 1837, and there will be a link in the show notes to his entire journal hosted on ristow.us.
“January 6, 1837: I visited the office of the Kirtland Safety Society and saw the first money that was issued by the Treasurer of the Society. It was given to Brother Bump (in exchange for other notes) who was the first to circulate it. I also heard President Joseph Smith Jr. declare in the presence of F. Williams, D. Whitmer,  S. Smith, W. Parrish and others in the Deposit Office that he had received that morning the Word of the Lord upon the subject of the Kirtland Safety Society. He was alone in a room by himself and he had not only the voice of the Spirit upon the subject, but even an audible voice. He did not tell us at that time what the Lord said upon the subject but remarked that if we would give heed to the commandments the Lord had given this morning, all would be well. May the Lord bless Brother Joseph with all the Saints and support the above named institution and protect it so that every weapon formed against it may be broken, and come to naught, while the Kirtland Safety Society shall become the greatest of all institutions on earth.”
This shows the level of faith that many saints had toward the church and the KSS company. Wilford Woodruff was obviously a faithful member and we can see him being suckered here into thinking the company was all on the up-and-up. It kind of seems like people were a bit blindly optimistic at this time.
“January 17, 1837: Met at candlelight with the quorums of the Seventies and was favored with a lecture from President David Whitmer. He warned us to humble ourselves before God lest his hand rest upon us in anger for our pride and many sins, that we were running into in our days of prosperity as the ancient Nephites did. It does now appear evident that a scourge awaits this stake of Zion, even Kirtland, if there is not great repentance immediate and almost every countenance indicates the above expectation, especially the heads of the Church. (See Dec. 11th, 1836.) May the Lord in mercy enable us to meet every event with resignation.”
So, maybe the previous entry from Jan 6th was a bit optimistic. It went from the “KSS will be the greatest of all institutions on earth,” to “it does now appear evident that a scourge awaits this stake of Zion”. The company had only been formed a week and a half before this entry, and already things were looking a little scary. Remember, this was during a time when the world economy was amidst the greatest crash it had seen in many decades. The average person was beginning to feel a pinch in their pocket-books, and the KSS company wasn’t much salvation as it was wallowing in substantial debt itself.
“January 31,1837: Met in the house of the Lord at 10 o'clock a.m. and heard an address from Presidents J. Smith and S. Rigdon on the temporal business of the Church and petitioned for a charter to the Assembly of the State for the Kirtland Safety Society. The presidency of the Church bought the Monroe Charter and we all lent a hand in establishing it that it might be beneficial to us in forwarding the building of the temporal kingdom.”
Here we have the slow evolution of the leadership focusing on more temporal things, which is code word for money problems. The leadership knew that the KSS company was merely a band-aid to slow the hemorrhaging, and that the church debts were still substantial enough to cripple it in the very near future, so the meetings tended to more accurately reflect their most pressing concerns, church debt.
“February 19, 1837: I repaired to the house of the Lord and stood in the midst of the congregation of the Saints, where I beheld President Joseph Smith Jr. arise in the stand and for several hours addressed the Saints in the power of God. Joseph had been absent from Kirtland on business for the Church, though not half as long as Moses was in the mount. Many were stirred up in their hearts and some were against him as the Israelites were against Moses, but when he arose in the power of God in their midst, as Moses did anciently, they were put to silence for the complainers saw that he stood in the power of a Prophet. O how weak is man.”
Here, in my opinion, Jo was showing his cards a little bit. We see Jo’s focus shifting towards temporal issues more and more as Woodruff’s timeline progresses through early 1837. No longer were Jo and Rigdon standing up in front of the congregation and telling them that the Lord has great riches in store for them in Zion, now it’s all about obedience and the fact that only the best members of the church are those who don’t complain or question Jo’s leadership.
We can’t say that things were beginning to collapse yet. “Collapse,” as we see, is a single point on a timeline, not the slow degradation leading up to the collapse. Unfortunately, that word is insufficient to describe what was happening. I like that old adage, “pride goeth before the fall,” it’s a theme that appears multiple times throughout the BoM, and something that was imprinted into my early childhood. Well, the words ‘pride’ and ‘fall’ may seem like single points in a timeline, but that’s simply not how reality works. A crescendo or climax happens in music or movies and the fall can usually be termed as one point in time, but when we talk about reality, these phenomena occur at a much slower and drawn out rate.
When we apply this “pride before the fall” philosophy to the KSS company, when the company was founded and people were buying and selling things with KSS bank notes in January and February of 1837, people were happy, the leadership was prideful and optimistic about the situation, what could possibly go wrong?
“March 23, 1837: At the meeting in the Kirtland Temple, the power of God rested upon the people (and) the gifts were poured out upon us. Some had the administering of angels and the image of God sat upon the countenances of the Saints. At 4 o'clock p.m. the veils were all rolled up together which brought the whole congregation in full view of each other and while the presence of the Lord filled the house, the congregation of the Saints fell upon their knees and all as one man, vocally poured forth rejoicing, supplications and prayer, before the God of Israel which closed the services of the day after contributing for the support of the poor.”
This party was a death knell. The leadership was essentially having a celebration of the 1-year anniversary of the Kirtland Temple being dedicated and the success of the church. They had another party with the use of anointing oil, and the veils were all rolled up so the whole congregation could see each other, and the saints fell to their knees while some people saw angels and others saw God in the room, just like they had one-year previous; it was a good ol’ hallucinogen party, if you buy into that theory. But remember back to the beginning of the meat of the episode, this was going on all while the people were ignorant to the fact that Andrew Jackson had just fucked them over so hard. Just like an old cartoon, they were running towards a cliff at full steam with their own paper money being their solution to everything, and hadn’t realized that the cliff ended 10 steps ago and they’re just running out into the thin air. All it takes is for them to look down and see that there is nothing supporting them for everything to collapse, and that’s where we run into the problem with the word “collapse” again.
The structure of the church didn’t collapse like a demolitions crew collapses a skyscraper in a matter of seconds, it was a much more sluggish catastrophe, like watching a slow motion video of a train wreck. We know what’s going to happen, and it’s only a matter of time before we get to watch it play out in front of us in real-time.
