Ep 54 – The Spalding Virus
On this episode, we’ll be talking about the PR nightmare that was the Spalding theory as it embodied a new resurgence in the public eye. Spalding’s wife, Matilda Davison, and Hingepin Sidney Rigdon went at it in a public letter exchange where she laid out the theory claiming the Book of Mormon came from her late husband’s fiction and Rigdon responds with ad hominem attacks and blatant lies. After that we follow up on the conversation with Charone Frankel from last week’s episode.
B.H. Roberts The Book of Mormon pt 3
Susan Black on Nauvoo population
Full text of “Manuscript Story—Conneaut Creek
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Voicemail Line (864)Nake-dMo (625-3366)
Intro June 15, 2017
Little bit of house cleaning here. In order to create a little more consistency with what you’ll hear in each episode, instead of doing one hour and a half history episode every two weeks and having a conversation or headline episode on the opposing two weeks, for the sake of digestibility and consistency, we’re going to start doing a shorter historical timeline segment every episode along with other segments sprinkled in afterwards. If you’re here for the historical timeline, you’ll be getting it every week, and if you’re here for everything this show offers other than the historical timeline, you’ll be getting that every week too.
When we left off our last historical timeline segment, Jo and friends were amidst petitioning a judge for a grand jury hearing to override the legal debacle that was the November court of inquiry. The Mormons felt as if they were treated unfairly because they didn’t get any opportunity to voice their defense in response to the prosecution. That’s not really how courts of inquiry or grand jury hearings work, so it may have felt unfair but that’s just how the legal system was set up and they were going through the correct legal channels which fittingly landed them in Liberty Jail in the first place.
Of course, because the whole Mormon situation was toxic to anybody who came anywhere close to it, Judge Thompkins, who heard the Mormons in the grand jury hearing, heard the prosecution and charged Jo and friends with everything the court of inquiry had charged previously, but nobody wanted the whole thing to go to trial. If a large public trial of the Mormons went down it would uncover a lot of bad decisions made by the Missouri government because nobody was in the right and everybody had made illegal mistakes throughout all of 1838 in Missouri.
A solution came in the form of a transfer to Boone county. Sheriff William Morgan took custody of the prisoners, the same Morgan whose house the Mormons had surrounded back in the summer of ’38, and Jo bribed Morgan and his men with $800 and a bunch of whiskey to let them go. Jo, Hyrum, Baldwin, McRae, and Wight all affected their escapes and made it to Quincy, Illinois.
Upon their arrival, it was a sight to behold. Rigdon had set up shop renting a small farm from Isaac Galland, the same guy who owned all the land Jo said he would buy once he was released; Bloody Brigham Young had been handling all ecclesiastical matters including holding a church court designating over a dozen people who were to be excommunicated for testifying against Jo and the church in the court of inquiry, and nobody had any sense of direction or permanence.
The Mormons were beginning their trials and tribulations once again in a brand-new place, working with a clean slate in Illinois, which whets our palette with the milk in preparation for the meat of today’s episode.
Milk to Meat
It was early May in Quincy, Illinois when the prophet arrived to the scattered camps, having escaped custody of the state of Missouri. The constant fluctuation from cold nights to muggy springtime swamp heat was a nice break from the bitter winter the Saints had suffered through during their exodus from Missouri. The prophet and his counselors were constantly busy with travels and meetings to properly establish the Mormons in Illinois where they hoped to be safe from persecution. Of the 10,000+ Mormons who were now settling in parts of Illinois and Iowa, most were eagerly trying to locate themselves to some stable tract of land to plant crops for the season as they were in desperate need of staple resources. However, among all the problems the Saints were dealing with, controversy once again began wreaking havoc on their beliefs.
In 1833, Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, Doctor Phil as we called him back in episode 29, began his expose of Mormonism, having come into contact with information that the Book of Mormon may have been wholly plagiarized from a manuscript written by Solomon Spalding. Many of you listening may be familiar with this theory or may recall it from when we’ve discussed it previously, but for any new listeners out there, here’s a quick crash-course to get us primed for the public letter exchanges published in 1839 that we’ll be reading today.
Hurlbut was a faithful member of the church and was called on a mission to proselyte in Ohio, specifically in a little town named Conneaut. Upon his arrival, he began preaching from the Book of Mormon which was met with chastisement from the crowd. Many people who’d known a man named Solomon Spalding, who’d died in 1816, recognized some of the story as similar to what Spalding was writing prior to his death. One man in the crowd, a respected justice of the peace in the area, shouted “ol come to pass has come to life again” or something to that effect, implying that came to pass was something Spalding included frequently in his story, “Manuscript Found”.
Upon hearing this, Hurlbut went back and asked the Mormon leadership some hard questions about the claims of the Conneaut townsfolk and was subsequently excommunicated for ‘unchristianlike conduct with women’. Thus began a year’s long research and preaching tour where Doctor Phil went to important individuals to get affidavits about Joseph Smith or Spalding’s manuscript. This research, once collected, was sold to Eber Howe, editor of the Painesville telegraph newspaper a mere 10 miles from Kirtland, and Mormonism Unvailed was published at the end of 1834 with all of Hurlbut’s research intact. This established the foundation for the Spalding theory, claiming that Joseph Smith and Hingepin Sidney Rigdon had colluded together to publish the plagiarized Book of Mormon and found the Mormon religion.
