Ep 75 – Bennett’s Teetotalitarianism
On this episode, the era of excitement for the new official Mormon home in Nauvoo gets to the leadership’s collective head. Wreck-it Bennett gets up on the stand during his mayoral inauguration and sets out a number of decrees Nauvoo would need to fulfill if it’s to last into the coming decade. The Nauvoo government establishes a small number of committees and passes ordinances to set out the letter of the theocratic law. Nauvoo would be a temperate society, but effectively fostered an underground market for liquor, just like the U.S. government in the following century, but Jo and Bennett had their fingers on the knobs for who could buy and sell liquor within the city limits. This episode is all about organization by a group which had suffered from lack thereof for over a decade up to this point. After that we’re joined by Jack Naneek of the Mormon Awakenings podcast to discuss just what it means to be a member of the church and seek validation from our Mormon community.
Mormon Awakenings Podcast w/Jack Naneek
Imaginary Friends Show guest spot
Wayward Willis guest spot
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Last episode we read through most of D&C section 124 as it was the first major revelation Jo gave in Nauvoo. He had to hit the reset button and weld together the patchwork of church hierarchy that had been in place up to this point for the purposes of finally creating a stable system upon which the Mormons could finally rely. Nauvoo held its first official election with John Wreck-it Bennett being elected as Mayor with a number of trusted church elite elected to all other important offices. Jo had finally established his own Mormon theocracy. We discussed a number of land and business speculations infecting the Mormons elite and we even discussed a story where Pistol-Packin’-Porter Rockwell had to attack a man to keep him from shooting Jo with a pistol. My apologies to anyone who may have died from our drinking game last episode. Things are just beginning to ramp up in Nauvoo… let’s hear what kind of crazy bucket of nonsense Jo and friends get stuck in today.
Before jumping into the timeline, we talked about Robert D. Foster needing his very own NaMo nickname moving forward through our timeline. Foster said he would be blessed of God to rid the world of the tyrant that was Joseph, after which Jo fined Robert Foster and his brother $100 for disorderly conduct. Our winner for Robert Foster’s NaMo nickname submitted the winning entry because Jo commanded Robert Foster to build him a house. Thank you to @KB9WVI for their entry, and we will now know Robert D. Foster as Bob the Builder in our historical timeline. Well done KB9WVI, head on over to twitter and give them a follow if it tickles your fancy.
Let’s talk about Nauvoo, because it was finally brass-tacks time. With the city being official and all but one of the elected city offices being filled by Mormons, suddenly everything Jo and his elite did in their meetings had real-life impact on government affairs instead of being passed as vacuous platitudes as had been done so frequently in the past. Beginning in mid-January 1841 and continuing all through to March, the Mormons kicked it into hyperdrive mode to get some real work done… well…. Real work put on paper at least in hopes that it would translate to reality.
We read a couple of proclamations decreed by the Nauvoo government last episode, but now that the actual government was organized, it was time for people’s own motivations to exert their corrupting influences on the Mormon populace.
On 3rd Feb, 1841, John C. Wreck-it Bennett stood in front of the Nauvoo City Council and gave a speech detailing the future actions of the Mormons on social issues he thought most concerning at the time.
From Vogel HoC 4:281 Before reading, it should be noted that this entire speech Wreck-it Bennett gave was actually removed from the HoC when it was initially compiled into books C-1 and C-2 of the Documentary HoC, but it was published in the times and seasons so it’s included in Vogel’s version of the HoC.
