Ep 121 – Bennett Meltdown pt. 1 Supercritical
On this episode, we broach the Bennett meltdown of spring 1842. We read through the first of his exposes published in the Sangamo Journal July 8th. The public explodes at the revelations contained therein. We track everything as it develops chronologically and exhaustively. This marks part 1 of a multi-part series on Bennett and the impact his expose had on Mormon history and doctrine.
Sangamo Journal Bennett expose
Bennett and extradition attempt
Bennett, Smith, and Beginnings of Mormon Plural Marriage in Nauvoo
Sangamo Journal transcripts
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
This week’s episode brought to you by Jay Mumford. A friend of the show, long-time supporter, and genuinely good human being, thank you Jay.
The Bennett scandal has become more complex than I could have imagined. That seems to be a recurring theme in Mormon history. I try to dive into a seemingly singular topic, but it’s all so interconnected and complex that it’s never resolved simply or concisely.
We’re lucky in the internet era nearly 2 centuries after this all went down. We have the hindsight of compiled research by hundreds of historians for over a century to parse through, but there’s a tradeoff. The further we get from these events, the more data we have to analyze and parse through. All that data helps us understand at the high level what transpired. The tradeoff though, is a breakdown of not being able to put ourselves into the minds of the people who actually experienced what was happening when it happened. We’re too far removed.
We’re going to try and walk that fine line. The Bennett meltdown changed Mormon history in ways we can’t imagine. It changed the minds of thousands of Mormons, hundreds of thousands of observers all around the world, and, most importantly, Bennett’s actions forever altered how Mormonism would engage in certain practices moving forward. We can’t imagine what it was like to be the average Mormon who was completely ignorant of these revelations before they came to light and to learn about them through an expose by somebody who was one of the highest regarded Mormons in Nauvoo only months prior. We can’t imagine it. We could never get inside their headspace.
We’ve been setting the stage for the last few episodes when it comes to the clandestine practice of polygamy and viewing Bennett’s relationship with the Church and Joseph Smith. Today we finally get to the first of his expose letters published in the Sangamo Journal, which advances our timeline into July of 1842. Bennett’s exposes influenced everything for the rest of the year, and we’re going to try and view everything that transpired within the context of the Bennett meltdown. Today we’re beginning a multi-part series on Bennett and polygamy under the banner of “Bennett Meltdown”. It’s so complicated, and the immediate results were felt for months, the long-lasting impacts altered Mormonism for the rest of its history.
Our examination of the Bennett meltdown will, by no means, be exhaustive. I intend on giving all of you an overview of everything as it played out chronologically, and we’ll examine the major players and their roles in the meltdown as it transpired.
I want to put a few things out of the way before we broach this subject:
First, this history, not a fantasy with simplistic good guys and bad guys. Any opinions we may have of John Bennett, Joseph Smith, Sarah Pratt, Emma Smith, Brigham Young, Martha Brotherton, Orrin Porter Rockwell, Orson Pratt, or anybody else we’ll be discussing don’t matter. Whatever model we have of these people in our minds being a good guy or bad guy, it has no bearing on what actually transpired in July to December 1842. There’s no such thing as a selfless act and these people were acting out of self-preservation in a time when it was all that mattered. These people’s motives for their actions become quickly muddled as more variables are introduced. Each and every person saw themselves as the protagonist of their own narrative. Why people did a given thing can be best understood when we think about what they had to gain or lose by making a specific decision.
Second, Mormon historians are happy to throw out the line that the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. Society is vastly different today than it was in 19th-century America, that is unequivocally true. With that said, all these people we talk about are still people. They dealt with stresses, anxiety, happiness, anguish, deceit, gluttony, joy, and every human emotion just like all of us. Yes, the past may be a foreign country, but the people there were still people and they experienced all the same boundaries and limitations we all experience. When something stresses us out, or inversely makes us feel joy, those are the same exact emotions people in the past experienced, albeit resulting from different stimuli.
Third, we have the hindsight to know what would happen next, but as events transpired in real-time, the people experiencing them had no idea what tomorrow held. Decisions were made that we might think irrational or ill-advised, but how could they know what the best decision in the long-run would be at the time they were making it? We know that it was another 2 years after this before Jo was arrested and taken to Carthage and killed, but how could he have known that? How could any of the Mormons know that Jo’s life wasn’t actually in danger and that the Illinois militia wouldn’t be exterminating them for another 3 years? Jo would have had to have the power of clairvoyance or prophecy to know that he wouldn’t die in 1842, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
With that, let’s get into the Bennett meltdown of 1842.