Finally, the next entry in Woodruff’s journal has a heightened level of urgency and desperation. Word was circulating that Jackson had signed into law the Specie Circular which forced any person, institution, or entity to purchase western lands with hard resources, gold or silver. No longer would the government accept paper bank notes for expansion into the western frontier which was the land the government was constantly taking from the Native Americans with their relocation treaties. It doesn’t say that all money taken in by the government would have to be gold or silver, just money taken as payment for land west of the Mississippi. The paper money the church was using to buy and sell property in Missouri was deemed basically worthless at this point, as was any other paper money that was being printed by other private banking companies, popping the economic bubble that had been inflating for decades before this.
The next entry in Woodruff’s journal is indicative of a shift in Jo’s attitude. I’ll read it, and you tell me if you feel the same shift that I’m perceiving.
“April 6, 1837: At a meeting following the administration of the anointings, Joseph desired us to give heed to his words and teachings this once and be wise that Zion and her stakes might speedily be redeemed. He instructed us to be sure and that those that enter the Kingdom to send up their wise men to Kirtland with their money to counsel with the presidency and purchase an inheritance before they move their families or bring the poor to the places of gathering for to suffer. Also that we must keep in view the institution of the Kirtland Safety Society and if the Elders of Israel would be faithful and do what was in their power this once, Kirtland should speedily be redeemed and become a stronghold not to be thrown down. Joseph presented us in some degree the plot of the City of Kirtland (which is the stronghold of the daughter of Zion) as it was given him by vision; it was great, marvelous and glorious. The city extended to the east, west, north, and south; steam boats will come puffing into the City. Our goods will be conveyed upon railroads from Kirtland to many places and probably to Zion. Houses of worship would be reared unto the most high; beautiful streets were to be made for the Saints to walk in. Kings of the earth would come to behold the glory thereof and many glorious things not now to be named would be bestowed upon the Saints, but all these things are better imagined than spoken by the children of Jacob.”
Did that quote seem at all desperate? Jo was up on the stand showing everybody plans he’d drawn out for Kirtland and how great it’ll be, if only they have faith in the KSS company and bring more people to the church, or just their money, the people don’t even need to come. Boats will be shipping our goods, the streets will be made beautiful for the saints to walk in, goods will be conveyed upon railroads, churches will be built everywhere.
A little over-promising if you ask me, especially at a time when the general economy was amidst a major crash. What does one build the perfect city with when one can’t afford anything with which to build it, hopes and dreams? Were these meeting houses and railroads going to be made from the good faith and earnest hopes of the Mormons? New construction usually comes to a screeching halt when an economy declines, how were they going to fund all this new building and expansion in Kirtland? Keeping with this cartoon illustration, it’s like Jo and friends had finally looked down after running off the edge of the cliff only to see thin air under their feet. This was Jo’s obligatory look down, look up, look back down, then look at the camera with desperation on his face right before plummeting to certain death with a poof at the bottom.
The church was sinking, along with so many other businesses in 1837, which leads me to a point that I’ve made a few times in the past, but seems plenty relevant right now. All history is deeply intertwined, that’s what makes constructing a narrative like this so hard to do in a complete way; there are endless competing factors that contribute to the reality of history. It gets challenging trying to figure out what to give more time to, and what historical tides contributed enough influence to merit any mention or examination. That’s why we started this episode talking about Andrew Jackson’s last fuck you as he left office, the Specie Circular that popped the bubble and incited the panic of 1837, and the subsequent depression after that. Once the Specie Circular was passed, Cotton prices dropped 25% in a month.
What does this have to do with the Mormon historical timeline? Why are cotton prices specifically significant to American history in the late 1830’s? Most paper back then was made from cotton pulp. Wood pulp paper wouldn’t be popular for another decade or two. Many people throughout the earliest time in settled America, many of which were young children, made a living as ragpickers, someone who digs through garbage dumps to find old rags to sell for pounding into pulp, pulp that would be refined into paper. With the lost jobs and general decline of the economy starting in 1836, cotton prices dropped and paper prices drastically inflated, making it too expensive for many people to keep a personal journal.
Unfortunately, a couple of my favorite first-hand Mormon sources go completely dark at this point, which is made even more frustrating by the fact that this was at a time when insurrection and excommunications were cresting unprecedented levels in the church.
The book from which I was pulling Woodruff’s history has a blackout period from April 1837 to April of 1839, a two-year bout of silence. I don’t know if this is because Woodruff didn’t keep as many entries during this time because of the increased cost of paper, or if there are entries that exist from 1838 that just weren’t included in this source. Either way, the next line we read from Woodruff’s journal is from April of 1839 talking about laying the cornerstone for the temple in Far West, Missouri, an entry half a year after the Battle of Crooked River, after the Missouri-Mormon war had essentially come to an end. I have found a couple of entries from Woodruff during this time, but I can’t seem to find the level of consistency that was present in his journal before April 1837.
Last episode included a discussion about a court that was being held to determine if some members of the Missouri church were acting against the will of the prophet. That happened on May 28, 1837, a month after what we just read from Woodruff’s journal.
To refresh our collective memory, it was recorded that multiple people were being tried for unrighteous conduct, and the charged people questioned by what authority Hingepin Rigdon and Ollie Cowdung were judging them. It was concluded that nobody had the proper authority to convict somebody of a church crime, and the meeting “dispersed in confusion”.
That’s pretty much where we ended the last historical timeline episode. Turns out, that was just the beginning of the troubles. This court tribunal in late May of 1837 signals the beginning of the most tumultuous period in Mormon history up to this point. One day after the court dismissed in confusion, a complaint was filed against Joseph Smith by 2 Apostles: Orson Brain-Power-Pratt, P-cubed (P.P. Pratt’s) brother, and Leadfoot Lyman Johnson, whose sister would soon be one of Jo’s wives. This is found in the High Council minutes for the date listed below, but I’m reading it from H. Michael Marquardt’s the Rise of Mormonism pp. 447.
“To the Bishop & his council in Kirtland the Stake of Zion
We prefer the following charges against Pres. Joseph Smith Jr. viz. for lying & misrepresentation – also for extortion – and for speaking disrespectfully against his brethren behind their backs.
