Episode 63 – Failure to Prophesy

On this episode, Jo goes on a smear campaign against the POTUS, Martin Van Buren. Jo claims his dog is more fit to run the country than Van Buren, likely giving him the confidence and social clout to run for President in the 1844 election. After that, Jo introduces baptisms for the dead and the waters of the Mississippi in Commerce were continually troubled by people getting dunked for loved ones. We wrap up the historical portion with discussing just how much John C. Bennett influenced Jo throughout his short time with the Saints. After that we bring on an old friend, Kaitlyn McKenna, to see how she’s been doing for the past two years since we last spoke after she was kicked out of her parent’s house and was forced to start a gofundme campaign for basic living essentials.


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Last episode, we began with Elias Higbee and his advocacy in behalf of the Mormons to the congressional committee as they were about to deliver their verdict of kicking the Mormon problem back down to the State level in Missouri. The Mormons would receive no redress for the wrong perpetrated against them in Missouri, but Jo, now back in Commerce handling church affairs, wasn’t aware of this yet. Jo continued to collect affidavits from select Mormons who would tell their side of the story. In the end, Jo totaled up the bill to the government at a whopping $1,381,044, the equivalent of $38.12 mn today. The number was resoundingly rejected by the government and Elias Higbee was sent packing. After that we discussed how sickly Rigdon was during this time and how little he was able to contribute when the Mormons needed him the most. The quorum of the twelve boarded a ship for England and continued to petition Jo to release the copyright on the Book of Mormon so they could begin circulating Mormon literature to the unwashed masses.

Finally, we introduced a person who’ll have a dramatic impact on the historical timeline. After a brief letter exchange in Summer of 1840, Quarter Master-General of Illinois, John Bennett, joined our timeline under the NaMo nickname of John Brokeit because of his incredible ability to bend things to his will to the breaking point.

That’s just a little milk, let’s partake of some meat.

Jo felt pretty burned by the recent scrape with the government. He spared no opportunity to speak out against the apathy of the government or about the President in particular. He did call Martin Van Buren a fop or a fool, but that was only the beginning of his tirade against the president. In reference to his journey back to Commerce from Washington, this is from the Dan Vogel HoC vol 4 pg 72

“having witnessed many vexatious movements in Government Officers, whose sole object should be, the peace and prosperity, and happiness of the whole people; but instead of this, I discovered that popular clamor, and personal aggrandizement were the ruling principles of those in authority; and my heart faints within me when I see by the visions of the Almighty, the end of this nation, if she continues to disregard the cries and petitions of her virtuous citizens, as she has done, and is now doing.

On my way home I did not fail to proclaim the iniquity and insolence of Martin Van Buren, towards myself and an injured people, which will have its effect upon the public mind: and may he never be elected again to any office of Trust or Power, by which he may abuse the innocent and let the guilty go free.”

That was putting it lightly as the Quincy Whig would publish his actual opinions from an interview on October 17, 1840 which are as follows:

“Before he [Joseph Smith] had heard the story of our wrongs, said the indignant Prophet, Mr. Van Buren gave us to understand that he could do nothing for the redress of our grievances lest it should interfere with his political prospects in Missouri. He is not as fit[,] said he, as my dog, for the chair of state; for my dog will make an effort to protect his abused and insulted master, while the present chief magistrate will not so much as lift a finger to relieve an oppressed and persecuted community of freemen, whose glory it has been that they were citizens of the United States.”

1840 was a contested election and Jo coming out publicly against Van Buren didn’t help his numbers in the upcoming election. Van Buren thought he had his next term all sealed up, but the Whig party pulled a clutch move and somehow an unprecedented 80% of voters turned out and William Henry Harrison, known as the hero of Tippecanoe who may have slain Tecumseh, pulled in 53 percent of the popular vote, only to be president for another unprecedented 1 month before he died from a cold. Van Buren had been president during a number of unpopular occurrences such as the Panic of 1837, and denying the annexation of Texas which Andrew Jackson had put into place before leaving office. This along with a number of other things just helped Jo’s public campaign in showing how unfit to lead the country Van Buren was, which all culminated in Harrison’s election of 1840.

It should be noted that Jo meeting with President Van Buren may have contributed to his aspirations of running for office in the 1844 election with Sidney Rigdon as his running mate. Let’s face it, when a person is in a position of power like the POTUS, it may seem like an ethereal concept of some kind of super human who is able to deal with all the pressure of running the country. But, once Jo met Van Buren, he realized that the POTUS was just a regular dude who looked like an anthropomorphic bowl of jelly, and anybody could do his job. Jo was too late to join the 1840 race, but that does mean he had time to prepare himself mentally and socially to run for the 1844 race. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s jump back to the summer of 1840.