July 8, 1842 was the first issue of the Sangamo Journal that published Bennett’s expose. We read the articles preceding the expose last week, let’s get to the meat of it today.
Let’s try to consider what may have caused Bennett to decide on writing this expose in the first place. Bennett was many things. A womanizer, a user, amoral, on the flipside, a polymath, bright, motivated, it depends on who you’re talking to. He’d built a career of making the best kinds of friends in the highest of places. He’d gained a reputation as a physician and obstetrician, served on medical boards of universities, and knew his way around vegetables and medicinal herbs. Medicine was merely an early fascination of his, eventually he moved to politics. He ascended to Master Mason, probably in Ohio, there’s debate about whether or not he was in good standing when he moved to Nauvoo and joined up with the Mormons. Historian and Bennett biographer, Andrew Smith, documents that he was kicked out of the Pickaway lodge in 1834 for lying and other misconduct, but Bennett’s History of the Saints has a letter from another Masonic Lodge claiming he was in good standing, so it’s hard to be conclusive on the issue. Possibly bored with medicine and with all the new contacts he made in lodges, he began his foray into politics. He first was commissioned as a brigadier general in the Second Division of the Illinois State Militia, later ascending to quartermaster General. These were merely his military appointments, he had some military schooling, but never served in combat. While rising through military ranks, his elbows were rubbed raw against prominent politicians in Illinois where he’d resided since 1838.
If his long and colorful career alone paint a picture of Bennett’s character, I don’t think we’d be venturing out on a limb to say he was very ambitious in his aspirations, whatever they may have been. Now to speculation, ambitious people are capable of justifying all sorts of immoral actions to achieve their goals. Bennett had come into contact with the Mormons and the prophet back in Kirtland in 1832, but didn’t pay them much mind. However, their refugee status and mass-exodus to Illinois provided all sorts of interesting opportunities. For a man like Bennett, motivated and easily bored with simple endeavors, what better place to explore all sorts of new ventures, business and otherwise, than the Mormons.
The Mormon settlement in Illinois drew all sorts of people with their own best interests at the forefront of their mind. From politicians to wealthy land-owners or speculators, to the lowliest grogshop merchant, the Mormons created an exciting set of prospects. Bennett must have recognized this.
His motivations for joining the Mormons are important, as they contextualize his membership. In his expose, he claimed that he joined for the sole purpose of infiltration and exposure. He only joined because he recognized what a despot Joseph Smith was and wanted to do what he possibly could to put down the infant sovereign theocracy in an effective way.
Historian Andrew Smith, Bennett’s most prominent biographer, wrote this of Bennett’s motivations in John Cook Bennett’s Nauvoo, you’ll find a link in the show notes:
“The reason why Bennett went to Nauvoo was debated in 1842 and has been a topic of discussion ever since. The history of the Saints opens with Bennett’s explanation of why he joined the Mormon Church. Bennett proclaims that he had “never believed in them or their doctrines.” According to Bennett, he went undercover to acquire evidence of Mormon perfidy and to witness “the secret wires of the fabric, and likewise those who moved them.” Bennett’s explanation was challenged by contemporaries. The editors of the Alton Telegraph and Democratic Review, for instance, reported that Bennett had offered “the most plausible excuse his ingenuity could invent for his conduct.” And Bennett’s explanation has properly met with derisions subsequently by most historians.”
That explanation in History of the Saints may be too generous though. Maybe his wildest fantasies of power and wealth, both material and sexual, stood the best chance of being fulfilled with Jo and the Mormons. Join the Mormons, do whatever necessary to rise to the highest possible rank, then when the time is right, put a plan into action that will place him atop the holy Mormon empire for him to rule as king. If that was his motivation, he almost accomplished it with the April military parade and sham battle. He tried to get Jo to stand in the perfect spot where a convenient little accident would befall him. Bennett was poised as Jo’s second in command and Mayor of Nauvoo, he would be a contending frontrunner to inherit the mantle upon the Prophet’s death.
Why else would he be so militant in his affiliation with the Mormons? In his own History of the Saints he set out the organization of the Nauvoo Legion:
“It is a division divided into two cohorts, or brigades, and these cohorts subdivided into regiments, battalions, and companies. The organization is intended to represent a Roman legion. I have not space in this Expose for the full rank-roll, and must, therefore, content myself with giving the names of a few of the most accomplished, brave, and efficient of the corps;…”
Bennett took pride in the Nauvoo Legion, it was his pet project. Having your own private military is cool, but it’s a lot cooler if you’re planning on using it at some future time.
