Episode 62 – John Bennett then Brokeit
On this episode, we jump into early spring of 1840 with Elias Higbee in Washington D.C. still advocating on behalf of the Mormons. Jo gets back to Nauvoo after having abandoned the Mormons during a very harsh winter to speak with the U.S. government to get some kind of recourse for the Saints’ suffering in Missouri. Rigdon is laid up with sickness and won’t respond to letters while in his fragile state. Jo holds a general conference to handle the issues in Nauvoo which had cropped up in his absence and we’re finally introduced to one of the most infamous characters in all of Mormon history as he finally makes his way into our historical timeline. After that, I’ll be speaking with Mark Naugle so he can tell us a little of his story and the social impact of people officially leaving the church in droves. Check out the Sunstone presentation video!
Smith-Entheogen Sunstone Presentation
John Cook Bennett (Brokeit)
Mark Naugle and QuitMormon
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Before we get into the episode, I just want to let everybody know that the video of the Sunstone presentation Cody and I did on the Smith-entheogen theory is officially up. We had some technical difficulties so the video isn’t great, but the content is fully intact and the response to the presentation has been overwhelmingly positive, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, so be sure to chase the show notes for a link, or just search “Did Joseph Smith drug the Mormons?” in the youtube search bar and it should come up.
Last episode we discussed the meeting Jo had with a congressional committee appointed to hear the plea of the Mormons. The Saints had suffered so much of what they called persecution during their time in Missouri and they felt deserving of some redress for their sufferings. Jo and Elias Higbee were the Mormon leaders tasked with this meeting to tell the Mormon’s side of the story and get Congress to empathize with their plight. It wasn’t as successful as they hoped, and Jo left before the hearings were even completed to handle business in Nauvoo he’d abandoned to meet with the government in the first place.
Now it’s time to wipe off our milk moustaches as we get ready to munch some meat for today.
While Jo had departed Washington D.C. and returned to Nauvoo after the first few days of the congressional hearings, Judge Elias Higbee remained in town to continue to advocate for the Mormons given what had happened in Missouri.
We read last episode the resolution of the committee to relinquish any presence in the conflict they held and left the problem to the state of Missouri to deal with. Jo and the Mormons in Illinois and Iowa were unaware of this resolution, and thus continued to gather testimonials from the Mormons who’d suffered at the hands of the militia in Missouri in bolstering the Mormon’s case in the application for redress. Judge Elias Higbee stayed behind to continue the fight while Jo went back to Nauvoo to continue handling church affairs.
During this whole time, Hingepin Sidney Rigdon stayed in Philadelphia, remaining largely silent in reply to any letters which were sent to him. At multiple times, Higbee wrote letters to Rigdon updating him on the proceedings of the congressional committee, only to never hear back from him in regards to his whereabouts. Finally, Rigdon took the time to pen a letter to Jo in Nauvoo giving an update on his state of existence. We’ll get to reading that letter in a bit, but before we do, let’s briefly discuss the folder Jo and the Mormons were still putting together for the congressional committee, unbeknownst to them, in complete and utter futility.
As soon as Jo got back into town, he called a major conference to be held to address whatever business he’d missed since his departure for D.C. Needless to say, there had been some infighting going on in his absence. We won’t get into the drama of it, but essentially Elder Patten, Snow, and Fordham had done something that pissed off the other brethren and they were stripped of their leadership ranking while Joseph Noble, Simeon Porter, and Daniel Avery were appointed to fill the vacancies.
After these petty disputes were sufficiently handled, Jo took control of the meeting and preached something that surprised me to read when I came across it in research for this episode.
From the Dan Vogel HoC vol 4 pg 76:
“President Joseph Smith, jr., addressed the Council on various subjects, and in particular the consecration law; stating that the affair now before Congress, was the only thing that ought to interest the Saints at present; and till it was ascertained how it would terminate, no person ought to be brought to account before the constituted authorities of the Church for any offense whatever; and was determined that no man should be brought before the Council in Nauvoo till that time, &c.,&c. That the law of consecration coiuld not be kept here, and that it was the will of the Lord that we should desist from trying to keep it; and if persisted in, it would produce a perfect defeat of its object, and that he assumed the whole responsibility of not keeping it until proposed by himself.”
The law of consecration had been enshrined as a holy commandment in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Mormons had attempted to practice it while living in Missouri. The Law of Consecration sets out a system of communalism by which the saints had to live, putting all their possessions in the Bishop’s storehouse which would then be disseminated to the saints as the leadership saw fit. Systems like this have attempted to work in the past, but usually only enjoy success in very small groups and only for very limited periods of time. The saints, supposedly numbering almost 15,000 by this time, were far too large a group to effectively practice it without corruption getting in the way. The added problem when they were in Missouri was the fact that they were stealing the property of the gentile non-Mormon Missourians in the land roundabout, so if the government caught word that the Mormons were practicing in Nauvoo the same system as served to be their downfall in Missouri, it might look kinda bad.