There exists a doctrinal addition which makes its way into church practice around August and September of 1840. This addition marks another doctrine taught by Jo which was previously unknown but has survived to church practices in some form today. We’ve discussed this before, but Jo’s Mormonism is a bit different than the Mormonism practiced by the Brighamites in Utah. Most of Bloody Brigham’s teachings derived from something Jo taught, but most of those teachings came about in the Nauvoo years. The Ohio years of Mormonism was the lite version, but what sets Mormonism apart from most other versions of Christianity today came about in Nauvoo. One of those teachings is necromancy, called ordinances for the dead.

Back in the Kirtland temple, Jo and Ollie tripped for a couple hours and saw a pantheon of angels, Jo later claimed he had seen his older brother, Alvin, who’d died around 1823 without being baptized into the one true church Jo would found nearly 7 years later. This troubled Jo because he taught that babies who hadn’t been baptized were saved, but that said nothing about those who’d crossed into the age of reason at age 8, because they were accountable for their sins, but they couldn’t be saved without being baptized into the church. Thus, the idea of baptisms for the dead was born.

This actual beginning of baptisms for the dead becoming part of church doctrine owes itself to a single occurrence, even though Jo had been toying with the idea for quite some time prior. According to Marquardt in Rise of Mormonism, no record exists of the actual occasion where Jo introduced baptisms for the dead. However, there exists a letter exchange between Heber C. Kimball, then in England on his mission with the quorum, and his wife, Vilate, where Vilate tells of the situation. This is from Rise of Mormonism, starting with page 536:

“Smith also saw “that all children who die before they arrive to the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.” In 1840 this would change with the introduction of a new doctrine—baptism for the dead.

Living in Nauvoo Vilate Kimball wrote to her husband Heber in England, “Semor [Seymour] Brunson is dead….a short time before he died he told Joseph not to hold him any longer, for said he, I have see[n] David Patten and he wants me and the Lord wants me, and I want to go.” Joseph Smith preached the funeral sermon of Brunson and presented the topic of baptism for the dead on August 15, 1840…”

That letter was sent Sept 6, 1840 which marks the official introduction of this subsect of necromancy into church doctrine. The effects were profound, which Vilate Kimball tells of in another letter to her husband about a month later, I’m reading this from later on in The Rise of Mormonism by Marquardt:

“President Smith has open[e]d a new and glorious subject of late which has caused quite a revival in the church. That is, being baptized for the dead. Paul speaks of it, in first Corinthians 15th chapter 29th vers[e]. Joseph has received a more full explaination of it by Revelation. He says it is the privilege of this church to be baptized for all their kinsfolks that have died before this Gospel came forth; even back to their Gran[d]father and Mother if they have be[e]n personally acquainted with them, and give them the privilege of comeing forth in the first resur[r]ection. He says they will have the Gospel preached [to] them in Prison, but there is no such thing as spirits being baptized…

Since the order has be[e]n preached here, the waters have be[e]n continually troubled. During conference there were sometimes from eight to ten Elders in the river at a time baptiseing….I want to be baptized for my Mother. I calculated to wate [wait] until you come home but the last time Joseph spoke upon the subject he advised every one to be up and doing and liberate their friends from bondage as quick as posable [possible]. So I think I shall go forward this week, as there is a number of neighbors going forward. Some have alre[a]dy be[e]n baptized a number of times over. They have to be baptized and confirmed for one person before they can be baptis[e]d for another. Those that have no friends on the earth to be baptized for them can [se]nd ministering spirits to whom so ever they will, and make known their request. Thus you can see there is a chance for all. Is not this a glorious doctrine[?] Surely the Gentiles will mock; but we will rejoice in it.”

Let’s discuss how this slightly differs from today’s necromancy in the church. This was before the temple endowment ceremony was even a thing, but the Mormons recognized a need for baptizing those who’d passed away before joining the church and thus they implemented baptism and confirmation for the dead. From how Vilate describes it, back then they would get baptized and confirmed for one person, then go back in the water and be baptized and confirmed for another, performing the ordinance for one name at a time. They could also just be baptized and confirmed with a blank name and send it off to whoever needed it. Those two details differ from how baptisms for the dead are done today.

