Ep 116 – The Tongue is an Unruly Member
On this episode, we take a bird’s eye overview of everything happening in 1842 and spend a bit of time focusing on the immediate fallout of Bennett’s public and vitriolic departure from the Church. We review some headlines covering the political movements of Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo Mormonism, briefly discuss his ever-expanding financial profile, and try to assess the massive fallout and cover-up campaign crafted to keep the practice of polygamy as acceptable for only the uppermost elites, while publicly denying that the practice even exists. Jo and Newell K. Whitney give some weird talks to the Relief Society about holding their tongues and not faulting the leadership for “err[s] in judgement”.
John C. Bennett biography
History of the Saints
Bennett prior to Nauvoo
Warsaw Signal 1842
“Joe Smith’s New Peeping Stone”
Life and Contributions of Newell K. Whitney
NaMo Home Evening
Zelph on the Shelf
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Bennett wrecked it all. May of 1842 wasn’t the first time Bennett had shown some signs that he may not be the most upright kind of guy. Let’s be real for a minute, if Jo gravitated toward Bennett so much because of similar personalities, Jo must have known at a subconscious level the possibilities that Bennett shared some of his flaws, even if Jo never consciously acknowledged any of his own character flaws.
Possibly as a result of this realization, possibly due to Bennett overstepping his boundaries in one way or another, Jo sent his trusted friend, George Miller, to investigate Bennett’s history in Ohio where he was located before moving to Illinois and attaining the office of quartermaster-general of the Illinois militia. George Miller’s report wasn’t good. More than a year before Bennett and Jo had their falling out, Miller reported that Bennett, a claimed bachelor, had a living wife with children.
“his poor, but confiding wife, followed him from place to place, with no suspicion of his unfaithfulness to her; at length, however, he became so bold in his departures, that it was evident to all around that he was a sore offender, and his wife left him under satisfactory evidence of his adulterous connections.”
Subsequent historians, in an effort to paint him as an even more immoral bastard, have postulated that he was removed from the Ohio Masonic society for unruly conduct, although those claims are disputed. Regardless, Bennett had a complicated past and it seems that Jo became privy to some of that information as he learned more of Bennett’s practices. A mere 3 months after Jo had sent Miller to Ohio to scout information on Bennett, Bennett had propositioned a young woman named Catherine Fuller. Her testimony, collected in late May, 1842, when church leaders were collecting as much dirt on Bennett as they could, reveals how quick Bennett was in his methods of propositioning a woman for intimacy.
“Nearly a year ago I became acquainted with John C. Bennett, after visiting twice and on the third time he proposed unlawful intercourse being about one week after first acquaintance. He said he wished his desires granted. I told him it was contrary to my feelings he assured me there was others in higher standing than I was who would conduct in that way and there was no harm in it. He said there should be no sin upon me if there was any sin[,] it should come upon himself… Bennett was the first man that seduced me—no man ever made the attempt before him.”
I want to tease apart some of the language in her testimony as it will provide context for the rest of the documentation we’re reading today. First off, she became acquainted with Bennett and about a week later he approached her with his proposal. Then, when Catherine rejected him saying it was contrary to her feelings, he told her that other higher-ups were practicing polygamy. The way it’s worded specifically alludes to husbands and wives conducting themselves in the practice of polygamy, not just the men who were taking multiple wives. She also added that Bennett said there was no harm in it and that if there was any sin in it, he would take that sin upon himself. That’s exactly the same sales pitch that Jo and his mothers in Israel used to seduce other women and those same claims appear with stunning ubiquity when it comes to Jo’s polygamous relationships. Finally, Catherine concludes with claiming that Bennett was the first man that seduced her and that no man had ever done so before.
The language she used leaves plenty of loopholes, namely that it sounds legalistic and as if it only needed to be mentioned if there were allegations to the contrary. Beyond that, it says nothing of the men who’d propositioned her after Bennett had. Sexual predators like Bennett and Jo can recognize similar characteristics that make easy marks, Catherine may have been a young woman who exhibited those characteristics. Remember Clarissa Marvel from last week, an orphan without any friends, loneliness is one of the primary markers that predators can easily pick up on. That’s merely one of myriad markers, it may very well be the case that Catherine Fuller was propositioned by more Mormon elite after Bennett had done so.