Of course, if you’re a member of the brethren in this meeting asking about the law of Consecration and Jo says we should focus on the congressional hearings right now, a natural question arises, “But brother Joseph, has not the lord commanded us to practice the law of consecration?” to which Jo replied, “it is the will of the Lord that we should desist from trying to keep it. Don’t worry guys, if God holds us at fault for disobeying a direct commandment, I’m his prophet and I have some pretty good pull with the big guy upstairs, I’ll take all the heat for it.”
Regardless of God’s opinion on the subject, this was the most pragmatic option to keep the Mormons from getting into deeper trouble. Not only was the Missouri government in opposition to their cause, but now they had the eye of the President and Congress so it was a good idea to keep their noses clean for a little bit longer.
The next item of business in this conference is one line which sets the tone for the next multiple entries, it simply says: “He requested every exertion to be made to forward affidavits to Washington, and also letters to Members of Congress.”
Then the HoC includes a ton of signed affidavits from Mormons who suffered in Missouri, and I’ll just briefly read the summary paragraph once all of these were compiled. Before reading this, remember that just the affidavits from Jo and Hyrum alone totaled to $200k in claimed damages, so once they have all the complaints cobbled together it should fetch a healthy sum. From page 93 of volume 4 of the HoC:
“Thus I have given a few of the multitude of affidavits which might be given to substantiate the facts of our persecution and death in Missouri. When the brethren left Missouri, they were poor, having been plundered of everything valued by mobs. Much of it was done under the eye of the Government Officers, according to the foregoing affidavits;--and all by the sanction of the State of Missouri, as the acts of her Legislature testify; and being so numerous they were obliged to scatter over the State of Illinois and different States to get bread and clothing—so that but a few accounts against Missouri could be collected without unreasonable exertions. About 491 individuals gave in their claims against Missouri, which I presented to Congress—amounting to about $1,381,044.51.5 Cents; leaving a multitude more of similar bills hereafter to be presented—which if not settled immediately, will ere long amount to a handsome sum—increasing by compound interest.”
That $1.381 mn in 1840 dollars amounts to, wait for it, $36,120,417. And like I said last episode, most of the valuation they used to create that number was highly suspect and couldn’t be verified by deed records. Many of the Mormons were just glorified squatters and the government knew that, so it’s understandable that they may have been a bit shocked by the number Jo claimed in damages. It’s really no wonder they kicked it back to Missouri to handle the issue internally, especially because the federal government had much less power and influence back then as opposed to now. Also worth noting, Jo had provided a revelation that was agreed to by the brethren that he would be in control of the assets the government paid out to the saints, so if the government did end up paying out, Jo would have been one of the richest people in Illinois at the time.
This council concluded with these calls to action to focus on the congressional hearing, with nobody there knowing that it had been rejected at the time. Finally, a letter came from Judge Elias Higbee, who’d remained in Washington on behalf of the Mormons, addressed to Jo and the brethren in Commerce.
“Dear Brother.—Our business is at last ended here. Yesterday a resolution passed the Senate, that the committee should be discharged; and that we might withdraw the accompanying papers, which I have done. I have also taken a copy of the Memorial, and want to be off for the West immediately. I have not gotten a letter from President Rigdon, although I have frequently written to him. I have received a letter from brother Bennett, stating that he was in the Jerseys, and that he was calculating to have me come that way and go home with him; and also that he had business which he wanted me to attend to at the office here…
There is one honest Quaker-looking sort of man here, by the name of William Green,… who has two iron printing presses, with other things necessary, that would come to Commerce, provided you could find work for him, and inform him of the same. How much work there is to do I know not; therefore merely write that if such a man and establishment are wanted, you could easily obtain them, or would know where they could be obtained…”
And that was it, the saints were supremely screwed over for so many reasons and the whole case was dismissed. They couldn’t go back to Missouri as the extermination order was still in place and Jo would certainly be arrested as soon as he set foot across the state line. Higbee got to another important point which seems to underlie so many of the letters being sent to the presidency from every group of missionaries, Higbee told Jo of a printer looking for some work to hopefully fill the vacuum of church-printed materials everybody was requesting to be filled.