“Gentlemen of the City Council, Aldermen and Councilors:
Having been elected to the Mayoralty of this city by the unanimous suffrage of all parties and interests, I now enter upon the duties devolving upon me as your Chief Magistrate under a deep sense of the responsibilities of the station. I trust that the confidence reposed in me, by my fellow citizens, has not been misplaced, and for the honor conferred they will accept my warmest sentiments of gratitude. By the munificence and wise legislation of noble, high-minded, and patriotic statemen, and the grace of God, we have been blessed with one of the most liberal corporate acts ever granted by a legislative assembly…
(Then he goes on to say that from time to time he’ll communicate his concerns as mayor to the other city council officials and he’s taking an opportunity to do so right now)
The 21st section of the addenda to the 13th section of the City Charter, concedes to you plenary power “to tax, restrain, prohibit and suppress, tippling houses, dram shops,” etc., etc., and I now recommend, in the strongest possible terms, that you take prompt, strong, and decisive measures to “prohibit and suppress” all such establishments. It is true you have the power “to tax,” or license and tolerate, them, and thus add to the city finances; but I consider it much better to raise revenue by an advalorem tax on the property of sober men, than by licensing dram shops, or taxing the signs of the inebriated worshipers at the shrine of Bacchus. The revels of bacchanalians in the houses of blasphemy and noise will always prove a disgrace to a moral people. Public sentiment will do much to suppress the vice of intemperance, and its concomitant evil results; but ample experience has incontrovertibly proven that it cannot do all—the law must be brought to the rescue, and an effective prohibitory ordinance enacted. This cannot be done at a better time than at present…It would be difficult to calculate the vast amount of evil and crime that would be prevented, and the great good that would accrue to the public at large by fostering the cause of temperance; but suffice it to say that the one would be commensurate to the other. No sales of spirituous liquors whatever, in a less quantity than a quart, except in cases of sickness on the recommendation of a physician or surgeon duly accredited by the Chancellor and Regents of the University, should be tolerated. The liberty of selling the intoxicating cup is a false liberty—it enslaves, degrades, destroys; and wretchedness and want are attendant on every step,--its touch, like that of the poison upas, is death. Liberty to do good should be cheerfully and freely accorded to every man; but liberty to do evil, which is licentiousness, should be peremptorily prohibited.”
Wreck-it Bennett was a teetotaler. But his teetotalitarianism didn’t limit itself to him staring down his nose at somebody who had a drink, he was a temperance advocate. Bennett hated it when people were drunk. Bennett had his vices, but that didn’t stop him from trying to outlaw other people’s vices. His vice was illegal, adultery laws had just passed the Illinois state legislature less than 10 years prior to this, so if Bennett couldn’t be happy then nobody could. We saw how prohibition went in this country, but we have the luxury of looking back at the 1920s and the following great depression to see the widespread impact of the successful temperance movement, Bennett was working with an insufficient data set in forwarding the temperance agenda in Nauvoo.
What’s interesting is this flew in the face of the prophet. Jo had been an early drunkard from a young age, likely making whiskey with dad in the barn to sell over the winter time, and he took almost no efforts to conceal his frequent botulism, even supplying the Mormons with barrels of wine during celebrations like the Kirtland Temple dedication ceremony and requiring wine be used in the sacrament ceremony until late 1830. Even the WoW, written only 7 years prior to this, makes allowances for beer and wine of your own make. Jo liked alcohol. But, I think this may be a time in Mormon history where Jo was forced to cede authority to somebody else with a long-term goal in mind. Bennett had done what was necessary to get the Nauvoo Charter passed, and had devoted hours of his valuable time as an elected official of Illinois to Jo and the Mormons, so it was only fair Jo paid him back as a sign of good will. Wreck-it Bennett making Nauvoo a dry city was, in my mind anyway, Jo exhibiting to Bennett that he was willing to give ground and compromise with Bennett, even if he may fundamentally disagree. If we read Bennett’s decree and Jo’s following actions through that lens, I think it paints a more wholistic picture of the scenario, because a mere 2 weeks later, Bennett’s prohibition ordinance passed with Jo giving a qualifier to assuage any personal concerns which may arise.
From the Vogel HoC 4:293
“Sec. 1. Be it ordained by the city council of the city of Nauvoo, that all persons and establishments whatever, in this city, are prohibited from vending whisky in a less quantity than a gallon, or other spirituous liquors in a less quantity than a quart, to any person whatever, excepting on the recommendation of a physician, duly accredited in writing by the chancellor and regents of the University of the city of Nauvoo; and any person guilty of any act contrary to the prohibition contained in this ordinance, shall, on conviction thereof before the mayor or municipal court, be fined in any sum not exceeding twenty-five dollars, at the discretion of said mayor or court; and any person or persons who shall attempt to evade this ordinance by giving away liquor, or by any other means, shall be considered alike amenable, and fined as aforesaid.