After Howe’s book was published, pandora’s box had been cracked and it was only a matter of time before the theory gained enough public awareness that the church leadership could no longer ignore it. Tension was bubbling under the surface and needed only a small catalyst to once again enter the public eye. In May of 1839, amidst all the chaos of the Mormons beginning to settle Commerce Illinois and the surrounding areas, a statement was published in the Boston Recorder and subsequently picked up by many smaller local publications which reopened investigations into the Spalding theory, finally requiring a response from the Mormon leadership. The statement was a signed affidavit from Spalding’s wife who’d remarried soon after Solomon’s death, donning the legal name, Matilda Spalding Davison. Here are a few excerpts from her statement, and we’ll talk about what this means as we go through it.
ALLEGED STATEMENT OF MRS. DAVISON,
FORMERLY THE WIFE OF SOLOMON SPAULDING.
"As the Book of Mormon, or Golden Bible (as it was originally called) has excited much attention, and is deemed by a certain new sect of equal authority with the Sacred Scriptures, I think it a duty which I owe to the public to state what I know touching its origin.
"That its claims to a divine origin are wholly unfounded needs no proof to a mind unperverted by the grossest illusions. That any sane person should rank it higher than any other merely human composition is a matter of the greatest astonishment; yet it is received as divine by some who dwell in enlightened New England, and even by those who have sustained the character of devoted Christians. Learning recently that Mormonism had found its way into a church in Massachusetts, and has impregnated some with its gross delusions, so that excommunication has been necessary, I am determined to delay no longer in doing what I can to strip the mask from this mother of sin, and to lay open this pit of abominations.
"Solomon Spaulding, to whom I was united in marriage in early life, was a graduate of Dartmouth College, and was distinguished for a lively imagination, and a great fondness for history. At the time of our marriage he resided in Cherry Valley, New York. From this place we removed to New Salem, Ashtabula county, Ohio, sometimes called Conneaut, as it is situated on Conneaut Creek. Shortly after our removal to this place, his health sunk, and he was laid aside from active labors. In the town of New Salem there are numerous mounds and forts supposed by many to be the dilapidated dwellings and fortifications of a race now extinct. These ancient relics arrest the attention of the new settlers, and become objects of research for the curious. Numerous implements were found, and other articles evincing great skill in the arts. Mr. Spaulding being an educated man, and passionately fond of history, took a lively interest in these developments of antiquity; and in order to beguile the hours of retirement and furnish employment for his lively imagination, he conceived the idea of giving an historical sketch of this long lost race. Their extreme antiquity led him to write in the most ancient style, and as the Old Testament is the most ancient book in the world, he imitated its style as nearly as possible. His sole object in writing this imaginary history was to amuse himself and his neighbors. This was about the year 1812. Hull's surrender at Detroit occurred near the same time, and I recollect the date well from that circumstance. As he progressed in his narrative the neighbors would come in from time to time to hear portions read, and a great interest in the work was excited among them. It claimed to have been written by one of the lost nation, and to have been recovered from the earth, and assumed the title of "Manuscript Found." The neighbors would often inquire how Mr. Spaulding progressed in deciphering the manuscript; and when he had sufficient portion prepared, he would inform them, and they would assemble to hear it read. He was enabled, from his acquaintance with the classics and ancient history, to introduce many singular names, which were particularly noticed by the people, and could be easily recognized by them. Mr. Solomon Spaulding had a brother, Mr. John Spaulding, residing in the place at the time, who was perfectly familiar with the work, and repeatedly heard the whole of it read. From New Salem we removed to Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania. Here Mr. Spaulding found a friend and acquaintance, in the person of Mr. Patterson, an editor of a newspaper. He exhibited his manuscript to Mr. Patterson, who was very much pleased with it, and borrowed it for perusal. He retained it for a long time, and informed Mr. Spaulding that if he would make out a title page and preface, he would publish it, and it might be a source of profit. This Mr. Spaulding refused to do. Sidney Rigdon, who has figured so largely in the history of the Mormons, was at that time connected with the printing office of Mr. Patterson, as is well known in that region, and as Rigdon himself has frequently stated, became acquainted with Mr. Spaulding's manuscript, and copied it. It was a matter of notoriety and interest to all connected with the printing establishment. At length the manuscript was returned to its author, and soon after we removed to Amity, Washington county, etc., where Mr. Spaulding deceased in 1816. The manuscript then fell into my hands, and was carefully preserved. It has frequently been examined by my daughter, Mrs. M'Kenstry, of Monson, Mass., with whom I now reside, and by other friends.
