Ep 37 – Joseph Smith Evades a Coup
On this episode, we’ll start out with the Safety Society Company absorbing Oliver Cowdery & Co. printing press, expressing just how much power it really had. After that we’ll discuss 1830’s politics of the Whigs versus the Democrats and what that meant for the Mormons in Ohio and Missouri. Then to wrap the show up, we’ll spend the last half discussing dissent in the church and just how fractioned everything was getting by mid-1837, we may have even found the first possible coup attempt against Joe, but who really knows for sure.
Outro music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Voicemail Line (864)Nake-dMo (625-3366)
Ebenezer Robinson Autobiography
Politics in Kirtland
Welcome to Episode 37 of the Naked Mormonism Podcast, the Serial Mormon History podcast. Today is Thursday, July 28th, 2016, my name is Bryce Blankenagel and thank you for joining me.
Let’s do a quick roundup of the last historical timeline episode for our serving of milk today and then we’ll move right into the meat of today’s show. Last episode was a monster. It was some 3.5 hours of history, and I bet it was a bit tough to get through the entire thing because there was so much content. Today’s episode will be a bit shorter for your listening pleasure.
Last episode we began with discussing where the church was, and where its leadership stood. Joe, Hyrum, Rigdon and Ollie were all in Massachusetts looking for buried treasure while the remaining leadership in Kirtland were plotting an assassination attempt against the prophet. When the argument got heated, Bloody Brigham Young and Jacob Bump nearly went down to blows over whether or not Joe was a real prophet, or was led astray. This was all in the wake of the Fanny Alger affair, happening only weeks after it was widely rumored in Kirtland that Joe and her were getting busy in the barn behind Joe’s Kirtland house. Dissent and murmuring was at an all-time high, and some people in the leadership of the church were plotting the overthrow of the powers that be.
Luckily for Joe, Bloody Brigham had his back and came to the rescue. As quickly as he could, Brigham took Samuel Smith, Joe’s younger brother, in a carriage ride to meet the group that was coming back from Massachusetts. Joe took Sam’s spot in the carriage, and Brigham and Joe rushed back to Kirtland to put out the destructive fires of insurrection.
Not all was well and good inside the highest leadership though; soon after this dissent was pacified for a short time, Rigdon and Ollie had a public dispute about the nature of God splayed out in the Messenger and Advocate over November and December of 1836. Rigdon argued that God is a finite God made of flesh and bone, while Ollie argued the traditional Trinitarian God of infinitude. While these didn’t seem directly contradictory in the exact language, this was some kind of harbinger of how the church would begin changing in the coming years, with Rigdon rising to more prominence and dictating church policy and beliefs, while Ollie slowly faded away into apostasy. More on that in shortly coming episodes.
Those topics got us half way through the episode, while the final topic took the rest of the episode. We dove headfirst into the Kirtland Safety Society, and all the insidious bullshit couched in the language of the articles of agreement. Unfortunately, I was unable to parse out a lot of the language in the articles, but luckily for all of us, Phil Ferguson of the Skeptic Money.com, Polaris Financial planning, and host of the Phil Ferguson show was kind enough to stop by and lend his expertise. With his help, we were able to understand just how fucked up the articles for establishing the Kirtland Safety Society anti-bank-ing Company were, and why the articles were worded the way they were. The discussion with Phil took us to the end of the historical portion of last episode, which takes us to the end of the roundup of last episode, filling us with the milk of today’s episode, so let’s dive into the meat and see how far into 1837 we can get while still keeping this episode under 3.5 hours.
On this episode, we’ll start out with the Safety Society Company absorbing Oliver Cowdery & Co. printing press, expressing just how much power it really had. After that we’ll discuss 1830’s politics of the Whigs versus the Democrats and what that meant for the Mormons in Ohio and Missouri. Then to wrap the show up, we’ll spend the last half discussing dissent in the church and just how fractioned everything was getting by mid-1837, we may have even found the first possible coup attempt against Joe, but who really knows for sure.
To get us started, let’s officially close up 1836 and move into 1837. Last episode we stepped into January 2, 1837 to read the articles and agreements of the Safety Society company, but we didn’t officially close up 1836 and open 1837. The final occurrence in 1836 that merits mention is a baptism of somebody important in our timeline. Willard Richards, the cousin of Brigham Young was baptized by Bloody Brigham on December 31, 1836. Willard Richards is a fascinating person and important to our timeline. Most of what we read from the History of the Church was written by him, totaling nearly 1900 pages of history about Joseph Smith. Richards was also the 4th man present on the day of the Carthage gunfight that ended in the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Conspiracy theorists may claim that Richards was the first man who shot Joseph Smith, or possibly pulled the trigger on Hyrum who was the first man to go down, but those are just conspiracy theories with no factual merit and no basis on any real evidence. We do know, however, that Richards was the only one that wasn’t shot in the room, even though he was like 400 lbs., and had a forehead you could play an IMAX movie on, making him the largest target, by far. Who knows what really happened that fateful day, but we do know that Richards would go on to serve as second counsellor to Bloody Brigham and be involved in one of the earliest treks to Utah, serving there until his death in 1854. Luckily for Willard Richards, he’s prominent enough in our timeline to give a proper NaMo nickname to, so we’ll come to know him as Big Willy Dick, not to be confused with Crazy Willey, Joe’s younger brother. Big Willy Dick was Bloody Brigham’s cousin and a close associate to Brigham in the Utah years, and enters our timeline on December 31, 1836. Welcome to the show Big Willy Dick.
That wraps up 1836 for us, so let’s pry open 1837 and see what we can find hiding in this Pandora’s box.
The first thing that jumps out to us in 1837 is just how much capital and power the Anti-banking society began absorbing as soon as it was founded. Nearly all of the investors were members of the church, the vast majority of them being in leadership positions. They were paying in their own cash investments to buy shares in the company, and in return they were issued notes from the company for promise of repayment. These notes are all over collector websites and ebay nowadays and you can pick them up for a hefty sum of a small fortune.
In order to understand this absorption, we need to understand the firm of Oliver Cowdery & Co. In order to print the Messenger and Advocate as a for-profit venture, Joseph and the leadership incorporated the printing press as a company with Ollie at the head. It was incorporated as Oliver Cowdery & Co., as a subsidiary of Joseph’s Church of the Latter-day Saints. This made it possible for Ollie’s company to bill people for subscriptions to membership in the company, and disseminate the Messenger and Advocate as the newsletter to the members of the company. It wasn’t so much a newspaper agency as it was a club requiring membership with a monthly newsletter about church affairs.
This is a passage out of the History of the Church, vols. 2 pp. 475
“The brethren in Missouri were very busy in gathering into Caldwell county, entering United States land, building houses, and preparing to put in crops in the spring.
On the first day of February, 1837, the firm of Oliver Cowdery & Co. was dissolved by mutual consent, and the entire establishment was transferred to Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon; and Warren A. Cowdery acted as their agent in the printing office and bookbindery, and editor of the Messenger and Advocate.”