What’s even more likely, and this happens more than I like to admit, I’m probably just reading too much between the lines. So, let that be a disclaimer as we continue to read through what the history of the Church has to say about Bennett. The reason I’m relying heavily on reading between the lines is because how everything was recorded as the issue played out.
Immediately it becomes clear that Jo was in full damage control mode trying to minimize the impact of Bennett’s very public and vitriolic departure from the church. There exist discrepancies in what testimonials were collected to smear Bennett and what his own methods reveal in propositioning women in Nauvoo. He was using the same language as Jo was using to acquire prospective wives, but the public statements and affidavits were used to distance anything Jo may have been doing from what Bennett was now rumored to be doing. There wasn’t a difference in method, just a difference in how brazen and frequent such propositions were being made.
Let’s begin dissecting the statements and see what can be gleaned.
Bennett had supporters. As soon as he “resigned” from the office of Mayor of Nauvoo, Jo gave a revelation which was never published in the D&C.
“Verily thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, by the voice of my spirit, Hiram Kimball has been insinuating evil, and forming evil opinions against you, with others: and if he continue in them, he and they shall be accursed, for I am the Lord thy God, and will stand by thee and bless thee, Amen.
Which I threw across the room to Hiram Kimball, one of the councilors. After the election, I spoke at some length concerning the evil reports which were abroad in the city concerning myself, and the necessity of counteracting the designs of our enemies, establishing a night watch, and control the same.”
Hiram Kimball, John C. Bennett, a small contingency of other elders and high-ranking members of the Church and city government were not pleased with the revelations coming to light that Jo was dishonest in his approach. He was practicing polygamy as Bennett had been, yet in public refused to admit it, instead choosing to make Bennett the sacrificial lamb for Nauvoo’s adulterous rumors. The way the rest of this council meeting is recorded in the History of the Church is something to behold. We need to understand that Bennett’s departure was explosive and created a complete meltdown of the regularly controlled propaganda outlets of the Church.
Probably after withstanding abuse from the elders for quite some time, Bennett stood up and made a statement, hopefully you’ll be able to recognize that this statement is likely almost completely fabricated based on the language. Given the invocation of the name Sampson Avard in the middle of the statement, we can infer the contents of the discussion prior to Bennett making the statement, which we’ll discuss after reading it.
“I know what I am about, and the heads of the church know what they are about, I expect; I have no difficulty with the heads of the church. I publicly avow that any one who has said that I have stated that General Joseph Smith has given me authority to hold illicit intercourse with women is a liar in the face of God. Those who have said it are damned liars; they are infernal liars. He neve either in public or private gave me any such authority or license, and any person who states it is a scoundrel and a liar. I have heard it said, that I should become a second [Sampson] Avard, by withdrawing from the church, and that I was at variance with the heads, and should use an influence against them, because I resigned the office of Mayor. This is false, I have no difficulty with the heads of the church, and I intend to continue with you, and hope the time may come when I may be restored to full confidence, fellowship, and my former standing in the church, and that my conduct may be such as to warrant my restoration, and should the time ever come that I may have the opportunity to test my faith, it will then be known whether I am a traitor or a true man.”
Do any of you remember who Doctor Sampson Avard was in our timeline? You’ll have to go back to episodes 49 and 50 to hear about Thomas B. Marsh and Doctor Sampson Avard defecting from the leadership during the Mormon war in Missouri of 1838. It was due to their affidavits that the government was able to prove that the Danites existed and that Jo controlled a rogue militia who’d offensively attacked Missouri militiamen. Sampson Avard’s testimony was crucial in getting Jo and the 5 other Mormon elites locked up in Liberty Jail awaiting a jury trial for arson, robbery, and high treason. To know that they were drawing equivocation between Avard and Bennett is very illustrative of what may have actually been said in this high council meeting deciding what to do with Bennett as he slowly slipped into the role of scapegoat of the community.
His statement garnered a response from Jo:
“Will you please state definitely whether you know anything against my character, either in public or private? General Bennett replied, I do not, in all my intercourse with General Smith, in public and in private, he has been strictly virtuous.”
Bennett has been so maligned and written over in Mormon history that we can’t know what the exchanges actually looked like. We can be certain that the way it’s reported in the HoC is nothing like what actually happened. The HoC is effective at writing Mormon history in a way that is favorable to Jo, and Bennett revealed a lot of unfavorable characteristics in Jo’s conduct, thus we can’t trust any of what’s written here as historically factual, we can only read it and make assumptions based on the historical context from which this history was initially recorded.