Upon the failure of this orchestrated “accident to befall the prophet”, realizing his reputation with Jo was tainted and the opinion of the Mormon elite was slowly shifting against him, he was in a prime position to gain notoriety by exposing the horrid affairs of Jo and the libertine Mormon elite. Mormon exposes had only become more popular since Howe’s Mormonism unveiled 8 years prior in 1834. Bennett could make a hansom sum of money from publishing his book and going on lecture circuits, but public notoriety and social status seemed greater motivators for Bennett. Of course, with these motivations in mind, the more salacious his retelling, the better it would sell. The more he painted Jo as the villain the public wanted to view him as, the better Bennett’s book would sell.
Another possible motivation, Bennett sincerely believed in the religion and once he knew the extent of Jo’s horrors, he decided they needed to be exposed. We won’t dwell on this possibility, but I think his track record lends itself to him never sincerely believing in Mormonism. He wasn’t exactly known to give sermons on the faith, he was far too preoccupied with government and military affairs. He was the governmental yin to Jo’s religious yang.
We should always be cognizant of Bennett’s possible motives when he published his work. He had plenty of vested interest in creating the most disturbing and blackened version of Joe Smith the public had ever seen. But, he was also one of the very few people in Nauvoo who had a full-access pass and saw everything that happened. He lived with Jo for a year and a half. He knew everything. That made him dangerous.
Keeping his motives in mind, let’s read the first of his expose letters published in the Sangamo Journal July 8, 1842.
“The public will be astounded at the statements made by Gen. Bennett in the article which follows from under his own hand.—That in this day of light and intelligence, such a man as Joe Smith should be able to collect around him a mass of people, and make them believe in his shallow and miserable scheme of imposture, is matter of astonishment now, and will be more so in after times.
We presume that the Journal has been made the medium through which Gen. Bennett’s publication has been given to the people, on the ground that the political papers of his own party, (Gen. Bennett belongs to the “democratic” party,) are at this time making common cause with Joe Smith, for the purpose of securing his influence in opposition to Gov. Duncan and in favor of Thomas Ford. Gen. Bennett has judged correctly, that in a case like this, where the interests of morality and of civil and religious liberty are so deeply concerned, the use of the columns of our widely circulating paper is free to a political opponent…
From some remarks of Gen. Bennett in the article below, we are induced to believe that the people will hear further from him through the medium of the Journal…
I now write you from the Mormon Zion, the city of the Saints, where I am threatened with death by the holy Joe, and his Danite band of murderers, in case I dare make any disclosures in relation to the conduct of that polluted mass of corruption, iniquity and fraud,--that King of Imposters,--the holy and immaculate Joe Smith. I shall, however, expose him, and if I fall by the ruthless hands of such foul assassins, let my blood be avenged by the friends of God and my country. Remember he has threatened me with DEATH in propria persona, and if I should be immolated to satiate his hellish malice, let his blood atone for it—put his “head in a charger.” But I fear him not—he is a most consummate blackguard, and dastardly coward. He is ready at all times to assassinate a man of equal corporeal strength, or to inflict corporeal punishment on a man of feeble frame; but he fears his equals, and dreads his superiors. Joe Smith stands indicted for murder, treason, burglary, and arson, in Missouri, and he defies the laws and the legally constituted authorities to deliver him over for trial.—What a horrible state of society when men fear to execute the laws?—especially in relation to the most foul imposter that ever disgraced the earth? IF Governor Reynolds, of Missouri, will make another demand for Joe Smith alone, disconnected with any other person,--(for there are thousands of innocent, unoffending, good and holy people among the Mormons, who never ought to suffer, and never shall by my hands, or through my instrumentality—men, women and children who have suffered more than death for the infamous prophet)—and if Governor Carlin will place the write in my hands, I will deliver him up to justice, or die in the attempt, unless restrained by the constituted civil authority. Thousands and tens of thousands are ready to obey the call, and enforce the laws, and the holy Joe shall tremble at the sight of gathering hosts. Let the watchword pass with the celerity of lightning, and let the citizen soldier be ready.—I will lead you on to victory, and lay the rebels low. The Constitution and the laws shall triumph; and misrule, violence, and oppression wither like a blighted flower. Let not an Executive whom he has vilified and abused, as he has Governor Carlin, both in the private circle and public congregation, fear or neglect to do his duty in this case, and deliver up this noted refugee, charged with the blackest crimes known to the laws, who now boldly stalks abroad in our public ways. If Joe is innocent, let him be acquitted; but if he is guilty, let his life atone for it. I regard him as a foul and polluted murderer, and on the forthcoming of the State writ, Joe shall be delivered up.
