Ep 165 – Stone Rolling Through Fluid Morality
On this episode, we discuss how fluid Joseph Smith’s morality and theology really was. We begin with his evolving perspective on slavery from pro-slavery to abolitionist when it was politically advantageous. Then we discuss how Mormonism was strictly monogamous to closeted polygamous when possible. Then Jo goes from socialist when he was poor to capitalist when he was filthy rich. A few court cases reveal Jo’s abuse of power and fluid sense of morality. We discuss Finch & Rollosson grocer and the ultimate result of John Finch’s affiliation with the Mormons.
Five Times Mormons Changed Their Position on Slavery
Messenger & Advocate on Abolitionism
D&C 101 Monogamy Revelation
What Does the Book of Mormon Say About Polygamy
Nauvoo City Council Minute Book 1841-1845
Nov 1842 Nauvoo v. Davis
State of Illinois v. Finch
Finch habeas corpus petition
Mentioned in “C” segment
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Joseph Smith’s morality had an interesting ability to evolve and adapt as the times and his personal circumstances changed. While reading through the Vogel edition of the History of the Church, I happened upon a passage that struck me as interesting and I did some digging, only to find out that basically nothing has been written about the subject to any extent, so I decided to write today’s episode about it.
The passage in question has to do with something that’s a hot-button issue even today; socialism. But before we get into the passage and discuss what was said, please allow me the first portion of this essay to discuss Jo’s evolving morality. Some of these issues we consider settled moral issues today, others are still controversial and don’t have a solid moral grounding.
Let’s begin with the least controversial from today’s standards, but one of the most controversial moral issues of the early to mid-19th century in America; slavery. Jo had an evolving perspective on slavery. If we take the Book of Mormon as his first treatise on social and moral issues of the 19th century, slavery was an interesting issue in the Book of Mormon. A few verses talk about slavery, but slavery isn’t explicitly condemned and God never directly opposes it. To illustrate my point, I offer the examples I found.
First, King Benjamin’s sermon in Mosiah 2:
13 Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another, nor that ye should murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery; nor even have I suffered that ye should commit any manner of wickedness, and have taught you that ye should keep the commandments of the Lord, in all things which he hath commanded you
At no point in this sermon does King Benjamin actually claim that slavery is contrary to God’s will, only that he has suffered that all those Nephites within the sound of his voice wouldn’t be subject to anything that was contrary to the order of law. According to the Book of Mormon, slavery was illegal in pre-Columbian America. This shouldn’t surprise us because Jo grew up in the Northern states which had completely outlawed slavery by 1804, a year before he was born. But slavery wasn’t really illegal in pre-columbian-America. In fact, slave labor was a common way for Native American families to repay debts in the Mayan empire because they didn’t have a coinage system of money. Slavery took many forms in America before the Europeans arrived and brought their systems of slavery, but how could Jo know that, it’s not like he was tapped into perfect knowledge from an omnipotent being or something.
Another passage in the BoM that references slavery comes from Alma 50:22. This verse talks about the Lamanites dwindling in unbelief, and a consequence for dwindling in unbelief is that “thousands of their wicked brethren have been consigned to bondage”. Slavery was a result of lack improper religious practices, but never commanded of, or outlawed by, God.
The next passage is quite remarkable and it comes from Alma 27. In this, Ammon, the dude who cut off the Lamanite arms and gave them to the king, tells the king that he’ll take care of the wicked Nephite problem.
6 But the king said unto them: Behold, the Nephites will destroy us, because of the many murders and sins we have committed against them.
7 And Ammon said: I will go and inquire of the Lord, and if he say unto us, go down unto our brethren, will ye go?
8 And the king said unto him: Yea, if the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them.
9 But Ammon said unto him: It is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should be any slaves among them; therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.
This passage is interesting because it essentially says that Ammon will go be a slave of the Nephites if the lord tells him to, in order to pay restitution for murders he’s committed. This is the god of the Book of Mormon condoning slavery. Instead, Ammon meets up with his brothers Alma, Omner, Himni, and Aaron, and they set up an army and go to war with the Lamanites then living in Nephi. So, instead of the peaceable solution of Ammon being a slave to repay the Nephites for the murders he committed, god instead told them to kill thousands of people. But hey, Ammon was a chosen prophet of god and therefore god wouldn’t let him spend his precious and valuable time as a slave, especially when he makes such a good general. I’m not sure the moral lesson we’re supposed to take from this passage, but once again, the god of the Book of Mormon far from condemns slavery.