This is just anecdotal from my experience, so take that for what it’s worth, but I think this is pretty standard. When a person does baptisms for the dead today, they show up to the temple and change into their whites. After that you go into a chapel waiting room where two elders confirm you with 10 or 20 names, saying the same confirmation prayer every time, just changing out the name. But a person can’t be confirmed before they’re baptized, even though the confirmations are usually done first for efficiency. The 10 or 20 names you’re confirmed for are different than the 10 or 20 names you’ll be baptized for after that. Once you’re done being confirmed for those names, you go into the baptismal font area where they have the pool held up by golden oxen and that’s where you get dunked 10 or 20 times for a bunch of different names. After that, you get out of the water with the hopes that nothing is showing through your now soaked whites, and you go to the locker room and change back into your Sunday clothes. The point is, you don’t have to get baptized and confirmed for one person at a time now, and you can’t just write a blank baptism and confirmation check for whoever needs it like they were practicing in Nauvoo when the idea was first introduced. Imagine that, the church streamlined a process for efficiency by changing how an ordinance was done when it was originally introduced…

As we progress further into 1840 and begin to crack 1841, John Cook Bennett really begins to exhibit his influence. It’s arguable that no other man had a greater impact on Mormon history with respect to the amount of time he spent with them. The 21 months from August 1840 to May 1842 marked an incredible time in shifting Mormon doctrine and clandestine operations lurking beneath the public face put forward by Jo and the other leadership.

Possibly my favorite trait about John C. Bennett, John Brokeit as we know him, is that he embraced and practiced every one of Jo’s guilty pleasures, and did so in such an unabashed an unapologetic way that it utterly defies logic. Upon his vicious and public removal from Mormonism, the finger-pointing by Brokeit aimed at Jo and vice versa was something out of a day-time soap opera the Mormons were living out in real time.

Jo was on a high when Brokeit got to Nauvoo as things began to finally resemble the structure Jo had enjoyed in Kirtland, except those pesky people like the Whitmers, Ollie Cowdung, and Hingepin Rigdon trying to steal the throne or add their ideas as superior to Jo’s. Finally, Jo was surrounded by yes-men. This euphoria was captured by Vilate Kimball, who we’ll be reading from extensively today, in a letter she wrote to her husband

“our people had bought a boat; they have named her Nauvoo. The last trip she made up the river, President Smith went with her, and when he returned who should accompany him but John F. Boynton and his wife, and Lymon Johnson. They made it there home to Joseph Smiths all the time they were here.

I never saw Joseph appear more happy; said he, I am a going to have all my old friends around me again; they both bought lots and calculate to build and move here the ensuing Season. As to their faith, I have not heard much about it, but I conclude they have got some, or they [would?] have no object in comeing here. I never saw any body that appeared galder to see me than John[‘]s wife, they all called brother, and sister, and appeared as friendly as I ever saw them!”

The October of 1840 conference marked some very interesting developments in Mormonism, both in the official record and in journal accounts left behind looking back in reflection, that’s where the real stories live. It was during this conference that Jo, and Bennett teamed up to construct the charter for Nauvoo for approval by Governor Carlin of Illinois to give Nauvoo validation as a legitimate city. This was a necessary step along the steps of development for the Saints. Previously, they’d settled in Kirtland, which was already a legitimate city with thousands of inhabitants. After that, they moved out to Missouri and began grouping together in small communes practicing the law of consecration, usually never bothering with the formalities of applying for official village or town charters through the Missouri government. It’s hard to believe the Missouri government would approve the majority of the settlement requests as their prejudices against the Saints likely would have caused them to “loose the paperwork” or something like that, but this time, in Illinois, Jo was careful to carry out the foundation of Nauvoo by the books, nay ignoring neither jot, nor tittle, of any law required to legally settle thousands of people in a given area.

Another stark contrast between the Mormon’s plan in Missouri vs. Illinois is there purchase of massive swaths of land to sanction as primarily Mormon settlements. Jo had purchased tens of thousands of acres from White and Galland for the Mormons to settle, instead of just squatting like the majority of the Mormons had done when settling Missouri. Jo didn’t want to be chased from Illinois like he’d been from New York, Ohio, and Missouri, so he was making friends with people in high places. White and Galland were the beginning, but Governor Carlin and other public officials were being treated overly well by the Mormons to attempt winning favor in the public eye. John Brokeit was one of these motivated guys with a high public office of Quarter Master-General of Illinois, and Jo fast-tracked him for success among the church’s elite.

Brokeit was by no means destitute when he moved to Commerce, soon to be designated Nauvoo, in August or early September, but for whatever reason, he chose to take up residence in the humble Smith abode for nearly 9 months upon first arriving.

