Ep 94 – Purging Any Opposed Plus Lydia Finch
On this episode, we dive into our historical timeline by examining the power of the press in early Mormonism. From the BoM to the Times and Seasons, the Mormons were publication fiends in absolute control of the information going out of Nauvoo through public literature. Ebenezer Robinson, Thomas B. Marsh, and Don Carlos Smith work as editors for the Times and Seasons which goes off without a hitch until August 1841. Polygamy starts to be taught to various members of trusted Mormon elite without Common Consent of the average chapel-attending Mormon. After that, we have on Lydia Finch to discuss cults, how to identify them, and what mechanisms they use to exert control over their members. Stick around after the interview to hear about the upcoming Protect LDS Children march at the end of this month.
D&C 101 1835 ed. (monogamy revelation)
Eliza Snow Funeral Procession Poem
Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists
The Saintly Scoundrel by Andrew F. Smith
John C. Bennett History of the Saints
Ebenezer Robinson Biography
History of Nauvoo Printing Office
Joseph Smith’s Brothers by Richard Lloyd Anderson
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Hangout after campaign
Full campaign details
We’re jumping back into our historical timeline today!
Since its inception, Joseph’s Mormonite sect had some kind of propaganda machine turning out publications on behalf of the Church at stunning volume. It all began in 1830 with the seminal Mormon publication, the Book of Mormon. What followed it was a string of newspaper publications and editions of the Mormon revelations known as the Book of Commandments, which became the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835.
The first periodical newspaper the early Church published was under the name of The Evening and the Morning Star. This newspaper debuted in 1832 from the Independence, Missouri printing press, with editor in Chief, William Wines, Double-Dub Phelps overseeing every word printed. Once the Book of Commandments was being printed including passages like this from the modern D&C 42: “32 For it shall come to pass, that which I spake by the mouths of my prophets shall be fulfilled; for I will consecrate the riches of the Gentiles, unto my people which are of the house of Israel.”
This command by Joseph speaking for God basically said that the property of the Gentiles will be appropriated to the Mormons. This revelation making its way around Missouri while the Mormons were settling and building their kingdom in Independence, their designated Zion, caused enough public outcry, resulting in the Mormon’s expulsion from Jackson County and the burning of the Independence printing press. The Evening and the Morning Star ceased publication for want of a printing office which wasn’t legitimately on fire.
As the Mormons in Missouri were resettling in the counties north of Jackson County, the Mormon HQ in Kirtland, Ohio began printing the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, a monthly publication which ran until suffering financial problems with the fallout of the KSS company and the Panic of 1837. Many of the revelations including from modern-day section 64-110 were published in the Messenger and Advocate along with other church-related topics and even some of Eliza Snow’s poems. When the Messenger and Advocate collapsed under Oliver Cowdery’s watch, Don Carlos Smith, youngest brother of the Prophet, started up the Elders’ Journal in Kirtland. This monthly journal ran two publications prior to the Mormon exodus from Ohio to Missouri, where it published 2 more issues from Far West, Missouri, prior to the Mormons’ exodus from Missouri to Illinois.
During the ensuing chaos of the fallout from the Missouri Mormon war, the press and typeset were buried underground in Far West to keep it from falling into Gentile hands. Once the Mormons had begun their settlement in Commerce, Illinois and were reasonably certain they could put down semi-permanent roots in that state, Elias Smith and Hiram Clark went back to Far West and unearthed the press and typeset in April 1839, when they transported the unit to what would soon become Nauvoo.
Ebenezer Robinson, an ambitious young man of 25, was given control of the printing press as primary editor, with Don Carlos Smith being appointed by the prophet as assistant editor. Robinson and Don Carlos began their work of establishing the press in the cellar of a small shack right on the banks of the Mississippi throughout June to Aug 1839 where the working conditions were utterly terrible. Seepage from the walls due to the high water table during the sweltering humid conditions of the Illinois summer cultivated spores of mold and mildew on nearly every surface. Even getting the printed paper to dry with the lack of air flow presented its own challenges. Concluding the conditions were too unfavorable to continue the work of printing, Don Carlos Smith and Ebenezer Robinson petitioned to have a printing establishment built on the northeast corner of Water and Bain streets in Nauvoo, which was granted by the High Council.