Jo responded to Bennett supposedly saying he’d been nothing but virtuous.
“I then made some pertinent remarks before the council, concerning those who had been guilty of circulating false reports, &c., and said, “Let one twelve months see if brother Joseph is not called for, to go to every part of the city to keep them out of their groves: and I turn the keys upon them from this hour, if they will not repent and stop their lyings and surmisings, let God curse them, and let their tongues cleave to the roofs of their mouths.”
Awfully defensive language for a council meeting where Bennett had done nothing but say that Jo was the nicest and most purest of prophets in the world, eh? This was all during the same council where Jo was unanimously elected Mayor in place of Bennett once Bennett had resigned. Further, after all these remarks, another power grab was made.
Jo’s unpredictable wild-card brother, Crazy Willy, enjoyed a nice little appointment.
“William Smith was elected councilor in place of Joseph Smith, elected Mayor; George A. Smith, councilor, in place of Hugh McFall, removed from the city.”
Hugh McFall, there’s basically nothing I can find about this guy, much less what precipitated his swift removal from the city. I don’t think I’d be venturing too far out on the limb of historical speculation to say McFall was likely removed in connection with what is happening with Bennett and the whole spiritual wifery business. Consider what happened here, Bennett resigned from Mayor, and Jo was immediately elected to his position. Jo’s older brother, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff, was appointed to vice-Mayor, his younger brother, Crazy Willey, was put in Jo’s vacant place as councilor to the Mayor, and Jo’s cousin, George A. Smith, was appointed as another councilor in place of the mysteriously disappeared Hugh McFall. Of the more than 20 elected positions of Nauvoo government, Jo, his brothers, and his cousin, now enjoyed all the highest positions and decision-making authority. Dissenters were removed, those who toe the party line kept their positions, those who were most favored by the prophet because they not only toed the party line, but helped expand the power and reach of the prophet, were promoted to higher and higher positions within the church and city government. Nauvoo was fast becoming an autocracy run by the Smith family.
Please keep in mind that this is happening at the exact same time that Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell was in Missouri and attempted to assassinate ex-Governor Lilburn Boggs. Boggs was the single greatest enemy of the Church at the time, but didn’t hold any real political power, that assassination attempt was fueled more by cold-blooded vengeance, but did have some political ramifications as Boggs was running for Missouri state Senate, which would have been a royal pain for Jo if he was to keep his high standing with Illinois politicians.
It wasn’t just Bennett who was a serious offender requiring cleansing from the town.
“[May] 24—Chauncey L. Higbee was cut off from the church, by the High Council, for unchaste and unvirtuous conduct towards certain females, and for teaching it was right, if kept secret, &c. He was also put under $200 bonds to keep the peace, on my complaint against him for slander, before Ebenezer Robinson, Justice of the Peace.”
Trusted Mormon elites were dropping like flies. Higbee here must have been in league with Bennett at some level to merit punishment and disfellowshipping the day before Bennett was formally excommunicated. Apparently, the meetings during the following days were even more hostile to Bennett where we read these passages:
“Notice was this day given to John C. Bennett, that the First Presidency, Twelve, and Bishops had withdrawn fellowship from him, and were about to publish him in the paper, but on his humbling himself, and begging we would spare him from the paper, for his mother’s sake, the notice was withdrawn from the paper.
26.—This forenoon I attended a meeting of near a hundred of the brethren in the Lodge Room, to whom John C. Bennett acknowledged his wicked and licentious conduct towards certain females in Nauvoo, and that he was worthy of the severest of chastisements, and cried like a child, and begged that he might be spared, in any possible way; so deep was his apparent sense of his guilt and unfitness for respectable society; so deeply did he feign, or really feel contrition for the moment, that he was forgiven still. I plead for mercy for him.”
How merciful of Jo to plead mercy for Bennett when he was at the mercy of the brethren who were threatening him with complete defamation given his political and religious status and the severity of the accusations.
But Jo wasn’t done. That afternoon he met in the public square near Talos’ temple crown to make some public declarations with hundreds in attendance. I’m driving us toward a point here, just hang in there with me for a bit as we continue to track Jo through May 1842.