Now…. I’m not 100% sure how to interpret this. It says that the company was dissolved by mutual consent, something that I don’t think would merit mention unless the opposite were possibly true. Let’s consider the possibilities of why Ollie’s company was dissolved and transferred to Joe and Rigdon, while appointing Warren Cowdery, Ollie’s brother, to be editor in chief of the Messenger and Advocate, effectively stripping Ollie of any and all power, removing him from his post as editor of the newspaper.
The first possibility or reason it was absorbed that comes to mind is strictly business. If Joe and Rigdon were trying to build the capital of the Safety Society company, what better way to do so than to absorb a company that was already running in the black. I don’t honestly know if Oliver Cowdery & Co. was running in the black, but given the number of subscriptions they must have had, and the price each subscription fetched, it was probably the only company under the umbrella of the church that wasn’t bleeding money, so the absorption of it into the Safety Society Company could have been just a business deal to raise the capital on the books of the Safety Society anti-banking company.
The second possibility or reason it was absorbed that comes to mind is a bit more sinister. This happened merely a month after Ollie had published his treatise on the epistemology of God that contradicted Rigdon’s own treatise from the month prior. Joe obviously sided with Rigdon because the Mormon God from this time forward would be a finite God of flesh and bone. This is where the sinister part comes in, and it’s my own naked idea of the situation and it sounds conspiratorial, so take it for what it’s worth, but my opinion is that Rigdon didn’t like Ollie’s little contradiction in the December issue that came into conflict with his own treatise in the November issue of the paper, and Rigdon took it personally.
Once Rigdon took it personally, he did whatever necessary to remove Ollie from a position that could be used to contradict his influence on Joe ever again. So, in reaction to Ollie’s different opinions on God, Rigdon convinced Joe that the Oliver Cowdery & Co. should be dissolved and absorbed into the Safety Society company, while Ollie would be removed from editor in chief and replaced with his more obedient brother, Warren Cowdery. Keep in mind, 1837 is when we really start to see the break between Joe and Ollie, and I think Rigdon had a bit to do with that fracturing of their friendship, and the separation of Ollie’s influence on Joe. But, I suppose it could be just a strictly business move to make the books of the Safety Society company look better, anything is really possible.
Like I said, that’s just my opinion on why Ollie was removed, take that for what it’s worth. I’m only basing that off the personalities that I’ve constructed of these individuals in my own mind and trying to look at the big picture narrative to see how something like this business deal may have been influenced by other factors.
Moving right along… There were still some powerful feelings of betrayal among the various members of Joe’s cabinet. Many of the apostles that had plotted to remove or kill Joe, while he was in Massachusetts, still had the same ever-present negative feelings about Joe and his leadership, but they couldn’t do anything while Joe had so many close allies in the ranks.
We see this same thing happen with nearly any coup de tat or usurpation. The leader tends to do things that his closest advisors dislike. While this doesn’t seem to pose any threat early on, the more the leader does crazy shit the more the closest advisors turn against him until he’s no longer has any loyal advisors or councilors and is finally overthrown. In early 1837, there were still quite a few people close to Joe that were still on his side that wouldn’t allow for an overthrow. Joe had to get crazier in the Nauvoo years for the rest of his advisors to finally turn against him, but at this time in Kirtland, he still had plenty of allies that were watching his back.
The affair with Fanny began the murmurings among the quorum of the twelve, and the establishment of the Safety Society company seemed to make that echoing voice of dissent slightly louder. This next passage is from the autobiography of Ebenezer Robinson, and I’ve used this autobiography for the past 3 historical episodes, so if you haven’t read it yet, I will once again strongly recommend doing so; it is really a fantastic first-hand account of so many prominent occurrences in Mormon history. Once again, it will be linked in the show notes for this episode.
One quick note before reading it: Robinson enlightens us to an amazing phenomenon of human nature when it comes to a leader of any given community. Joe was the leader of the Kirtland community and anybody else that professed belief in the Book of Mormon, which created many problems when people began to question. When somebody had the slightest inkling that Joe may be taking things the wrong direction, that person would be seen as somebody questioning the dictates of almighty God and the person God chose to be his prophet over the church. This is where we run into serious problems because there’s no possible way of thinking that Joe was a false prophet, without saying the entire religion is false. When a member of the quorum of the twelve, or any other higher up in the church would question whether or not Joe was on the right path, they were inherently questioning everything about the church up to that point, implying damning levels of doubt for the entire leadership of the church. That’s where it becomes a critical problem. No person could question Joe’s leadership or conduct without questioning the truth of his church, which brought them under a certain level of criticism. So, a doubter could voice their doubts and be seen as an outsider, or internalize their doubts and continue to follow Joe until the tides shifted against him. In this excerpt we’re about to read, I think we begin to see this shifting of the tides against Joe and his conduct begin to finally take footing and possibly even gain some ground.
“Heretofore there had been some individual church trials, which would naturally occur among a people as numerous as the Church had become, and some individuals had denied the faith. There had not been any general dissension however, but a universal oneness seemed to prevail until after the banking institution had been established.
During the winter and spring of 1837, a great split occurred between a number of the leading elders of the Church. Frederick G. Williams, one of the First Presidency, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Luke and Lyman E. Johnson, Parley P. Pratt, Wm. [William] E. McLellin, John F. Boynton (the last five named were members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), Roger Orton, one of the Seventy, and a number of others, including S. Wilbur Denton, printer, a high priest, who testified of having seen a great vision, during the time of the washings and anointings the preceding March; these all objected to the course being pursued by Brother Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Church, but we asked no particulars with regard to the matter, thinking that all things would be reconciled in a short time, and church matters move along as heretofore. One thing we felt sure of; the gospel was true, and that truth and righteousness would ultimately prevail, the Saints be gathered, Zion redeemed and established in everlasting strength; and we believed the Church was the medium through which this glorious result would be brought about; therefore looked upon all who opposed or who did not agree with Joseph Smith [Jr.], and the Church, as weak in the faith, or dissenters from the faith. But the disaffection continued and, if anything, grew stronger.”
That was no small list of names of nothing but prominent members in the church and quorum of the twelve or seventies that had doubts about Joe and his leadership. Last episode we saw the beginning of Joe becoming a mob boss, this episode we begin to see the tides of loyalty shift against Joe. If not for Defection Day in the following year of 1838, the church never would have survived in my opinion. We’ll talk about that when it comes up in the next few historical episodes because it’ll take an entire episode to cover just the tribunals and excommunications that happened in that year, but suffice it to say, murmurings were running rampant throughout the highest leaders in the church, all while Joe was somewhat insulated from the dissent, foremost by Hingepin Rigdon, and subsequently by Hyrum, Big Daddy Cheese, Bloody Brigham and a few other continually loyal members.