We’ll get into some of the public changes in doctrine and practice the Mormon church emplaced with John Brokeit’s influence, but there are some things which are much harder to quantify when we discuss one person’s influence on Jo and church doctrine. What I mean by that is the church began to practice polygamy, temple rituals, baptisms for the dead, masonry, and a number of other important doctrinal developments once Brokeit began to influence Jo. I’m not by any means saying these were Bennett’s ideas, I think he just gave Jo the confidence needed to begin officially practicing these things. What I’m talking about is much more subtle and immeasurable.

John Brokeit began living with Jo and was quickly inducted into the church hierarchy faster than basically anybody had, but just try to picture how much he influenced Jo in the smallest of ways every single day.

A quick diversion to illustrate my point. At Sunstone, Christopher Smith posed his hypothesis that Jo didn’t ever want to found a religion when the Book of Mormon was being printed, he was just trying to make some money from the book to pull the Smith family out of destitution. Over the period of months, Ollie Cowdung, Oliver Cowdery, was able to convince Jo that the best way to make money was to become a revered preacher and build up a following. Through hundreds of daily conversations on the topic, Jo finally relented and agreed to found the religion and on April 6, 1830, Mormonism became a thing, thanks, in no small part, to our good friend Ollie. Jo was a fluid guy and could be convinced to do something or embrace a doctrine based on subtle pushes through good argumentation. Every one of those conversation Jo and Ollie had moved Jo closer to doing something he wouldn’t have otherwise done.

John Brokeit and Jo lived in the same house for 9 months. Imagine how much time they spent conversing while eating food at the same table. Imagine how many late-night conversations they shared after their wives had long since retired to their beds. Try to think of yourself as a fly on the wall when Jo and Brokeit were talking about the religious justification for polygamy for hours on end. Jo would talk about the Song of Solomon and how his and Rigdon’s translation essentially wrote off the whole thing. Jo might tell of the passage from Jacob 2 in the Book of Mormon where it says explicitly that polygamy is condemned by God. But then Elder Bennett would come back by telling brother Joseph that God commanded Abraham to have two wives to raise progeny. But Joseph, if it’s wrong for man to love more than his spouse, why would God make us attracted to others. If it feels right, it must be the spirit intimating that the Lord approves of such behavior. God wants us to be happy in our mortal coil, we are enlightened men. We shouldn’t be constrained by the dictates of an older generation. Jesus said that people of this world are married and all are one in him. It was Paul who has shaped the great and abominable version of marriage and the place of men and women in society, shouldn’t we be free to submit to the promptings of our own spirit? What is it you’re saying brother Bennett? I’m saying, brother, that we should do what it is that makes us truly happy and the Lord will tell us that it is good in his eyes.

The men finish their conversation and retire to their respective beds to ponder on the conversation and let their dreams take them into a world beyond. The next morning, while their wives bustle about, Bennett and Smith exchange knowing glances across the breakfast table. They each know what the other is thinking, but their thoughts don’t need words to be exchanged in the company of their wives. They have much to discuss, but it can wait until they are alone again.

There’s just no way to quantify the influence Brokeit had on Jo. They spent hundreds of hours per month together with a constant open exchange of ideas and were truly inseparable during this time. There’s no way Jo could know what was in store for him and the church in a mere 2 years time.

Let’s get to some of the changes the church made once Brokeit teamed up with Jo and began to infect him with his free-love ideals contrary to the good singular man-and-wife constructs of the majority of Christianity of the time.

A man named Joseph Bates Noble, who’d been a member of the church for quite some time prior to Brokeit’s involvement, left an affidavit in 1869 which gives us a window into how much the church was changing upon Brokeit’s arrival.

This is from H. Michael Marquardt’s Rise of Mormonism pg 557 quoting directly from Noble’s affidavit:

“in the fall of the year A.D. 1840 Joseph Smith taught him [Noble] the principle of Celestial marriage or a “plurality of wives”, and that the said Joseph Smith declaired [declared] that he had received a Revelation from God on the subject, and that the Angel of the Lord had commanded him, (Joseph Smith) to move forward in the said order of marriage”

This revelation would later be canonized into D&C 132 after Jo’s death, as the revelation was kept under wraps and shared only among the elite in the church who were granted license to practice polygamy. It was on the other side of this winter when Joseph Noble performed the first official sealing ceremony for Jo and his first official polygamist wife, Louisa Beeman, in early April of 1841. Things definitely accelerate with the inclusion of Brokeit’s agenda into church policy, polygamy being one of his main contributions. That’s not to say that polygamy was solely his idea, as Jo had been involved with women other than Emma for years before this, but it took Brokeit being there to enshrine these loopholes into church doctrine.