The final passage I can find comes from Alma 48 when it’s introducing the character of General Moroni.
10 And thus he was preparing to support their liberty, their lands, their wives, and their children, and their peace, and that they might live unto the Lord their God, and that they might maintain that which was called by their enemies the cause of Christians.
11 And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery;
12 Yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people.
Moroni is seen as one of the greatest heroes of the Book of Mormon. He’s the dude that put up the Title of Liberty and defended the Nephites against the Lamanites, kept the Anti-Nephi-Lehites safe when they became avowed pacifists, so on and so forth. But this passage about Moroni’s soul delighting when his brethren were delivered from bondage says nothing about the will of God on the matter. Further, General Moroni also killed political dissidents, slaughtering thousands of men, women, and children, for being opposed to his own political party, as if children can have a political party. He also committed prisoners of war to concentration camps and forced labor. He delighted in his brethren being freed from bondage and slavery, and didn’t like bloodshed, but when it was the Lamanites in his own labor camps, and political dissenters, slavery and genocide are totally cool.
All of that said, the Book of Mormon simply doesn’t take a moral position on slavery from god’s perspective. God talks about monogamy, which we’ll get to in a minute; he discusses how great charity is and the pride cycle, but never does the god of the Book of Mormon condemn slavery outright, which seems a bit of an oversight, especially being written in the 1820s in the Northern States.
That, however, is the Book of Mormon. Jo’s perception of slavery evolved throughout the 1830s in his first decade of ministry. The Mormons were preaching to freed slaves in Missouri which caused many Missouri slave-owners to regard the Mormons as dangerous. The Mormons were kicked out of Jackson County, Missouri in 1833-4 and in 1836 Jo penned an essay on slavery and abolitionism, which he sent to Oliver Cowdery to print in the Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate. This essay was written in the wake of a prominent abolitionist visiting Kirtland, Ohio, then headquarters of the Church, in order to lecture on the necessity of abolishing slavery. Jo thought it necessary to distance his religion from abolitionist sentiments so as not to infuriate prospective investigators of the religion.
I am happy to say, that no violence or breach of the public peace was attempted, so far from this, that all except a very few, attended to their own avocations and left the gentleman to hold forth his own arguments to nearly naked walls… This must be a tender point, and one which should call forth the candid reflection of all men, and especially before they advance in an opposition calculated to lay waste to the fair States of the South, and set loose, upon the world a community of people who might peradventure, overrun our country and violate the most sacred principles of human society,--chastity and virtue…
So long, then, as these of the free states are not interested in the freedom of the slaves, any other than upon the mere principles of equal rights and of the gospel, and are ready to admit that there are men of piety who reside in the South, who are immediately concerned, and until they complain, and call for assistance, why not cease their clamor, and no further urge the slave to acts of murder, and the master to vigorous discipline, rendering both miserable, and unprepared to pursue that course which might otherwise lead them both to better their condition? I do not believe that the people of the North have any more right to say that the South shall not hold slaves, than the South have to say the North shall…
Then Jo cites the same bible passage that slaveholders used to biblically justify owning slaves; “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling,” He then quotes another Bible passage about slaves where God tells them to just be subservient and not revolt against their masters, after which he says:
This is so perfectly plain, that I see no need of comment. The scripture stands for itself, and I believe that these men were better qualified to teach the will of God, than all the abolitionists in the world.
Another article on abolitionism was published in the same edition of the Messenger and Advocate which says:
There is a strange mysteriousness over the face of the scripture with regard to servitude. The fourth son of Ham was cursed by Noah, and to this day we may look upon the fulfilment of that singular thing. When it will be removed we know not, and where he now remains in bondage, remain he must till that hand of God interposes.
The Mormons were trying not to be removed from the entire State of Missouri at this time. Does that excuse expressing pro-slavery sentiments from the church’s own publication and by the prophet himself? It’s unconscionable. Even more unconscionable is the next evolution of Jo’s perspective on abolition, when he ran for president.