Kirtland May 29th, 1837
Lyman E. Johnson
I’ll continue reading on the same page from the Rise of Mormonism because it illustrates just how uncertain people were and how close the church was to experiencing a legitimate uprising within the ranks.
“Warren Parrish also preferred charges the same day against Sidney Rigdon “for expressing an unbelief in the revelations of God, both old and new, also an unbelief in the agency of man and his accountability to God, or that there is Such a principle existing as Sin. –and also for lying & declaring that God required it at his hands.”
“In addition, another Apostle, Luke S. Johnson, preferred charges against Joseph Smith Sr. (BDC) “for closing the doors of the house of the Lord against the high council.”
The following week after all of this disagreement and dissent, another apostle, P.P. Pratt, P-cubed, also dissented in a much more epic and public fashion than just filing a complaint.
P-cubed actually held a meeting where he gave a monstrous sermon, monstrous in every form of the word. P-cubed was standing at the pulpit for 2 hours railing against the church, saying it had departed from God and that Brother Joseph Smith had committed great sins. A large number of people sitting in the congregation reportedly left, weeping for having been deceived by Jo, after Pratt was finished with his sermon.
If one can point to a single time in Jo’s life and call it collapse, this would be that point. I’ve mentioned it a few times, stating just how excited I am to arrive here in our timeline, because we’re fast approaching the defection crisis that nearly ripped the adolescent church to shreds. What would cause men who supposedly saw the gold plates to leave Joseph’s side? What would make the man who funded the Book of Mormon, Not So Smarty Marty Harris, turn his back on Jo forever, and join the Quakers? What would cause a significant number of church leaders to want to kill Jo, forcing him to flee to Far West, Missouri?
We’re probably going to spend the next 2 or 3 episodes on this defection crisis. Hopefully we’ll be able to answer some of those questions. There are really too many different stories to follow that all converge on this one point in Mormon history. Everybody was effected by this defection, every single member of the church had some hard decisions to make as 1837 wrapped up and 1838 dawned on the horizon. I’m going to do my best to recount everything that happened, but just know that if we were to spend 10 episodes on just 1837 and the beginning of 1838, we still wouldn’t get through all the writing about this very small snapshot of time.
I’m not sure how to properly lead into this, we’ve talked about the dissent that was going on all throughout the church, as well as how many apostles were preaching blasphemy or just leaving altogether before this point, but people leaving in 1837 meant business, they weren’t just fucking around.
Brothers Luke and Lyman Johnson were some of the primary dissenters, Leadfoot Lyman being the one who filed a formal complaint against Jo on May 29th. John F. Boynton was also involved with them, all three of these men were members of the quorum of the twelve apostles. On September 4th, 1837 a church conference was held. For anybody unaware, at church conferences, they’ll often sustain members of the leadership, calling for a vote among the congregation for people that agree to sustain them in their calling. During this September 4th meeting, both Johnson brothers, Luke and Lyman, as well as John F. Boynton, were not sustained as Apostles. This marks a prominent fracture in the church leadership. Joe considered these 3 people to be in opposition to the church and therefore they weren’t sustained as leaders, but it gets so much worse than that.
At the same time, Jo considered Ollie Cowdery, D-Day David Whitmer, John Goebbels Whitmer, and William Wines (double-dub) Phelps to be in transgression. Imagine that today! It would be like Thomas S. Monson getting on the stand today and saying Dallin Oaks, Robert Hales, and Jeffrey Holland are all not sustained for their recent sins against the church; also Russell Nelson, Dieter Uchtdorf, Henry Eyring, and M. Russell Ballard are all transgressing and therefore in opposition to the leadership of the church.
D-Day David, Ollie Cowdung, John Goebbels Whitmer, two of the 3 witnesses and one of the 8 witnesses, all faithful members of the church and prominent leaders since the organization of the church in 1830, apostles since the organization of the quorum in 1835, were all considered anathema to the church, in need of a proper ass-whoopin to straighten them out, which Jo would soon deliver.
By September, the KSS company had utterly failed. In fact, Jo had backed out of it in July, dissolving all of his assets, it’s almost like he knew it was a fraud and that things were collapsing. Jo could see the writing on the wall. Remember, Jo was just the official cashier for the company, while Rigdon was president, so Jo had deniability for involvement at some level, that is, if you completely ignore the fact that it was founded by Jo and Rigdon in the first place. In June of 1837, Jo transferred all of his KSS company holdings to Oliver Granger and J. Carter, and then resigned from his position the following month. These two men would seek recourse against Joe for fucking them over on the his KSS company assets until 1843.
At the very end of the July 1837, Jo, Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, Thomas B. Marsh, Bloody Brigham Young and some others headed out on missions. The overall point of these missions is somewhat unclear, but I’m going to assume it had something to do with the enormous debt that was crushing the church at the time. Jo, Hyrum, Rigdon, and Bloody Brigham were all headed to Canada by way of ferry, which required their passing through Painesville, home of the Painesville telegraph, whose chief editor was Eber D. Howe, the man who wrote Mormonism Unvailed 3 years prior. Needless to say, Painesville wasn’t so friendly to Jo and the Mormonites and they suffered the wrath of the anti-Mormon mob. Although, I would argue that this wrath was completely justified and all traced back to Jo and his… what would you call it….? Obligation! to scam anybody with whatever bullshit he could manufacture.
This is an excerpt from Bloody fucking Brigham Young’s autobiography that spans 1801-1844. There will be a link to the entire thing in the show notes, a fascinating personal history to say the least.
“I started from Kirtland on a mission to the east, accompanying the Prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum, David W Patten, Sidney Rigdon and Thomas B, Marsh, on their way to Canada. When we arrived at Painesville, the Prophet was arrested by an officer for some pretended debt. Joseph immediately entered into trial before the court, which found no cause of action. After his release he was again arrested and brought before the court, when he was again dismissed. He was arrested the third time, and on examination was held over to trial. Brother Anson Call, who had lately joined the Church, stepped forward and proffered to become his bail.