"After the Book of Mormon came out, a copy of it was taken to New Salem,
the place of Mr. Spaulding's former residence, and the very place where
the "Manuscript Found" was written. A woman preacher appointed a meeting
there; and in the meeting read and repeated copious extracts from the
Book of Mormon. The historical part was immediately recognized by all
the older inhabitants, as the identical work of Mr. Spaulding, in which
they had all been so deeply interested years before. Mr. John Spaulding
was present and recognized perfectly the work of his brother. He was
amazed and afflicted that it should have been perverted to so wicked a
purpose. His grief found vent in a flood of tears, and he arose on the
spot, and expressed to the meeting his sorrow and regret that the
writings of his deceased brother should be used for a purpose so vile
and shocking. The excitement in New Salem became so great that the
inhabitants had a meeting and deputed Dr. Philastus Hurlburt, one of
their number, to repair to this place and to obtain from me the original
manuscript of Mr. Spaulding, for the purpose of comparing it with the
Mormon Bible, to satisfy their own minds, and to prevent their friends
from embracing an error so delusive. This was in the year 1834. Dr.
Hurlburt brought with him an introduction and request for the
manuscript, which was signed by Messrs. Henry Lake, Aaron Wright, and
others, with all of whom I was acquainted, as they were my neighbors
when I resided at New Salem. I am sure that nothing would grieve my
husband more, were he living, than the use which has been made of his
work. The air of antiquity which was thrown about the composition,
doubtless suggested the idea of converting it to the purposes of
delusion. Thus an historical romance, with the addition of a few pious
expressions, and extracts from the sacred Scriptures, has been construed
into a new Bible, and palmed off upon a company of poor deluded fanatics
as Divine. I have given the previous brief narration, that this work of
deep deception and wickedness may be searched to the foundation and the
authors exposed to the contempt and execration they so justly deserve.
(Signed) "MATILDA DAVISON."
This public affidavit went viral throughout local newspapers where Mormons were present. The Spalding theory had legs, but this letter lit a fire under its ass and really got the whole thing running. Of course, the Mormon leadership couldn’t sit idly by and let this blow up without some kind of answer. If true, the Spalding theory would cripple any credibility Jo and Rigdon had, and rightfully people would leave the church in droves.
Just to quickly reiterate. This was the last thing the Mormons needed. The leadership were fugitives of Ohio and now Missouri and the Mormons were only just beginning the arduous reconstruction process needed to turn Commerce Illinois into Nauvoo, their new homestead. A resurgence in the Spalding theory was just one more thing the leadership didn’t need to deal with right now among everything else that was stressing them out and stretching their resources to the absolute maximum.
Rigdon, wrote a scathing response published 9 days later. When I read through it I can’t help but think he maybe should have put more thought into it, maybe slept on the letter a few nights to let it brew before sending it out. But, I don’t think Rigdon was always that calculated, especially as his health still wasn’t great from his confinement in Liberty and the trials he’d been suffering ever since. The refutation began with condemning the paper for publishing such dribble, and personally attacking Matilda Davison for publishing such lies and running in league with the basest of liars like Doctor Phil.
After Mormonism Unvailed was published in 1834, Mormon persecution began to really ramp up, but it was a two-way street. As with any institutionalized falsehood, there were people on the outside of Mormonism looking in and questioning its validity who published stuff like this in response to what they found. From the time of 1834 to when Rigdon’s response was published in 1839, a lot happened when it comes to so-called Mormon persecution. The saints had built their temple in Kirtland, accusations of the prophet’s infidelity became more frequent, they had established the KSS company and crashed their own local economy, the leadership had been excommunicated from the Kirtland church and were forced to flee to Missouri and then the entire Missouri-Mormon war had blown up and everything was scorched in the aftermath. Some of the most trusted leaders in the church had betrayed Jo and were excommunicated and chased from their homes in response, chaos and pandemonium were the only constants ruling Mormonism.
Just as the Mormons were trying to get settled down from everything they’d dealt with in Missouri, this public exchange happened. Did Rigdon actually refute the claims made by Davison and the Spalding theory at large? Let’s read his refutation and boil down it down to see if we can’t analyze it with a skeptical eye…. Skepticize it, if you will….
"Commerce, May 27, 1839.
"Messrs. Bartlett and Sullivan:-- In your paper of the 18th instant, I see a letter signed by somebody calling herself Matilda Davison, pretending to give the origin of Mormonism, as she is pleased to call it, by relating a moonshine story about a certain Solomon Spaulding,
a creature with the knowledge of whose earthly existence I am entirely indebted to this production; for, surely, until Dr. Philastus Hurlburt informed me that such a being lived, at some former period, I had not the most distant knowledge of his existence;
and all I know about his character is the opinion I form from what is attributed to his wife in obtruding my name upon the public in the manner in which she is said to have done, by trying to make the public believe that I had knowledge of the ignorant, and, according to her own testimony, the lying scribblings of her deceased husband; for if her testimony is to be credited, her pious husband, in his lifetime, wrote a bundle of lies for the righteous purpose of getting money. How many lies he had told for the same purpose, while he was preaching, she has not so kindly informed us; but we are at liberty to draw our own conclusions, for he that would write lies to get money, would also preach lies for the same object.
This being the only information which I have, or ever had, of the said Rev. Solomon Spaulding, I, of necessity, have but a very light opinion of him as a gentleman, a scholar, or a man of piety, for had he been either, he certainly would have taught his pious wife not to lie, nor unite herself with adulterers, liars, and the basest of mankind.