Passed Feb. 15, 1841”
It was passed, but you can imagine that the various members of the council who preferred their drink weren’t too pleased. I assume this declaration was met with some ire, but Jo was happy to explain the matter away in some kind of effort to allay frustrations.
“In the discussion of the foregoing bill, I spoke at great length on the use of liquors, and showed that it was unnecessary, and operates as a poison in the stomach, and that roots and herbs can be found to effect all necessary purposes.”
I’ve read that on the podcast before, specifically when Cody and I were talking about the Smith-Entheogen theory, but this is the historical context surrounding the quote and February 1841 is when it was given. Let’s examine that quote in context with the entirety of the prohibition bill and Wreck-it Bennett’s war on drinks.
First off, Bennett’s decree from the pulpit and the wording in Jo’s actual temperance ordinance strike an interesting few details into the law. It only forbids the sale of whisky and liquor, and wraps in anybody who just conveniently “gifts” some alcohol to another as being in violation. It says nothing of the production of alcohol for sale in other places, it only forbids the sale and transfer within the Nauvoo city limits. It also adds limiters to the amount of alcohol that can be sold, by saying no whisky under a gallon and other spirituous liquors less than a quart can’t be sold, but it says nothing about growlers or barrels. This means alcohol could be legally bought and sold in large quantities, so they were really only outlawing sale of alcohol in the quantities sold in bars. There’s also the doctor’s note provision written in there, so you could buy and consume alcohol if your doctor gives you a note. Just look how well that works with medicinal cannabis states before they eventually become recreationally legal states…
It should be considered that alcohol was one way to be hydrated in the 19th century. When clean water was a precious commodity, you add a little alcohol and it kills a bunch of disease inducing bacteria that commonly lives in water, and often makes the tainted water not taste so terrible. People were often faced with a decision of drinking stream water that may very well be carrying cholera, or drinking alcohol that’ll cause slight inebriation, but won’t carry cholera. But this wasn’t Bennett’s take, he wanted nobody to drink alcohol. Bennett didn’t even have the Increase Mather perspective when he said in the early 1700s that: “Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan, the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil.” At lease Mather’s perspective is moderate allowing for drinking but not abuse of alcohol, that’s not what Bennett was looking for.
Let’s consider the monetary impact of this outlawing of alcohol sales in small quantities. Yes, it did force the Mormons to go outside of Nauvoo for when they inevitably needed to satiate their thirst, driving commerce out of the city or pushing it underground making the city unable to collect taxes from the sales. The way this played itself out was grogshops and bars outside of Nauvoo were the only place where people could get their alcohol, and they still did.
Thomas Sharp’s articles about the Mormons published in the Warsaw Signal newspaper offers some wonderful insights to the actual day-to-day practices of the Mormons. He wrote in his 14 July 1841 article titled “Temperance Among the Mormons,” about how the Mormons took care of their thirst. I’m reading this from Lamar Peterson’s Hearts Made Glad, starting on page 192:
“’People at a distance are apt to imagine the Mormons a very temperate body of men, because the ordinances of their city forbid the sale of ardent spirits, unless under very severe restrictions. But this impression is false. It is true that the Saints do not get drunk at home, but they have only to cross the river to Montrose, and there they can revel to their heart’s content in spiritual luxuries.
Even the Prophet himself, although a seeming devotee of the temperance cause, is a better friend to Bacchus than to any other God; except, perhaps, Plutus. We have heard of three sprees of his in the last ten months. In the first he appeared amongst his followers, and offered to prove the truth of his mission by a miracle—which was to clime a hickory pole sixty feet high, with the bark off, heels upward. The second was on board the steamer Nauvoo, in her excursion to Bloomington last fall. On this occasion his holiness drank whiskey until he found himself on his back, feeling upwards for the ground. So says our informant. The third, was last week. On this occasion it does not appear that Jo. was exactly drunk: but it seemed strange to see the Prophet of the Lord, at the head of a champaigne party, crying lustily, “take away the empty bottles, and bring on the full ones.” verily our modern Prophet is the very beau ideal of a pious Christian! How abstemious! How self-denying! But this is none of our business—we will not turn preacher, however much the occasion may require it.’