Now, remember, that if I should be missing, Joe Smith, either by himself or his Danite band, will be the murderer. Illinoians, then let my blood be avenged! They seek my life by day and by night—look well to the issue! I am in the infamous imposter’s city; but I fear him not, neither do I regard his idolatrous god. He believes not in the God of Heaven, and I fear no other.
I now defy him, and all his holy hosts. I dare him to personal violence. There are eyes that see that he knows not of, and ears to hear that he understands not.
Now, Governor, do your duty.[!!!] And citizens of Illinois, be in readiness to sustain your laws. I furnished the State arms to the Nauvoo Legion on a legal requisition, and on a legal requisition they shall be delivered up. The public arms are in a bad condition and suffering material injury, and they had better be placed in the hands of more deserving men, for the State is sustaining a great loss. If the Governor wishes them for other troops, they are at his service. I derived the command of the Nauvoo Legion, and as Major General I have it, and are liable to trial only on an order from the Governor, detailing a general Court Martial of General officers from the other divisions of the State—no brevet officer can effect me.
It is true that I had Joe Smith appointed, or elected Lieutenant General, as a mere play thing, knowing that there was no such officer contemplated by the Constitution; but, it answers Joe well enough, as he does not know enough of military matters to tell the difference between a Corporal and a General,--so, Lieutenant General is as good as any other ral to Joe. In his public speeches he says—“hear your Lieutenant General! The greatest military commander that ever lived since the days of Washington.—General Scott is a mere pigmy compared to me! I command all the armies of the United States!—and the Nauvoo Legion was formed to avenge blood in Missouri!!”
Joe is a great man of the kind—but God will damn the kind—for, if the devil don’t get Joe Smith, there is no use for any devil. But to the damnable iniquity of this base imposter,--and to begin—”
After that it reprints the letter exchanges excommunicating Bennett. They aren’t important so we’ll skip to the next important section where it talks about the excommunication announcement. Bennett provides commentary on why it was released when it was and claims that some of the signatures were forged.
“Now it happens that John E. Page was in Pittsburgh, William Smith in Pennsylvania, and Lyman Wight in Tennessee, at the above date;--this is the way the Holy Joe does business. On Saturday, the 18th of June, I was excommunicated from this holy sect. Now look at the dates;--on the 18th day of June I was excommunicated, and on the 17th of May previous I withdrew from this noble band of brothers. The withdrawal of fellowship was DATED BACK in order to have a pretext for my expulsion, and to destroy my influence before I could do any injury to the GREAT PROPHET, and was presented to Orson Pratt, one of the twelve, for his signature some days after I showed him my official withdrawal, and Mr. Pratt refused to sign it. Mr. Pratt is a gentleman of undoubted veracity, and I am willing to abide his testimony. Call upon him, Mr. Editor, what think you of these extraordinary papers?—what was all this for? I will tell you—it was to destroy my influence, before I should expose Joe’s attempts at seduction.—Many of his followers will swear to any thing that he desires them to do, and think they are doing God’s service, even when they KNOW it to be false…”
Bennett continues on his numbered list of accusations against Jo and the Mormons
“2d. Joseph Smith, the great Mormon seducer, one who has seduced not only hundreds of single and married females, but more than the great Solomon, attempted to seduce Miss Nancy Rigdon, the eldest single daughter of Sidney Rigdon, to submit to his hellish purposes, and become one of his clandestine wives under the new dispensation. Call upon Miss Rigdon, who repulsed him with commendable firmness, and I will abide her testimony—call, likewise, upon Gen. George W. Robinson, and Col. F. M. Higbee, to state what they know upon this subject. Gen. Robinson and Col. Higbee, can tell some astounding facts in relation to this matter. Joe approached Miss Rigdon “in the name of the Lord, and by his authority and permission,” as he said. Joe attacked Mr. Rigdon, Gen. Robinson, Col. Higbee, and myself, in order to destroy the influence of ALL of us to prevent the exposition of this case.—But it is all true, and the legal evidence shall be forthcoming. Call upon Miss Martha Brotherton, of Warsaw, and see what she will say as to the base attempt at seduction in her own case. She can tell a tale of woe, that would make humanity shudder. Call upon Miss Mitchell, of this city, one of the most chaste and spotless females in the west, and see what she knows as to the PROPHET’S SECRET WIVES. Hundreds of cases can be instanced, and if the Danites do not murder me, you shall hear a tale of pollution and sorrow. Joe’s licentiousness is unparalleled in the annals of time. I have the evidence, and it shall come; and no attacks on me to divert the public mind from himself, and his iniquity shall avail him. My purpose is fixed, and the world shall know who the great imposter is.—Time will not permit my going into further detail in this letter; but an abused and insulted public shall know all about it.