A haphazardly constructed makeshift frame building was constructed in late August and early September of 1839, to which the press and accompanying equipment were moved. Finally in November of 1839, the first publication of the first volume of the Times and Seasons was churned out of the press and widely circulated to the settling saints in Illinois and Iowa. Letters from the Prophet updating the Saints on his meeting with President Martin Van Buren and other chapters of U.S. government were some of the first articles published in the Times & Seasons in December, January, and February 1839 and ’40.
The Times and Seasons continued to be published once to twice per month throughout 1840 and ’41 under the direction of Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith. Across the pond in Europe, the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star was established in 1840 while the Q12 were on their mission trip which would continue to be published until 1970. Throughout the rest of the 1840s, these are the names of other LDS publications which would be published for varying time spans: The Gospel Reflector, The Wasp, Nauvoo Neighbor, Gospel Light, The Prophet, The New-York Messenger, and People’s Organ. The Mormons’ bandwidth for turning out propaganda was steadily increasing to match the plethora of gentile publications who wrote stories about the Mormons in less-than-favorable light.
The Times and Seasons was a powerful propaganda and history outlet for the Church. It was also the most widely consumed publication of the church by those unfamiliar or unfriendly to the Mormons. The Gentiles outside Nauvoo would come to know Joseph Smith and the Mormons through what Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith published. The original systemic History of the Church would be published in 1842 through the Times & Seasons, there’s no possible way to overstate the power of this publishing arm of the Church.
One person Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith worked closely with was one Robert B. Thompson, who was Jo’s personal secretary and recorder/historian. Robert B. Thompson, as an associate newspaper editor, was working with Jo on the comprehensive History of the Church to be published in the Times & Seasons by Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos. More than just Jo’s personal secretary and recorder, Thompson was also a very close friend of the prophet, even meriting his own verse in the most important revelation in Nauvoo, included as D&C 124 today where it says this:
“12. And again, verily I say unto you, Let my servant Robert B. Thompson help you to write this proclamation, for I am well pleased with him, and that he should be with you ; 13. Let him, therefore, hearken to your counsel, and I will bless him with a multiplicity of blessings; let him be faithful and true in all things from henceforth, and he shall be great in mine eyes ; 14. But let him remember that his stewardship will I require at his hands.”
All these men were closely held acolytes among the printing business in Nauvoo. Not only did they know what was going on behind the scenes, they filtered reality through their printing press to determine how the outside world and the average Mormon populous would view the religion and Nauvoo with the Times & Seasons.
1841 was busy as ever for Jo and the elite of the church. Jo had just taken Louisa Beaman as his first sealed polygamist wife in Nauvoo and was actively courting the pregnant newlywed Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs. Rumors of polygamy had plagued the Church from its earliest days. In fact, the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants included this passage in Section 101:4
"Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again."
Rumors of polygamy wouldn’t die because it was being actively practiced behind closed doors by the prophet for nearly a decade by 1841. The reception of the doctrine of polygamy among Jo’s most trusted elites was definitely mixed.
In an 1845 letter Hingepin Sidney Rigdon wrote, he offers a window into his appalled perspective of how the veneer of priesthood was being used to cajole women into consenting to polygamous marriages. Speaking of Nancy Marinda Hyde’s marital affiliation with Dr. Willard Richards and the prophet whilst Orson Hyde was on a mission, Rigdon said this, taken from 294 of Van Wagoner’s Sidney Rigdon, a Portrait of Religious Excess:
“If R[ichards] should take a notion to H[yde]’s wife in his absence, all that is necessary to be done is to be sealed. No harm done, no adultery committed; only taking a little advantage of rights of priesthood. And after R[ichards] has gone the round of dissipation with H[yde]’s wife, she is afterwards turned over to S[mith] and thus the poor silly woman becomes the actual dupe to two designing men, under the sanctimonious garb of rights of the royal priesthood.”