“At 1 p.m. I attended a large and respectable meeting of the citizens of Nauvoo, near the Temple, and addressed them on the principles of government, at considerable length, showing that I did not intend to vote the Whig or Democratic ticket as such, but would go for those who would support good order, &c.”
1842 was an important election year for the Mormons in Illinois. For politicians seeking a solid voting bloc in an important area, they needed the Mormons’ support, which was gained by trading favors to Jo Smith for their votes. Jo said it himself, he, meaning the Mormons, would go for those who would support good order, which translates to whoever scratches our back the best get our bloc vote.
The Warsaw signal saw how crucial this election year of 1842 was, where Hancock county stood to get a new Governor to replace Thomas Carlin, who’d been famously friendly to the Mormons. It was under Carlin’s watch that the Mormons were able to gain asylum in Illinois in the wake of the Missouri-Mormon war. Here’s what the Warsaw Signal reported in January of 1842, reprinting an interesting article out of the Sangamo Journal. The Sangamo Journal will become very important in the coming weeks.
“JO SMITH'S PROCLAMATION.
As we expected, the wonderful document issued by the Prophet, directing his followers how to vote, has created great shaking amongst the dry bones of the politicians. On one hand, the Whigs say it is a high-handed and insolent production, and on the other, the Democrats say umph! scarcely knowing whether to approve or condemn.
We are not prophets, but we will hazzard the prediction who tampers with the Mormons, or condescends to sycophancy in order to insure their support, will, in less than five years, lose more by the withdrawal of the confidence of the people than it is now in the power of the Mormons to give. But still, notwithstanding this is apparent, such is the [devotion] with which men kneel to [----- --- that] there are those who are willing [to worship a] Money-Digger as a god, if [---- ----- they] can secure their political [---------].
The Sangamo Journal, heretofore a friend of the Mormons, has had its tune wonderfully changed by the proclamation. Hear him --
"The Proclamation which follows this preface, is in itself most strange and daring -- perversive of the privileges of a citizen! It would not be so, were the signer anyone else than the person whom it represents -- JOSEPH SMITH. Mr. S. is supposed by his followers to be a Prophet of the Most High God. Whether he is or not, is no matter of dispute at present; but as such Prophet he is held in the highest veneration and respect by his followers, whom he leads easily by the belief of his high calling. Now, as long as Mr. Smith keeps near the sanctuary and prophecies of religion, he is guileless of offence, but when he enters upon the duties of a civil office of the State, and as a Lieutenant General, speaks to his friends, whom [as a] PROPHET he can command, and uses the religious influence he possesses, under the Military garb he has acquired, he becomes a dangerous man, and must look to the consequences. If he would take a friendly advice, we would say, let some Joshua, the son of Nun, lead the armies, and let him stick to interpretation and prophecy -- and for we do assure him upon an honest belief, that his situation in Illinois, is far more dangerous than ever it was in Missouri; if he undertakes to take Mahomet's part, his only prototype, save Mokhauna, and play the warrior and patriot [sic -prophet?].
As for the Supreme Judge, who is so all powerful with the sect, let him look to it that ambition does not overlap its mark."
Hearing of Jo’s declaration that they would vote only for those who support good order in the Mormons sense must have left the anti-Mormon party fuming, especially in the wake of so many revelations coming from Nauvoo of sexual impropriety with Bennett’s very public excommunication and removal from office of Mayor and Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion.
Amidst chaos ensuing, so many other factors continued to play in which only made issues more complex. For example, here’s an article published in the Lamoille Standard out of Vermont in January 1842.
“Joe Smith’s new peeping stone.
We learn from the most indisputable authority that Joe has found a new peeping stone, the circumstances of this discovery are rather curious, and we give them as received. He was walking out some evenings ago with a lady, (or a woman which ever you please,) when suddenly he darted aside and leaped into a cellar, when he presently cried out “how com I here?” and “how shall I get out?” The lady with this seized him and raised him as though he had been a child. Joe then stated the miraculous manner of his being drawn by the power of God into the cellar and to the very spot where laid the stone, which he says has the remarkable property of enabling him to translate unknown language, and discover the place where treasures are hidden.
Look out for miracles soon—Joe no doubt intends to find lots of money before long that for months have been lying by him.