3d. Joe’s extensive land frauds in Iowa and Illinois, will soon come to light. I will save his Eastern creditors some hundreds of thousands of dollars, by exposing these frauds in the lace of open day—both by the legal records of the country, and oral testimony. All is in readiness.
4th. I will expose his actings and doings in Nauvoo Lodge, U. D., when none but the Mormon brethren were present:--that he (Joe Smith) and five others, were entered, passed, and raised, before the Lodge was installed by the Grand Master; and that they all passed through a second time afterwards, with the exception of one, who is now abroad; and many other like irregularities, and departures from the ancient landmarks. He has, likewise, established a new lodge of his own, by inspiration, called “ORDER,” in which there are many curious things, and relative to which I have much to say hereafter. The following is a part of the obligation—“I furthermore promise and swear that I wilt never touch a daughter of Adam UNLESS SHE IS GIVEN ME OF THE LORD,” so as to accord with the NEW DISPENSATION and the “ancient order of things.”
5th. The attacks on me in the “Wasp” are all for public effect, and to divert the public eye from Joe’s infamous conduct. My affidavit as taken before Esq. Wells, and my statements before the City Council, in relation to the holy Joe, were made under DURESSE—my life was threatened unless I submitted to the requisitions of Joe. I then preferred the course I took to DEATH, as I knew the public were not apprized of the facts, and I could have been murdered and no person would have been the wise; but the public are now apprized of the matter, and I am ready and willing to die in exposing this impious man, and the people will avenge my blood. I never feared death, but I chose not to die before I rendered God and the people signal service in bringing to light the hidden things of darkness. But more of this hereafter.
6th. The whole city is now in an uproar in relation to the doctrine of consecration as taught on yesterday—The People are ALL required to come forward and consecrate ALL their property to the LORD by placing it at the APOSTLE’S FEET, or in the hands of JOE SMITH!!!!! There is much flouncing on this subject, and what will be the issue God only knows. I will give you some important facts in my next.
7th. The Life of Captain Amos Davis, with some others, has been threatened as well as my own; and I hereby put the public on the look-out. I will write you as time permits. In haste, Your, Respectfully
John C. Bennett”
We have another communication from General BENNETT. Its disclosures are horrible. We shall publish it in an extra as soon as possible.
Joe Smith and Ford’s friends are uniting their forces to destroy the weight of Bennett’s evidence. This is as we anticipated…
We shall give in our next some account of the origin and objects of the DANITE BAND of Mormons, to which Gen. Bennett refers in his communication.”
Okay, pandora’s box was open. What could be done? Jo and the leadership couldn’t let this persist, right? They knew Bennett had been collecting statements and exchanging letters for the entire month of June, he had enough data to utterly collapse the burgeoning Mormon empire. This letter alone did enough damage to topple the kingdom, and it was only the beginning. What would he reveal about the Danites in the next edition? The expose was out there being consumed by thousands, being passed among groups of friends when no more copies remained for sale, how would the public react? Now that so many public rumors had been confirmed, what new rumors would spawn from these two simple pages? Given all the articles printed in the same edition with so much information about the Mormons’ political power, what would these revelations do to the mass of politicians at the end of Jo’s puppet strings?
So, I ask again, what could be done? Bennett stated explicitly that if he goes missing that everybody will know what happened. He’d been followed around by Danites while compiling his data and accidents happened a lot in Nauvoo. Luckily Bennett was spending most of his June in Warsaw, home of the Warsaw Signal and anti-Mormon political party, he was a Martin Luther in Germany, kept in safe asylum from the ruling theocracy 30 miles north, but a bad bit of food, a tragic fall from a horse, simply disappearing from a party and nobody remembers when they last saw him. Jo’s problems had ways of solving themselves, but Bennett had enough public visibility that his disappearance would immediately result in an Illinois militia knocking on Nauvoo’s doorstep.
The Mormons, or at least Joe Smith, weren’t seen in a favorable light. Beyond that, the very next article after Bennett’s expose revealed a clever new word people were using.
This is a new word for assassination. The incident given in the following paragraph from the Alton Telegraph, we have heard stated from other sources. It is unquestionably true. What better should we expect from men who implicitly follow the direction of leaders, who in the case of Gov. Boggs, pronounced MURDER ‘A NOBLE DEED?’