The quorum on their mission across the states, soon to be in England, were sending similar letters to Jo in hopes they could print some Books of Mormon, hymn books, and church periodicals, but Jo didn’t want to cede control of that power and doesn’t seemed to have replied in the affirmative to any of these requests. He would eventually give up control and allow the quorum to print just over 4,000 Books of Mormon out of Liverpool in 1841, but that was a year and a half after multiple people had been asking for copies or asking Jo to release the copyright so they could print copies and forward him the proceeds. It was a huge project that Jo would need to oversee since the 2,000 copies published out of Nauvoo near the end of 1840 would undergo heavy editing under the careful hand of Jo, Ebenezer Robinson, and Don Carlos Smith. If you want a breakdown of all the editions of the BoM, you’ll find a link to the encyclopedia of Mormonism on the byu website in the show notes.
But let’s go on the other point Higbee mentioned in that letter about writing to Rigdon and not getting anything in return. I mentioned it earlier, but let’s finally read some of that letter Hingepin Rigdon finally sent to Jo after his seeming hiatus from any contact.
“Dear Sir:--I thought I would occupy a portion of this morning in writing to you. By a letter received from brother Higbee yesterday, I have learned that the Senate has decided that they have no constitutional right to interfere in the case between us, and the people of Missouri; and refer us to the courts for redress; either those of Missouri or the United States. (this is where Rigdon hatches a plan and possibly unites perceptions against a common enemy who the Mormons painted as responsible for all their troubles in Missouri) Now I am confident, that there is but one person in Missouri, that we can sue with safety, and that is Boggs, and he is known to be a bankrupt, and unable to pay his debts; that if we should sue him, we will have the cost to pay, as he has nothing to pay it with. We are therefore left to bear the loss without redress, at present.
(This next portion really describes Rigdon’s situation, which may have contributed to his overall pessimistic outlook on the situation, both his own and of the Mormons.)
I am up to this time without means to get home, but I have no uneasiness about it. I shall doubtless get means as soon as my health will admit of my going. My health is slowly improving, and I think if I have no relapse, I will be able to leave for home, some time in the month of May; &c.
I have not had a chill for about four weeks, my appetite is quite good, and my food sets well on my stomach, and digests well, but there are the remains by spells, of that foulness of stomach, which has troubled me so much; and those morbid sensations, which were the cause of it, my feet and legs swell every afternoon, considerably. There is a great excitement got up here by A[lmon]. Babbit about going to Kirtland; a number from Philadelphia are going immediately. Now it is my opinion that this is an unwise movement: large purchases have been made there for the saints, and if they should fail to purchase, it will leave us in difficulty…
I wish you would say to my family, that on yesterday I had a letter from George Robinson, dated at Vermont; he is well. You may also say to them that the prospect of my speedy restoration to health is flattering at present; and that I will be there as soon as I think my health sufficient for the journey. I expect to return to Philadelphia week after next, and will not tarry one day longer that I think my health requires.
My company is all gone, and [I] am entirely alone; but it is all right, there is no blame. I should have been very glad to have been at the conference; but as I cannot, I repine not.
Believe me your br. In the hope of eternal life as ever,
Rigdon was in a bad place. I’ve discussed him at length, occasionally making reference to his mental state of wellbeing, or lack thereof, and how it may have played a role in his punctuated involvement with Jo and the Mormons. As we get further into the Nauvoo years, Rigdon continually disconnects himself from the affairs of the Mormons. He gives occasional sermons and attends various meetings, but his place as second in command of the church was being steadily threatened more with each passing day. The vacancy his absence left was quickly filled by a few select brethren who became Jo’s best friends and closest advisors periodically throughout the Nauvoo years.
I’m going to read 2 more letters that were sent to Jo as Rigdon was making his way back to Nauvoo, and the implications are incredibly crucial to the upcoming scenes in Nauvoo, as the person who penned the letter would become one of the most critical influencer to Nauvoo city policies during his brief time with the Mormons.
These are taken from the Joseph Smith papers, check the show notes for links:
Ill.— July 25th. 1840
Rev & Dear Friends:—
The last time I wrote you was during the pendency of your difficulties with the Missourians. you are aware that at that time I held the office of “Brigadier General of the Invincible Dragoons” of this state and proffered you my entire energies for your deliverance from a ruthless andsavage, tho. cowardly foe; but the Lord came to your rescue and saved you with a powerful arm. I am happy to find that you are now in a civilized land, and in the enjoyment of peace, and happiness. Some months ago I resigned my office with an intention of removing to your town, & joining your people; but hitherto I have been prevented: I hope however to remove to Commerce and unite with your church next spring. I believe I should be much happier with you. I have many things to communicate which I would prefer doing orally, and I propose to meet you in Springfield on the first monday in Dec. next as I shall be there at that time on state and United states’ business.
