Ep 90 – I’ll Show You a Bonaparte
On this episode, we begin with an interview discussing 19th-century American politics. Our guest walks us through the rise of the Jacksonian Democratic party in the wake of the War of 1812 and walks us through how popular opinion and anti-Jackson sentiments led to the rise and fall of the Whig political party. Dovetailing off the discussion with Chris, we jump into Illinois politics and the formation of the Anti-Mormon political party to combat the growing power of the Saints in Nauvoo and Hancock County politics. The Mormons organize the Nauvoo Legion into a military parade for the 1841 4th of July celebration, which a number of politicians and dignitaries attended to show their support for the Mormons. Jo’s truly living the American dream.
Teacher’s History of U.S. Podcast
Times and Season 1841
Abraham Lincoln Timeline
Prophet of Palmyra – Thomas Gregg
Warsaw Signal 1841
Scathing Atheist BoM trivia
In the Name of God Podcast
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
We’re going with a slightly unorthodox format for today’s show. We usually start with the historical timeline segment of the episode and move on to an interview or something different after that, but for this episode, the interview was simply too relevant and it sets the scene and provides context for the historical monologue. So, stick around after the interview to see how everything discussed in the interview plays into Nauvoo politics in 1841.
Politics is the mechanism by which so much is accomplished. The truth of the matter is, when you’re a person trying to organize thousands of people into a cohesive body, or build a city, politics will claim a significant portion of your time.
The Mormons in Nauvoo were a massive population with varying needs and desires. There was always the underlying need to follow the prophet and the prophet’s need to provide direction and a safe place to live for his people. There’s a lot wrapped up into just those two seemingly simple ideas.
Today we take issue with any religious leader who oversteps their boundaries when it comes to politics. A religious leader shouldn’t be free from political opinion, but when they preach political action from the pulpit, that’s where it’s actionable legally speaking. As Jefferson said in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
The way churches are policed in actions violative of church/state separation is through taxing. If a church acts in politics, they lose their tax-exempt status. This is completely unenforced today and it’s an issue which has only come up a small handful of times in the court system in the last 150 years. Many churches today participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, where they literally videotape themselves making political speeches from the pulpit and send it to the IRS, daring it to prosecute these egregious violations of church and state separation.
These ideas we have of needing to maintain a wall between church and state weighed heavily on the minds of the founding fathers when writing the bill of rights. America was founded as a secular nation and when churches have infringed upon the political process, it’s bothered people throughout American history, and it should bother everybody today while it continues to happen every single day.
Joseph couldn’t create Nauvoo and organize the Mormons without dabbling in politics. A person can be a politician and a preacher, but when they wear both hats at the same time, that’s when they’re in violation of Church/State separation. Jo wore all his hats all the time. He was the prophet, preacher, prosecutor, militia general, politician, and everything in between all hours of all days.
Try as I might, I can’t conceive of a way that Jo could have done what he did in creating Nauvoo without dipping his toes in so many different pools. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he should have done any of what he did, but I can scarcely conceive of a reality where Jo didn’t need to spend equal amounts of time on politics as he did religion once he was at the Nauvoo stage of his history.
People like ThomAss Coke Sharp saw the brazen demolition of the wall of separation in Nauvoo and wanted to do what was necessary to curtail the power of the Mormon prophet. Thanks to Jonathan Tindell, ThomAss Sharp will be known to us as the Sharp Bastard, paying homage to his role in being the sword of justice against Mormon overreach in the political sphere.
The Sharp Bastard took a full swing at Stephen Douglas for appointing Wreck-it Bennett to the office of Master in Chancery and letting Jo off by granting the writ of habeas corpus. The Sharp Bastard had published in the Warsaw signal the electoral delegate rationing based on population statistics. Nauvoo had twice the political representation of Warsaw and Sharp wanted to respond. He did so by creating the actual anti-Mormon political party, founded for the sole purpose of combatting the increasing political power of the Nauvoo Mormons. Sharp published the minutes from the first Anti-Mormon meeting in the 23 June 1841 edition of the Signal:
At an Anti-Mormon meeting of the citizens of Warsaw precinct, Hancock county, Illinois, h[eld] on the 19th of June, 1841, for the purpose of electing delegates to the Anti-Mormon convention, to be held at Carthage, Hancock county, Ill., on the 28th inst., for the purpose of nominating suitable candidates, to be voted for by the Anti-Mormon citizens of Hancock county, at the ensuing election: A. [I.] Chittenden, was appointed Chairman, and W. B. Chipley, Secretary of the meeting. The object of the meeting being stated, on motion, A. M. Worthen, J. B. Salisbury, and W. B. Chipley, were appointed a committee, to report to the meeting the names of suitable delegates, to attend the convention, to be held at Carthage, on the 28th inst.