A Mormon in Brown county, after Gov. Duncan addressed the people of that county, remarked, ‘If Gov. Duncan does not look out, he’ll be Boggs’d’. Are we to understand from this, that Gov. Duncan is to receive the same sad fate lately visited by some unknown assassin upon Ex-Governor Boggs, of Missouri? If not, why the threat, that if he did not look out, he would be ‘Boggs’d?’ By taking Gov. Duncan’s life, the Mormon candidate, Judge Ford, may succed in being elected; but if his life is spared, the citizens of Illinois will put a veto upon POLITICAL MORMONISM, that we trust will effectually efface it from Illinois.”
According to the report, Duncan was giving a speech, and presumably a Mormon told him to be careful or he’d get Boggs’d. A new buzzword, coined to convey how powerful Jo and the Mormons were in a single word, used derisively to instill fear in the minds of anyone not already afraid of the Mormon encroachment into Illinois politics.
The Boggs issue was becoming increasingly pressing. It was only a matter of time before a posse out of Missouri made their way across the Mississippi into the boundaries of Nauvoo and demanded the arrest of Joseph Smith and Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell. This was a constant fear plaguing Jo and influencing his decisions. Boggs had recovered consciousness and sworn out the affidavit calling on Governor Thomas Carlin to extradite Jo and Port to Missouri for a hearing on the assassination attempt. Whether or not Port pulled the trigger and regardless of whether or not Jo told Port to make his problems go away leading to the incident, the public believed Port did it at the command of Jo. Any jury hearing in Missouri would inevitably be tainted by the public’s opinion of the Mormons in Missouri. They would never have a fair trial. Guilt wouldn’t matter, the jury of public affection had rendered their case a kangaroo court before the arrest even happened.
We’ll get into this in the coming weeks, but Jo had a lot riding on preserving things the way they were before Bennett’s expose. He had a pretty sweet spot atop the Kingdom on the Mississippi with all the land, women, and political wealth to fill 33 lifetimes, he would take whatever measures necessary to keep that status from being tarnished in any way. But he couldn’t stem the tide.
Jo had destroyed a number of powerful relationships among Mormon elites with his system of celestial marriage. Orson Pratt had just learned of Jo and Bennett fighting over Sarah Pratt, we’ll talk about that in a coming episode, and Sidney Rigdon was completely fed up with Jo, the final straw being Jo’s locking Nancy Rigdon, Hingepin Rigdon’s eldest single daughter, in a room and keeping her there until she agreed to the marriage or swore herself to secrecy on the matter.
All of these were still tightly-kept secrets of Nauvoo, but Bennett knew of them and it was only a matter of time before his expose trotted out exactly what had been happening behind those sacred closed doors.
The public exploded with these disclosures. Jo and friends tried to get ahead of the meltdown by publishing an article in the Times & Seasons concerning Bennett’s excommunication. It was picked up and reprinted by the New York Evening Post, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and a number of other outlets beginning on July 9, 1842 and it reads as follows:
“Ex-Communicated Extraordinary.—Gen. Bennett, who has been commander of the “Nauvoo Legion,” has been thrown over the wall by the Mormon dignitaries. The last number of the “Times and Season,” the Morman organ, published at Nauvoo, contains the following bull:
*Notice.—*The subscribers, members of the first Presidency of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, withdraw the hand of fellowship from Gen. John C. Bennett, as a Christian—he having been labored with from time to time, to persuade him to amend his conduct, apparently to no good effect.
[Signed by Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, W. Law, and “nine members of the quorum,” and “three bishops”.]”
But it was to no effect. The fire had started and was already raging, this cup of water did nothing to mitigate the damage. Papers all across the country picked up the Sangamo Journal. What excitement lay dormant concerning the Mormons since their exodus from Missouri was quickly reignited in the minds of Americans all across the grand fruited plain.
First came the Alton Telegraph out of Alton, Illinois. It began with an extensive article by Professor J. B. Turner and his new history book titled “Mormonism in all Ages; or the Rise, Progress, and causes of Mormonism, with the biography of its Author and Founder, Joseph Smith, Junior”. The article printed a brief sketch of the historiography. I found a copy on archive.org, here’s a little taste from the introduction.
“The Mormons boast of one hundred thousand adherents in this country, and more than ten thousand in Great Britain, where their faith is making rapid progress. This may be an exaggeration; but, at all events, it is time the absurdities of their scheme were exposed. They are, in truth, the most dangerous and virulent enemies to our political and religious purity, and our social and civil peace, that now exist in the Union; not so much, however, on the ground of their direct, as of their indirect influence. The ravages in the front of their march are far less to be dreaded, than the moral pestilence which follows them. The bubbles of fanaticism, it is true, leap and sparkle around their prow, but the dull and sullen waves of atheism roll, and spread wide, in their wake behind. It has ever been true that they have made one hundred infidels to ever dozen converts… There is much reason to believe that many of their popular leaders are at heart infidels.”