Well, that stone must have worked because the Book of Abraham was published 2 months later. The Nauvoo Masonic lodge was established the same month of March 1842 and hundreds of Mormons were now filling the ranks of Freemasons of the state of Illinois to an inordinate proportion. The Temple ceremony was created while Pistol Packin Port was in Missouri killing Lilburn Boggs during his campaign. A military parade and sham battle just took place in which Jo thought his life may have been threatened by Bennett trying to orchestrate a convenient accident during the drill, but the power and might of the Nauvoo Legion was nonetheless paraded through Nauvoo for all to see, Mormon and non-Mormon alike. The endowment ceremony was also introduced in early May 1842 where men would go into the closed doors of the upper floor of the red brick store or the recently built and dedicated Masonic lodge to perform clandestine rites and rituals and were sworn to secrecy by threat of death by throat-slitting and disembowelment.
Add in to everything, Jo was hopelessly in debts and didn’t seem to have much of a care for how money worked in the real world. He’d signed contracts with insane interest rates and horrendous terms on viciously inflated land prices due to speculation. He’d opened the Red Brick Store and was working as a clerk some of his days while Bishop Newell K. Whitney worked in the office in back to reconcile ledgers and collect tithing and other donations from members to help fund the public works projects like the Temple, canal through downtown, and the Nauvoo House organization. Amidst all the public affairs happening in Nauvoo, the Smith home experienced a tragedy on the part of Emma’s family.
Emma had been dragged from state to state as elect lady of the prophet. When she departed Harmony, Pennsylvania for New York in 1830, she said good bye to her parents for the last time. She never saw them before they died, her father, Isaac in January 1839, her mother 3 years later.
Mormon Enigma p 102
“Emma’s father had died January 11, 1839. His tombstone bore the inscription, ‘The body of Isaac Hale, the hunter, like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of their lettering and gilding, lies here, food for worms, yet the work itself shall not be lost, and it will appear once more in a new and beautiful edition, corrected and amended.’ Isaac’s will left the farm to his son Alva with the stipulation that he maintain his mother ‘in a kind and comfortable & proper manner during her life.’ Elizabeth Hale died three years later, on February 16, 1842. Isaac Hale’s will stipulated that, after paying each brother twenty dollars, Alva was also to ‘pay his sisters such sums as would be right &proper.’ Emma seems to be included without discrimination on Isaac’s part.
Throughout these months of sorrow Emma also took on additional responsibilities. She and Joseph had particular interest in three of the building projects in Nauvoo. The temple was planned for the spiritual rejuvenation of the Saints; the anticipated Nauvoo House hotel, across the street to the east from the old Homestead, would help provide income and accommodations for visitors; and Joseph’s red brick store, which would be the setting for many events in Emma’s life, neared completion at the end of 1841…
In the middle of December Emma and Joseph unpacked thirteen wagonloads of goods. The shelves bulged with a wide variety of items that tempted the frugal citizens. Most of the supplies had been ordered by Joseph’s representatives on the East Coast and sent to the shipping head at St. Louis. Emma had power of attorney. Joseph wrote Edward Hunter in Pennsylvania: ‘Your message is delivered to Mrs. Smith, and she will be glad to have returns on her letter of attorney, as speedily as circumstances will permit, according to the understanding thereof . . . P.S. You will endeavor to have the money on your letter of attorney from Mrs. Smith, ready to furnish a supply of goods early in the spring.’”
One wonders if the death of Emma’s parents and some her resulting inheritance was used to purchase goods for the red brick store. It’s not a crazy thought, but the finances in Nauvoo were such a muddled and chaotic mess that it would be hard to pin that down for sure. What was great about the red brick store is it was a way to temporarily satisfy creditors. With supplies and commodities so scarce and of high value in Nauvoo, the red brick store had a huge chunk of capital in the form of goods that people wanted. When a creditor would come in and press Joseph Smith for some money he was owed, often threatening violence if he didn’t pony up, Jo would send the gentleman on his way with a bushel of corn or barrel of molasses from the store’s inventory. This may have satisfied the creditor momentarily, but it didn’t get rid of the debts and it quickly drove the red brick store into insolvency.
The construction projects were losing funds quickly and workers weren’t making money, or the money they made was just stocks in the Nauvoo House project which wasn’t paying anything out yet, the Mormon construction workers can’t feed their families with rag money.