(Continuing from Peterson’s Hearts Made Glad talking about the next week’s periodical from Thomas Sharp of the Warsaw Signal.)
On July 21 Sharp noted the visit of Joseph Smith to Warsaw, accompanied by General John C. Bennett, and reported that inside their coach was a bowie-knife, a rifle, pistols, ammunition, and ‘a courage-raiser in the shape of a decanter—whether wine, brandy, or gin, this deponent sayeth not…half a mile from town, the Prophet and suit halted, and took a regular swig—doubtless by way of inspiration.’ On October 6 the editor noted the establishment of a grog shop near the Temple and in an editorial on December 8, entitled, ‘Mormon Military Operations,’ reported destruction of the shop by the Nauvoo Legion armed with swords, spears, muskets, pistols, and banners. ‘This most courageous action of the Nauvoo Legion will undoubtedly entitle it to a high place on the tablet of fame, more especially when it is remembered that this was their first battle, and their enemy was a grogshop, eight feet long by ten wide.’”
Yeah, the first fight encountered by the Nauvoo Legion was destroying a local bar, or grogshop as they called it. The Mormon leadership was militant about liquor in and around Nauvoo. From later in Peterson’s book:
“A few days before the destruction of Kilbourn’s shop Joseph recorded the fate of the groggery kept by a stone-mason and merchant who had worked on both the Kirtland and the Nauvoo Temples: ‘In obedience to an order from the mayor Bennett, I called out two companies of the Nauvoo Legion, and removed a grog shop kept by Pulaski S. Cahoon, which had been declared a nuisance by the city council.’”
A grogshop which was declared a nuisance by the powers that be, was destroyed at the hands of Jo and the Nauvoo Legion. Let’s investigate the provision written in to Bennett’s declaration. He said: “No sales of spirituous liquors whatever, in a less quantity than a quart, except in cases of sickness on the recommendation of a physician or surgeon duly accredited by the Chancellor and Regents of the University, should be tolerated.” Which Jo wrote into the prohibition ordinance as: “duly accredited in writing by the chancellor and regents of the University of the city of Nauvoo;” For the record, Mayor Bennett was declared as Chancellor of the University of Nauvoo, so he had the final say in who would get a license to sell liquor, do you think anybody on Wreck-it Bennett or Jo’s shitlists had their application approved? A Saint named Theodore Turley in 1843 built a saloon in Nauvoo and was permitted to keep it running by Jo, then Mayor of Nauvoo after Bennett’s volcanic exile. This is taken from much later in Hearts Made Glad:
“After Theodore Turley’s success, as other breweries and taverns began to proliferate in the environs of the Saints—Nauvoo, Ramus, Lima, Warren, Rushville, Zarahemla (Montrose)—Joseph endeavored to keep a watchful eye on their operations, record: ‘I have been ferreting out grog shops, groceries, and beer barrels. I have warned the rum and beer dealers to be scarce after this time, and the peace officers to watch the grog shops and give me seasonable notice of any disorder. If they are conducted as they have been, I will rip them up.’
But to insure that the public would not be deprived of the high benefits of worthy brews and distillates at Schussler’s, Turley’s, Davis’, Law’s, Hanna’s, Lyon’s, Stevenson’s, or Moeser’s, the Prophet again revamped the ordinances for the advantage of ‘the discreet’:
Sect. 1. Be it ordained by the City Council of the city of Nauvoo that the Mayor of this city is hereby authorized to sell said liquors in such quantities as he may deem expedient.
Sect. 2. Be it further ordained, that other persons not exceeding one to each ward of the city, may also sell said liquors in like quantities for medical and mechanical purposes by obtaining a license of the Mayor of the city. The above ordinance to be in full force and effect immediately after its passage,--all ordinances to the contrary notwithstanding.