Now to take a minute to discuss politics; not current politics, as I’m wont to do so often, but politics that were relevant to our timeline. The majority of the Northern states’ Mormons living in Ohio identified with the Democratic party. In my research, it’s hard to try and provide analogues to today’s politics in describing politics of the 1830’s, but the Democrats were the established party, while the Whigs were the up-and-coming party. During the hotly contested 1836 election, the Whigs put forward 4 nominees to try and deny Martin Van Buren the Electoral college votes necessary to get elected. Of the necessary 148 votes to win, Van Buren pulled in 170, a solid victory, but only because of the electoral college. Even in the 1830’s the electoral college was showing its age and ill adept capabilities of dealing with real-life politics, because the state of Pennsylvania came up 4,200 votes short of going Whig instead of Democrat which would have switched the election in favor of the Whig party had those 4,200 votes been different. Here we begin to see political turmoil largely effect our timeline if it hasn’t done so up to this point.
Before now, the largest sticking point against the Mormons was their abolitionist members living in Missouri, the northern-most slave state. This was the driving force behind the Missourians in Independence chasing the Mormons out of Jackson County, forcing them to settle in Clay and Caldwell counties, Far West being the primary town of settlement. Missouri was undoubtedly a contentious place for Mormons to live, but we can’t neglect to discuss the politics of Kirtland and the so called “persecution” that was happening there.
The vast majority of the electorate living in Ohio were members of the newly founded Whig party, while the vast majority of Mormons were Democrats from the upper East Coast/New England area. In all my research I haven’t been able to find a proper analogue to today’s politics for either of these parties, but to put things very simply, the Whigs were more for improving the land we already had and state’s rights, while the Democrats were more geared toward expansionism into Canada and the western territories at the cost of war, promoting egalitarianism, big government, and American exceptionalism. Andrew Jackson, who had just left office in 1836, was a Democrat, having been labeled as King Andrew by the Whigs, succeeded by Martin Van Buren, another Democrat, in the 1836 election. Well, Ohio was a Whig state, and didn’t like all the Democratic Mormons moving in to Kirtland and fucking with their elections. What I’m about to read is from the encyclopedia of Mormonism on eom.byu.edu and there will be a link to it in the show notes.
“Some of the non-Mormon residents considered the intrusion of Latter-day Saints into the community a threat to their traditional pattern of living. Some complained that the Mormon practice of living in harmony with revelations recorded by a prophet was hostile to the American spirit of democracy. Residents not only rejected LDS beliefs regarding visions, revelations, and the restoration but also claimed that the Latter-day Saints had increased the poverty of the community and were a political and economic threat.”
Let me just pause right there for a second, because that is completely true. Whether or not the people were appalled at the Mormons living by the dictates of a cult leader, I think had very little to do with it, but the last part it said with the Ohio residents claiming that the Mormons had increased the poverty of the community and were a political and economic threat, that couldn’t be closer to the truth. Many of these Mormons were living on land that had been purchased by the church, which was consistently defaulting on its loans, and they weren’t paying their debts. These people, for all intents and purposes, were squatters on church owned land that the church wasn’t paying for. These people were extremely poor and the people that owned land next to them were suffering land depreciation because of the Mormons’ shitty real estate practices and financially destitute followers. The non-Mormon people in Ohio and Missouri were pretty fed up with all this bullshit the Mormons were doing and would soon do something about it. Continuing on from the same EOM article.
“The political competition reached a peak in 1837 when Latter-day Saints were elected to all local township offices except for the office of constable. Prior to that year, only four Latter-day Saints had been elected to a major office, and there had been a tendency for the citizens to reelect the earliest settlers. In addition to gaining control of the local government, Latter-day Saints transformed the township's voting pattern from Whig to Democratic. Since Kirtland was located in a Whig section of Ohio and all townships in Geauga County in the mid-1830s, except Kirtland, supported that party, Whigs in northeastern Ohio united in opposition to the Mormons. Complaints and charges escalated into threats and mob action.”
Now we begin to see the political sphere collapse on the Mormons. They could feel tensions rising, and the threats weren’t idle. Small contingencies of Mormons were moving out to Clay and Caldwell counties in Missouri because the Mormons were able to settle there in relative peace, but nearly anywhere that Mormons settled they slowly drew the ire of the non-Mormon locals.
We can look at the politics of the area and understand how violence could rise up with just the opposition to the political beliefs of the Mormons, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. We can also look at the fact that Mormons were inviting slaves in Missouri to come to church and also inviting free African-Americans to join the church and move to Missouri. If the slaves in Missouri were able to see free black people going to Mormon church all the time, learning how to read by reading the Book of Mormon, those slaves would undoubtedly want to join in, which could effectively incite an uprising of slaves against the slave owners of Missouri. This possibility terrified the slave owners! The fear of a slave uprising was one of the main forces driving violence against the Mormons in Missouri. Add in the pressure of Mormons taking over politics and holding the majority of offices in Kirtland Ohio and the newly settled Clay and Caldwell counties, and we’re beginning to see some very dark pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
The money problem of the Mormons didn’t help the situation at all. So many of them were incredibly poor and Joe was always putting stricter monetary demands for membership on the existing members, so they had no way of amassing personal wealth. Mormons sort of carried a stigma, known as the dregs of society, illiterate, poor, dirty, and morally corrupt in their business dealings, spurring some very hard stereotypes against the Mormons that the majority of non-Mormons began to hold against them in typical human fashion.
All of these pressures relating to politics, slaves, money, they all had dramatic effects with people mobbing against the Mormons, but we also can’t ignore the religious pressures that added a lot of negativity to the equation. The Mormons were outsiders, believing the bible to be insufficient for salvation, holding their own views of their own god, championing their proprietary religious text as true scripture, so on and so forth. The Mormons weren’t much crazier than any other religion that cropped up out of the burned-over district. Where the biggest problem arose, when it came to religious disagreements, was from Joseph Smith. He claimed to be enlightened just as the prophets of the old testament. He claimed that he could commune with spirits and angels from on high, and he spoke with God and Jesus as two separate beings floating above him in the air, a story that had changed multiple times by this point. Joe claimed he could heal people, failing as often as succeeding, as we read in the newspaper articles published about Mormonism in the previous historical timeline episode. Joe claimed his people could speak in the Adamic language and experience the ministering of angels, possibly with the help of anointing oil. Joe claimed to know what God wanted his followers to do and it usually involved giving him money. I think the 1833 manifesto published in Missouri against the Mormon after the destruction of the Printing Press for the Evening and Morning star sums up what we’re talking about right now.
“It is more than two years since the first of these fanatics, or knaves, (for one or the other they undoubtedly are) made their first appearance among us, and pretended as they did, and now do, to hold personal communication and converse face-to-face with the Most High God; to receive communications and revelations direct from heaven; to heal the sick by laying on hands; and, in short, to perform all the wonder-working miracles wrought by the inspired Apostles and Prophets of old.