It's understandable that Hingepin Rigdon was a bit burned by Jo and the Church when he wrote this, especially considering it was written after the majority of the Church had sided with either Bloody Brigham or James Strang. Rigdon had been dealing with the fallout from Jo’s free-love for a decade and a half when this was written and he’d successfully burned most bridges through his absentee nature through much of Nauvoo history. Rigdon’s own daughter, Nancy Rigdon, had even been propositioned by Jo to be sealed, an action which catalyzed much conflict between these two old friends and business partners.
Brigham Young said when he first learned of the doctrine of polygamy, “It was the first time in my life that I desired the grave.” Widely interpreted to mean he was so depressed at learning of the doctrine, I think we can judge from his actions of taking 55 wives during his years that maybe he was looking forward to the eternal polygamy fest that is the Mormon afterlife and desired it as soon as humanly possible. If Bloody Brigham was a guy who liked having sex with dozens of women, an afterlife comprised of nothing but that would understandably cause him to desire the grave.
Polygamy was a polarizing issue. Logistically speaking alone, polygamy is a doctrine which can’t be widely practiced with a 50/50 male to female population split unless there’s widespread polyandry going on to accompany the polygyny. We also can’t ignore the need to keep it secret. Adultery laws may seem like a vestige of an older generation but there are still states today with adultery laws on the books. In the 19th-century, it was almost an exclusive majority of states with adultery laws on the books or in state constitutions. The ongoing rumors of polygamy posed not only a moral issue for the prophet of the church, but also a legal challenge.
Even Hyrum Smith had to be convinced polygamy was commanded of gods once the deafening roar of the rumors became too much to be mere anti-Mormon speculation. Brigham Young recalled a conversation he had with Hyrum Side-kick Abiff Smith in 1842 or 43 while Hyrum was supposedly ignorant of the practice. I’m reading this from dialogue on Mormon thought titled Identifying the Earliest Mormon Polygamists by Gary James Bergera. It’s a really fascinating read, you can find it in the show notes.
“Right north of the Masonic Hall in Nauvoo the ground was not fenced, this was in the year 1842 [sic, 1843]. There were some rails laid along to fence up some lots. Hyrum [Smith] saw me and said, "brother Brigham, I want to talk to you." We went together and sat upon those rails that were piled up. He commenced by saying, "I have a question to ask you. In the first place I say unto you, that I do know that you and the twelve know some things that I do not know. I can understand this by the motions, and talk, and doings of Joseph, and I know there is something or other, which I do not understand, that is revealed to the Twelve. Is this so"? I replied "I do not know any thing about what you know, but I know what I know.["] Then he said, "I have mistrusted for a long time that Joseph has received a revelation that a man should have more than one wife, and he has hinted as much to me, but I would not bear it." . . . I will now go back to where I met Hyrum. He said to me, "I am convinced that there is something that has not been told me. I said to him, "brother Hyrum, Joseph would tell you everything the Lord reveals to him, if he could." I must confess I felt a little sarcastic towards Hyrum, although he was just as honest as an Angel, and as full of integrety as the Gods' but he had not that ability which Joseph possessed to see and understand men as they were. I took advantage of this, and I said to him, "Brother Hyrum, I will tell you about this thing which you say you do not know about if you will sware with an uplifted hand, before God, that you will never say another word against Joseph and his doings, and the doctrines he is preaching to the people." He replied, "I will do it with all my heart; I want to be saved" and he stood upon his feet, saying, "I want to be knowing the truth and to be saved." And he made a covenant there, never again to bring forward one argument or use any influence against Joseph's doings. Joseph had a g[ood] many wives sealed to him. I told Hyrum the whole story, and he bowed to it and wept like a child, and said God be praised. He went to Joseph and told him what he had learned, and renewed his covenant with Joseph, and they went heart and hand together while they lived, and they were together when they died, and they are together now defending Israel.71”
This is a story reported only by Bloody Brigham Young and it was recounted in 1866, 22 years after the fact while Brigham was openly practicing polygamy in his Utah theocracy. There’s a lot of vested interests and possible false memories in this story and it could be completely apocryphal, but what it illustrates is important. Polygamy wasn’t something decreed over the pulpit in Nauvoo the way it was in Utah in 1852, it was an aspect of Nauvoo history only existing within the confines of the underbelly of Mormon society, and only practiced by those who could unequivocally be trusted with such damning information. Any malicious actor who came to learn of the practice of polygamy held a toolbox of legal and religious blackmail leverage over the Prophet and the Mormon elites. They had to be extremely careful to vet those entrusted with the sacred knowledge to ensure they had the Prophet’s best interests in mind.