His presidential campaign pamphlet reads as follows on the subject:
Petition also, ye goodly inhabitants of the slave states, your legislators to abolish slavery by the year 1850, or now, and save the abolitionist from reproach and ruin, infamy and shame. Pray Congress to pay every man a reasonable price for his slaves out of the surplus revenue arising from the sale of public lands, and from the deduction of pay from the members of Congress. Break off the shackles from the poor black man, and hire him to labor like other human beings;
Slavery was one of the hottest social issues of Jo’s day. White people were arrested and imprisoned for social peaceful demonstrations against the institution. Black people were living their lives in the most abhorrent of circumstances as unpaid labor, ripped from their home countries and generationally displaced so that white people didn’t have to do all the hard work associated with agriculture and homemaking. It was a completely morally corrupt institution perpetuated for centuries by European-Americans. The prophet of the Lord, God’s mouthpiece, changed his perspective on owning people as property when it was politically advantageous. What does that say about this man and the god he supposedly spoke for? The only time Jo spoke authoritatively as the mouthpiece of god on the subject of slavery was for maintaining the status quo, using the same scripture passages to justify its existence as slave holders themselves used. Then, at the drop of a hat, he flopped. I’m sure he was just speaking as a man when he opposed slavery because he didn’t use any scripture passages to make his argument.
Slavery wasn’t the only major social issue that Jo flip flopped on. Monogamy was a huge issue for Jo because he always wanted to have multiple wives, but the Victorian Protestant culture of America at the time balked at the idea.
The Book of Mormon speaks to monogamy verses polygamy in the little book of Jacob in chapter 2.
25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.
26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
30 For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.
That last verse has the get out of condemnation free card apologists today need to excuse early Mormon polygamy. Because god explicitly commanded it in Nauvoo, polygamy was totally cool. The mental pretzel basically says that David and Solomon didn’t obtain their many wives by express command from God, therefore they were committing whoredoms and seen as abominable before the Lord. Polygamy, then, is okay if God expressly commands it and it’s done to “raise up seed unto me”. Then we look to the polygamy revelation given 13 years after this passage was written in the Book of Mormon and it opens with this:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—
2 Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.
Let me put this straight, the God of the Book of Mormon was mad at David and Solomon for having many wives and concubines because it wasn’t commanded, but the Gods of the Nauvoo church spent 66 verses telling Jo exactly how those guys could have so many wives and concubines and God is totally cool with it.
But that last passage was from the Nauvoo 1843 revelation. Prior to Jo dictating D&C 132 there was the entire Kirtland and Missouri eras of the church. Jo had affairs in Kirtland while at the same time publishing decrees against polygamy to put down rumors about the infidelity of the prophet and other church leaders. The original D&C 101 is a legalistic statement about marriage with 4 short verses.
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.
In August of 1835, the edition of the D&C which included this declaration was voted on by the church leadership as well as the congregations and was unanimously canonized as the divine word of god. Beyond canonizing the entire book, William Wines Double-Dub Phelps, read this revelation specifically and it was voted on separately by the leadership and congregations to be canonized as well. 9 years later, in July 1843, Joseph Smith dictated what came to be D&C 132, the infamous polygamy revelation, while at the time having over 2 dozen wives. It was voted on by the church leadership after Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith read it in a High Council meeting and adopted as a revelation, and was included in the 1876 printing of the D&C as section 132, when the leadership also removed the original monogamy revelation I read from earlier from the D&C. Mormonism was strictly monogamous for the first decade of its operation, but when Jo had sufficiently deluded enough people to buy into it, the religion became a closeted polygamous sect for just those in the highest and most-trusted ranks of leadership. Jo’s religion and personal theology could flip on a dime to suit his desires or whatever was publicly or politically advantageous at any given time.
Numerous examples could be provided of Jo flip-flopping on the words of the One True God. I understand that Mormon theology adapts and changes by way of revelation, but these issues are important and reveal the god of Mormonism was versatile enough to evolve to whatever situation best suited Joseph Smith at any given time.
But it wasn’t just Mormon scripture and theology that could be used and abused by Jo to suit his desires at any given time. Jo using and abusing the tools within his grasp was a pattern. A set of two legal cases in 1842 Nauvoo reveal his pattern of abuse.
In November of 1842, there was a trial of a guy named Amos Davis. Davis has made his appearance in our timeline before; he was the first postmaster of Commerce, Illinois before it became Nauvoo and Hingepin Sidney Rigdon was elected to the position, he was part of the Nauvoo House Association speculation called by name to buy stock in it in D&C 124 and he was also a captain in the Nauvoo Legion. What’s important about Amos Davis is that he did something that pissed off the prophet and Jo filed a lawsuit.