"It is only necessary to say, in relation to the whole story about Spaulding's writings being in the hands of Mr. Patterson, who was in Pittsburg, and who is said to have kept a printing office, and my saying that I was concerned in the said office, etc., is the most base of lies, without even a shadow of truth.
There was no man by the name of Patterson, during my residence at Pittsburg, who had a printing office; what might have been before I lived there I know not. Mr. Robert Patterson, I was told, had owned a printing office before I lived in that city, but had been unfortunate in business, and failed before my residence there. This Mr. Patterson, who was a Presbyterian preacher, I had a very slight acquaintance with during my residence in Pittsburg. He was then acting under an agency, in the book and stationery business, and was the owner of no property of any kind, printing office or anything else, during the time I resided in the city.
“I see a letter signed by somebody calling herself Matilda Davison, pretending to give the origin of Mormonism, as she is pleased to call it”
This is textbook attacking credibility, both of the paper who published Davison’s statement, as well as Davison herself. This is a common tactic, especially in law, if you can successfully discredit a witness’ credibility it renders their claims moot. Rigdon didn’t establish why she or the paper weren’t credible, he just helplessly thrashed against both in his very opening sentence.
“relating a moonshine story about a certain Solomon Spalding”
Rigdon paints the entire thing as an absurdity by calling it a moonshine story. This attack is unprovoked and represents a “personal incredulity logical fallacy”. He claims it’s absurd by calling it an absurd story, but doesn’t establish why it’s absurd.
“a creature with the knowledge of whose earthly existence I am entirely indebted to this production; for, surely, until Dr. Philastus Hurlburt informed me that such a being lived, at some former period, I had not the most distant knowledge of his existence;”
This is a thinly veiled form of denial known as distancing. It’s an impossible thing to do, but if Rigdon could prove that he never knew of Spalding or had never even heard the name until Hurlbut brought it to his attention, it would definitely punch a gaping hole in the theory. The problem is, Spalding wasn’t alive to validate or refute this claim. If he were alive at the time, somebody could just go ask him if he ever knew Rigdon, but Spalding died 23 years prior to this, making it a bit of a challenge to prove or falsify Rigdon’s claim that he’d never known Spalding.
“according to her own testimony, the lying scribblings of her deceased husband; for if her testimony is to be credited, her pious husband, in his lifetime, wrote a bundle of lies for the righteous purpose of getting money. How many lies he had told for the same purpose, while he was preaching, she has not so kindly informed us; but we are at liberty to draw our own conclusions, for he that would write lies to get money, would also preach lies for the same object.”
This isn’t a formal logical fallacy that I could find, but it gets to the heart of a sinister kind of discrediting where a person asserts that somebody’s claims are made purely for the financial gain. Rigdon asserts that Spalding wrote lies for the purpose of getting money, but that misses the point and it’s a red herring to the main point. Davison stated explicitly that Spalding was an imaginative person who needed a creative outlet in his retirement and thus took to writing fiction. People write fictional books to sell all the time and claiming that it somehow makes them a liar is a pure ad hominem attack and doesn’t lend any credibility to Rigdon’s entire refutation.
“This being the only information which I have, or ever had, of the said Rev. Solomon Spaulding, I, of necessity, have but a very light opinion of him as a gentleman, a scholar, or a man of piety, for had he been either, he certainly would have taught his pious wife not to lie, nor unite herself with adulterers, liars, and the basest of mankind.”
Putting aside the blatant misogyny of Rigdon basically saying that Spalding should have kept a tighter leash on his wife, Rigdon again distances himself and ad hominem attacks Matilda and Solomon with this statement. We still have yet to find a single solid refutation which can’t be boiled down to some form of logical fallacy.
“"It is only necessary to say, in relation to the whole story about Spaulding's writings being in the hands of Mr. Patterson, who was in Pittsburg, and who is said to have kept a printing office, and my saying that I was concerned in the said office, etc., is the most base of lies, without even a shadow of truth.”
This is blatant denial. Denial doesn’t imply lying nor that the opposite is inherently true; denial is something special in and of itself. There are a few types of denial and they cause all sorts of different public perceptions when the denial is made. When a person denies something, it can be done knowing full well that it’s not true, making it an active lie, or they can deny something out of ignorance or stubbornness. If someone is denying a death in the family, an addiction or something like an affair, they aren’t doing so as an active lie, they’re just in a mental state where the truth as other people see it doesn’t seem to affect them. There’s another kind of denial where it’s knowingly done in blatant contradiction to truth, which is a lie. Then there are denials which are true. If a false accusation is made, sometimes denial is the only possible answer and the person is denying something to exonerate themselves.
On the flipside of a public denial is how the public perceives the denial. What seems to happen, and this is just what I’ve seen so I could be wrong, but it seems as if denials tend to polarize the public for or against the person issuing the denial. Let’s examine Rigdon’s denial here to lay out what I mean. When he publicly denied this, it’s likely that the people who considered the Spalding theory true at the time just said to themselves, of course they would deny it because it conflicts with their narrative. People who considered the Spalding theory false, most of which were probably faithful Mormons, probably said, of course they would deny it because it’s not true. The denial doesn’t actually get us any closer or further away from the truth, it’s just the only response we would expect.