Don Carlos Smith wasn’t as receptive to the doctrine of polygamy and the rumors surrounding it. Don Carlos was a loved and respected Smith by everybody. I’ve yet to find a single writing concerning him that shows him in anything but a favorable light. To be fair though, in August of 1841, Don Carlos was a mere 25 years old, so he was only just beginning his career. His fellow editor of the Times & Seasons, Ebenezer Robinson, who spoke with Don Carlos every single day at the office, told his recollection of Don Carlos learning the doctrine of polygamy. This statement was made in 1890 while Ebenezer Robinson was serving as the editor of the Whitmerite publication, ‘The Return’ and the Whitmerites were notoriously opposed to polygamy in the face of their Josephite and Brighamite counterparts. Ebenezer Robinson claimed Don Carlos Smith said this of the doctrine of polygamy, which I’m reading from Agnes Moultin Coolbrith’s biography page on JosephSmithsPolygamy.org:
“Any man who will teach and practice the doctrine of spiritual wifery will go to hell, I don’t care if it is my brother Joseph.” Robinson added: “He was a bitter opposer of the ‘spiritual wife’ doctrine.”
According to Don Carlos’ coworker and good friend, Ebenezer Robinson, this happened in Summer of 1841 when the rumors of polygamy were swirling. A quick addition, Don Carlos Smith’s wife, Agnes Moulton Coolbrith, was known as one of the more attractive young women in Nauvoo. She was attentive and charming and seemed to have others’ interest in mind in spite of any difficulties she may have been suffering, her warmness always shone through.
As wife of Don Carlos, Agnes wrote to her brothers-in-law during their stay in Liberty Jail in 1839. I’m reading this from pg 151 of Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness:
“Beloved Brothers, Hyrum and Joseph: By the permit of my companion, I write a line to show that I have not forgotten you; neither do I forget you; for my prayer is to my Heavenly Father for your deliverance. It seems as though the Lord is slow to hear the prayers of the Saints. But the Lord’s ways are not like our ways; therefore He can do better than we ourselves. You must be comforted, Brothers Hyrum and Joseph, and look forward for better days. Your little ones are as playful as little lambs; be comforted concerning them, for they are not cast down and sorrowful as we are; their sorrows are only momentary but ours continual. May the Lord bless, protect, and deliver you from all your enemies and restore you to the bosom of your families, is the prayer of AGNES M. SMITH”
Agnes was truly an amazing woman. She ended up raising one of the most prominent poets of early 20th century California, Ina Coolbrith. That letter is one of the very few extant writings from Agnes’ own pen, but the prominence of her daughter garnered attention and much of what we know of Agnes’ life comes from her daughter. Don Carlos and Agnes were married in July of 1835 in Kirtland after the Coolbrith family had converted and moved there in 1832.