Jo’s lawsuit against Amos Davis was “for breach of an ordinance of the City entitled ‘an Ordinance in Relation to Religious Societies,’”. Davis was brought in by the city Marshal with William Marks, George W. Harris, Orson Spencer, Newel K. Whitney, and Gustavus Hills as aldermen acting as the panel of justices. The Mayor was supposed to chair these hearings, but the mayor was the prophet who was the person who filed the complaint in the first place. Jo recused himself from chairing the hearing and William Marks was appointed as president pro tempore of the hearing. The court record doesn’t reveal exactly what Amos Davis said that constituted Jo’s filing the complaint in the first place, but breaching the Ordinance in Relation to Religious Societies in Nauvoo could have been as simple as preaching a different religion in the public square, or it could have been as horrible as spreading rumors about Jo having 2 dozen wives. The record simply doesn’t tell us what Davis said that made Jo so angry, but John Finch testified alongside Joseph H. Jackson that they witnessed Davis breaching the ordinance. However, Chancey Higbee, soon to be one of the publishers of the Nauvoo Expositor that killed Jo, testified on behalf of Amos Davis that there simply wasn’t enough evidence that Davis had violated the ordinance. Jo’s absolute power was slipping. Higbee moved that the court dismiss the complaint and consider it a nonsuit. Then Jo “spoke and Considble length by permission of the Ct.” Jo’s powers of oratory failed him and he was unable to convince the court that he was being persecuted by Amos Davis. The ruling came down and the case was dismissed with court costs falling on Jo’s shoulders for filing the complaint.
Of course, Jo wasn’t pleased with the outcome. One week later, one of Jo’s cronies, Ira S. Miles, filed a complaint against Amos Davis “that… indecent language and behavior was used toward & concerning the said Ira S. Miles contrary to the Ordinance of said City”. But, because Jo didn’t file the complaint, instead it was his friend, Ira Miles, Jo chaired the hearing this time and called his own brother, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith, to testify as a witness in the hearing. Amos Davis was convicted of breaching the ordinance this time around and had to pay his fine.
These two cases against Amos Davis revealed how Jo was able to abuse his power in the church, and the Nauvoo legal system, to put down anybody he didn’t like. So much for personal revelation and speaking truth wherever it may be found that Jo so famously championed but flipped on when it suited him best. After Jo’s death, Davis participated in the Battle of Nauvoo, defected from the church, sued it for lost property and fraud, and then put his time in Mormonism behind him, dying in Hancock Co, Illinois in the 1870s.
Why are we talking about these late 1842 hearings right now? Well there was somebody in the witness list of the first hearing that bears a brief discussion, John M. Finch.
But what started us down this path of examining Jo’s liquid theology and duplicitous nature? As I said at the top of the episode, I was reading through the History of the Church and found a curious passage that doesn’t seem to have any articles about it, so I decided to do the digging firsthand. We’ll get to the passage momentarily, but first let’s discuss John M. Finch. Finch was born in 1815, 10 years Jo’s junior, in the same county in Pennsylvania as Emma lived in when Jo and her met. Finch quickly entered the world of business as a teenager, beginning as a merchant then buying a steamboat, owning a shop, being a postmaster, and eventually made his living on land and mercantile speculation. Finch operated his steamboat on the Mississippi river while living in Rock Island, Illinois. Sometime in 1840, Finch moved to Nauvoo to set up a mercantile and grocer shop.
Once in Nauvoo, John Finch found a group of nice people with enough liquid money to make a living. Finch himself never converted to the church, at least there isn’t any evidence of his being baptized, confirmed, given a patriarchal blessing, or anything of that matter. However, Finch was a Jack-Mormon. He was a gentile who was friendly to the Mormons; the starving Mormons in Nauvoo provided endless business opportunities for entrepreneurs like Finch.
Another enterprising gentleman looking to make a buck in Nauvoo was a guy named William H. Rollosson. Rollosson was born in 1820 in Williamsburg, Virginia. He attended Williams College for business in 1837-39 in Massachusetts. Rollosson also moved to Nauvoo sometime in 1840 where he met John M. Finch. Together they built Finch & Rollosson grocer in downtown Nauvoo. Business was good for these guys.