The sheriff, who was personally acquainted with Brother Call, took him to one side and advised him strongly against being bail for the Prophet, asserting the Prophet would be sure to abscond, and he would lose his farm; but Brother Call willingly became his bail. On being released he was arrested a fourth time, for a debt of a few dollars, which was paid forthwith, and the fifth time he was arrested, which cause was soon disposed of, and he concluded to return to Kirtland for the night. As he got into his buggy, an officer also jumped in, and catching the lines with one hand, put his other hand on Joseph's shoulder and said, "Mr. Smith, you are my prisoner."
Joseph inquired what was the cause of action. The officer informed him that a gentleman, a few months previous, had left a stove with him, for the price of which he was sued. Brother Joseph replied, "I never wished to purchase the stove, but the gentleman insisted on putting it up in my house, saying it would bring him custom." Joseph left his watch and other property in security, and we returned home to Kirtland.
Next day we started again, and travelled by land as far as Ashtabula, shunning Painesville and other places where we suspected our enemies were laying in wait to annoy Joseph. We tarried in Ashtabula through the day, wandering over the bluffs, through the woods and on the beach of the lake, bathing ourselves in her beautiful waters, until evening, when a steamboat arrived from the west. We went on board and took passage for Buffalo. I gave the Prophet my valise for a pillow, and I took his boots for mine, and we all laid down on the deck of the vessel for the night.”
According to Bloody Brigham, as soon as Jo left Kirtland and made it into the township of Painesville, he was arrested at least 6 times, making bail by the generosity of a man named Anson Call, who probably lost his farm because Jo did, indeed, abscond. Then, in order to even leave Painesville on this one horrible day, Jo had to leave his watch and other property in Painesville as collateral, promising he would return to face the criminal charges and various lawsuits against him, which he never did I might add. The day after that, the missionary troop avoided Painesville entirely so the prophet wouldn’t be “annoyed,” heading all the way to Ashtabula instead, making them finally able to go about their business and complete their mission to Canada.
I also want to point out that this was another time in Jo’s history where we can see Bloody Brigham setting himself apart from other leaders in the church. He went with Jo to Painesville to embark upon this mission, probably to attempt absolving the KSS company of some of its debts, and essentially helped him escape arrest and internment for crimes. Then, the following day, they all made the trip again, avoiding the cops, or anybody that would give them trouble. Then, as a show of good faith, Bloody Brigham gave Jo his bag to make the prophet’s sleep on the boat more comfortable, and Jo gave BB his boots to lay his head on. This shows some level of fraternity that BB had with Jo that others possibly didn’t, the same sense of fraternity that would earn BB the throne after Jo’s death in Carthage.
The various leaders returned from their mission in very late August and on September 3 and 4 1837, a conference was held wherein Jo set apart important leaders as heretics. We had the Johnson brothers, John Boynton, David and John Whitmer, Martin Harris, Joseph Coe, Warren Parrish, and a number of others that were implicated as being in opposition to the church.
In August, Jo had this to say about the KSS which was in the middle of collapsing. This was printed in the Messenger and Advocate in the August 1837 edition.
“I am disposed to say a word relative to the bills of the Kirtland Safety Society Bank. I hereby warn them to beware of speculators, renegadoes [defectors] and gamblers, who are duping the unsuspecting and the unwary, by palming upon them, those bills, which are of no worth, here. I discountenance and disapprove of any and all such practices. I know them to be detrimental to the best interests of society, as well as to the principles of religion”
Jo knew the KSS company was amidst collapse, there was just no telling what that collapse meant and what would happen once the rubble settled. I’m going to read an excerpt from John Corrill’s A Brief History of the Church of Christ of LDS. This is starting on page 46 of his first-hand history and I’m reading it from the JosephSmithPapers.org, a church-run online library. There will be a link to his entire history in the show notes.
“As thehouse had been built by faith, as they termed it, they must now continue their faith and contrive some means to pay the debt. Notwithstanding they were deeply in debt, they had so managed as to keep up their credit, so they conc luded to try the Mercantile business. Acc ordingly, they ran in debt in New York and elsewhere, some thirty thousand dollars for goods, and shortly after some fifty or sixty thousand more, as I was informed; but they did not fully understand the mercantile business, and withal they suffered pride to arise in their hearts, and became desirous of fine houses, and fine clothes, and indulged to much in these things, supposing for a few months that they were very rich. They also spent some thousands of dollars in building a steam mill which never profited them any thing. They also bought many farms at extravagant prices and made part payments which they afterwards lost by not being able to meet the rema ining payments. They also got up a Bank, for which they could get no charter, so they issued their paper without a charter, and of course they could not collect their pay on notes received for loans, and after struggling with it a while they broke down. During their Mercantile and banking operations, they not only indulged in pride, but also suffered jealousy to arise among them, and several persons dissented from the church and accused the Leaders of the church with bad man agement, selfishness, seeking for riches, honor and dominion, tyranizing over the people and striving constantly after power and property. On the other hand, the leaders of the church accused the dissenters with dishonesty, want of~~fait~~ faith and righteousness, wicked in their intentions, guilty of crimes such as stealing, lying, encouraging the mak ing of counterfeist money &c. And this strife or opposition arose to a great heighth, so that instead of pulling together as brethren, ~~ought to,~~ they tried every way in their power, seemingly, to destroy each othr; their enemies from without rejoiced at this <and> assis ted the dessenters what they could, until~~l~~ Smith and Rigden finally were obligd to leaveKirtland, and with their fam ilies came toFar West, in March or April, 1838.”
Wooow… There’s a lot to parse out there, and even more to think about when we look at the small peak Corrill gave us into early 1838, which we’ll get to soon enough. The primary reason I read that was to show you just how toxic things were becoming among the members and leadership of the church. I mean, Corrill said that prominent people were accusing Jo and Rigdon of “bad management, selfishness, seeking for riches honor and dominion, tyrannizing over the people and striving constantly after power and property.