W. H. Roosevelt then stated to the meeting that he would offer the following resolution in order to call out any opposition that might be felt to the proposed Anti-Mormon Convention.
Resolved, that it is expedient to hold a county convention, for the purpose of nominating candidates for the offices of School and County Commissioners, in opposition to Mormon influence and dictation.
Mr. Roosevelt, addressed the meeting in favor of the resolution, and was followed by J. C. Davis, Esq., who replied to him in opposition to the convention, although as he said, as much as any opposed to the Mormons, and he again was answered by Ths. C. Sharp, in favor of the convention, and of the objects embraced in the resolution.
The question was then put to vote, and the resolution sustained with but one dissenting vote.
The nominating committee then reported to the meeting the following gentlemen as delegates, to attend the convention at Carthage, which report was accepted, and the nomination confirmed by the meeting….(lists a bunch of names)
On motion of Mr. Roosevelt, Resolved, That the delegates to the convention have power to fill such vacancies as they occur from inability to attend or otherwise.”
And thus, the first actual anti-Mormon political party was organized by ThomAss the sharp as a bastard Sharp to combat the ever-increasing power of the Mormon religion and Joseph Smith in Illinois. Those like Sharp who wanted to combat Mormon politics were left with a complicated task. They couldn’t just elect more Democrats or Whigs because the Mormons weren’t loyal to any one party. They weren’t loyal to anybody for that matter. The Mormons voted as a bloc for whomever it was that Jo said was the Mormon’s guy in any given election. Whig, Democrat, old school federalist turned democrat, it didn’t matter, the Mormons voted for whoever would make them the biggest promises.
For that reason, it was actually necessary and best for the democratic process to form the anti-Mormon party. That’s how politics work. Somebody moves into your state and becomes a new majority, you form a minority to directly oppose them. It may not be the best system, or even optimal by any stretch of imagination, but that’s how the system is constructed so Sharp and his fellow anti-Mormons were forced to operate within the constraints of the system.
Sharp was aware of the system and the limitations by which it operated. From the 7 July article:
“You need scarcely be reminded of the cringing sycophancy heretofore manifested by both political parties towards the head of this people, knowing well his vast political importance. As a consequence of this, you have seen your Legislature granting them charters, containing powers nearly, if not quite equal, to their own, without even reading the contents of their enactments. In this enlightened age, so called, men are found willing to frame and bring forward charters, effecting the dearest rights of our citizens, and for the purpose of concealing their dark designs, and fulfilling the pledges given by the politicians to this people, their passage is urged through our legislative halls with race-horse rapidity, under motions to read the bills simply by their titles. In return for the receipt of these high[-]handed favors, votes of thanks have been bandied about, evincing a species of flattery, fulsome to disgust.
Under this state of things[,] the old party landmarks of Whig and Democrat, so far as it relates to this county, are now laid aside. The insignia under which you have honestly fought so many well contested battles are now furled together, and a new banner is spread out, upon which you have inscribed the principles of Anti-Mormonism...”