With the organization of the Nauvoo Legion, Don Carlos Smith had been placed in the office of Brig. General of the Nauvoo Legion at his ripe age of 25. Don Carlos had a powerful career ahead of him as a trusted brother of the Prophet. If only he wasn’t opposed to his elder brother’s newfound doctrine of polygamy. Robert B. Thompson left behind no writings or second-hand quotes concerning his opinions on polygamy, but if he was such close friends with Ebenezer Robinson and Don Carlos Smith, he may have shared their similar opinions that polygamy was an abomination at this time in the church. Opponents must be dealt with properly.
In August of 1841, tragedy struck on multiple fronts. From the HoC Dan Vogel edition 4:389
“August 7—My younger brother Don Carlos Smith died at his residence in Nauvoo this morning… in the 25th year of his age.
He was born 25th March 1816, was one of the first to receive my testimony, and was ordained to the Priesthood when only 14 years of age. The evening after the plates of the Book of Mormon were shown to the eight witnesses, a meeting was held, when all the witnesses, as also Don Carlos bore testimony to the truth of the latter-day dispensation. He accompanied father to visit grandfather and relatives in St. Lawrence County, New York, in August, 1830…. He was one of the 24 Elders who laid the cornerstones of the Kirtland Temple…”
And it continues to tell Don Carlos Smith’s story after that.
Then, a mere 8 days later, Joseph’s one-year-old son carrying the same name of Don Carlos Smith, died of an unknown illness. This was the 4th child born to Joseph and Emma who died before they reached 2 years old. To lose a 1-year-old son a week after a brother, we can’t even imagine what this must have been like.
Then, from 407 of vol 4 of the Vogel HoC:
“Friday, 27 [Aug]—Elder Robert Blashel Thompson died at his residence in Nauvoo, in the 30th year of his age, in the full hope of a glorious resurrection. He was associate editor of the Times and Seasons, colonel in the Nauvoo Legion, and had done much writing for myself and the Church.”
After which it gives a brief biography of Thompson written by his widow, which concludes with this paragraph:
“When the Nauvoo Legion was formed, he received the office of colonel, and also aid-de-camp. In May, 1841, he became associated with Don C[arlos] Smith in the editing of the Times and Seasons. On the 16th of August he was seized with the same disease, of which Don C. had died on the 7th. The attachment between them was so strong, it seemed as though they could not long be separated. He died on the 27th, leaving one child; was interred in the burying ground on the 29th. By his special request no military procession was formed at his funeral.”
That last line is important from Robert B. Thompson’s eulogy, because they did bring out the whole Nauvoo Legion in full uniform force for the funeral procession of Don Carlos. These men were loved O.G.s of Mormonism and Don Carlos was a member of the aristocracy of Nauvoo, his presence was sincerely missed.
Now to help tell the somber and harrowing story of Don Carlos Smith’s funeral, please permit me a reading of Eliza Snow’s poem about the funeral which seems to aptly capture the collective Mormon psyche during the procession.
86 The Funeral of Brig. General Smith
It was a Sabbath day.—The morning came,
But came not with the usual joyousness
With which the consecrated day was wont,
In Nauvoo City, ever and anon,
To usher its broad radiance on a train 5
Of humble, cheerful worshipers. Nature
Seem’d conscious of the mournful knell
That broke upon the sadden’d heart of man!
The sun arose, muffled with clouds that hid
His own bright beams, and in effusions soft 10
And gentle, as the soothing feeling tones
Of sorrow, dropt a sympathetic tear.
At length the clouds dispers’d—the sun pour’d forth
His glorious rays in brilliant majesty;
And I beheld upon the beauteous plain 15
That fronts the noble Mississippi’s wave,
A mighty host—a pow’rful warrior band
Whose rich escutcheons glitter’d in the sun.