They openly blaspheme the Most High God, and cast contempt on His holy religion, by pretending to receive revelations direct from heaven, by pretending to speak unknown tongues, by direct inspiration, and by diverse pretenses derogatory to God and religion, and to the utter subversion of human reason.
They declare openly that their God hath given them this country of land, and that sooner or later they must and will have possession of our lands for inheritance; and, in fine, they have conducted themselves on many other occasions, and such a manner, that we believe it a duty we owe to ourselves, our wives, and children, to the cause of public morals, to remove them from among us, as we are not prepared to give up our pleasant places and goodly possessions to them or to receive into the bosom of our families, as fit companions for wives and daughters, the degraded and corrupted free Negroes and mulattos that are now invited to settle among us.”
That was the diatribe against the Mormons published in the 1833 newspaper right before they were chased out of Independence and moved to Clay and Caldwell counties in Missouri. Everything listed there in 1833 was still going on in 1836, only to a much greater extent than 3 years prior. Mormons were gaining a great deal of notoriety as the biggest cult in the area coming to take away your slaves and preach to your family teachings from the devil.
The persecution narrative ran rampant throughout Mormon communities, and we can understand that it wasn’t particularly a persecution complex, it was a persecution reality. Granted, the Mormons did and were everything that the persecutors used to justify the persecution, not a single claim in that quote from before was inaccurate, but undoubtedly, persecution was a very harsh reality they had to deal with, and I can’t possibly overstate this enough.
Add in to the persecution they were dealing with, the level of Apostasy in 1837 was beginning to become a real issue as well, which we’ll talk about in a minute here. But people leaving the church and calling it heresy was understandable, especially when many of the church council meetings involved sermons like this, taken from the History of the Church vols. 2 pp 479-480
“At 4 p.m. President Hyrum Smith addressed the assembly, principally in relation to the temporal affairs of the Church, and censured those who counseled such brethren as moved to this place, when they were not authorized to give advice. He also alluded, in terms of disapprobation, to the practice of some individuals, in getting money from brethren that come in, when it ought to be appropriated to the discharge of heavy debts that are now hanging over the heads of the Church, or for the payments of the land contracts which had been made for the benefit of the Saints in this place.
Twenty-five minutes before five, President Oliver Cowdery spoke, opposing the idea of Elders attempting to preach or teach that which they did not know, etc.
President Sidney Rigdon rose a little before 5 p.m., and after referring to the gathering, and the preaching of the Gospel, as the first things, alluded to the debt which had been contracted for building the Lord’s House, and other purposes, and stated three principal items that constituted nearly the aggregate of debt that now remained unliquidated.
First a charge of six thousand dollars which was appropriated and expended in consequence of the brethren being driven by a lawless mob from their possessions in Jackson county. The second was the building of the Lord’s House, the unliquidated debt of which was rising of thirteen thousand dollars. The third item of debt was for the purchase of land, that there might be a place of rest, a place of safety, a place that the Saints might lawfully call their own. All this is to lay a foundation for the gathering of Israel, and when the Elders go abroad they can speak understandingly, and urge the necessity and propriety of the gathering, from the fact that we have a place for them, and it is the will of God they should come. Prey not one upon another, brethren, and for the time being say not, Pay me what thou owest; but contribute all in your power to discharge the great debts that now hang over the church.
At half-past five, bread and water were distributed liberally among the quorums, and it was truly a refreshing season to spirit and body.”
This is what typical church meetings were like at this time, chastising every member for preaching false doctrine, and telling them not to be so greedy with their money, all the while asking for more money to pay back the church’s accrued debts. The second to last line we read even told them to prey not upon each other, and don’t worry about collecting the debts you have among yourselves, instead just give every last shilling to discharge the great debts that now hang over the church. Also, another important thing to point out, the last line we read was actually somewhat important. This was the first time in recorded Mormon history that we see them using water instead of wine for the sacrament ceremony in church. The revelation was given back in 1830 that it doesn’t matter what you use for the sacrament as long as you do so with an eye single to the glory of God, and at that time Joe and Ollie used water, but that was only when they were baptizing their wives into the church, it wasn’t for an entire congregation like this was.
So, having learned that, a good question to ask Mormons today is why don’t they use wine instead of water for the sacrament ceremony. If they are knowledgeable about Mormon history they will pull out that 1830 revelation saying it doesn’t matter what you use, if they don’t know anything about Mormon history, they will just say because the word of wisdom commands us not to drink alcohol, even though that’s never explicitly stated anywhere in the WoW. The only logical question that follows is, why then, if we revere Joseph Smith as the prophet of the restoration and venerate the leadership as infallible and enlightened by God, why did they only use wine for the first 7 years of the sacrament ceremony? It took them 7 years to adapt the use of water instead of wine for the ceremony, why did it change, and why doesn’t the church use wine today?
The correct answer to all of those questions is the same answer to why the church back then did so many things, and why the church today does so many things it does: MONEY! Joe’s church was low on money, so they cut costs by not buying wine for everybody to drink during the sacrament ritual. The church would need to spend millions a year on wine if it still upheld this practice, so they use tap water instead. They even require the people setting up the sacrament tables to bring their own bread, the church refuses to buy the fucking bread for the sacrament ceremony, it’s just whatever bread the 14-year old teacher finds in his parent’s pantry that Sunday. It’s interesting how money was and still is the driving factor behind every decision the church makes hearkening back to the good ol’ days of Joe and Rigdon in charge.
What’s even crazier is the context in which these sermons were preached. From the previous page in the History of the Church vols. 2 we find this passage.
“Therefore in viewing the Church as a whole, we may strictly denominate it one Priesthood. President Smith also said:
I frequently rebuke and admonish my brethren, and that because I love them, not because I wish to incur their displeasure, or mar their happiness. Such a course of conduct is not calculated to gain the good will of all, but rather the ill will of many; therefore, the situation in which I stand is an important one; so, you see, brethren, the higher the authority, the greater the difficulty of the station; but these rebukes and admonitions become necessary, from the perverseness of the brethren, for their temporal as well as spiritual welfare.”
What a dick, right? I mean, he’s on the cusp of being a self-aware dick, but just missed the mark. He says that he has to rebuke and admonish the members of the church because they are perverse, even though he knows that it engenders ill will and mars their happiness. He knows how much of a dick he is being, but he claims that he has to be a dick because God needs him to be a dick because the higher the authority, the greater the difficulty of the station. That’s like a dick squared, that’s a power dick right there, especially when all that he talks about is needing more money and how righteous he and Rigdon are as leaders in the church.
The next part of that same passage is fucking golden, because Joe goes on to tell them about how hard he has it as prophet, always having to rebuke the members, and how much he would prefer to do any other job in the church. Continuing from where we left off…
“They actually constitute a part of the duties of my station and calling. Others have other duties to perform, that are important, and far more enviable, and may be just as good, like the feet and hands, in their relation to the human body—neither can claim priority, or say to the other, I have no need of you. After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel.”