It's hard to overstate how powerful the Mormons were in Nauvoo, politically speaking. Thomas Gregg in The Prophet of Palmyra does the issue a fair treatment when talking Mormon and Illinois politics of 1840-41, beginning on page 166:
“It will be remembered that the Presidential election of 1840 was a highly exciting one; and that during the canvass the Whigs held many mass meetings in Illinois and elsewhere, popularly known as “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” demonstrations, in favor of General Harrison for President. About the last of March, one of these meetings—a very large and enthusiastic one—was held at Carthage, the county seat, in which some of the principal Mormons participated. At this meeting nominations were made for a representative to the State Legislature and for various county offices. The ticket was well received by the party, and was placed at the head of the editorial columns of the Western World at Warsaw, the Whig organ, where it remained until the 22d of July . In the World of that date it was announced that Mr. Martin Hopkins, the candidate for Representative, had withdrawn, and that Dr. John F. Charles had been put up in his place. And what would the reader guess was the reason for this change? The purpose of a party in thus setting aside a good and capable man, and substituting another? Simply this: The autocrat of Nauvoo had signified that he would not support Mr. Hopkins! No good ground for such refusal was ever known; but to such extent did party subserviency go, in this second year of Mormonism in the State. It is not strange that Smith, ambitious of power, and so lately at the bottom round of the ladder, should have been elated at the change, and willing to use the power of which he found himself so suddenly in possession. The result was that the whole Whig ticket for the county was elected by an average majority of about four hundred votes.
A characteristic circumstance in connection with this election deserves to be mentioned. Of the names of Whig electors for President and Vice President, that of Abraham Lincoln was “scratched” by about two hundred voters at Nauvoo, and that of his Democratic opponent in the district substituted. Mr. Lincoln had in some way unknown rendered himself obnoxious to the prophet.”
Lincoln still won his fourth term in the State Legislature, but wasn’t voted in as President of the Whig party, as Gregg concludes, because he had somehow offended Joseph Smith. So yes, Abraham Lincoln’s rise to political power ran into a speedbump because of Joseph Smith… That’s the real-world implications of the Mormon’s increasing political power in Nauvoo.
To posture themselves and in celebration of the recently returned Brigham and Q12, the Nauvoo Legion came out in full force for another parade even more grandiose than the temple cornerstone laying ceremony. The Times & Seasons had published an article in early June telling the Nauvoo Legion that they were to gather in the town square for a 4th of July celebration on July 3rd, because the 4th was a Sunday in 1841. Attendance was mandatory, and what a spectacle it was.
A number of Illinois government officials attended for a chance to ride around in carriages near the prophet and see the Nauvoo Legion in full battle regalia. Joseph Smith and John C. Wreck-it Bennett gave incredibly grand public speeches on the persecution of the saints, declaring how great and powerful the kingdom of God was to become rolling forth over the nation. For Mormons, this was a great moment. For government officials friendly to the Mormons, this was a great moment in realizing how powerful the alliances they made were. For everybody else, this was downright terrifying…
In covering the story, ThomAss the Sharp Bastard printed this in the following edition of the Warsaw Signal in yes/no question format under the article heading “Questions for the Times and Seasons”. We’ll examine the implications of each question and the couched insinuations as we go:
“Did Joe Smith state at a parade of the Legion, or a part of it, at Nauvoo, a few weeks since, that some persons complained because he was a military officer -- but that he cared not, for he was General and second in command to the Governor; and those who did not like it might go to h--l?
Did he afterward say, that if they did not stop their blab about him, he would be President of the United States, (God would give him the office if he wanted it,) and then he would show them what a Bonaparte could do?
Did he say that the meanest horse thief in his society, was better than the editor of the Warsaw Signal, or the highest minister of any sectarian church?
Did S. Rigdon afterwards make threats of personal violence on the editor of the Warsaw Signal, whenever he should meet him?
Did Gen. Bennet, on Saturday last, say that he would call the editor of the Signal a liar whenever he met him, for having insinuated that he was not sincere in the faith?
We merely ask these as questions, having however very good authority for saying that they should be answered in the affirmative.”
What happened? Where’s the Joseph Smith of looking in a hat and hunting for buried treasure? Where’s the Jo that was eating a ton of mushrooms with his friends so they could see angels floating in the Kirtland Temple? Who is this Joseph Smith standing in front of an army and declaring himself the next POTUS saying he’ll show the world a real Napoleon?
You stand this Jo next to the Pious Joseph Smith of Truman Madsen’s Prophet series and they coincide in name alone. This is not the Joseph Smith I knew and loved in the church, this is a powerful demagogue, thirsting for the blood of his enemies.
With the help of Natalie on the back end, I’ve been doing a few interviews lately that I’ll tell you about as they release on other podcast feeds, but the number one question I’m asked when going on another show is also the one question I struggle the most to answer. What were Joseph Smith’s motivations? Why did he do what he did at some arbitrary time?