The article, in response to examining this new expose by Turner said this:
“Personally, we know but little of the Mormons, as a sect, or of the laws which govern them as a distinct political community. The cruel hardships, unmerited, as we did then, and still do believe, to which they were subjected at the time of their forcible expulsion from Missouri, excited our liveliest sympathy; and the partial acquaintance which we have since formed with one or two of their number, has most certainly not prejudiced us against them. But, we must nevertheless say, that, a candid and attentive perusal of the work before us has compelled us to come to the conclusion, that they are most basely misrepresented and slandered, or that they are parties to, and the dupes of, the vilest imposture that ever preyed upon the credulity of poor fallen man.”
The Alton Telegraph then goes on to reprint the entire Sangamo Journal article, including Bennett’s expose.
Next came from the Commercial Advertiser and Journal out of Buffalo on Jul 11:
“The Mormons—With whatever feeling we may regard the religious delusion under which the Mormons labor, if we can believe the western papers, it is no longer safe to treat the movements of the sect with contempt. Their peculiar organization is an anomaly and demands attention. It has in it most dangerous elements. Their city of Nauvoo has several thousand inhabitants, who constitute an imperium in imperio, nominally recognized the civil authority of the state and nation, but in reality exercising some of the highest attributes of sovereignty. They have a large and highly disciplined military force, and their whole moral and physical power is swayed by one mind with tremendous effect. It is easy to see that with such an organization the Mormons may become a mighty engine of ill. It is charged in some of the western papers that they have among them a band, called Danites, selected on account of their blind, fiery zeal and fanaticism, who are sworn to do the bidding of their prophet, Joe Smith, and are the ready instruments of his vengeance. It is more than insinuated that the recent attempt to assassinate ex Governor Boggs, of Missouri, was the work of some members of this band…
We take no pleasure in placing these remarks upon paper. If a secret band of assassins shall prowl about among this community, who is safe? The fate of Gov. Boggs is an event not to be unheeded.”
The Boston Post caught wind of the rising schism and conflict before they had a copy of the Sangamo Journal and printed this on Jul 14:
“Trouble among the Mormons.—“We understand by a private letter from Montrose, that Joe Smith had had a quarrel with Rigdon and Bennett, and that he had turned both the latter out of the synagogue. Some hard swearing passed between these saints during the quarrel. Bennett threatened to write a book for the purpose of exposing the rascality of this pretender to a spirit of prophecy. We hope the schism in incurable, as it is said to be.””
It goes on and on and on. The Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, Southwestern Farmer out of Mississippi, The Raleigh Microcosm, The Cincinnati Enquirer, that’s just the first week and a half after the Sangamo Journal published it’s first of Bennett’s letters. These were the sparks flying in all directions, soon to ignite the surrounding kindling and bring Mormonism to the forefront of every person’s mind.
I’ll read one more for all of you and I’ll explain why afterwards.
From the Alton Telegraph out of Illinois on Jul 16
“We hope the length of the Mormon exposures, by Dr. Bennett, will not prevent any man from reading them. We are beset by dangers which call for immediate and prompt action. We entreat every man to read the statements of Bennett, and after he has done so, lend it to his neighbor. Unless Mitt Romney…. Sorry, Judge Ford is defeated for Governor, Mormonism will be triumphant in the State, and no man will be secure in either his life, liberty, or property.”
Look, this expose is important. We’ll get into it in a minute, but the lasting impacts this expose had, and the cleansing effect it created within the ranks of believers, altered Mormon history forever. The length may be offputting at first, but each line is more crucial than the last, which is why we’ve taken so long to go down this rabbit hole thus far and we’re only now beginning to explore the crevasses contained therein. This expose caused a massive evaluation of who could and could not be trusted. Who was allowed in to the anointed Quorum, which Bennett was not, who was allowed backstage passes to celestial marriage. This caused the collective Mormon psyche to become more guarded and careful than before. Who would be the next angry apostate? Who was a wolf in priest’s clothing? Were secrets safe anymore?