Passed January 16, 1844. Joseph Smith, Mayor’”
People, regardless of belief, by in large are going to get their alcohol. Jo knew it, Bennett knew it, all the Mormons knew it and they weren’t straightedge about the WoW back then like they are today. Bennett had caused all legal sales of alcohol not approved of by the Mayor to be illegal, which meant that there were only a few places you could legally buy alcohol in Mormon-town, and I’d be willing to bet that those who were granted licenses by Jo and Bennett were probably only those closest to Jo and Company. All these factors created a black market of alcohol sales at the small serving level, because sale of alcohol in bulk wasn’t against the law or this Nauvoo ordinance, making it so those buying and selling liquor at the single customer level would still have that money exchanged in the local Nauvoo economy, but the government couldn’t tax it. Nauvoo government or the federal government collecting taxes on alcohol sales could take some money out of the economy, so it’s reasonable that the Nauvoo government would want to retain the money of those microtransactions for the lowliest poor Mormons. So, they effectively created this black market with Jo and Wreck-it Bennett controlling the knobs by granting licenses to who they wanted to sell liquor, and literally destroying any establishments which conflicted with the law, using the Nauvoo Legion to perform said destruction. Nauvoo was so corrupt. Nauvoo in 1840 was like Vegas in 1931 with all these small interlocking regulations and social pressures creating the perfect environment to gestate a viciously corrupt and self-serving elite.
We’ll be discussing temperance and the murky waters of Nauvoo alcohol laws in future episodes, but this has served as a good primer. What got us started down this rabbit hole was Bennett’s first official speech as Mayor of Nauvoo, and we only got in one and a half paragraphs. Let’s discuss a few other highlights extracted from his talk included in the Vogel HoC vol 4.
“The immediate organization of the University, as contemplated in the 24th section of the act incorporating our city, cannot be too forcibly impressed upon you at this time. As all matters in relation to mental culture, and public instruction, from common schools up to the highest branches of a full collegiate course in the arts, sciences, and learned professions, will devolve upon the Chancellor and Regents of the University, they should be speedily elected, and instructed to perfect their plan, and enter upon its execution with as little delay as possible. The wheels of education should never be clogged, or retrograde, but roll progressively from the Alpha to the Omega of a most perfect, liberal, and thorough course of university attainments.”
After that he goes on to quote at great length a passage from what he calls Alexander’s Messenger. I could only find a paper called Alexander’s weekly messenger published during the time Bennett lifted the paragraphs in Pittsburgh, but I couldn’t find an actual digital copy with the exact words. Basically it tells of the problems of learning stuffs because it makes you stupid sounding with all them big words and such is the quackery of education.
Wreck-it Bennett concluded his thoughts about the lacking education system with a vacuous screed about how great the Nauvoo University education system will be.
“Our University should be a “utilitarian” institution—and competent, industrious teachers and professors should be immediately elected for the several departments. “Knowledge is power,”—foster education and we are forever free! Nothing can be done which is more certainly calculated to perpetuate the free institutions of our common country, for which our progenitors “fought and bled, and died.” than the general diffusion of useful knowledge amongst the people… The most liberal policy should attend the organization of the University, and equal honors and privileges should be extended to all classes of the community.”
I mean, those platitudes are pretty much the point of all education systems. It took Jo and Wreck-it Bennett a few days to come up with the ordinance to organize the University of Nauvoo which passed on 9th Feb 1841.
“Sec. 1. Be it ordained by the council of the city of Nauvoo, that the “University of the city of Nauvoo” be, and the same is hereby organized by the appointment of the following Board of Trustees; to-wit—John C. Bennett, chancellor; William Law, registrar; and Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, William Marks, Samuel H. Smith, Daniel H. Wells, Newel K. Whitney, Charles C. Rich, John T. Barnett, Wilson Law, Don Carlos Smith, John P. Greene, Vinson Knight, Isaac Galland, Elias Higbee, Robert D. Foster (Bob the Builder), James Adams, Robert B. Thompson, Samuel Bennett, Ebenezer Robinson, John Snider, George Miller, and Lenos M. Knight, regents of the “University of the city of Nauvoo,”…”
Also included near the end of Bennett’s address was a little about his excitement for a new construction project.