From Flanders’ Nauvoo, Kingdom on the Mississippi p 186
“The Nauvoo House Committee was trying apparently to stir up some enthusiasm for the hotel down on “the flat” where the pay for laborers was less certain than in housebuilding in the Temple neighborhood up on “the hill.” “when I have had a pound of meat or a quart of meal,” Smith reported [Lucian] Woodworth as saying, “I have divided with the workmen. We have had about three hundred men on the job, and some of the best men in the world. Those that have not complained I want to continue with me; and those that hate Mormonism and everything else that’s good, I want them to get their pay and run away as quickly as possible.” Then Smith took up the subject with a will. If stores and houses were to be built “it will curse the place.” He chastised those who speculated in buildings on ‘the hill,’ and called attention to unfinished buildings all over town ‘such as grog-shops, and card-shops, and counterfeit-shops, etc., got up … for speculation, while the Nauvoo House is neglected… The building of the Nauvoo House is just as sacred in my view as the Temple. I want the Nauvoo House build. It must be built. Our salvation depends on it.”
All of the financial affairs were pressing too heavily on Jo and the leadership of the Church. Jo was trustee-in-trust of the Church as well as president, however, as was the case in Kirtland and Missouri, Jo hadn’t ever incorporated the church, everything he did was all in his name which opened him up to every legal vulnerability thinkable. He was honestly terrible with financial affairs. This all came to a head in April of 1842 when the Quorum of Twelve, working under the direction of Jo, instated a desperate program in hopes of fixing the cloud of debt hanging over Nauvoo…. Forgiveness…
Flanders p 167
“On April 12 the Quorum of Twelve initiated a program of debt forgiveness within the Church. Many Saints had borrowed from their brethren over a period of years, and the Presidency and Bishopric had done likewise to relieve the destitute from the Missouri expulsion and build up Nauvoo. “Many of these claims have already been settled,” said the Apostles, “many have been given up as cancelled by those who held them, and many remain unsettled.” Now the Twelve urged a general cancellation of all such claims “which have arisen out of the difficulties and calamities of the Church… that when the Temple is completed, there will be nothing from this source to produce jars, and discords, strifes, and animosities, so as to prevent the blessings of heaven descending upon us as a people… While things remain as they are, and men remain subject to the temptations of evil as they now are, the day of release, and year of jubilee cannot be…” How were the Saints to prosper when the Church, the Presidency, the bishops, and “those who have sacrificed everything but life... for our salvation, are thus encumbered? It cannot be.” They advised that all such “old accounts, notes, bonds, etc.” be consecrated to the Temple; if they could be negotiated, the proceeds would advance the building; if not, after the Temple was finished, “we will make a burnt-offering of them… which shall bind the brethren together in the bonds of eternal peace, and love, and union… and you shall rejoice… that [you] have hearkened unto counsel, and set our brethren free…”
Yep, a debt forgiveness program where the notes will be gathered into the temple upon completion and be offered as a burnt sacrifice to set the brethren free. That wasn’t the only measure taken in 1842 to absolve debts, because the federal bankruptcy act was passed in August 1841 and went into effect February of 1842. When Jo learned of the possibility that bankruptcy would absolve him of debts, or at least abate them for a brief period, he jumped at the opportunity.
“Joseph Smith and his brothers Hyrum and Samuel declared themselves insolvent before the county commissioner’s court on April 18, 1842, and filed petitions to be certified bankrupt by the United States District Court for Illinois. Concurrently other leading Mormons filed similar petitions, including President Sidney Rigdon, Bishop Vinson Knight, “Judge” Elias Higbee, Reynolds Cahoon, Henry G. Sherwood, John P. Green, Arthur Morrison, George Morey, Jared Carter, Amos Davis, Charles Warner, William P. Lyon, William Niswanger, and John Fullmer. They were joined by at least one prominent gentile businessman of Nauvoo, Hiram Kimball.
The federal bankruptcy act… provided that an inventory of assets and creditors be provided the court, which then decided whether to grant a decree and certificate of bankruptcy. Household and personal effects to a value of $300 were exempt. Smith chose to ignore the provision of the law that no trustee-in-trust was eligible for bankruptcy.