Finch was the salesman, the public relations guy, while Rollosson was the manager who worked the store and ran the books. On April 15, 1843, Finch petitioned the Nauvoo City Council to open Brigham Street and connect it to Young Street, which would divert traffic through town right past the Finch & Rollosson grocery store, which was approved of by Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith acting as City Council President pro tem. This made the Finch & Rollosson grocery store one of the largest in Nauvoo, which was needed as Jo’s red brick store was consistently out of goods and had trouble filling orders because Jo used it as his personal piggy bank.
There was an issue here. When people in notable or powerful positions in Nauvoo opposed Jo or got under his skin in any way, he wielded the power of ecclesiastical punishment as one of his many tools to exert control. However, this power couldn’t be exercised against Jack-Mormons like Finch. If Finch did something Jo didn’t like, the only thing Jo could do was use the tools in his Nauvoo government toolbox. If those tools didn’t work, the only thing Jo had left was to turn the people of the city against somebody like Finch through campaigns of character assassination.
It began in September of 1843 for Finch. For one reason or another, John Finch was one of the speakers at a public gathering in the city. You see, Finch was relatively wealthy and was making good money as one of the most successful grocer businesses in Nauvoo, however he did have some interesting social and political perspectives that gave others pause.
Finch began a series of lectures that ran two days on the importance of socialism. This is the passage from the History of the Church I’ve alluded to that surprised me.
Thursday, [September] 14,-- I attended a second lecture on Socialism by Mr. Finch; and after he got through… I spoke 5 minutes [and] made a few remarks alluding to Sidney Rigdon and Alexander Campbell getting up a community at Kirtland, and of the big fish there eating up all the little fish. I said I did not believe the doctrine.
Mr. Finch replied a few minutes, and said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: I am the spiritual prophet—Mr. Smith the temporal.”
Mr. Finch claiming he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, claiming to be a spiritual prophet and denigrating Jo’s office as prophet by calling it only temporal. This was a powerful shot across Jo’s bow. We know how Jo usually dealt with insubordination within the ranks of the Mormons, but Finch wasn’t actually a Mormon, just lived in town and ran a business there. What about Jo saying he didn’t believe in the doctrine of socialism? He also provided an anecdote about Rigdon and Campbell that’s worth teasing apart.
Socialism, or communalism as used in the parlance of the day, was the chief dispute between Rigdon and Campbell. Alexander Campbell was a well-known Baptist preacher and was Rigdon’s mentor when Rigdon was learning the Bible and how to be a good orator. Rigdon and Campbell had a falling out in the early 1820s after a public debate that left Rigdon completely whipped by the superior wit and intelligect of Alexander Campbell. The point is, Rigdon was a socialist, Campbell a capitalist. Another source of disagreement between them, compensating religious leaders. Hingepin Rigdon believed pastors shouldn’t be paid by their parishioners, whereas Campbell was relatively wealthy from his thousands of followers who would flock to any nearby church where he was preaching and fill his pockets with their tithing. Instead of taking the money of his parishioners, Rigdon operated a tannery in Kirtland that paid his bills. Once Rigdon broke with Campbell, he set out to build his own ministry around the northeastern district of Ohio. His own church was built and dedicated in 1828 because Rigdon lived and worked in the communities of Kirtland and Mentor. Campbell was headquartered in Pennsylvania at the time. Rigdon’s church simply retained followers and he pulled people from Campbell’s Disciple of Christ church who followed him. Market forces, indeed, dictated that Rigdon’s larger fish of a congregation ate the little fish of Campbell’s followers. Jo saw religion as a business; I think that’s a notable takeaway from his response.
Now we turn to the Book of Mormon. This is a point often used by Rigdon-authorship advocates because the socialistic Nephite society was the ultimate climax of the book’s narrative. But the fact of the matter is, during Jo’s early ministry he was also a socialist so socialism in the Book of Mormon doesn’t go anywhere in confirming or denying Rigdon’s authorship. In 3 Nephi 26, Jesus is visiting the Native American Jews after his crucifixion. According to the Book of Mormon, after Jesus’ various lectures to the Nephites, the disciples he called spread his word in purity which included socialism.
17 And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And many of them saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written.
4 Nephi has the expanded definition of “all things in common”.
1 And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth, and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost.
2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
4 And it came to pass that the thirty and seventh year passed away also, and there still continued to be peace in the land.
5 And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and braise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.