“I would earnestly recommend the construction of a wing-dam in the Mississippi at the mouth of the ravine at or near the head of Main street, and the excavation of a ship canal from that point to a point terminating in a grand reservoir on the bank of said river, east of the foot of said street, a distance of about two miles. This would afford, at the various outlets, the most ample water power for propelling any amount of machinery for mill and manufacturing purposes, so essentially necessary to the building up of a great commercial city in the heart of one of the most productive and delightful countries on earth. I would advise that an agent be immediately appointed on behalf of the city corporation, to negotiate with eastern capitalists for the completion of this great work, on the most advantageous terms, even to the conveyance of the privilege for a term of years. This work finished, and the future greatness of this city is placed upon an imperishable basis.”
But he wasn’t done with decreeing the need for major projects.
“The public health requires that the low lands, bordering on the Mississippi, should be immediately drained, and the entire timber removed. This can and will be one of the most healthful cities in the west, provided you take prompt and decisive action in the premises.”
We’ll read one more of Bennett’s proclamations included in his presentation, but I have to read from what comes up two days later in the HoC. Remember, the HoC was compiled from hundreds of sources and all changed to be written from the first-person perspective of Joseph Smith. Read I as Joseph Smith:
“And I gave a general invitation to my friends to enroll themselves as to have a perfect organization by the fourth of July. (Nauvoo Legion) I was appointed chairman of several committees, viz—“On the canal,” “for vacating the town of commerce,” “vending spirituous liquors,” “code of city ordinances,” “Board of Health,” &c. Council adjourned to the 8th.”
Jo was the chairman over all those things. Pardon me for having a lack of faith in his ability to execute things, but Jo doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who can actually get shit done. Marie and I just read through D&C 105 for MyBookofMormon podcast which is the revelation Jo gave at the end of Zion’s camp basically telling everybody that the 1000 mile trip was all for nothing and it was time to go home. Go listen to those episodes when they come out in a week or two. Jo couldn’t follow the golden rule of underpromise overdeliver when it came to nearly anything he did. Are we really to expect that Nauvoo was his leaf-turning moment?
Here’s another passage which drives my point home:
“And the following persons were elected by the council to their offices to-wit—Henry G. Sherwood, marshal; James Sloan, recorder; Robert B. Thompson, treasurer; James Robinson, assessor; Austin Cowles, supervisor of streets.” And then Jo goes on to present a resolution thanking various government officials for being friends to the Mormons in passing all this legislation.
The final point Wreck-it Bennett made in his screed was how awesome the Nauvoo Legion would be and how crucial it would be to their survival.
“…I would recommend the immediate organization of the Legion. Comprising, as it does, the entire military power of our city, with a provision allowing any citizen of Hancock county to unite by voluntary enrollment, early facilities should be afforded the court martial for perfecting their plans of drill, rules, and regulations. Nothing is more necessary to the preservation of order and the supremacy of the laws, than the perfect organization of our military forces, under a uniform and rigid discipline and approved judicious drill; and to this end I desire to see all the departments and cohorts of the Legion put in immediate requisition…; the Legion should maintain the constitution and the laws, and be ready at all times for the public defense. The winged warrior of the air perches upon the pole of American liberty, and the beast that has the temerity to ruffle her feathers should be made to feel the power of her talons;…”
In response to Bennett issuing this profound decree, Jo brought forward a bill on 4th Feb which officially created the Nauvoo Legion. I’ll spare you reading the whole thing because, big surprise, it just lists a bunch of names we’ve already heard a bunch of times when it comes to the Nauvoo government. I will, however, read to you a couple of interesting passages from the HoC with proper date stamps.
“Be it ordained by the city council of the city of Nauvoo, that the inhabitants of the city of Nauvoo, and such citizens of Hancock county as may unite by voluntary enrollment, be, and they are hereby organized into a body of independent military men, to be called the “Nauvoo Legion,”
This had an addition:
“Any citizen of Hancock county may, by voluntary enrollment, attach himself to the Nauvoo Legion, with all the privileges which appertain to that independent military body.”