I guess it really boils down to a question. Was this denial true? Only two conclusions exist. Either Rigdon’s denial is true and the entire Spalding theory is bunk, or his denial was a blatant lie, making the Spalding theory true.
Let’s examine the last few claims Rigdon made as a bloc because he seems to contradict himself here. Before reading it, we need to understand that the Spalding theory hinges on Spalding’s manuscript being left at the Patterson Printing Press before it was dissolved in 1823. If Spalding’s manuscript wasn’t at Patterson’s printing press or Rigdon truly had no association with the press/bookstore, then there’s no direct way for the manuscript to have fallen into Rigdon’s hands and the whole theory becomes a bit less tenable.
“There was no man by the name of Patterson, during my residence at Pittsburg, who had a printing office; what might have been before I lived there I know not. Mr. Robert Patterson, I was told, had owned a printing office before I lived in that city, but had been unfortunate in business, and failed before my residence there. This Mr. Patterson, who was a Presbyterian preacher, I had a very slight acquaintance with during my residence in Pittsburg. He was then acting under an agency, in the book and stationery business, and was the owner of no property of any kind, printing office or anything else, during the time I resided in the city. “
What does this mean? Rigdon began by saying that he never knew any Robert Patterson to have owned a printing press during his time in Pittsburgh. Then he goes on to claim that he had a passing acquaintance with Robert Patterson, but that he wasn’t even in the printing business during the time Rigdon resided in Pittsburgh. This is a bold-faced lie. Rigdon was likely friends with Silas Engles, the printer for the Patterson print shop and we have Rigdon’s name on an unclaimed letter list from the Pittsburgh post office from 1816 right before Spalding’s death. It wasn’t until 1825 that Rigdon moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio, during which time Patterson purchased and ran the Pittsburgh printing press into the ground. Rigdon was living near Pittsburgh the entire time the Patterson printing press/bookstore was running and the Pittsburgh postmaster’s daughter, who was working full-time in the post office, said she saw Rigdon and Silas Engles together in the post office more than once. Are we to truly believe that Rigdon, a lover of printed material, had no knowledge of or connection to the Patterson printing press/bookstore the entire time he was there, even though he was friends with an employee of the store?
That question even ignores the fact that Rigdon worked as a tanner for many of those years. One of the primary uses for tanned hides back then was for book covers, meaning the Patterson Printing press was likely one of Rigdon’s main clients.
All of this to say, the public perception of this public exchange was what was most important. We don’t have any numbers on how this whole public debacle affected membership in the church. We don’t know if this caused a bunch of people to question and then subsequently leave the church due to the unanswerable questions raised with this new resurgence of the Spalding theory. The actual membership numbers we have were largely recounted by the Mormon leadership or as a random number some random people included in their journal about the Saints being 10 or 15 thousand strong, hardly a scientific heuristic. Granted, it may have been hard to track exactly how many people were following Jo, Rigdon and the quorum of the twelve from Kirtland to Missouri in the first place, and then trying to figure out what percentage of those people stuck with the church through the exodus to Illinois is another challenge in and of itself. Some Mormons living in Missouri renounced their membership and remained in Missouri instead of following the rest of the Saints out to Quincy, Illinois. Then, if we add all the pressures that caused Mormons to disaffect in the aftermath of the Missouri-Mormon war, the average, what we might call chapel Mormon today just attending and paying their tithes faithfully, having all this pressure comes to see Matilda Davison publish this claim that the whole damn Book of Mormon was taken off some dead guy back in Pittsburgh and the leadership doesn’t have an answer beyond denial and ad hominem attacks, this must have caused at least somebody to question just what the hell was going on here.
And let’s just run on that for a minute, how could we know the impact this public controversy had on the believing Mormon population. The Mormons in Missouri had been recounted as 8-10 thousand by Mormon accounts, but there wasn’t a Missouri census performed in that brief window of March to December of 1838, and many Mormons didn’t have actual homesteads from which to conduct a census even if it were performed. The truth of the matter is, trying to estimate Mormon population at any given time was a bit of a challenge throughout all of its history. I’ll read a quick excerpt from an article titled “How large was the population of Nauvoo” by Susan Easton Black published through BYU studies volume 35 Issue 2. In just a few short paragraphs she gets to the problems with population estimates and how hard it is to really nail down for sure. Follow the show notes for a link to the article.