The Book of Mormon discusses perfect societies from time to time, but it doesn’t ever describe how those perfect societies were attained. The Book of Mormon describes the pride cycle of people being good, then they’re blessed with prosperity by God, then they fall into wickedness, then they go to war, then they repent and are good again; rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat. But it never gives any full descriptions of the political or social structures that caused these societies to attain perfection. Here, though, when Jesus visits America, the Book of Mormon gives us the most concrete example of how the perfect society is to be structured. Socialist with public health care. The society Jesus left behind in the hands of his called disciples is understandably the ultimate perfect society, and socialistic or communalistic is all the Book of Mormon actually tells us about it.
Jo and Rigdon teamed up to be copresidents of the church in late 1830. Jo relocated church headquarters to Kirtland, Ohio and in 1832 created what was called the United Firm under claimed direct revelation from God. The concept of the Bishop’s storehouse was born, where the Mormons pooled their resources to redistribute wealth and care for the poorest in the society.
3 For verily I say unto you, the time has come, and is now at hand; and behold , and lo, it must needs be that there be an organization of my people, in regulating and establishing the affairs of the storehouse for the poor of my people, both in this place and in the land of Zion- 4 For a permanent and everlasting establishment and order unto my church, to advance the cause, which ye have espoused, to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father who is in heaven; 5 That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. 6 For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things; 7 For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.
This revelation makes it clear that only those who practice the Mormon version of socialism have a place in the celestial kingdom. There is simply no other way to interpret this scripture. This revelation was given in Kirtland, Ohio right before Jo, Rigdon, and many other Mormon elites travelled to Jackson County, Missouri where the revelation and its eternal importance were reiterated, which became D&C 82.
20 This order I have appointed to be an everlasting order unto you, and unto your successors, inasmuch as you sin not. 21 And the soul that sins against this covenant, and hardeneth his heart against it, shall be dealt with according to the laws of my church, and shall be delivered over to the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption.
Those who don’t practice Mormon socialism are dealt with according to the laws of my church and delivered to the buffetings of Satan. These commandments, these words of the divine given through his prophet on earth, simply cannot be reconciled with capitalism. Once these revelations were given, Jo and Rigdon’s church began in complete earnest to practice Mormon socialism. Elsewhere in these revelations it directs who does what. The wealthy business owners, Edward Party-Boy Partridge, Father Newel K. Whitney, Algernon Sidney Gilbert, and a few other guys were responsible for directing the various businesses owned by church leaders that were absorbed into the United Firm, also known as the United Order. There was the ashery, the tannery, a stone quarry, a sawmill, a brick kiln, and a residential real estate company that the church now owned by divine fiat. They also formed the Literary Firm under the umbrella of the United Firm to streamline the propaganda businesses of the church.
The arguments about socialism versus capitalism were common and hot-button in Jo’s day, just like they are today. A socialistic religion springing up in the midst of the fertile land of America generated what the Mormons termed persecution, but what everybody else would consider ideological opposition. For those reasons, Jo created code names for the members of the United Firm. Martin Harris was Mehemson, Newel K. Whitney was Ahashdah, Sidney Rigdon was Pelagoram, and Jo was Gazelam.
Another reason for the code-names, if the Mormons were ever caught consecrating the property of the gentiles to the Bishop’s storehouse, which happened a few times, there was plausible deniability in the revelations from God commanding the Mormons to do so because the people’s names were scrubbed from the revelations.
In Missouri, the United Firm failed quickly when the Mormons were removed from Jackson County for many understandable reasons including the Mormons stealing the property of the Missourians. In Kirtland the United Firm similarly dissolved around 1834, but for different reasons. When Jo was provided with the capital of all these lucrative businesses simultaneously coming under control of the church, Jo’s cost of living and lifestyle expanded to absorb all the liquid income made from these properties. While the revelation creating the United Firm designated the purpose explicitly to be for elevating the poor Mormons out of poverty, Jo lived like a king. He also undertook the massive project of building the Kirtland temple. His lifestyle, the number of poor Mormons drastically outweighing the capital of the few wealthy Mormons who consecrated their money and property to the church, and Jo’s exorbitant lifestyle, all coalesced to the church running some 40-60,000 dollars in debt. Socialism simply doesn’t work if the elites take larger pieces of the pie than everybody else and also undertake massive pointless ventures that generate no collective income for the society. Jo simply broke everything and everybody. The Kirtland-era Mormon socialism was dead and Jo attempted to create a bank to answer all the debts he was personally responsible for inflicting on thousands of people.