The people that were being accused of these things were having insults like “dishonest, wanting of faith and righteousness, wicked in their intentions, guilty of stealing, lying, and encouraging the counterfeit money” slung their way by the leadership. I’m starting to think there wasn’t a single person in the church that was happy with a single other person in the church. Now granted, I’m reading a number of first-person accounts that have an underlying theme of chaos and infighting, so we’re probably not getting a full scope of what it was really like to be living there at the time, maybe saying that everybody was fighting with everybody is a bit of an overstatement. I’m just going on what I’m reading from the sources I’ve found. We’re looking at a point in Mormon history where Jo and Rigdon had to deal with a level of dissent and murmuring that had never been experienced before. This was truly a climax of disunity and resistance from the lowliest member, all the way to the highest echelons of leadership that had been with Jo since before the church was even a thing.
People who had seen Jo and Ollie writing the BoM, or had contributed to getting it published, or even people who were present and baptized on the first official day of church on April 6, 1830, were discordant with Jo and Hingepin Rigdon’s version of the church. It was truly falling apart at the seams.
I’m going to read something from Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer, written by Stanley B. Kimball in 1981. We know the church was in about $40k worth of debt when the KSS company was founded in late 1836/early 1837, but with the paper money the company was printing, Jo and friends had gone crazy, building up an abhorrent level of confusing debt. Stanley Kimball does a good job of relaying the financial status of the church by the end of 1837, less than 1 year after the KSS company was founded. I’m reading this from page 438 of The Rise of Mormonism by Marquardt.
“The bank had difficulties from the beginning. The State of Ohio refused the Mormons a charter, and the bank was poorly underwritten. Heber [C. Kimball], for example, subscribed to $50,000 worth of shares for only $15 in cash. In all, 200 church members subscribed to 79,420 shares worth at face value approximately $3,854,000 at $50 par value, which was backed up with only $20,725 cash. The bank, furthermore, was weakened by speculation, mismanagement, and dishonesty.”
Basically, Jo and Rigdon had tossed everybody a crap salad, and then proceeded to solve the problem of shitty taste, by drizzling more stupid bullshit on top of the crap salad. When somebody comes up to you and offers $50,000 for the low low price of a whole $15, something doesn’t add up in that equation, somebody is getting fucked in this deal, and you would be smart to be skeptical of such a deal. Well, that’s exactly how the majority of the KSS company’s deals were handled. If we divide it out we can get a sense for how bad people were actually getting taken here. The KSS company had $3.854 mn in reported assets, but with less than $20k in actual money to back it up, that means they were trading at an average of $185 KSS notes for $1 of actual money.
If you divide up all 79,420 shares up correctly, based on the assets of the company of $20,725, you end up with shares worth $.26 that were being sold with a label of $50. Those shares are only worth .5% of their sold value. That means you would have to double the KSS company’s assets for them to be trading at 1 penny on the dollar.
Add in to this obscene level of book cooking the fact that other business practices were being conducted in a shady manner, and we have some serious symptoms manifesting themselves. P-cubed wrote a letter to Jo at the end of May accusing the prophet of a very shady deal. Jo had sold 3 lots of land at the “extraordinary price of $2000, which never cost you 100 dollars.” P-cubed considered this to be “taking advantage of your brother by an undue religious influence.”
Let’s just take a second to talk about that, because it’s an important detail we’re working with that can’t be ignored. From the early days of the church, Jo was very adept at making poor monetary decisions for his parishioners, mostly for nefarious, or self-preserving reasons. Yet, these people continued to follow the prophet and not go astray.
If we remember back to episodes 24 and 25 of this show, from almost a year ago, we’ll recall that Jo had picked up everything in New York to move to Kirtland, Ohio. Well, he didn’t just pick up everything, because as many as 100 people may have been members at the time, so he commanded them all to leave with him, marking the first mass exodus of Jo’s church, less than a year after it was founded. The revelation itself commands everybody that is worthy and faithful to sell their property and move to Ohio, and if they can’t sell it, then rent it out, and if they can’t rent it out, then simply abandon whatever they own. It always takes a lot of resources for anybody to move their families and possessions nearly 300 miles, made much worse by the fact that they were doing so in covered wagons, not moving vans like we do today.
Also, property back then was hard to come by. In the 1830’s a person would spend their entire life saving up for a gun, or a horse, or maybe a nice dress. At the price of $1.25, purchasing a Book of Mormon could force a family into temporary destitution. Most people lived on land that was passed down from their parents or grandparents who were the original European settlers on that property. However, Jo came along and said, if you really believe in my church and me as a prophet, you’ll leave everything behind, and follow me to Ohio, in the middle of winter.
This revelation forced a lot of people to leave their life savings behind them and never return, just for the opportunity to live in Zion, which was TBD in January of 1831.
The point I’m making is, people that believed in Joseph Smith, thought he knew what he was doing, but the evidence plays out in a way that makes me think that nothing could be further from the truth. Jo had to leave N.Y. because he kept getting arrested and harassed, so he hit the reset button and started a new life in Ohio, but the people that moved along with him were by a majority, quite poor. This is why we see the current-day BoCvnts section 42 containing a plethora of verses about communism, where everybody that’s a member of the church has to give everything they have to the Bishop’s storehouse, and the Bishop will disseminate the wealth as he sees fit. A bunch of people were moving from New York to Ohio in the winter, and they were dirt-ass poor, so Jo came up with a revelation that called for the new members in Ohio to support these people, some of which were Jo’s friends from an earlier treasure-digging life.
In every iteration of communism in human history, the purest ideal of communism hasn’t really worked for longer than a few generations. You can say there have been successful economies and countries built on communism, but when we compare those countries by most metrics to their capitalistic or democratic counterparts, by most measures communism seems inadequate. There have been times in human history that people have lived in very small communities with a tightly woven share-based economy, but those rarely grow to more than a few hundred people and usually die off within a generation or two.
Thing is, Jo didn’t know that communism is tough to uphold when he called for Kirtland to operate as an ecclesiastical commune. Economics isn’t as simple as the rich give to the poor and everybody’s happy. There were so many other confounding factors that made Jo’s decisions and revelations really burdensome and illogical when you consider the financial status of the members. There was a finite amount of resources exchanging hands in Kirtland before a bunch a Mormons came from New York with nearly 0 resources, once they arrived it created an onerous responsibility for the newly converted Mormons in Ohio to accommodate these refugees. This is a remarkable example of Jo’s lack of foresight and divine connection leading to the struggles and hardships of others.