This is where he just sounds like a dick in triplicate. He said that the job of Prophet is way tougher than that of missionary, and being a missionary in a foreign land is enviable over his own position as CEO of Mormon inc. He says blatantly that preaching the Gospel is the greatest and most important duty in the church, like telling your sales force that they have the best job in the company, and the company wouldn’t function without them. The latter statement is true, no company that makes a product can survive without the sales force, but the former part, claiming that the salesmen have the best job is a fat load of grade A bullshit. After this though, Joe cranks it up and goes into quadraforce dick mode, claiming that he had it so hard as an early missionary and the current missionaries have it so easy.
“There are many causes of embarrassment, of a pecuniary nature now pressing upon the heads of the Church. They began poor; were needy, destitute, and were truly afflicted by their enemies; yet the Lord commanded them to go forth and preach the Gospel, to sacrifice their time, their talents, their good name, and jeopardize their lives; and in addition to this, they were to build a house for the Lord, and prepare for the gathering of the Saints. Thus it is easy to see this must have involved them in financial difficulties. They had no temporal means in the beginning commensurate with such an undertaking; but this work must be done; this place [Kirtland] had to be built up.”
Premium dick right here… He just claimed that he had it so rough in the early church, but still did what God told him to do, which is such bullshit. Joe never lifted a fucking finger. He was always responsible for dictating shit from the pulpit and his underlings would do the actual work necessary to make his commands come to life. Yes, he was persecuted and he put his life in jeopardy many times, but not much more than he ever did as a seer hunting for buried treasure, he just had more people following his whims once the church started, and had less of an excuse for fucking up his revelations as opposed to when he was hunting for buried treasure. But the next passage is where we begin to see the formation of Joe’s entire point to this screed, and helps to explain the next thing that happens in the timeline. Basically, he was calling for the members to pay for the contracts the church had entered into, which is nothing new, but there is one detail that leads us into the next chapter of the History of the Church vols. 2.
“Large contracts have been entered into for lands on all sides, where our enemies have signed away their rights. We are indebted to them, but our brethren from abroad have only to come with their money, take the contracts, relieve their brethren from the pecuniary embarrassments under which they now labor, and procure for themselves a peaceable place of rest among us. This place must and will be built up, and every brother that will take hold and help secure and discharge those contracts that have been made, shall be rich.”
Did you catch that? We are indebted to our enemies for the contracts we’ve entered into, but our brethren from abroad have only to come with their money and relieve their brethren from the pecuniary embarrassments under which they labor. Joe was doing what every organism needs to do in order to survive: expand and acquire new resources, or shrivel up and die. This is the organization of the first large missionary force to the United Kingdom, specifically to Liverpool in Britain. Joe was hoping that the missionaries would preach to a bunch of rich people in Britain spurring them to convert and travel across the seas with all their wealth and give it to the church to get them out of debt.
We’ll have to pick up on the British mission next episode because there is a fair amount of information and important names to cover when it came to this missionary expedition. So, to round out the historical portion of today’s episode, we’re going to discuss a court proceeding.
I’m still trying to make heads or tails of this, but it seems important to point out an overarching theme here before diving in to the actual court documents. There was a fair amount of dissent going on throughout the church by April 1837 when this court proceeding happened. I’ve remarked about this many times by now, not only in this episode, but in nearly every historical episode up to this point, because it was a constant pressure weighing on Joe and Rigdon since the beginning of the church.
The dissent we are about to discuss regards the churches in Missouri under Whitmer leadership. Far West was the gathering point for the majority of the Missouri Mormons and by the time 1838 rolls around it was about 5,000 people strong. John Goebbels and D-Day David Whitmer were responsible for a large portion of ecclesiastical duties in Missouri with people like P-Cubed Parley P. Pratt, Edward Party-Boy Partridge, and Freddy G. Willey, Leadfoot Lyman Johnson, and Warren Parish overseeing the other necessary duties for keeping the church up and running in Missouri.
From what I can gather, the Missouri churches were being run completely separately from the Kirtland church. There was an 800-mile wedge of prairies between the congregations and the Missouri churches couldn’t be directly supervised by Joe or Rigdon. Without this level of oversight, anything could happen and anybody could begin to see themselves as the proper authority in the area, even to the point of not adhering to the will of the Kirtland church.
To get this started out, on April 3, 1837, a High Council meeting was held in Far West reading a letter sent over from HQ in Kirtland.
“Minutes of the High Council at Far West. At a meeting of the High council in Far West, April 3, 1837, seven of the standing councilors were present. John Murdock was appointed moderator, and Elias Higbee clerk.
Resolved, That the Council request the Presidents W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer to give explanation of the following items:
First— By what authority was this place [Far West] pointed out as a city and a place for a house of the Lord, and by whom?
Second— By what authority was a committee appointed and ordained to superintend the building of the House of the Lord?
Third-By what authority was Jacob whitmer ordained to the High Priesthood?
Fourth— Have two presidents authority to lay out a city, and build a House of God; independent of the counsel of the High Council?
Fifth— By what authority was one of the High councilors disfellowshiped in the name of the High Council without their knowledge?
Sixth— Has any individual or individuals a right to prefer a charge to the Presidency in Kirtland against any High councilor, [of this Council] without the knowledge of the Council or [the] individual?
Seventh— Should not the High council and Bishop of Zion, who are appointed to do business for Zion, receive their inheritance in the care of that city in preference to one who is not particularly called to labor for Zion, or an unbeliever?
Eight— Shall any intelligence relative to the building up of Zion be withheld from the Council of Zion?
Ninth— Are the two presidents entitled to the profits arising from the sale of land, on which the city is to be built in this place, independent of the authorities who have been appointed to labor with them for Zion and have suffered like tribulations with them?
The Council then agreed to invite Presidents W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer, also the Bishop, Edward Partridge, and his counselors; also the two Apostles, Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patten, to meet with them on the 5th, inst, that the above named presidents might explain [answer] the foregoing questions and that the subject might be investigated. The Council then adjourned to the 5th at ten o'clock. FAR WEST, April 5th, 1837.”
Now we are familiar with some of the charges that were raised against the leadership in Far West, and after 3 days of deliberation among themselves, they were finally summoned to HQ in Kirtland to stand trial. They arrived near the end of May, and this is where things really get kicked off with Hingepin Rigdon leading the witch hunt against these possible dissenters.
“President Rigdon then read the following complaint:
"To the Presidency of the Church of Latter-day Saints:
"We, the undersigned, feeling ourselves aggrieved with the conduct of Presidents David Whitmer and Frederick G. Williams, and also with Elders Lyman E. Johnson, Parley P. Pratt, and Warren Parrish, believing that their course for some time past has been injurious to the Church of God, in which they are high officers, we therefore desire that the High Council should be assembled, and we should have an investigation of their behavior, believing it to be unworthy of their high calling-all of which we respectfully submit.
"KIRTLAND, MAY, 1837."