I heard the sound of martial music, but
It came with solemn, slow and mournful air, 20
Unlike the bold, and thrilling notes that call
The restless warrior to the battle field!
There was no clash of arms—no din of war—
The sword was sheath’d, and every martial brow
Was mellow’d into sadness! Mounted high 25
Upon a fiery steed, a Chieftain sat
And issued the command; and then, anon,
In double file—in open columns form’d,
With Chieftains in the front—then horse and foot,
In solemn order, mov’d across the wide 30
Extended plain, the Nauvoo Legion. ’Twas
A splendid sight—a sight that would have charm’d
The eye of each beholder: but alas!
That grand display, was the last honors paid
To the departed!
In the Legion’s rear, 35
Still length’ning out the vast procession; walk’d
A crowd of citizens of every rank—
Of either sex; and last of all clos’d in
A long and glitt’ring train of carriages.
I gaz’d upon the grand procession, till 40
It disappear’d amid the dwellings which
Stand thickly cluster’d near the river’s edge
I listen’d—all was still—the music notes
No longer sounded on the pensive breeze,
But hark! the notes awaken’d, and I saw 45
The mighty host returning with the same,
Slow, melancholy tread! A hearse was borne
Along with solemn, yet bold martial pomp,
That plainly signified, a mighty one,
One of no ordinary rank, had fallen! 50
Near to the summit of an eminence
Rising in bold relief, to dignify,
The beauty of the verdant plain beneath;
In Nature’s temple, with no other wall,
Than the horizon; and no other arch, 55
Than the broad canopy of heaven; shaded
With clust’ring boughs, whose foliage waves around;
Is rais’d an altar to the living God.
There the procession march’d—it halted there;
And in the front of weeping relatives, 60
The hearse of him was placed, who there, in life
Had been a fervent, constant worshipper!
His arms and armor, on his coffin lay
And other swords than his, lay crossing there.
His brother officers, who form’d with him, 65
The noblest Military Staff, our fair
Columbia has to boast, were seated by
In shining armor clad; but ah! they seem’d
Divested of the martial haughtiness—
That warlike pride that fires the warrior’s eye— 70
It lay conceal’d beneath the brow of grief.
The invocation and the sacred chant,
Open’d the solemn service of the day;
And then the man of God arose. In tones
Of truth’s impassion’d eloquence, he spoke 75
Of the late sad occurrence, which had touch’d
The hearts of all; and universally
Was calling forth, a “fellowship of grief.”
Each soldier, mourn’d a general—each saint,
A brother—and each citizen, a friend! 80
But when he came to paint the glories of
The world to come; wrapt in the visions of
Eternal truth; e’en grief itself, bow’d down,
And the vast multitude, for once, forgot
To weep. And then, he sweetly dwelt upon 85
The character of the deceas’d, without
A stain—his christian life, that seem’d without
A blemish—and his military course,
A path of honor. Tho’ he had not stood
Before the cannon’s mouth—altho’ he ne’er 90
Had been in battle’s front amid the rage
Of war, and clash of arms; and altho’ now,
He’d fall’n according to the common course
Of Providence, and had not perish’d by
The sword; he was no less a patriot— 95
He lov’d his country—he’d prepar’d himself,
By stepping high, in military rank,
To do her service at her earliest call.
And then the chaplain spoke of him, in the
Retir’d relations of domestic life. 100
There sat his aged, widow’d mother, whom
He’d honor’d with most filial sanctity—
To whom, he’d been a constant solace in
Those scenes of persecution and distress.
Which she had suffer’d for the gospel’s sake. 105
While, as a brother, he had ever prov’d,
Firm as Gibraltar’s rock—true unto death.
And then he come still nearer home, and touch’d
The finest fibre of the human heart;
And spoke of her, the lonely widow, of 110
The noble fallen chieftain—the bereft
Companion of his bosom, whom he’d lov’d
With faithful tenderness. Ah! who can now,
Enter the halo of her feelings—soothe her grief
For him who only could reciprocate 115
Her bosom’s sympathies? He too, had been
A loving and indulgent father to
Her lonely, weeping babes—left fatherless!