I guess what I’m most confused about is why they did it. Why did the people follow him? Well, he was a good salesman, terrible businessman, but good at the promising side of things. Jo’s charisma could convince any person to do anything, and make that person believe they were doing God’s will while doing it. That’s the extra part that makes this a little more sinister and makes me suspicious of anybody claiming to be a prophet.
Bad people fuck other people over on a regular basis, there’s no escaping that. It could be a person claiming that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the car they are trying to sell you. It may even be somebody that puts adds on television selling shitty reverse mortgages to old people that don’t know they have other options. But when you add the religious aspect to the equation, that’s when things take on an extra pernicious aspect. You’re not just toying with people’s finances, your dicking with their eternity and claiming to know things that no human could ever know.
To answer the question, why did they follow Jo, my question would be more along the lines of what choice did they have? When a person buys into a regular con, and they find out they’ve been conned, they can walk away frustrated, yet enlightened, having lost a given amount of money. When a person buys into a religious con, it’s not quite as simple as walking away. And of course, I would argue that all religions are cons at some level, which only goes further to illustrate my point, when a person believes in a religion, it’s not as simple as just walking away when that person is shown evidence that their religious leader is full of shit.
Jo claimed to be a prophet and to have a connection with the divine, although history tells us that neither of those could have been true. His followers didn’t have access to the information we have access to now. They couldn’t take a step back from the situation and say objectively, well obviously Jo doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing, so why am I wasting my time with him? People that believe in Joseph Smith today are incapable of realizing this very simple fact, you wonder how much harder to resist he was to people that were interacting with him every day.
We have to speculate on Joseph Smith’s personality here. That’s not a very historian-like thing to do, and that’s why I enjoy being a fan of history, not an actual historian, because I can wander into these thoughts and preface them with a disclaimer that says “some things I say might be bullshit, but at least I can provide evidence for why I say such bullshit”.
Jo must have been a magnet. I’m sure I’ve said that more than once, but he had thousands of people that would die for him, and thousands of people trying to kill him at most times. He tended to have a polar effect on people, at least the people we read these first-hand accounts from. A person either liked or hated him, but nobody was unaffected by him. He had the power to bring communities of thousands of people together under one law and ruler, a power which had a byproduct of thousands of people that hated Jo and Mormonism that rose up to fight against the Mormons, or chase them out of town…. Really multiple towns at multiple times. Joe could bring a community together, or drive a wedge between people in places that were previously harmonious.
Even today, the debate rages about whether he was a devious mastermind, or a charismatic prophet called by God. He polarizes people 170 years after his death. What can we say about a man like this?
I’ll tell you one thing, something happened this week that I’m a bit excited about. On facebook, astute listener Gwen added me to a Mormon historians facebook group, thank you for that Gwen. Well, I’m in the middle of The Rise of Mormonism by H. Michael Marquardt for studying up on the 1837/8 defection crisis, and I came upon something I was completely unaware of.
I read Mormon history from a lot of different sources, so there aren’t just holes in my understanding of the history, but rather, vast chasms that separate the few things I do know about it. Hiding somewhere in one of these swaths of Mormon history that’s unknown to me was something that happened in 1835 through 1836 which I found out about from the Rise of Mormonism.
This is quoting from page 429, it starts with quoting from Joseph Smith’s journal for Sept 24 1835.
“This day the High Council met at my house to take into consideration the redemption of Zion and it was the voice of the spirit of the Lord that we petition to the Governor that is, those who have been driven out should do so to be set back on their Lands next spring (1836) and we go next season to live or die in Jackson County…I ask in the name of Jesus that we may obtain Eight hundred men <or one thousand> well armed and that they may accomplish this great work even so amen”
There is another quote from John Whitmer talking about the same meeting and he calls it “the war department”. The book goes on to tell us a very small amount about this thing I completely overlooked in Mormon history.
“The redemption of Zion, set for September 11, 1836, was still being looked forward to at this time. On March 13, 1836 it was the resolution of the presidency and members of the twelve “to emigrate on or before the 15 of May next, if kind providence smiles, upon us and openes the way before us.”
Did I miss something here? The redemption of Zion? I thought they tried that once in 1834 with about 200 men called Zion’s camp, it went horribly, remember all the cholera and the people dying and stuff? They organized a second military march to Missouri, one that was 4 times the size!?
I had never heard of this before. Because I study from many sources, surprises like this happen all the time, but this was a bigger surprise than most others. Luckily for me, Gwen had added me to this Mormon historians FB group, so I thought I would just throw it in that group as a question to see what comes out. Luckily, among other people, a guy named Joe Geisner replied with some much needed clarification. This was Joe’s reply to my asking about this second Zion’s redemption camp.
“In Chapter 2, Ronald E. Romig and Michael S. Riggs explore “the appointed time” with the Saints’ second attempt at redeeming Zion. After the failed mission of Zion’s Camp, the Mormon leaders believed that God would facilitate their return to Independence and that Jackson County would be redeemed by September 11, 1836. They derived this date from a revelation Joseph Smith received on September 11, 1831, which instructed the Saints to “retain a strong hold in the land of Kirtland, for the space of five years” and then move to Zion (29).On September 24, 1835, Smith’s journal records a meeting that drafted “an Arti/c/le of inrollment for the redeem[p]tion of Zion” (31; slashes Romig’s and Riggs’s). The goal was to march between eight hundred and a thousand “well armed” soldiers to Missouri to take back Independence (31). Missionaries were sent throughout the United States to raise money and volunteers. The Mormons were instructed to gather inconspicuously in Clay County, and the First Presidency was to relocate in Missouri to coordinate the plan. For various reasons, including public relations problems and lack of funding and volunteers, this plan to redeem Zion unraveled (40–41).