“various estimates have been given by many historians for the population of nauvoo from 1839 to 1846. admittedly demographic descriptions of that era are riddled with statistical inadequacies yet while these difficulties have been recognized by historians they have not been resolved to the extent possible through research.
while historians all agree that the population of nauvoo rapidly increased between 1839 and 1846 they either describe this growth with undocumented figures avoid mentioning any concrete figures, or cast doubt on the figures they have cited. for example robert flanders simply states the population of illinois trebled during each decade between 1820 1840 and doubled between 1840 and 1850. when describing the LDS population he quotes others the mormons reported a population of ten thousand by late 1842; thomas ford in his history of illinois wrote that there were by the end of the year sixteen thousand mormons altogether in hancock. on another occasion he quotes from an october 1843 issue of the nauvoo neighbor in which nauvoo is designated the great emporium of the west, the center of all centers… a population of 15000 souls congregated from the four quarters of the globe.
two other historians david miller and Della miller accurately assert that when the mormons first arrived there in the spring of 1839 approximately 100 persons occupied the whole peninsula. by 1845 the official illinois census showed that the city had grown to nearly 12000 but they offer the caveat that most contemporary accounts both mormon and non mormon regularly overestimated the population, sometimes stretching the figure up to more than 20000. the millers mistakenly cite the january 7 1846 issue of the warsaw signal which they interpret as saying that the population of nauvoo was 22599 the signal was actually reporting on all of hancock county.
church historian B H roberts left room for a range of population sizes: early in 1843 Nauvoos population was variously computed from twelve to sixteen thousand. later he concludes when the exodus of the saints was enforced nauvoo had a population variously estimated from twelve to twenty thousand. roberts overestimation is even further exceeded by the illinois department of conservation which announced that nauvoo was illinois largest city with a population of 27000 in 1844.
As Nauvoos era is recalled by historians one is left wondering if more precise and informative statistics about Nauvoos population from 1839 to 1846 can be found. since numbers range from 12000 to 27000, a need for greater accuracy is evident.”
All of that said, how could any historian or group of historians actually figure out what the real numbers are, and as an extension question, and why I read that excerpt in the first place, how could we truly know the impact of the Spalding theory surfacing again in this public exchange?
The way I see it, Rigdon’s denial could be taken two ways and means one of two mutually exclusive things. The believers and non-believers probably fell down on either side of the issue with a few who questioned making their opinion apparent by abandoning the church; an impact which we have no way of gauging. I doubt anybody was convinced the BoM was true who otherwise weren’t when they read this letter exchange in the local newspaper, but that impact probably cut the other way. But his denial can only mean one of the following two things. Either, Rigdon’s denial was true and the Spalding theory is bunk, or his denial was bold-faced lying and the Spalding theory is true. There is no other interpretation of the facts and I don’t think that’s a false dichotomy fallacy. I simply ask you to skepticize that dichotomy for yourself and ask which makes the most sense.
But sense making wasn’t always Rigdon’s strong suit as he was known to be rather verbose in his delivery. If there truly was nothing to the Spalding theory and Rigdon were a rational human being capable of refuting these accusations without devolving into a cesspool of name-calling and logical fallacies, what might that open exchange look like? Please allow some brief artistic liberty as I try to channel my inner-Rigdon here with what I think would have been a better refutation.
"Commerce, May 27, 1839.
"Messrs. Bartlett and Sullivan:-- In your paper of the 18th instant, I see a letter signed by Matilda Davison, pretending to give the origin of Mormonism, as she is pleased to call it, by making accusations about a certain Solomon Spaulding, a man with whom I only ever had passing acquaintance; for, surely, Dr. Philastus Hurlburt informed me that the man had written by his own hand, at some former period, a history of the former inhabitants of this continent; I had not the most distant knowledge of its existence; and all I know about Mr. Spalding’s character is the opinion I form from what is attributed to his wife in obtruding my name upon the public in the manner in which she is said to have done, by trying to make the public believe that I had taken his history and made scripture of it, and, according to her own testimony, the imaginative scribblings of her deceased husband are now our Book of Mormon; for if her testimony is to be credited, her pious husband, in his lifetime, wrote a bundle of fictions for the purpose of getting money. How many stories he had told for the same purpose, while he was preaching, she has not so kindly informed us; but we are at liberty to draw our own conclusions, for he that would write stories to get money, would make a good fiction author which has no place in writing in the name of the Almighty. This being the only information which I have, or ever had, of the said Rev. Solomon Spaulding, I, of necessity, have but a very kind opinion of him as a gentleman, a scholar, and a man of piety, for he had many friends and few known enemies in this world, but wasted his time on fictitious pursuits for the purpose of getting money.
"It is only necessary to say, in relation to the whole story about Spaulding's writings being in the hands of Mr. Patterson, who was in Pittsburg, and who is said to have kept a printing office, and my saying that I was concerned in the said office, etc., is a false accusation. There was a man by the name of Patterson, during my residence at Pittsburg, who had a printing office; what business Mr. Patterson and Mr. Spalding conducted before I lived there I know not. Mr. Robert Patterson, had owned a printing office while I lived in that city, but had been unfortunate in business, and failed, and was, therefore, dissolved and sold to one who may make a better run of the business of printing in Pittsburgh. This Mr. Patterson, I am informed, was awaiting Mr. Spalding’s title page of the fiction to be published. He was then purchasing hides from the work of my hands, in the book and stationery business, and published a great deal many books while we conducted business together.