After Smith initiated bankruptcy proceedings, he recorded few additional details of the matter. David Kilbourne, an unfriendly neighbor of the Saints in Montrose, claimed that the commissioner of bankruptcy for Hancock County, a Mr. Catlin, told him that Joseph and Hyrum Smith included seventy to eighty thousand dollars’ worth of Galland’s worthless Half-Breed land scrip in their inventory of assets. John C. Bennett, who in May 1842, broke with the Church, included in his spectacular attack on Smith the charge that the Prophet was attempting to use the bankruptcy law to perpetrate a huge swindle of his creditors. Bennett claimed that when Smith was in Carthage in April to begin his bankruptcy proceedings, he recorded in the county deed book the transfer of a block of Nauvoo property from Smith to the Trustee-in-Trust dated October 5, 1841. The date, said Bennett, was fictitious; no such transfer was made until Smith decided to undertake bankruptcy.”
Jo must have known there would be holdups in his bankruptcy filings because he cooked the books a little bit to transfer property out of his name before the filing went through. He transferred nearly 300 high-priced Nauvoo acres out of his and Emma’s name to the office of Joseph Smith as Trustee-in-Trust, showing his assets were lower than what was really on the books.
“The declaration of insolvency was quickly and easily made, but obtaining a court decree was, in Smith’s case at least, a protracted and ultimately futile affair… It is probable that the Prophet’s private affairs and corporate obligations were too badly mixed for the court to untangle.”
With his bankruptcy proceedings going through the court, which would take more than 7 months before he heard back concerning the outcome, all of these events culminate in nothing but chaos. Beyond it all, the Bennett issue was only waxing messy.
The May 26, 1842 meeting of Relief Society is absolutely insane. They inducted nearly 200 new members which was the largest growth since the Society was organized a mere 2 months prior. It was standing room only in the Masonic Lodge room where they convened. It opened up and the president, Emma, was late. Numerous affidavits had been collected to begin the smear campaign against Bennett’s character and he was the buzz of Nauvoo. Everything we’ve discussed not relating to Bennett thus far was just the underlying tension, Bennett and spiritual wifery were the most prominent subjects on everybody’s minds. Mother Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Jo and Emma’s first close friend in Kirtland upon their arrival, with whom they lived at multiple times for differing periods of time, stood up and filled the empty time as Emma was arriving late by thanking the group.
Then, Emma and Jo entered the room together, who knows what the subject of their conversation was before entering the room. Emma didn’t start off by addressing the Relief Society, Jo instead took the stand and started by reading Ezekiel 14. Knowing the context of Bennett and the furious questions raging in people’s minds about how pious Jo really is, Ezekiel 14 takes on an interesting context.
“6 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. 7 For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the Lord will answer him by myself: 8 and I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. 9 And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.”
If god leads the prophet astray, he’ll kill him before he leads the chosen saints astray, but Jo was still alive so he must be the true prophet. That was his way of abating concerns that he’d fallen into apostasy. The sermon takes a dark turn from there.
“There is another error which opens a door for the adversary to enter. As females possess refined feelings and sensitiveness, they are also subject to an overmuch zeal which must ever prove dangerous, and cause them to be rigid in a religious capacity. [You] should be arm’d with mercy notwithstanding the iniquity among us... Put a double watch over the tongue… [You] should chasten and reprove and keep it all in silence, not even mention them again.”
After telling the women to hold their tongues and ignore those cast out by their own iniquity, he turned directly to Emma and said this:
“search yourselves—the tongue is an unruly member—hold your tongues about things of no moment. A little tale will set the world on fire. At this time the truth on the guilty should not be told openly—Strange as this may seem, yet this is policy. We must use precaution in bringing sinners to justice lest in exposing these heinous sins, we draw the indignation of a gentile world upon us (and to their imagination justly, too). It is necessary to hold an influence in the world and thus spare ourselves an extermination.”
Hold your tongues or we’ll suffer extermination again. Stop the rumors or Illinois will treat us as Missouri did. You women want to be responsible for that? The meeting concluded after Jo’s threats and convened the next day in the grove near the temple where the 600 plus women would be able to attend. Father Newell K. Whitney, who’d been taught the doctrine of polygamy and was allowing Jo to court his 17-year-old daughter Sarah Ann Whitney, who would marry Jo in July of 1842, a month and a half after this meeting, took the pulpit and gave an extremely odd speech.