I’ll tell you this, a lot of Mormon breakoff sects consider the Nauvoo years to be when Jo went off the rails and let his natural man take over. Some of these sects don’t follow any of the revelations which were given in Nauvoo and just stick to the Church of Christ revelations delivered in Kirtland. I actually don’t blame them, there’s a lot of shit that happened in Missouri and Nauvoo that may lead one to believe that Jo somehow lost his divine piety. When Jo was in Kirtland, his actions were often tempered by public perceptions. If he stepped too far out of line with what most people considered the actions of a prophet of God, the people quickly would, and often did, forsake him and the entire Mormon ministry.

Once we get to Missouri, Jo is suddenly thrust into a world where dissenters and nay-sayers are chased from town at the end of the Danite’s pitchforks and muskets. His brief year in Missouri marked a turning point for Jo which culminated in his assassination. Once he escaped from jail and began to build Nauvoo from scratch, he thought himself untouchable, meaning a number of things which were taboo and off the table could be reasonably considered, provided they were implemented correctly.

The reason I bring this up is because I think it’s important to ask exactly when Jo lost his abilities as prophecy, and what occasion caused such a thing to be lost from his grasp? The Jo in my head never was any sort of prophet; a spiritual leader absolutely, a businessman constrained by his own vices, undoubtedly, but a prophet? Nothing Joseph Smith ever did in his life leads me to believe he was a prophet. He couldn’t foresee any major calamity which may befall him or the Mormons. He didn’t foretell of any major world event. The only thing makes him fill the role of prophet is he claimed to be speaking as god, leading most of his personal revelations with lines such as “I am the Lord thy God,” and “Thus saith the Lord, the Alpha and Omega”. Anybody can do that. In order to be a prophet, you have to be prophetic in some way.

If Jo was a prophet, why could he not foresee what lay in store for him with John Bennett? Brokeit was a self-driven egocentric man who wouldn’t let any inconvenience befall him for longer than he could stand. When Jo became inconvenient to what Brokeit desired, he took it as a personal mission to destroy Jo and the Mormons. How could the one true prophet of God not foresee such a calamity that lie in wait?

Bennett is one of the primary reasons why some believe that Jo lost his prophetic abilities somewhere along the way and was leading the Saints in Illinois as nothing but a man. I don’t much care for those conversations because I see materialism and naturalistic explanations for everything that befell Jo, but it is important to some that Joseph Smith was a prophet ordained with divine providence from the mighty above. But I would argue that a true prophet, whatever that may be, should be able to foresee somebody like Brokeit coming along who nearly destroyed the very foundation of the church.

I was struck with this same surprise upon reading a link posted in the exmormon reddit which linked to an article in the December 12, 1936 issue of the Latter-day Saints’ Millenial Star. I’ll read a brief excerpt as I think it is pertinent to the topic of the power of prophecy or lack thereof when it comes to the Mormon religion.

It begins with discussing the problems which were befalling the world with the recent resurgence of secularism since the Bolshevik revolution and the foundation of the Soviet Union. Then it poses the increase of secularism and the dissolution of Christian morality as two central problems and looks for a solution, which is just priceless.

“Is it not pertinent to ask what has brought about the changes described in the first two paragraphs quoted above? We think one very important factor (perhaps the major one) is chargeable to the professional Christian ministry in America… (then it poses three traits which are seen as admirable) Are not deep conviction, genuine sincerity, and real enthusiasm absolutely necessary on the part of those, particularly in these days, who would successfully lead any worthy cause? It was recently said by a very well[-]informed lecturer that Herr Hitler has an abundance of these three qualities. How can one develop faith who has no faith? Assumed enthusiasm will not long pass for the genuine article with an intelligent clientele.”

Yes…. That was the problem with the world in the late 1930’s people didn’t have enough conviction, sincerity, or enthusiasm, it’s a good thing Hitler came along and cured the world of all their apathy…

Granted, this analogy is by no means perfect. John Brokeit wasn’t Hitler and accusations of polygamy and coordinated assassinations don’t really equivocate to over 50 million dead people, but my point is much simpler than that. Why can’t prophets foresee calamity? If a prophet is good for anything, shouldn’t that thing be seeing dangers that await their followers? The LDS church, supposedly lead by a team of 15 prophets, seers, and revelators, couldn’t see Hitler coming in 1936 anymore than Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the Mormon religion, could see how troubled his own life would be when he took John Bennett under his roof and became disturbingly close friends with him. Mormonism was never a religion lead by a prophet, not in the 19th century, not in the 20th century, and definitely not today.

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