After this second failure, Smith redefined both the meaning of Zion’s location to include Nauvoo in 1840 and the Mormon role, casting them as victims instead of being responsible for their ejection from Zion (41–42). To support their argument,Romig and Riggs cite Joseph Smith’s letter,written in Nauvoo on December 15, 1840, in which he “emphatically instructed Apostle Orson Hyde to encourage any Palestinian Jews who might convert during his 1841 mission to Jerusalem to gather in Nauvoo and ironically not stay where they were to prepare for the return of Jesus” (41). Romig and Riggs also cite Craig S. Campbell’s excellent Images of the New Jerusalem: Latter Day Saint Faction Interpretations of Independence, Missouri (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004), on Latter Day Saint theology and memories of Independence and western Missouri (41)”
This was something I had completely overlooked in the historical timeline. Jo did call for an army of 800 to 1000 men, as well as funding, to go redeem Zion again. After the horrific failure in 1834 that was called Zion’s camp, Jo wanted to stir the shit pot again.
I suppose a side point I would make with this is, please don’t take all your Mormon history from me. I missed this aspect when it came up in our timeline a few episodes back and there’s no telling how many other prominent things happened that I’ve missed up to this point. If you just listen to this podcast for Mormon history, you’re only getting my very amateur version of the history, and things will be missed. Please seek out some of the books I frequently cite to get a more comprehensive history than I’m able to provide. I mean, all the research in this episode spawned from less than 10 pages from the Rise of Mormonism, imagine how many things I’ve left out up to this point… But that was just a side point I wanted to make.
The main point I’m trying to make here deals with these people following Jo across state lines, leaving all their possessions behind them just to be living under the prophet. Not only did they leave their possessions and land behind, but in many cases these people left their friends and family for the grass that was always greener in Zion. Not only did these people leave behind everything and all their loved ones, but they subjected themselves to the rule of an unworthy dictator.
The way I see it is; if you have a great leader, then let them lead, but Jo was by no metric a great leader. If you’re lead by an Alexander the Great or a Chingiis Khan, let them lead, they deserve to be in that position, but Jo didn’t have any attributes that made him a good leader. Worse than that, he had plenty of attributes that made him a terrible leader.
Jo was a terrible businessman. He couldn’t lead an army with any level of unity, I mean Zion’s camp nearly broke up multiple times and eventually did fracture upon their arrival to Missouri. Jo couldn’t handle any amount of money, much less an entire economy based on counterfeit bills. Jo constantly over-promised and under-delivered, which infuriated countless people.
Remember when we talked about how hard it was to get ahold of Mark Hofmann in 1985 before the bombs went off. It was a recurring theme with anybody that dealt with Hofmann, you could never get him on the phone, especially when he owed you something he had promised, like a shitload of money or some old document.
This is another extract from the Rise of Mormonism that leads me to believe that Jo may have been the same way in some respects.
In 1837, a man named William S. West visited Kirtland and reported what he saw during this time of epic turmoil. This was originally published in his pamphlet called “A Few Interesting Facts Respecting the Mormons,” and I’m reading it from page 438 of the Rise of Mormonism by Marquardt.
“When I was in Kirtland, I ascertained from a variety of sources, too numerous to mention, that the Mormons had been in serious difficulty, many had been dissatisfied with their leaders, and wanted a new prophet, but the majority adhered to Smith. One day, when I went to the Temple, I saw a number of men about it, busy in conversation, Smith was among them, and the topics of discussion were the bank, money, the steam saw mill, etc.; the prophet was kept very busy, but at last he started toward the banks, when a man said to him, “brother Joseph, I want to speak with you a minute,” upon which he exclaimed, “my God, I wish I was translated!” He did not stop to speak with him, but went on grumbling that every one wanted to speak with him a minute, etc.”
The more I study Jo, the more I see parallels between him and other con-men in history. Hofmann went through a similar trajectory as Jo did, and some of their mannerisms seem to be exactly the same. Terrible businessmen, terrible with money, constantly overpromising and under-delivering, constantly avoiding people that want to “speak for a minute,” probably so they could complain about getting fucked over by the respective conman.
Let’s talk about the quote earlier from the Rise of Mormonism. It said, “The redemption of Zion, set for September 11, 1836, was still being looked forward to at this time. On March 13, 1836 it was the resolution of the presidency and members of the twelve “to emigrate on or before the 15 of May next, if kind providence smiles, upon us and openes the way before us.”
The redemption of Zion was set for September 11, 1836. You may think, as I did, that’s quite an arbitrary date, what happened, who set that date apart as a special day of reckoning? For the answer to that question, we need to look back to a revelation given on September 11, 1831, exactly five years before this redemption date. This is the current-day BoCvnts section 64.
“I willeth not that my serventFrederick [G. Williams] should sell his farm18 for I the Lord willeth to retain a strong hold in the Land of Kirtland for the space of five years in the which I will not overthrow the wicked that thereby I may save some”
This is the revelation that people were using a prophecy for the redemption of Zion. They figured that Kirtland had been the stronghold for the entire 5 years, so now it was time for the members to march to Zion and take it by whatever means necessary. Just to reiterate this point, the Missourians hated the Mormons. They were an apocalyptic Jesus death cult that followed the whims of a convicted felon. Merely 2 verses after that verse we just read from section 64 it says this,
“For after today cometh the burning – this is speaking after the manner of the Lord – for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.”
What would you think if you were somebody living in Missouri, minding your own business, and then a bunch of members of this death cult move in and tout scriptures that talk about burning up those who are in opposition to the church? Well, this date was set apart, September 11, 1836, and Jo was supposed to make one of his prophecies come to fruition. He had proclaimed a prophecy and the members of the church were waiting to see if it would come true.
Well, for whatever reasons, Jo didn’t end up forming the 1000-man army and making the 800+-mile journey to Missouri again, probably a good thing because it would have inevitably ended in disaster. Instead, Jo was in Salem MA during this time…. Digging for buried treasure…. At a time when members expected Jo to be fulfilling a prophecy, he was in another part of the country trying to find buried treasure, being swindled by Burgess just like Jo had swindled so many others before.
Jo had the opportunity to make his own violent prophecy come true, instead he chose to run away or ignore the problem. That is a bit of a recurring theme we need to keep in mind, Jo didn’t have a problem if he could simply run away from it. When the twins were born and died hours later, he ran to Missouri, to the embrace of a friend, 800 miles away from the problem. When Jo was supposed to lead an armed militia of 1000 people to Missouri to forcibly take back the homes the Mormons had been chased from, he went hundreds of miles in the other direction to hunt for buried treasure in MA.