“In the beginning God created man male and female and bestow’d upon man certain blessings peculiar to a man of God of which woman partook, so that without the female all things cannot be restor’d to the earth—it takes all to restore the Priesthood… God has many precious things to bestow, even to our astonishment if we are faithful. I say again I rejoice in the prospect of what lays before. If we are striving to do right, altho’ we may err in judgment many times yet we are justified in the sight of God if we do the best we can… It is our privilege to stand in an attitude to get testimony for ourselves—It is as much our privilege as that of the ancient saints… If we understand all things we shall not be barren or unfruitful in the knowledge of God… Far be it from me to harbor iniquity and outbreaking sins. We may have different views of things, still there is some criterion which all may come to, and by bringing our minds and wills into subjection to the law of the Lord, may come to unity… I tell you, there are blessings before to be confer’d as soon as our hearts are prepar’d to receive them.”
This speech was one of those talks where the people in attendance heard 2 different talks. There were those who were not privy to the teachings of polygamy who probably were now enticed that something will be revealed in the future, but they can be sure that anything taught or practiced is the will of God, even though some will occasionally err in judgment. Then there were also those in attendance who currently had plural relationships with Jo and other Mormon elites, they probably heard a completely different version of that talk where Whitney was claiming that what they’re doing, even though it must remain secretive, is approved of by God and his prophet on earth.
According to Newell and Avery in Mormon Enigma:
“Undoubtedly the speech diffused some of the consternation caused by Emma’s emphasis on virtue by assuring those women who had accepted the principle of plurality of wives that it was yet taught, supported, and considered a commandment by the leaders of the church. And it presaged the coming endowment.”
Outrage attrition. What we’ve discussed today alone covers only the first few months of 1842. Excising Bennett and other dissenters from religious and government authority and putting trusted family members in the resulting vacancies while whitewashing the true motivations for doing so; the assassination of a high-ranking government official during his senatorial campaign by one of the highest-ranking danites in Nauvoo; political maneuvering in an election year where the Mormons would gain a new governor in Illinois; new scripture possibly resulting from a brand new seer stone which came to be the Book of Abraham; a super-secretive group of men known as the quorum of the anointed who swore death oaths of secrecy; yet another military parade and sham battle to exhibit the strength and force of the Nauvoo Legion for anybody who cared attend; the red brick store being used as Jo’s personal piggy bank, when the shelves were filled with goods supplied solely by Father Newell K. Whitney, and possibly a bit from Emma’s inheritance because her last remaining parent had just passed away; speculation concerning the Temple and Nauvoo House hotel organization; bankruptcy proceedings pushing their way through the state court system to hopefully relieve Jo of his well-over one hundred thousands dollars in personal debt he was continually defaulting on; and now all the polygamy rumors boiling over, partly as a result of Bennett’s public excommunication and removal from office of Mayor, and Jo telling the women in Nauvoo to just hold their tongues or their gossip will bring the ruin of Nauvoo like had happened in Missouri; how did this guy find time to sleep?! Everything here is outrageous to some extent for differing reasons and the Saints, friendly and foe alike, were outraged just as much as the Gentiles outside Nauvoo, albeit outraged for different reasons about different subjects.
The issue at hand here is that we’re all people. The Mormons were all people, Jo was just a dude, Emma just a dudette, all people have limits. Jo and Emma had a limited number of hours in the day and finite wells of energy from which to draw in order to deal with everything happening in Nauvoo. The Mormons had a finite amount of outrage they could feel at each outrageous thing coming to light. The outside world had a finite amount of attention to devote to Jo and his wacky fanatical sect, which allowed him and the Mormon leadership to get away with murder unchecked.
This outrage attrition cuts every way though. Jo could only do so much in a given period of time, and people who didn’t like what he was doing only had a limited amount of time to answer the next outrage coming out of the Nauvoo mafia family before it all but disappeared from collective memory and the next outrage was everybody’s focus. Bennett was simply the newest and hottest outrage and people were madder than hell. But Jo was also wearing them down, he had been for over a decade by this point with everything he put the Mormons through. It’s how people like Joseph Smith operate. It’s a war of attrition and the war is played by constantly doing more insane stuff until people no longer recognize the horrific things done even yesterday because they’re too focused on today’s outrage. But that model of leadership isn’t sustainable. Eventually people become so exhausted that they take violent action and Jo certainly felt their wrath a mere two years from when we currently reside in our timeline.
It makes me wonder, what would Jo’s twitter feed look like…
NaMo Book club JWH almost done moving to History of the Saints.
PLDSC deep dive on GBP
Mr. Atheist guest spot
Zelph guest spot
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