The bank failed and Jo was forced to flee town with lawsuits hanging over his head. The Missouri era under Jo’s leadership began practicing the United Firm with Bishop’s storehouses, but the Mormons were rather destitute and many of them were religious refugees from Kirtland with little more than the clothing on their back. Instead, Mormon socialism here was leveraged to justify robbery. The Mormons, once again, stole from the nearby Missourians, which culminated in the Missouri-Mormon war of 1838, resulting in Jo and dozens of other Mormon elites spending that winter in jails around Missouri.
Now, in the Nauvoo era, Jo had learned enough from his past experiences to take a different approach. Instead of taking existing property and liquifying it and attempting to live on that money, he instead engaged in one of capitalism’s best pastimes and ways of making money from something that doesn’t exist in the physical world, speculation. How much will you pay me for what’s in this paper bag? What’s in the paper bag? That doesn’t matter, how much will you pay me for it? However, Jo’s speculation was a bit different than other forms of speculation. He engaged in land speculation, that was well-established, but the speculation he was most caught up in during Nauvoo was done by forming companies and selling stock in them. Usually, publicly traded companies are institutions that start out under private control. Once they grow to a point, the owners make the decision to go public and the company is assessed at X market value and divided up into shares. Jo skipped the hard work part of actually building the companies, formed them on paper, and divided them up into shares. Then he commanded many of his followers to purchase stock in the companies by divine revelation. Suddenly, Jo had a ton of liquid money to throw around and help with his land speculation endeavors.
The result of Jo’s new economic approach was extreme wealth built on nothing more than signatures on hundreds of contracts. Jo was insanely wealthy in Nauvoo, but it was all predicated on the good faith of speculation in undesirable land and companies which didn’t produce any actual products, which is to say, nothing.
This is anecdotal, so take it for what it’s worth. There may be data backing it up, but I don’t know of any. In my observations, it seems that wealth seems to correlate with opposition to socialism. For some reason, poor people want the wealthy to help rise the tide of society, and the wealthy want to maintain the status quo of their own wealth, even if it comes at the expense of basic necessities of society at large. When Jo was poor and living in rags, he was an avowed socialist. His socioeconomic status could be understood through the revelations he claimed god gave him, even if you knew nothing about his history before reading his revelations. Then, Jo becomes obscenely wealthy with his own city, army, and underground enforcement squad, a mafia boss basically, and he lectures for hours against the propriety of socialism.
10 days after his direct response to John Finch’s lectures, Jo took the stand again.
I preached on the stand about one hour on the 2d ch. Acts; designing to show the folly of common stock. In Nauvoo every one is steward over his own.
Acts ch2 is about the Pentecost, so I’m not sure exactly what he was using in the chapter to claim socialism and common stock was folly, but this is the only surviving document describing his lecture so what was said was lost to history.
So, Jo had put down this nonsense about common stock being a proper way to structure society for good, but he wasn’t done with John Finch. What was that business about Finch being the spiritual prophet and Jo the spiritual? Well, Jo didn’t take threats to his prophetic mantle lightly.
Amos Davis, for whom John Finch testified in behalf back in 1842, filed a complaint against John Finch. The complaint says “Finch… has been arrested on the oath of Amos Davis for the Crime of fellony”. Davis was loyal to Jo at this time, even if he was disenchanted from the complaint and hearing against him back in September of 1842. Davis may have filed this at the behest of Jo, or there may have been an actual crime there, the record of history leaves this entire situation ripe for speculation.
The exact details of what happened here are unclear, but the result is telling. Finch was arrested and examined by Justice of the Peace Isaac Higbee on the charge of larceny, which could easily break any business owner like Finch. Justice Isaac Higbee was, at this time, under Jo’s control but would later be one of the publishers of the Nauvoo Expositor that killed Jo. Isaac Higbee confined John Finch to the city jail for two days on bail of $300. Finch was unable to make bail and filed a writ of habeas corpus the next day claiming “this Prosecution against him has been Instituted through Malice Private Pique & corruption” as well that “the Sum of Three Hundred dollars… is Exorbitant and unjust”. 2 days after his arrest the writ of habeas corpus was honored and he was free to go until his hearing 2 and a half weeks later on December 15, 1843.