The only answer I can give is I truly don’t know. I may have answered confidently a couple years ago when my deep studies of Mormon history began, but now that I’ve learned so much more, the answer seems to slip further away with every history book about him and Mormonism I read. Was he in it for the money? Did he just want to sleep with dozens of women and resolved to fabricate a religion to make it happen? Did he sincerely believe in his own bullshit? Well, at long last I may have a simple answer, a simple answer which probably won’t surprise you, but I’ve yet to find a single situation where it doesn’t explain Jo’s motives. Here it is: Joseph Smith did whatever it was that suited him best at any given moment. Not only that, but he did the utmost version of whatever it was which seemed to be the most beneficial solution, for him. Which, by extension, means he did the biggest and baddest version of anything he could when a situation would arise and the solution would benefit him the greatest. I know, right, it’s disturbingly simple yet equal parts unsurprising and unsatisfactory? Philosophers from Aristotle to William of Occam would be proud with the simplicity and explanatory power.
From trying to sell the copyright of the BoM for a short-term profit, to starting a religion to take tithing money, to excommunicating Oliver Cowdrey, William Wines Double-Dub Phelps, and the Whitmers for running their own religion, to the KSS company to solve 10s of thousands of dollars of debt, to stealing the property of the Missourians so the Mormons wouldn’t starve, to signing every land contract which landed on his desk regardless of how cancerous the terms may have been, to building a legally-sanctioned militia to safeguard against the Illinois militia potentially removing the Mormons as had happened in Missouri, to producing a divine revelation to sleep with dozens of women, and every little decision in between those major life events during Jo’s career; Joseph Smith made the short-sighted decision which seemed to benefit him most at that very moment.
He was an opportunist. That can’t possibly surprise anybody who’s listened to this show for longer than a few episodes or who’s read a single biography of the man. Nauvoo was a clean tapestry with endless opportunities, and Jo couldn’t wait to bust out the paintbrushes. For the first time in Jo’s career, the Mormons actually had a significant majority. What incredible tools a majority would afford the saints.
And look, the founding fathers knew that demagogues like Jo would eventually arise so they built into the constitution various protections for the minority from the majority. It’s not exactly unprecedented throughout history where a populous arose behind a thought leader and used their majority to bully or eradicate a silent minority. The American political system is deliberately slow and calculating to mitigate the damage from people like a Joseph Smith or any other narcissistic tyrant for that matter, but that doesn’t mean the government is able to stop them in their tracks before they cause damage, it can just reduce the impact and slowly correct over time.
Jo was in a wonderful time and place to build his empire. Senators, Governor Carlin, justices, and all manner of politicians were falling over themselves to pander to the growing Mormon bloc vote, and you know Jo must have loved every minute of it. A backwoods country bumpkin who a mere 12 years ago, now had thousands of followers, his own army, and highly respected public elected officials were asking Jo what they could do to help the Mormons in their plight. But really, how goddamn American is that? What an amazing example of rags to riches. The American dream isn’t a mortgage, car payment, a white picket fence in the suburbs, and getting a brew with the boys every Friday night. The American dream operates solely by the central mechanism Chris iterated so many times to us, the truth simply doesn’t matter. The American dream of rags to riches is saying whatever is necessary to serve a person’s best interest in that very moment with absolute disregard for what truth or reality can tell us of said moment. Truth and reality didn’t matter to Joseph Smith and he lived a wonderful life punctuated by brief moments of slight discomfort, and he was only able to live that life because he could sell a lie and thousands of people lapped it up like dogs who’d been lost in a spiritual desert for decades before the oasis of Mormonism arose. Joseph Smith is the American dream. His timeline reads like that of a grand villain or valiant hero depending on the source. He did things scarcely believable until you dig deep enough and he built a religion on a reckless string of lies that resulted in one of the most lavish lifestyles in early American history, filled with nice houses, decadent carriages, a harem of concubines, and politicians pandering to his every whim. I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m judging something on the ‘Murica scale, Jo truly ranks among the highest echelons of the most ‘Murican people in all American history. Now that the Mormons were finally in the majority for the first time since they’d become a religion, Jo and friends could exercise all sorts of privileges they’d never had access to throughout the previous decade of Mormon history.
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