This was passed on 4th Feb 1841. It’s seer-stone-clear that the Nauvoo Legion was initially organized as a voluntary militia. Enrollment numbers must have been lacking, because on 20th February, 16 days after the Nauvoo Legion was officially organized as a voluntary militia, this resolution was passed.
“That no person whatever, residing within the city limits of the city of Nauvoo, between the ages of 18 and 45 years, excepting such as are exempted by the laws of the United States, shall be exempt from military duty, unless exempted by a special act of this court; and the fines for neglecting or refusing to appear on the days of general parade were fixed at the following rates…”
And then it goes on to list a scale of fines for those who don’t show up. Barely two weeks after its creation, the Nauvoo Legion became a mandatory enrollment militia with monetary penalties for those who don’t attend. We wonder how the Nauvoo Legion was able to garner 3-4,000 fighting men so quickly after its creation, well that’s because there was a Mormon draft without the pressing need of an active war to justify said draft. Just to be clear though, the Nauvoo Legion didn’t often run drills or practice shooting at a range, for the most part it was comprised of farmers and city workers who were there to follow the prophet, dressed up in battle regalia with their rifles parading around town. The fact that they were a drafted army who spent more time battling against inanimate grogshops than they did against any actual army or mob, didn’t seem to make them any less intimidating to observers. It would be a mere 2 months later that the Legion was out in full force in the Nauvoo city streets during the Temple cornerstone ceremony, which exhibited a sight to instill fear of the unknown potential of the Mormons in the hearts of any casual observer, like Thomas Sharp, editor of the Warsaw Signal.
In the 20th Jan 1841 publication of the Warsaw Signal, Sharp reprinted a few extracts which were first published in the Times and Seasons. You’ll find a link to the Warsaw Signal archives digitized by Dale Broadhurst on SidneyRigdon.com, but let me read a quick extract from that 20 Jan article:
“The "Nauvoo Legion," embraces all our military power, and will enable us to perform our military duty by ourselves and thus afford the power, and privilege of avoiding one of the most fruitful sources of strife, oppression, and collision with the world. It will enable us to show our attachment to the state and nation as a people, whenever the public service requires our aid -- thus proving ourselves obedient to the paramount laws of the land, and ready at all times to sustain and execute them. “
The Mormons were a bit rushed to cobble the Nauvoo Legion together. Something happened back in Missouri which may help to explain the hasty nature of the Legion’s organization and the church-government draft mandate forcing all Mormon men from 18 to 45 to enlist.
The Mormon situation in Missouri was just simmering at this time. The Mormons felt wronged, the Missourians felt wronged, nobody had a solid case for their side given the politics of Jackson’s Democracy and everything that had happened between the two parties. Well, the Missouri State Government decided to finally copy and publicly release all the documents they’d collected related to the Missouri-Mormon war of 1838. Missouri had just made an announcement that they had procured 2000 copies of all the documents set to be distributed soon. How would the release of all this previously private documentation affect the public perception of the Mormons? What would the typical citizen of Illinois think when they read about Dr. Sampson Avard’s testimony concerning the Danites and the Mormon depredations in Daviess County? Would the information released incite a mob out of Illinois which would drive out the saints and once again force them to find a new home? These unanswered questions may have led to Jo and Bennett’s expediting the Nauvoo Legion formation as a preemptive response.
I want to comment on the names we’ve read today in these various committee formations, ordinances, and everything relating to Nauvoo Government we’ve discussed today. Think of how many names appeared on these committees when they were formed. Most of the people for the Nauvoo House committee were the same people who were looking into the canal project, who were also attempting to build and run a University, who were also all members of the Mormon elite. I’ve articulated ad nauseum where I see major issues with the church and state entanglement, and I’ll spare you that particular soapbox for today. Where I’m concerned here is the simple lack of man hours. Yes, the Mormons seemed invigorated with the passing of the Nauvoo charter and they were translating that excitement into creating a bunch of new committees and organizations which the city really needed if it were something slated to survive for any amount of time, but there’s only so thin you can spread people when their day-to-day activities were likely occupied with taking care of their families and building homes and preparing to plant crops in the soon-to-thaw soil. These men were already busy with their government positions and all the church affairs they were dealing with as members of the different quorums, now they were responsible for creating a university from the ground up…. Really? How exactly are they going to handle this? We all bite off more than we can chew from time to time, but this is reaching a breaking point where none of these things are actually going to come to fruition. How many committees and tasks can you assign to one person before they become wholly ineffective at doing all of them?