Alright, that’s the official complaint filed by those guys and read by Hingepin Rigdon in this court proceeding. The next thing I’m going to read is really long, and kind of stupid, so I’m going to read it quickly. To give you an idea of what you’re about to hear, basically the court hearing began with discussing whether or not the court had justification or authority to judge the people called into question… and that’s it. There isn’t any actual putting forth of evidence or discussion concerning the actual issues, the entire court is spent deciding whether or not they have the authority to judge and punish these guys. So that’s why I’m going to read through it fairly quickly, just so you can hear the kind of arguing that was going on and understand just how pointless it was. However, there is an overall point I want to get to, so hang in there for a few minutes while we grind through this.
“Elder Warren Parrish then stated that the declaration just read was not in accordance with the copy which they [the accused] received of the charges preferred against them.
The resolution was then offered and carried, that three speak on a side.
The Council was then opened by prayer, by President Rigdon.
After a short address to the Councilors, by President Rigdon, President Frederick G. Williams arose, and wished to know by what authority he was called before the present Council; that according to the Book of Covenants, he ought to be tried before the Bishop's court.
After some discussion between Presidents Rigdon and Williams, President Rigdon gave his decision that President Williams should be tried before the present Council.
President David Whitmer also objected to being tried before the present Council.
President Williams then expressed a willingness to be tried for his conduct, and if this was the proper tribunal, he would be tried before it, but still thought it was not.
President David Whitmer objected to being tried before the present Council, stating that he thought the instructions in the Book of Covenants showed that this was not the proper authority to try him.
Councilor Greene gave it as his opinion that the present Council was the proper authority to try Presidents Williams and Whitmer.
President Rigdon then submitted the case to the Councilors.
Councilor John Smith then put the question to the Council for decision, in substance as follows. Have the present Council authority, from the Book of Covenants, to try Presidents Williams and Whitmer? A majority of the Council decided that they could not conscientiously proceed to try Presidents Williams and Whitmer, and they were accordingly discharged.
After one hour's adjournment, the Council sat again at one o'clock p. m. Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery presiding.
Councilor John Smith stated that he had selected three High Priests to sit in the Council to fill vacancies, and asked the Council if they accepted the selection he had made. Council decided in the affirmative.
On motion of Warren Parrish, the Councilors were directed to sit as they were originally chosen, or according to the form in the book of Doctrine and Covenants as far as possible.
Resolved, that three speak on each side.
Councilor Martin Harris moved that President Frederick G. Williams take a seat with the presidents.
After much discussion as to the propriety of his sitting, motion carried, and President Williams took his seat.
Elder Parley P. Pratt then arose and objected to being tried by President Rigdon or Joseph Smith, Jun., in consequence of their having previously expressed their opinion against him, stating also that he could bring evidence to prove what he then said.
President Rigdon then stated that he had previously expressed his mind respecting the conduct of Elder Pratt, and that he had felt and said that Elder Pratt had done wrong, and he still thought so, and left it with the Council to decide whether, under such circumstances, he should proceed to try the case.
After much discussion between the councilors and parties, President Rigdon said that, under the present circumstances, he could not conscientiously proceed to try the case, and after a few remarks left the stand.
President Oliver Cowdery then said that although he might not be called upon to preside, yet if he should be, he should also be unfit to judge in the case, as he had previously expressed his opinion respecting the conduct of Elder Parley P. Pratt and others, and left the stand.
President Williams then arose and said, that as he had been implicated with the accused, he should be unwilling to preside in the case, and left the stand.
The Council and assembly then dispersed in confusion.
F. W. COWDERY, Clerk.”
And that was the entire court proceeding from what I can tell. The council ended in confusion and everybody left. It started out with complaints filed against the leadership in Missouri that they were abusing authority and misusing or embezzling church funds for their own gains, then when they made their way to Kirtland to stand trial, none of those charges were brought up, and they spent the entire time bickering about who has what authority to charge who with what. This overly-dramatic crock of dogshit not only distracted the leadership from running the church in the most efficient and beneficial way, but it also drove a wedge between the leaders that were willing to side with Joe against those who wouldn’t and considered him a fallen or false prophet. The thing is, there was no reconciling the differences here. Defection day in 1838 was an absolute necessity, without it the church never would have survived. To really highlight just how tumultuous things were in the church, this is the next passage from the History of the Church following the coverage of that council proceeding we just read.
“At this time the spirit of speculation in lands and property of all kinds, which was so prevalent throughout the whole nation, was taking deep root in the Church. As the fruits of this spirit, evil surmisings, fault-finding, disunion, dissension, and apostasy followed in quick succession, and it seemed as though all the powers of earth and hell were combining their influence in an especial manner to overthrow the Church at once, and make a final end. Other banking institutions refused the "Kirtland Safety Society's" notes. The enemy abroad, and apostates in our midst, united in their schemes, flour and provisions were turned towards other markets, and many became disaffected toward me as though I were the sole cause of those very evils I was most strenuously striving against, and which were actually brought upon us by the brethren not giving heed to my counsel.
No quorum in the Church was entirely exempt from the influence of those false spirits who are striving against me for the mastery; even some of the Twelve were so far lost to their high and responsible calling, as to begin to take sides, secretly, with the enemy.”
I think this perfectly described everything that was wrong in the church at the time. It seemed like earth and hell were combining to overthrow the church. Everybody was getting wise to the Safety Society Company scheme and refusing its money. People were refusing to sell things to the Mormons because the Mormons were buying everything with their own money that would have made better use if people wiped their asses with it. The spirit of speculation was running rampant even though Joe was strenuously striving against it, although the argument can be made that he was responsible for the majority of this speculation starting with the Safety Society company, and to cap it all off, Joe said no quorum in the church was entirely exempt from the influence of those false spirits who are striving against me for the mastery. Even members of the twelve began to secretly take sides with the enemy.
Last episode I made the case that we saw a shift in Joe and the church. This shift had been a long time coming, so I wasn’t surprised that it happened, I was merely surprised to see it happen so soon. This shift I’m talking about was basically from the party-boy no fucks given Joe to the mob boss Joseph, and I believe that the foundation of the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking company was our dead canary here. Dissent was so powerful throughout the church that the court proceeding we just read through was held to determine by what authority the Missouri church was operating, because they seemed almost disconnected from all the shit that was going on in Kirtland.
Let me just throw this out there, and it’s my naked opinion, I doubt there’s really anything other than my own crazy musings to back this up, but I think the Missouri Mormons were a different breed than the Kirtland Mormons. The Mormons in Missouri seemed almost like the real Mormons while the ones in Kirtland, especially the leadership, were like the bureaucrats back at HQ that didn’t really know what it was like at the ground level.