To soothe the bleeding heart, the speaker then
Spoke of the blest reunion, that awaits 120
The faithful worshippers of the Most High.
Thus clos’d the man of God.—The service done;
Again the great procession form’d, and once
Again, the bearers took the silent pall
And bore it onward to the “narrow house!” 125
Then came the parting scenery that clos’d
The service of the living to the dead.
Whether the olive branch—the cypress bough
Or myrtle wreath, it matters not, ’twas given
As the last token of profound respect— 130
Emblem of friendship—of eternal life:
The Legion, one by one, deposited
Within the grave, a green unwither’d bough,
And passing onward left the trophied urn!
A voice was heard slowly pronouncing, “Earth 135
To earth—Ashes to ashes—Dust to dust,
Return this body to its mother earth;”
While on the coffin, fell the parted clod.
Beside the grave, the Legion’s playing band,
Awoke Melodia’s sweetest strain. A chord 140
Was touch’d that echoed music to the springs
Of life, and fell as soft upon the ear,
As if seraphic harpers had come down
To charm the sleeper in his lowly rest.
The music ceas’d—Another chaplain’s voice 145
With heavenly eloquence pour’d forth in pray’r
To the Eternal God, responding pass’d
From heart to heart of the vast multitude—
The mourning concourse in the burial grove.
And there, beneath Time’s monument the oak; 150
Whose umbrage wav’d luxurious to the breeze,
They left the shrouded buried corpse of one,
Belov’d in life and honor’d in his death;
Waiting the trump of God, to call it forth
To hail its own bright spirit from the skies!
composed 13 August 1841
published in Times and Seasons, 1 September 1841
Hundreds of Mormon refugees died as a result of being driven from the comfort of their homes and forced to settle an untamed swampland on the Mississippi. The ague, as they called it, along with rickets, malaria, cholera, and a number of equally terrible diseases plagued the Nauvoo settlement. Robert B. Thompson and Don Carlos Smith worked in the basement of that shack in printing the Times and Seasons which had all sorts of terrible fungi and bacteria growing from the saturated walls with absolutely no ventilation. These were merely two more casualties among piles of dead Mormons who preceded Thompson and Smith in death. But we can’t lose sight of what it must have been like for the Mormons to lose a prominent and beloved member of the Smith family to illness along with another extremely early Mormon who’d been a member of the elite since the early Kirtland years.
All of that said, there is another interpretation or explanation for these deaths which requires brief examination at very least.
From Andrew F. Smith’s biography of John C. Wreck-it Bennett titled “The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett” from page 80:
“Whatever happened, Bennett and Joseph Smith clearly had a temporary parting of the ways. Bennett, who had been living with Joseph Smith’s family, moved into other quarters. A few weeks later Don Carlos Smith and Robert B. Thompson died after short illnesses. Their deaths have been attributed to an epidemic then rampaging through Nauvoo; however, Bennett was later reported to have said that Don Carlos Smith had been murdered and that Joseph Smith “believed Bennett poisoned him.” No evidence has surfaced to indicate that the cause of Don Carlos’s death was anything other than natural.”
Yes, no evidence has surfaced to lead historians to believe that Don Carlos and Robert B. Thompson were poisoned. The consensus explanation of death by epidemic is plenty sufficient to explain their deaths.
But, let’s run on the latter assumption for a moment, what if they were poisoned as Andrew Smith contests that Joseph believed in making the accusation against Wreck-it Bennett? Why? Why would somebody want these men dead?