As we’ll find out very soon, when there was a problem with a printing press exposing Mormonism and Jo’s shady business deals, Jo was happy to set it ablaze and run away from the problem. You may be saying, yes but that doesn’t happen until 1844 in Nauvoo, 7 years and hundreds of miles from Kirtland, and you’re correct. But, I will say that the Nauvoo Expositor wasn’t the only printing press that Jo commanded to be destroyed in his time. Destroying a place of journalism in order to cover something up is an act of tyranny, and let’s just say, when that quote we read earlier from January of 1838 said that Jo was tyrannizing the people, there is plenty of evidence available to make that a completely true claim.
To continue this conversation about Jo and his personality, I recently received a message on FB from Haydn, and I did my best to answer it. It seems applicable to what we’re talking about, so I’m just going to read his question and my response.
I know you cant like say this for sure but do you think joseph was just a pathological liar and maybe even believed his own lies or do you think he just got way to in over his head with a lie to get rich and maybe a little famous and just had to keep it going and had no idea how big the church would be today. or do you have another idea. And i just started your broadcasts today and can't stop listening i love them good work.
Dude, I'm at such a loss to answer that question. Personally, given what I know about Jo, I totally think he was consciously lying the whole time. He never actually saw buried treasure, he didn't actually hear a voice in his head that would conveniently solve his problems (moreso than any other person has a conscience that does exactly the same thing), he didn't just marry those women only because he thought God wanted it, he was self-serving and pathologically lying till the end. But to add to that, you said "do you think he got way too in over his head with a lie..." What makes you think he didn't WANT everything that happened to him? He didn't become famous because he fucked up, he got famous because he wanted and worked for it. He lived like a Caesar! He never had to work hard for anything, he lived on other people's good will (quite lavishly I might add), and he fucked any woman he wanted to! What makes you think he didn't dream about having that life from a young age? I bet he was willing to do anything necessary to make that lifestyle happen, and once he attained his dream, he couldn't stop furthering those aspirations. I wish I were more qualified to answer your question, but this is the way I've come to interpret the historical Joseph Smith. Hopefully, this version of Jo becomes clearer as you progress through the back log.
That seems to be the Jo that I’m seeing as I progress through my research. Jo was happy to make or take a deal that involved no risk and high reward, even if the deal seemed too good to be true. It was only when Jo was in a high-risk low-reward situation that we see him bailing out. When it came to marching a second army to Missouri, it was highly likely that Jo would be killed or arrested, and there was no guarantee that they would be successful by any measure of the word. When this situation of Jo’s commitment to raise a second larger army presented itself, Jo bailed, he ran, he left town for a short amount of time, all the while other church leadership members were plotting to kill him.
One thing we can take away from this time in history, Jo was not in control. There are only a few more prominent occurrences in 1837 to cover before we finish it and move into 1838. By the end of 1838 we have the actual Missouri-Mormon war and the battle of Crooked River, which was not so much a war as a few armed scuffles between Mormons and the opposing mob, but it’s called a war for whatever reason. We’ll be getting to that within the next few Historical timeline episodes. It’s just important to keep in mind throughout this entire time that Jo was not in charge, rather, he was playing everything by ear, pulling everything out of his ass, and still frequently painted himself into corners.
In studying the timeline chronologically as I’ve done, I can’t imagine how things could get any worse from this point on, but they somehow did. I’m getting excited that the Liberty Jail scene and the Nauvoo years are twinkling in the eyes of this podcast, to be exposed and examined in the forseeable distance. But, I must remind you, take that side point seriously. I’m not going to be able to tell the whole story in our narrative, nor will I be able to give every prominent person a NaMo nickname without getting confused. I’ll occasionally breeze past important things in the timeline and have to come back later to cover them.
Don’t take all your Mormon history from me, unless you’re satisfied with a simplistic perspective and having a very cursory understanding of the biggest points in the narrative. I suppose, for the average listener that’s enough. Dealing with my simplicity and the type of light I shed upon Jo, Rigdon, and everybody else, will be enough to get the average Mormon history buff along. But, to have a deep and nuanced discussion about specifics of Mormon history, this show is not enough for the avid student of Mormon history. Indulge yourself, read a book on Mormonism, then come back and share what you learned with me so I can act like I know about it and give my bullshit perspective about what you learned. Just like with that question from Haydn, I’m not qualified to speculate on the personality of Joseph Smith, but I sure like to think about it like I understand who the real Jo was, regardless of how accurate or not my perspective is.
I know the Jo that’s surfaced from my research in this show, but the reality is, there was so much about Jo that we could never know. The real Jo has to hide in the recesses of historical blind spots. Only his most prominent features come out when we read about him today, but the man behind the narratives that have been written about Joseph Smith, was undoubtedly incomprehensibly more nuanced and amazing than any narrative could portray.
Hopefully, as the listener, you have your own Jo that lives and breathes in your mind that differs from the Jo that the church or I portray. Hopefully your personal Jo is who you see dealing with these problems and coming up with various shenanigans to make money and solve said problems. I guess I’m hoping it isn’t just the Jo that I’ve constructed that fills that void in your mind. One thing I can assure you, no words could describe the Jo Smith and Sidney Rigdon that live in my mind. I try every episode to describe these people, but they are living breathing people in my mind that wander through an abyss of historical uncertainty and deal with each new thing in our timeline as it progresses, approaching these circumstances with no foresight or plan. That’s probably the most liberating thing about studying these people. They are real people existing in color in my imagination, they can overcome any historical trial they encounter, they can climb every mountain and traverse every valley. They can construct armies and raze cities to the ground. They can twist insurrection into religious persecution and have stronger members because of it. The Jo and Rigdon of my mind are invincible protagonists of a forgotten age. I can only hope that your personal Jo and Rigdon inspire just as much awe and wonder as mine.
Oddly enough, in that paper break between 1837 and 1839, Woodruff listed a bunch of his wives, their marriage dates and death dates if he survived them. Look at all those women I tagged, high-five anyone?........ that’s kewl, I’ll just high-five myself……..
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