If I remove to Commerce I expect to follow my profession, and to that end I enclose you a slip from the “Louisville Journal” to give you an idea of my professional standing.
On the first of this month I was appointed to the office of “Quarter-Master General of the State of Illinois,” which office I expect to hold for some years, I hope you have been well,
In haste. Write me immediately.
The second letter is much more important for the fate of the saints in Nauvoo. It was sent less than a month later.
“Rev Joseph Smith Jr & Sidney Rigdon
I have written you several timescommunications to Commerce & Nauvoo supposing they were different places but a brother to a Lady in your community now in this place informs me that they are one and the same. I have received no reply to my letters and attribute the delay to a press of business or professional absence. I have come to the conclusion to join your people immediately and take up my abode with you.
Let us adopt as our motto— Sicut patribus sit Deus nobis—(As God was with our fathers, so may he be with us)—and adopt the means to the end and the victory is ours— The winged warrior of the air will not cease to be our proud emblem of liberty, and the dogs of war will be forever chained. I shall be with you in about two weeks and shall devote my time and energies to the advancement of the cause of truth and virtue and the advocacy of the Holy religion which you have so nobly defended, & so honorably sustained. My love to all the bretheren. With sentiments of paternal regard
John Cook Bennett made for a powerful ally to Jo and the saints, but also made himself to be one of the church’s greatest adversaries. This is from his biography on the JSP.
“3 Aug. 1804–5 Aug. 1867. Physician, minister, poultry breeder. Born at Fairhaven, Bristol Co., Massachusetts. Son of John Bennett and Abigail Cook. Moved to Marietta, Washington Co., Ohio, 1808; to Massachusetts, 1812; and back to Marietta, 1822. Married first Mary A. Barker, 9 Jan. 1826, at Marietta. Joined Pickaway Masonic Lodge, ca. 1827, in Circleville, Pickaway Co., Ohio. Methodist; later affiliated with Christian Disciple (Campbellite) faith. Moved to Wheeling, Ohio Co., Virginia (later in West Virginia), 1831. Charged with lying and other misconduct by Pickaway Masonic Lodge, 1834. Moved to Fairfield, Wayne Co., Illinois, 1838. Commissioned brigadier general in Second Division in Illinois militia, 1839. Moved to Nauvoo, Hancock Co., Illinois, 1840. Baptized into LDS church, Sept. 1840, at Nauvoo. Helped draft and secure Nauvoo charter, 1840.”
There’s a lot more after that, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Bennet had exchanged letters with Jo a few times prior to this, having learned Mormon doctrine sometime in the mid-1830s, but he apparently hadn’t given it proper consideration up to that point or something, so here we are, August of 1840, and he sent the letter to Jo and Rigdon telling them that he intends on joining the Mormon religion in Nauvoo.
Let me read from Robert Flander’s book, Nauvoo, chapter 4, to give us some context on John Bennett.
“It seemed not to occur to Smith that some men might wish to cultivate him for their own purposes. Mormonism, like any growing enterprise, attracted the ambitious and the clever. Some were men of integrity and some were not; Dr. John C. Bennet, M.E., Quarter-master General of Illinois, was apparently one of the latter, but Smith was at the outset of their relationship a less able judge of character than of talent and charm. Little is known of Bennett either before or after his affair with the Mormons. He was an officer of the “Invincible Dragoons,” a militia company of Edwards, White, and Wabash Counties in southeastern Illinois, and was living at Fairfield in neighboring Wayne County in 1840. Despite the medical title, Bennett presented the image of a military man. Politics and the pursuit of influence were the professions he sought when he approached the Mormons and offered his services…
Bennett in his letter conveyed the air of a busy man of affairs with obligations and responsibilities of moment. Yet he seemed to be one of those noblemen of the earth who had condescended to believe God’s truth with humility, and meekness to obey the command of His Prophet:…
Bennett was serious about moving to Navuoo and joining the Church, and he arrived in August or September of 1840. He was there, however, not as an ordinary convert, but in the seat of power at the Prophet’s right hand. The Mormon leader felt himself in need of a man such as Bennett seemed to be as an adviser, confidant, and executive lieutenant. Sidney Rigdon was proving a slender reed in the demanding business of kingdom building. Brigham Young and Heber Kimball were in England. Smith was young, without knowledge of the ways of the world in which he was now committed to promote the Kingdom, and he was standing virtually alone at the head of his people. Bennett seemed to be a man of ambition, force, energy and intelligence—qualities that had already won him the preferment in the world. They were attributes which Smith possessed himself and admired in others, and he expected this prestigious new aid-de-camp to “open doors” for the advancement of Nauvoo. Bennett played a conspicuous role in developing two of the most characteristic and important Nauvoo institutions: the city government and the [Nauvoo] Legion. He took up residence in Nauvoo in time to avail the benefits of his “speaking powers” to the semiannual conference in October, 1840, which took official action concerning these institutions… On October 5 the agenda of business included a motion to appoint a committee responsible for drafting “a bill for the incorporation of the town of Nauvoo, and for other purposes.” Smith, Bennett, and Robert B. Thompson were designated as the committee, presumably by Smith as presiding officer. Smith and Bennett had already been at work on the charter and probably had it completed before the conference met. On the same afternoon that committee was authorized[,] Bennett reported to the assembly “the outlines” of the city charter. The conference endorsed the committee’s work, apparently with little or no debate. Bennet was now an officially recognized and endorsed architect of the city’s future.”