Look, the Nauvoo government needed the infrastructure the Mormons were building in the early months of 1841, and they needed a wide range of people with a diversity of skill types to make building Nauvoo a success. Instead, what we see is Jo and Wreck-it Bennett double, triple, and quintuple dipping into the same well of trusted Mormon elite to do everything the town needed. Most of these people didn’t even have expertise in what they were called to do. Jo was the surveyor for the canal project. Did Jo have any mathematics or engineering under his belt? Had he ever made a 2-mile long canal through the middle of a town before? No, but he was the leading guy on the project, and this same trend happens over and over the further Nauvoo gets into its early construction phase. This excitement and invigoration the Mormon leadership had would peeter out pretty quickly. They were in this early formation stage, but like any big project somebody gets super excited about, as soon as Jo and the Mormons realize how grand the task they embarked upon truly was, they run out of steam pretty quickly and most of these projects never end up going anywhere and do nothing more than suck resources out of an already bankrupt system.
One more thought to add in to the mix. There are a number of times when Jo takes second in command when we expect him to be the one true leader of the Mormons. Back in New York, Oliver Cowdery was always taking the reins from Jo when handling small matters. When in Kirtland and Missouri, Hingepin Sidney Rigdon was almost always running the show and giving the best sermons. When Jo was in Liberty Jail and the Mormons were making their exodus to Illinois and Iowa, Bloody Brigham Young and Heber Creeper Kimball were calling all the shots. This same thing happened with Wreck-it Bennett. Bennett gave this inaugural speech telling the Mormons about everything they needed to do, and Jo was usually overseeing what was being done and was usually the guy submitting the reports to the council and aldermen for their review. Jo wasn’t in the dictatorial position when John Bennett was around, he seemed to be acting more as Bennett’s assistant, carrying out whatever the doctor ordered. Maybe that’s one reason why Bennett is so maligned and written out of church history beyond just his expose. Bennett was a powerful guy, and when he was around, Jo seemed to be overshadowed by his presence and superior ideas. Bennett had a lot of experience with different religions and had a small number of government positions throughout his time, and Jo was inferior in so many ways to Bennett’s intellect and ideas. It was really thanks to Bennett that Polygamy became an actual teaching and practice in the Mormon church. Bennett had the steel nerves to boldly do what Jo had only dreamed of doing. In no way am I commending him for his actions, I think he was a terrible human being, however, I do find him fascinating nonetheless. Maybe it’s time we give Wreck-it Bennett his proper place in Mormon history, or at least take notice of all he contributed good and bad to the Mormons in his short year and a half stay with them. Really, if it weren’t for John Bennett, Nauvoo probably never would have become a thing. They may never have had the organization skills necessary to do or begin to do what Bennett had dictated as Mayor of Nauvoo. Instead of casting aspersions towards Bennett, maybe we should take some time to appreciate his time and effort in the church, while still condemning his blatant misogyny and usery as the opportunist he truly was. He and Jo were frighteningly compatible. Makes you wonder if there’s an alternate universe wherein Utah is peppered with statues of Bennett instead of Brigham…
What you’re about to listen to is part one of a conversation I had with a man named Jack Naneek. I’ll say at the onset, there were a few things he said which I wish we could have examined a little deeper, but all in all I think the conversation was really interesting. Next week’s episode will have part 2 and I’ll include some of my closing thoughts about both parts at the end of that episode. Be sure to check out Mormon Discussion podcast feed for the Mormon Awakenings podcast Jack hosts, and I suppose I’ll talk at you on the other side of the conversation.
That was my conversation with Jack. Like I said, there were a few things I wish we could have had a bit of a deeper dive with, but I’ll share all my accumulated thoughts at the end of part 2 of our discussion next week. I hope you don’t mind hanging in there for it.
Thomas Smith NaMo HE
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