Now I feel it time to share a bit on the real story of how our golden bible, as many call it, as it is the divine work of the Almighty sent to deliver us from bonds of iniquity in our last days, for Zion shall be established to receive our savior when his time is come to set at defiance our laws and our religion; for our Book of Mormon brings all those who read it closer to their savior and promises everlasting life in the great realm that awaits those who seek to obey his will. The prophet, for none other word can scarcely describe the righteousness and persecution this man has had to endure, did see the face of our Lord God with Jesus Christ at his right hand, and they did wish that he would not join any religion as their creeds are abomination and their professors corrupt, and it was this divine calling of a young and unlearned man by which our Lord moves his will upon us to bring us closer to the savior, and soon it was by the power of god, and not man, that this unlearned man delivered our Book of Mormon to be the salvation to this generation of gentiles, and all those who feel the quickening of the spirit upon reading its pages. And it was by this mechanism that the Lord gave us the Book of Mormon and there can be no natural explanation as it was a book delivered to us in the same manner the commandments were delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, as the Lord speaks to his modern-day prophets the way he spake unto the prophets of old. As the prophets of old were directed by revelation from the Lord, so too are we directed by his will and power through revelation to build up the New Jerusalem unto this generation and our progenitors for generations to come.
There we go. A non-combative refutation to the Spalding theory which doesn’t rely on myriad logical fallacies and sticks with the story as the church claims it today. We’ve gone over the Spalding theory in the past, and I try to make no bones about the fact that the vast majority of credible historians and scholars consider it bunk, but I reserve a small credulous part in the back of my mind where the Spalding theory lives. Needless to say, seeing Rigdon’s blatant denial which relies heavily on ad hominem attacks and bold-faced lying definitely makes that small credulous part scream in excitement that there might just be something to this theory.
That does it for the historical portion for today. For the rest of today’s episode, I planned on airing a conversation I had with Professor CJ of the Dangerous History podcast, but in light of last week’s episode that conversation is going to be tabled until next week. If you want to know who I’m talking to for next week’s show, be sure to check out the Dangerous History podcast as a primer to our conversation. Instead, I want to answer some feedback I received from last week’s interview exchange with Charone Frankel of the Habeas Humor podcast.
I’m actually going to talk a little about a topic we covered in the patron only version of the conversation. Feel free to listen to that version if you’re a patron and if you’re not a patron and think the show is worth it, consider tossing us a buck or two an episode, less than a cup of coffee per month on patreon.com/nakedmormonism to hear all the extended episodes. To get everybody up to speed, Charone and I talked a bit about religious exemptions in the law and whether or not they were a good thing. To be clear, Charone claimed that all religious exemptions should be removed as they create a religious class who have certain privileges that non-religious people don’t enjoy, an inherently unfair and biased system. While I didn’t actually disagree with her, I went on a screed about how some religious exemptions may be rational when it comes to things like the Native American Church using peyote, but I applied the situation to a hypothetical Mormonism which gets to the hallucinogenic roots of Mormonism. Of course, because I’m not talking on the fly and able to listen back to our conversation and think things through a bit, I’m able to be a bit more calculated in my words and logic, but Charone essentially asked if I thought religious exemptions should be allowed, a question I didn’t actually answer at all, we just kinda rabbit trailed until the conversation was essentially over and she was plugging her show. We didn’t have any disagreement, but we didn’t come to an agreement.
It’s hard to figure out why I never directly answered the question. I think mostly because we were kind of having two different conversations. What I mean by that is, she was talking about eradicating religious exemptions, an issue I’ll talk through in a minute, while I was talking more about removing laws which I perceive to be unfair. A subsect of laws I consider unfair are certain drug use laws. The initial religious exemption which allowed the Native American Church to legally carry and use peyote is a just exemption in my opinion. My justification for that is the Natives were using peyote here for thousands of years before Europeans colonized and said that using it was illegal, I don’t think it’s fair to legislate against the practices of the Native Americans when us Europeans are the immigrants living on their land who made the laws against peyote in the first place.
The point Charone was making apropos of our discussion about cults and the FLDS is that once somebody cries religion they suddenly don’t have to follow all kinds of labor laws and child protection laws which they otherwise would be prosecuted for if they weren’t a religion. I totally agree with her point in that. I mean, seaorg, the worker bees of Scientology get paid something like 60 cents an hour for their work and scientology is never prosecuted for these heinous violations of labor laws. By extension, the LDS church doesn’t pay the majority of their sales force or the people who staff their visitor’s centers because those people are on missions, they’re paying the church to be able to work for them. Beyond that the church has a separate box on the tithing slip where you can donate to the missionary fund specifically, which is then absorbed into the towering entity that is the LDS church and they appropriate the funds as they see fit. These religious exemptions are abused by everything from multi-billion dollar corporations masquerading as churches, down to the lowliest cult leader who files for 501c3 tax exemption status all around the world and it’s simply not right.
But the issue goes quite a bit deeper than that, and follow me down this rabbit-hole for a minute because I’ll bring it back around to my conversation with Charone in a second. Take the seemingly perpetual fight the FFRF is waging against the IRS for religious exemptions in 501c3 tax status organizations. This is merely my cursory understanding of the situation, so I’ll probably get some details wrong, but the overall point stands. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the IRS back in 2014 because certain religions were enjoying non-profit filing allowances which the FFRF didn’t enjoy. If I understand correctly, non-religious non-profits have to file stricter finances with the IRS than religious non-profits, which the FFRF complained caused undue burden on them and causes preferential treatment to religious organizations strictly because they are religious. I wear a leather wristband from BeSecular with the first amendment on it for a reason. The FFRF also looped in the fact that “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” where religions film themselves giving political speeches from the pulpit and send it to the IRS daring them to prosecute, was some form of religious exemption because other non-profits like the FFRF lose their tax-exempt status when they politic from the pulpit.