I mean, the Missouri Mormons had been beaten, persecuted, chased out of their homes by mobs with torches and pitchforks, stolen from by the Missourians and the church leadership, ignored by Joe for various reasons that aren’t fully understood, and to top it all off, all of this happened after these people had made the sacrifice of moving to Zion in the first place, having left behind all of their friends, family, and possessions in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or wherever they had moved from. A lot of these Mormons that moved to Missouri had left behind their farms and all of their accrued wealth, taking with them only what would fit in a wagon, just to go live on a communistic farm owned by Isaac Morley, who we call Yelrome Morley after the town he founded in Illinois in 1840. Some of these people lived on his farm in little shacks, essentially as sharecroppers, giving all their harvested crops to Yelrome to be sold at whatever price he could fetch, which at this time, he was probably being paid in Safety Society Company monopoly money, meaning he was giving away the crops and amassing wealth in bank notes more useful as fishwrap.
My point is, the Missouri Mormons had a tougher go than the Kirtland Mormons. Most of the Mormons living in Kirtland had experienced only a very subtle shift once Joe and Rigdon teamed up together. Rigdon was running his church much like Joe, with the subtle change that Joe was slightly greedier than Rigdon, but Rigdon seemed like the guy with the big plans, and the Kirtland members of his parish were accustomed to this since they began following him, long before Joe came along. Joe and his special little Book of Mormon were just a new label by which these parishioners called themselves in the beginning. Of course, Rigdon and Joe seemed to up the ante with each other making a positive feedback loop of crazy that just got more fucking insane as the time went on, but the Mormons in Kirtland didn’t go through the same struggles as the Missouri Mormons. The Missouri Mormons had more grit, and I would argue believed in the fundamentals of Mormonism that the church in Kirtland was being pulled away from as Rigdon and Joe kept coming up with new shit to try and makes things more awesome or maybe just suck a little less.
What’s more is I think the Missouri Mormons really didn’t take to this major shift that happened last episode very well. Joe and Rigdon finally embodied the mob bosses that they’ve been leading up to for years now, and like boiling a frog by slowly turning up the heat, the Kirtland Mormons were minimally opposed to what was happening, but the Missouri Mormons were a different story. They were learning about these changes through the Messenger and Advocate or hearing about disciplinary councils of local Missourian leaders for something they said or did at the pulpit like we read a little while ago. Missouri Mormons just seemed more fundamental and hardcore than the progressive version of Mormon that comprised the majority of the Kirtland Mormons. But, of course, that was all just my opinion and how I see the narrative shaping up in my mind.
Do you want to know the most interesting part about the disciplinary hearing we just read about? Of course you do, but I bet nobody noticed it. It only occurred to me at the end of reading about this council. It took me coursing through the History of the Church surrounding this council to find that something was missing the whole time. The whole proceeding was called in reaction to dissent that was happening in Missouri, dissent and murmurings against the prophet. The hearing was presided over by Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery, but where the fuck was Joe? These church leaders were standing trial because they were doing a small list of things against the prophet and his church, but the prophet wasn’t even there to represent himself. I didn’t notice that until the very end of the proceedings and hopefully I’m not the only one that it took that long to occur to. I think that is the most interesting part of this whole thing, Joe didn’t even represent himself in court proceedings that were being held to determine if the Whitmers, P-cubed, Warren Parrish and others were being heretics against Joe and the church. Joe was nowhere to be found. His name was mentioned in passing once, but he wasn’t presiding over the meeting, nor did he make any arguments, he was just not there. This episode, Joe was the vanishing man.
It took a fair amount of digging to find where Joe was at this time and when I found the passage I was looking for I nearly shat myself in excitement. The best part about this is I’m not sure exactly what happened, or how to interpret this, but the possibilities are running rampant through my mind because the passage is worded so ambiguously. This is the passage I’m referring to and I can’t wait to share it with you and speculate on exactly what it means. It’s taken from the autobiography of Wilford Woodruff, the 4th Prophet of the Church in SLC.
“April 13, 1837.--I married Phebe W. Carter, daughter of Ezra and Sarah Carter, of Scarborough, Maine. The ceremony was performed at the house of President Joseph Smith, [Jr.,] by Fred. [Frederick] G. Williams, Esq. The Prophet Joseph [Smith, Jr.,] appointed to marry us, but his life was sought by a mob, and he had to flee.”
That’s huge… his life had been sought by mobs a small handful of times before now, but we knew some of the people in the mob and there was usually a motive behind it. Take, for example, the mob that dragged Joe out of the Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio in 1832. Members of the mob were two of the Johnson brothers that wanted to castrate Joe, and we know that Marinda Nancy Johnson, being 16 at the time, would later become one of Joe’s wives. By power of inference there was a clear motive to that mob dragging Joe out into the snow of a dead Ohio winter’s night and beating him senseless before tarring and feathering him and almost cutting off his fucking balls. With that example, we have a clear set of circumstances leading up to the formation of the mob and we can understand why they did what they did to Joe. Take another example of the mob forming in Colesville in 1830. They wanted to lynch Joe because he was preaching a false God, and had swindled one of the beloved members of the community out of a fair amount of his hard earned cash, I’m talking about Joseph Knight Sr. here. Joe was instead arrested and acquitted on lack of jurisdiction and the statute of limitations in two consecutive court proceedings. We knew who the mob was and we know why they did what they did in that instance.
Now let’s consider this mob that Woodruff told us chased Joe out of Kirtland. Who were they, why did they chase him out, what were their motivations for doing so? Now I’m at a loss for a definite answer, but overflowing with excitement about the possibilities. Every mob up to this point formed in reaction to very specific actions on Joe’s part, but the problem now is Joe was doing so much underhanded shit and fucking over so many people that there’s no way of nailing down exactly what the mob was pissed about and who comprised it.
Was the mob a bunch of investors of the Safety Society company that realized their money was worthless? Were they a gathering of people that had loaned goods and services to the church to whom the church had defaulted on payments? Were they members of Fanny Alger’s family that were trying to kill Joe for the sex scandal that had happened less than a year prior? Were they people that found out about another sex scandal that hasn’t been popularized and is wholly unknown to history? Were they people that were unhappy with new church policies? A chunk of text I left out of this episode was a disciplinary council that punished James Emmet for disobeying the Word of Wisdom, even though Bloody Brigham purchased a tavern in March this year, were these people pissed off about Joe’s interpretation of the Word of Wisdom and the hypocrisy of Brigham owning a tavern and selling strong drinks? Were they people that Joe fucked over in some way we aren’t even aware of? Were they just a bunch of people from other religious backgrounds that considered the Mormons heretics and followers of a satanic cult?
There is simply no way of knowing because Joe had spread his bullshit so thick across so many places covering so many people that there was no longer just one small subsect of people that were mad at him about one specific thing. The best question to ask that I didn’t ask in that last paragraph is possibly the most fun to ponder, skepticize, and mentally toy with to see what comes out. This is possibly the biggest and most important question of all, what if that mob were leaders of the church attempting a violent coup? Goddamn… just think about that for a minute… According to Bloody Brigham, and others, the leadership wanted to kill Joe while he was in Salem, 8 months before the time we’re discussing now. That was before the Safety Society company was founded, before the Brother of Gideon society, before everything we discussed this episode, before the fraudulent investments and the dissolving of the Oliver Cowdery & Co. printing press, before all of that these people wanted to kill Joe, so it doesn’t seem like any stretch of imagination to think they may have tried to carry out an assassination and coup, from which Joe fled and Rigdon, loyal to the end, represented Joe in this court. This court where they brought the primary actors under ecclesiastical punishment for their misconduct in Missouri and their coup attempt in April, and who knows what else they argued about that escapes the written record here.