I might make some enemies with this, but I love John Bennett. I don’t love what he did, because, let’s face it, he was a grade A premium all American bastard, but what he symbolizes is so powerful and exciting as Nauvoo was beginning to become a sprawling metropolis in the early 1840s. Bennett was just a more brazen full-tilt version of Joseph Smith. Everything Bennett did to be maligned in church history, Joseph was doing under the surface, Jo was just a bit more discreet about his actions. While Jo practiced the God-approved polygamy with some women in Nauvoo, Bennett was openly propositioning women to become his spiritual wives on a much wider scale and likely providing abortions when pregnancy inevitably happened. While Jo tried to lobby congress, and rub elbows with influential people in government, Bennett had years of practice in government and leadership roles and used that experience to bend people to his will. What Jo delivered by divine revelation as guidance for the saints, Bennett enshrined the will of God into law. When Jo thought it might be a good idea to curb the public drunkenness plaguing Nauvoo, Bennett passed city ordinances to outlaw the sale of all alcohol in small quantities. Jo likely did a number of things out of nothing more than self-interest, whereas self-interest was John Bennett’s sole guiding principle. That was Bennett’s thing, he personified all of Jo’s most and least likable traits and turned them up a couple levels until the people couldn’t take him anymore. He was an eccentric human version of every polarizing trait the prophet held. If Jo was a real protagonist to a “based on a true story” type of fictionalized Mormon history, Bennett would be his evil twin, the anti-Jo, if you will. His style was brashness, his forte, intensity. He did everything Jo did, but to such extremes that he broke everything. When John Bennett got ahold of something, he didn’t bennett, he brokeit, inducting John Bennett into the echelons of influential Mormon historical figures deserving of his own NaMo nickname. John Bennett will be known to us as John Brokeit for the purposes of our historical timeline. Keep your eye on this one, he may not be with us long, but his power and presence influenced Mormon history and his defection from the church nearly brokeit in half, leaving Nauvoo in social ruins amidst rumors of underground sex and abortion rings and using undue political influence leading up to Jo’s run for President of the United States. I look forward to learning all about John Brokeit as we move further into the Nauvoo years of Jo’s Mormonism. Let’s see just how far John Brokeit can bend Jo and the Mormons before he breaks everything and begins his crusade against the people he once called his acolytes.
Speaking of people trying to break a system, the next segment you’re going to hear is an interview I had with Mark Naugle of quitmormon.org. The audio isn’t great because it was conducted in my car right by the airport, by the conversation is really great and I have a feeling like Naugle’s work is only the harbinger of a broader trend of people, especially millennials, who are giving the church the middle-finger by sending in their resignation letters.
Just a parting thought on that, I think quitmormon.org and Mark Naugle fill an incredibly necessary and altruistic niche. This is something the Mormon community needs as so many people are relieved when they finally get that confirmation letter back telling them their names are off the church’s official records. Occasionally pop over to the ex-mormon subreddit to see posts we talked about where people are ecstatic to get the letters as it’s the official letter saying the monkey is off their back. I’m glad Naugle does what he does and that the service exists, and I think the way he approaches the subject is perfect, the service is there to help you if you decide you want to have your name removed, but he doesn’t advertise or evangelize the service saying that people should leave. It’s a decision for you to make personally. I’ve made my case in the past for why I won’t have my name removed, but that’s my decision, and if I ever change my mind, Mark will be my emissary to the church in having my name removed. It’s great to have the freedom of choice in the face of the church when claims to have all the power to define who is and is not Mormon. You’ll find a link in the show notes for quitmormon as well as some contact information for Mark should you have any questions, and once again, I want to thank Mark for taking some time out of his vacation to meet with me and have the interview.
Riss NaMo HE
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