These all represent religious exemptions which I consider egregious violations of fair treatment of all citizens regardless of religion, creed, culture, or ethnicity, which flies in the face of the constitution. I think anybody looking at this situation can agree that religions are being treated with undue allowances that their non-religious counterparts don’t enjoy, and that’s a problem. I didn’t articulate that point in my conversation with Charone, and as I look back on it, it seems like a foregone conclusion and a point not worth belaboring.
Where the conversation evolved after that is where I think some nuance exists and it came in the form of me asking Charone what religions should be classified as if we remove all religious exemptions. The fact of the matter is, religions aren’t going anywhere any time soon. As much as firebrand atheists wish we could live in a world without religion, it seems at least a few centuries if not millennia away if the trends continue to follow the same path they’ve followed since we’ve had writing and religion. Don’t get me wrong, I dream of the day when non-religious people out populate the religious, but that doesn’t seem like a reality for the foreseeable future and I like to live in reality and deal with it rationally. Just as Utah laws are inextricably tied to the religion of the people who make and enforce the laws, the same trend follows for American laws and Christianity in general. There’s no easy way to separate government and religion retroactively, we can only safeguard against further grievances of that nature. Hypotheticals of what our government would look like without any ties to religion are so far away from reality that I don’t have much use for wasting the intellectual resources on dreaming up what that might look like. That’s why I was asking Charone her opinion of how religions should be classified if there aren’t any laws allowing them special privileges.
Lemme back up and walk you through why that seems like a relevant question to me. Look, you get a big enough group of people together with similar ideas, it’s not long before somebody calls them a religion. One of the paramount arguments between atheists and theists is whether or not atheism is a religion, it’s not, but that’s still a common argument. In the past I’ve attended a philosophy meetup here in Seattle which meets every Friday night at a bar in Capitol Hill. They have their weekly gathering where they come together and share ideas and information for the purpose of expanding knowledge and fraternizing in general. Pump a few hundred people into that group and change the meeting day from Friday to Sunday and this philosophy group really begins to look like a religion. Get a few firebrand determinists in there and the philosophy group down the road has a few firebrand proponents of free-will and you have competing cultures of philosophy right next door to each other and things may start to look like a modern-day Palestine; with the exception that most people inclined in philosophy are also humanists and I don’t see humanists bombing each other in any possibly hypothetical, but the analogy still holds.
Why do we do this? Why do we gather together into groups of like-minded individuals? Simple, for better or worse we’re a group-think social species. I’ve said on the podcast before that I credit the church with providing structure and community to my upbringing which I otherwise would have missed had I not grown up Mormon; such is the case with any culture. I don’t agree with all the baggage and useless horseshit the church heaps on the shoulders of their parishioners, but there can be no doubt that it provides some social good, or fills some kind of cultural gap. That’s the reason religion isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and why so many people are willing to live with cognitive dissonance about their beliefs because they reap the social benefits. I’ve received in a small handful of emails from listeners who say they wish they could leave the church but if they did it would be the end of important relationships or their job so they grin and bear all the stupid shit like misogyny and homophobia.
My point is, and why I went down this rabbit hole in the first place, religions are fundamentally different from other entities. Groups of people meeting together deserve non-profit benefits and exemptions that for-profit groups shouldn’t have. Let’s face it, no philosophy group or religion is actually turning out any tangible product or service, their benefits are much harder to quantify. The IRS understands this fundamental difference in entity structuring which is why they created the 501c tax exemptions status code.
These are the entities included in the 501c3 tax code, but the exemptions go to much broader definitions all through 501c1-29 and also in the 501d-n subclauses. This is specifically 501c3, taken from the 501 wikipedia page, take that for what it’s worth.
“Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations”
An hypothetical philosophy meetup group with a few hundred people needing tax exempt status doesn’t necessarily fall into any of those categories, unless you try to loop in into an educational or scientific non-profit, but I don’t know if a bunch of 20-30 somethings getting together and drinking beer actually fulfills the needed criteria. This is a specific religious exemption in the tax code which may not apply to other similar groups, but if a group is able to classify itself as a religion, they get the exemptions. How would the people involved in that philosophy group feel about being considered a religion because they don’t fit better into any of the other 501c3 categories? I bet there might be some arguments flying around about what truly makes a religion a religion, but it doesn’t fit that important requirement to be considered a religion which is the higher power part of the equation.
The point I’m making is that gathering together as a group has an incredible amount of social benefit, and maybe it’s time to reconsider the definition of religion to include any group of people that gather on a scheduled basis to fraternize and share ideas. The entire etymology of religion doesn’t need to be tainted by the theological aspect as language is fluid and definitions change to meet our needs.
I guess that’s my conclusion. Religions aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, theologies are. Let’s appropriate the term religion or use a better word that describes any group of people who meet together with each other for all the benefits that community inspires.
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