What does that mean for the future of the church if the leadership was trying to remove Joe 7 years before his actual death? How could things possibly go well after this? What does this say about the unity of the one true church if the division in leadership was so powerful they were willing to kill Joseph Smith. Just like every mob boss since the beginning of secret combinations, Joe had to watch his fuckin back because somebody was always gunning for his seat at the head of the church, and I think this is the real first sign of this happening in the church’s history. While the motivations may be fuzzy because of the abundance of possibilities, and the actual members of the mob may be a mystery because so many people wanted Joe dead, the only thing that matters is Joe was prevented from attending to his duties as prophet of the church because he was hiding from people that literally wanted to kill him. Not the kind of literally where somebody says “Ugh, I ate so much that I’m gunna literally explode!” this is the real kind of literally where they literally wanted to shoot Joseph Smith with literal searing hot lead through his body literally multiple times, and literally cut his head off and parade his literally decrapitated corpse around the community saying we finally literally killed the ol’ Devil Jo Smith.
I like playing with thought experiments to contrast it to the reality we actually know. I’m pretty sure I’ve asked this on previous episodes, but what if they would have succeeded? What if they would have caught Joe out and fucking killed him in 1837 while he was conducting the wedding between Wilford Woodruff and his wife Phebe?
Of course, there’s no way to know for sure, but I think it’s safe to say the church would be drastically different than it is today… in some sense, but in another sense, I think we would still see the church’s meteoric rise in membership, that happened in 1844 and 45 after Joe really died, I just don’t think it would have been relegated and confined to Utah and the surrounding territories and I don’t think Bloody Brigham would have played as much of a part in the formation of current-day Mormonism.
So many of the specifically Mormon things we see today simply wouldn’t be a thing. The practice of polygamy never would have happened the way it did, the temple ceremonies would have remained merely a foot washing and anointing ceremony, no handshakes, garments, and crazy baker’s caps or veils. So much of church beliefs and rituals we know today would never be a thing, but I think we’ve now passed a critical point in Joe’s leadership. By the time 1837 hits, if Joe died at any point after this, he dies as a martyr, simple as that. He had enough of a following that saw him as a true prophet of God that, no matter how he died, he was a martyr. In June Joe takes deathly ill with some kind of horrible bug, and if he would have died, it would have been construed as the lord saw it fit to take him from us, or maybe he was poisoned. If he fell off a cliff or got hit by a runaway carriage, it was Satan’s hand at work taking the prophet from the earth in an untimely moment. If he dies by lynching or gunshot by a mob, he’s a prophet and was martyred for his beliefs making the church and Book of Mormon incontrovertibly true. At this point, the church was a monster that Joe had created, or some kind of demon he had summoned from the pits of human depravity and it was so much bigger than just Joe and the leadership. I mean, really, anybody could cut the head off Joe, and like the mythical hydra, the church would grow more heads in his place.
Speaking of that, there was absolutely no shortage of heads that were trying to grow in place of Joe even before his death. Obviously the Whitmers were trying to usurp the throne and become heads of the Missouri church in Joe’s place. Lyman Wight was involved in this possible usurpation as was P-Cubed. Hingepin Rigdon and Bloody Brigham were loyal to Joe for now, but that was tentative and would remain so until Joe’s death. John Bennett and James Strang would soon become members of the church. Arguably, one of the very few people that was loyal to Joe after his death was the lovely mafia wife Emma, and she wasn’t affiliated with the LDS church because she hated polygamy and hated Bloody Brigham even more.
Every person I just now listed became a separate head of the hydra after Joe was severed from the body of followers. The only thing missing for all of these people to divide off and make their own church was the death of Joseph Smith, which is a problem that would be solved relatively soon. I have to say, learning about just how much disagreement and infighting there was this early on in the church makes me wonder how the fuck Joe lasted until 1844. He was a crazy bastard since the early days of the church and only continued to get worse and worse as the years ticked by, how did it go on for so much longer than we’ve already discussed in the podcast up to this point? I simply don’t understand. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely fascinated by it, but I don’t understand it. Maybe that’s why researching Mormon history is so much fun, because I simply don’t understand it. I’m learning and understanding more every episode that goes up, but my God, there’s so much more that I don’t have even the slightest comprehension of.
You know, there’s that line that believers use to chastise people like us ex-mos that leave the church and study it the way the listeners of this show do. Even by listening to the many hours of monologues that try to hash out Mormon history, you’re studying a condensed version of it, and there’s an annoying line that TBM’s use to almost shame those that study Mormonism after leaving the church. They say, you can leave the church, but you can’t leave it alone. You’re goddamn right I can leave, and even more goddamn right that I can’t leave it alone! Why would I want to stop learning about something that can occupy years of research and still leave me baffled at every new piece of information I learn? We don’t study Mormonism because we think it might be true and we’re just mystically drawn to it or something, we study it because the history is fuckin awesome and way more insane than we could imagine. The truth of Mormonism is way more fantastical and preposterous than any so called “anti-Mormon” author or researcher could imagine or fabricate.
When I talk to Mormons about problematic things in Mormon history and they shut down or argue about it, I just have to take a step back and understand what they’re doing from an abstract perspective. They are actually getting angry at history. They don’t like the progression of events through time because it doesn’t fit inside their own simplistic narrative of the church they believe in. They are actually disagreeing with reality because it makes them uncomfortable. They can say, “Oh you’re just getting that from some anti-Mormon website,” or “You know, you can trust everything you read on the internet or in those books by anti-Mormons that fell from the church”. The only thing I can say to that is if everything we’ve learned in studying Mormon history up to this point is all an anti-Mormon lie and none of it’s true, then it represents the biggest conspiracy in all of human history. If everything we’ve ever read or discussed on this show is an anti-Mormon lie, then it has required the most extensive nefarious orchestration of document manufacturing, twisting of facts, and outright fabrication of some kind of alternate reality that has ever been committed in all of written history. Now, who is making up these documents and creating the anti-Mormon narrative that we’re studying? That can’t be answered. Why are they making it up? That can’t be answered. How is this shadow society benefitting from manufacturing this false history? That can’t be answered.
So, when you talk to a TBM, and you discuss some things that may not conform to their understanding of their church, ask them those questions about this anti-Mormon conspiracy aimed at debunking their church. And when they ask you that stupid old question of “Why is it you can leave the church but can’t leave it alone?” the only proper answer to that question is “Because it’s fucking awesome, and you should try to learn about it for yourself.”
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