Well, polygamy was kept deep under wraps in the church. Mormonism operated under the law of Common Consent which is basically how the Church was and currently is able to masquerade as a democratic institution. Every 6 months when members vote to sustain the leadership, they are invoking their right of Common Consent. Issues in the early Church were resolved with healthy deliberation and debate and a unanimous vote was usually reached after the elders argued a bit. Doctrine, revelations, civil actions, everything was up for debate and voted on by the elite in the Church and anything affecting the wider populous was voted on in General Conferences. Jo knew that polygamy would never pass as a public doctrine with unanimous Common Consent, so he decided to practice it anyway and keep it under wraps.
Purely speculating here, so take that for what it’s worth, but Don Carlos Smith was a vocal opponent of polygamy and if Robert B. Thompson was also just as opposed, being such a close friend of Don Carlos, these men had access to loads of information and people who would prove to them beyond a shadow of a doubt that polygamy was being practiced behind closed doors. Should Jo’s own brother and secretary go public with information which proved the prophet was having affairs, imagine the fallout. Would Joseph Smith poison his own brother to keep polygamy under wraps? Doubtful…. Would Wreck-it Bennett poison two men to keep polygamy secret? Who knows, many historians regard him as a truly deplorable human being.
This whole issue is significantly complicated when we consider the fact that a mere 5 months after this, Joseph married the widow of his late brother, Agnes Coolbrith. Based on Levitical teachings of a wife being passed to her husband’s brother upon her husband’s death, Jo was kind enough to give Agnes an entire 3 months to mourn her husband’s death before he began courting her. We shouldn’t use the fact that this marriage fit into the Levitical commandments as the best way to explain why Jo took Agnes as his wife. Agnes was simply beautiful. She was 8 years older than Don Carlos, yet only 3 years younger than Jo. Agnes had shown affection toward both Jo and Hyrum with the letter she sent to them in Liberty Jail. To claim that Jo married her simply out of obligation to biblical polygamy would be ignoring his motivations for every one of his marriages which weren’t Levitical.
To make this point relevant to today’s Church, Common Consent is still part of the Church, it just so happens that opposition happens so rarely that I doubt the leadership even has their own guidelines to deal with people voting to oppose something. This upcoming march to Protect LDS Children is a way to inform the leadership from the outside that people want the Church to change in some way, but it doesn’t hold as much influence as people voting in opposition when the call to sustain the leadership inevitably happens the Sunday following the march.
The Church today isn’t the same Church Joseph Smith established or lead. But some of the better aspects of his original Church still survive today. If we want change to happen, marching isn’t enough. The next action I can see having impact on the Church would be to resurrect the anyopposed movement and get the Church to change its policy on these bishops interviews. The Church isn’t going anywhere, it will continue its parasitic relationship with reality and cause droves of children to kill themselves for the shame they endure. It will continue to force well-intentioned people of all ages and sexes to compartmentalize reality apart from their beliefs. It will always have a hand in Utah government. Short of outlawing the Church altogether, which I’m wholly not in favor of, opposing the Church and its leadership from the inside is the most effective way to drag it into the 21st century. Stick around after the interview to hear some important details surrounding the march and what will be going on afterwards.
March Washington Square Park 451 State Street March 30th 2018 noon
Have a table set up
If you’re planning on attending the march and want an evening activity, John Dehlin will be hosting a potluck event at 9th south and 3rd east with karaoke beginning at 730. In case you didn’t want to go to a karaoke night, friend of the show, Doug Hofeling, at Squatter’s pub has been nice enough to reserve the third floor for us to mingle and enjoy each other’s company. We’ll kick off our hangout at 7 p.m. It’s free admission with a cash bar, all ages welcome with accompanying adult. At 8 o’clock I’ll be giving a presentation on the history of bishop’s interviews and Common Consent which shouldn’t go too long and then we’ll hang out as late as everyone wants to. So that’s Squatter’s Pub at 147 West Broadway [300 South] on March 30th at 7 p.m., right after the Protect LDS Children march. Go to the Naked Mormonism twitter and fb pages to see the pinned posts about the hangout
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