What is interesting about all of this was what occurred during the interim period of Finch’s release and his hearing. Just 4 days after Finch was released on his writ of habeas corpus, and just 2 weeks before his hearing on the charges of larceny, he signed his name to a document. The document Finch signed was titled “Memorial to the United States Senate and House of Representatives”. A little background on the content of this document. When the Mormons were exterminated from Missouri and relocated to Illinois, Jo and the leaders of the church collected a dossier of everything they’d suffered while living in Missouri. This dossier included dozens of affidavits from Mormons about their property being stolen and them being treated poorly by the Missouri government in general. Jo took this dossier of grievance to the United States Legislature and President Martin Van Buren and petitioned them for redress to the tune of $1.2 mn or just over $35 mn in 2019 money.
They were denied any form of redress for the wrongs committed against them by the State of Missouri, which kinda threw a wrench in things for ol’ Jo because he desperately needed that money to answer the hundreds of thousands he was personally in debt for land contracts that he’d signed to provide the Mormons a place to live in Illinois and Iowa. Upon this initial denial, the Mormons weren’t done. They continued to petition the federal government for any portion of that money it would be willing to give up.
This document Finch signed in late November 1843 was yet one more formal complaint filed by the Mormons to the federal government to get tax-payer money. Pardon this assessment, but it seems relevant; the government bailing Jo and the Mormons out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt sounds a bit like that dirty socialism Jo was ranting about 2 months prior. He went from advocating and practicing socialism in his holy texts and early ministry, to decrying it publicly from the pulpit on multiple occasions, to relying on it to pay his bills. Jo’s theology could accommodate any circumstance in which he found himself.
This document states: “the undersigned… respectfully sheweth:
That they belong to the Society of Latter Day Saints, commonly called Mormons,…” which was signed by over 3,400 inhabitants of Nauvoo, some of which weren’t actually baptized Mormons, so it was a falsified document in that regard. It concludes with “Had any foreign State or power committed a similar outrage upon us, we cannot for a moment doubt that the strong arm of the general government would have been stretched out to redress our <wrongs, and we flatter ourselves that the same power will either redress our> grievances or shield us from harm in our efforts to regain our lost property,…”
This was asking for government protection for the Mormons to march the Nauvoo Legion into Missouri and retake the property they were chased off of. If the Government wasn’t going to give them money for what happened in Missouri, they wanted protection from the government to take it by any means necessary. John Finch signed this document along with 3,418 other citizens of Nauvoo, some of which never lived in Missouri and had absolutely no standing to sign this complaint.
Finch’s opinion of Jo was not favorable, but he still signed the document while a trial and conviction for larceny hung over his head. As a business owner, a felony charge of larceny can obliterate your business. But, Amos Davis filed the charge, and the hearing was set for December 15, 1843. As Mayor, Jo chaired the hearing with White-out Willard Richards acting as clerk. The hearing came down in favor of John Finch and required Amos Davis to pay him fees for a “vexatious and malcias suit” the sum of $24.31. Whether or not Finch signed the document in exchange for making this lawsuit go away is likely connecting two dots that don’t belong together. Like I said earlier, the documentation is sparse enough to leave much to speculation, but the result was Davis paying court fees, Finch going free, and all his legal troubles going away.
However, just like Amos Davis sued the church after the death of Jo for stolen property because he felt wronged by the church and completely embittered by his time with the church, John Finch was named by White-out Willard Richards as one of the guys who pulled the trigger on Jo and Hyrum in the Carthage shootout. You see, it wasn’t just a faceless mob of Carthage Greys that killed Jo and his brother in June of 1844, they were all people with grievances against Jo and the Mormons. Some of them hated the flexible doctrine of the church, some of them despised how women were treated in the church, some of them lost property to Jo because he rarely paid his bills after he signed contracts. Some of them had their political world turned upside-down by this massive population that moved into the town they’d been living in for 20 years and voted against their preferred politician. Some of them couldn’t bear the thought of a militaristic religious sociopath running their country.
What I’m saying is there were a lot of reasons to hate Joseph Smith and the Mormons by 1844, just as there are plenty of reasons to hate Joseph Smith today. He did whatever necessary to serve him in any given moment, and he treated his religion like a business. A business can move, change, and adapt with market forces coupled with the will and desire of the CEO. Jo used his religion to go from literal rags to riches. He started as a poor member of the lower classes of society, but by 1844 was one of the wealthiest men in Illinois. Jo truly embodied everything that was the American dream.
Club 90 on 90th south right off freeway Friday night. Cover charge. Karaoke, live band, ladies night w/no cover charge.
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