As if the Bennett meltdown didn’t reveal enough cracks in the foundation of Nauvoo Mormonism and threaten the public stability of the empire, complicating matters further, Jo’s outstanding debts were completely crushing him. He was making a number of decisions for the sole purpose of answering all his defaulted payments. Horace Hotchkiss, the guy who sold the majority of the land deeds in Commerce to Jo on completely insane terms, was growing insistent that Jo pay him the balance owed. Jo had been exchanging land deeds in Kirtland and Missouri to just pay the interest, but the accumulated capital was nowhere near enough to satisfy the debts, in spite of what Jo claimed. Hotchkiss, Gillet, Tuttle, and the other land speculators holding the deeds to Mormon lands until they were paid in full were all becoming less tolerant of Jo’s constant defaulting. They were concerned for understandable reasons. The influx of Mormons wanting the most prime land nearest the Temple or the Prophet’s block were driving up land prices. That, coupled with improvements the Mormons were making on the area that was previously just swampland was continually driving up land prices even more. The owners of the land deeds were responsible to the government for paying the property taxes which were only increasing. Jo, as Trustee-in-Trust of the Mormon settlement and church at large, defaulting on his payments was causing a lot of conflict and stress added to the overwhelming lack of money and prevailing destitution of the populace.
Beyond that, just a year prior Isaac Galland had apparently absconded with enough land deeds and specie to pay a significant portion of the Hotchkiss debt, but he was apparently no longer to be found around town. He had been a bit of a rascal from the beginning selling the Mormons his portion of the half-breed tract in the Iowa territory when he didn’t rightfully hold the titles, so he’s another guy who apparently chose to capitalize on the Mormon refugee crisis and gtfo as soon as his feet were held to the fire to make good on promises.
Thanks to the convenient federal bankruptcy act passed in 1841, Jo and dozens of Mormon elites had just filed for bankruptcy.
To conclude this same 8th July issue of the Sangamo Journal, there was a page and a half exclusively of bankruptcy notices. This is how bankruptcy notices worked in the day, they’d simply publish in the newspaper when a person filed for bankruptcy and print the date of their court appearance for all their creditors to appear in the state court on the day assigned to file debts on the person who was declaring bankruptcy.
This is what they read like:
“In the matter of the petition of Godfrey Shissler, a bankrupt, to be discharged from his debts. Notice is hereby given to all creditors and others interested of Godfrey Shissler a bankrupt, to appear before the district court of the United States on the first day of October, 1842, at the city of Springfield, in the district of Illinois, and shew cause, if any they have why the aforesaid Godfrey Shissler should not receive a final discharge from all his debts and a certificate thereof be granted to him. Dated at Springfield, this 17th day of June A.D. 1842
S. Strong, solicitor for petitioner.”
Names go on for a page and a half, Charles Gilbert, Burgess S. Moody, Jeriet Robinson, John Griffin, Charles Edmunds, you get the point. At the end of the last page, it has these same bankruptcy notices printed for Reynolds Cahoon, Vinson Knight, Elias Higby, Henry G. Sherwood, John P. Greene, Jared Carter, Amos Davis, Sidney Rigdon, and all remaining living Smith brothers, William Smith, Samuel H. Smith, Hyrum Smith, and Joseph Smith. All of them were called to appear in the Springfield Court on the first day of October, 1842.
What a wonderful opportunity this would present to voice a person’s concerns directly to the highest leadership authorities of Nauvoo Mormonism. October 1st promised to be an exciting day in Springfield, should they choose to show up. Do you think they did? We’ll find out soon.
What we need to understand is that every decision made by Jo and the other leaders from this time forward was purely reactionary. Jo and the rest of the Mormons were able to spin this as religious persecution. Bennett’s expose wasn’t an affront to Joseph Smith, it was a direct attack on the one true gospel and god’s humble servant. The quaint little city of Nauvoo was now under complete siege from anti-Mormon mobocrat propaganda, trying to destroy the sect all over again, just like a few years ago in Missouri.
We can’t put our minds there. We can’t understand what it must have been like to be a believing Mormon living in Nauvoo and reading this expose. Every Mormon had some hard decisions to make upon reading this first issue of the Sangamo Journal, conscious and subconscious. First, do they let the information stay in their brain for longer than a fleeting second? Do they entertain the thought that the expose is true and Jo was just as deplorable of a human being as the Journal had painted him as? It’s much easier for the brain to subconsciously engage survival mechanisms and build a virtual shell around it. Some scary information got in, but I’m going to plant my head firmly back in the sand to make sure no more scary information gets past this walling off survival mechanism. That’s easy to do in the short term, and we can be sure it was likely the what the majority of Mormons did, or else a major upheaval would have transpired and the remaining years of Jo’s life would not look like they currently do.
But, for the rest of the Mormons who overcame that survival mechanism and allowed their brains to chew on this new information, those opposed to Jo and his theocracy building, and everything entailed in the expose, had a set of hard decisions to make. What could be done?
This person could come to the conclusions of the rest of the world that Jo was an imposter and deluding the Mormons for his own selfish aggrandizement, or think something along the lines of well, what he’s doing, he’s doing it as a man, not a prophet. He’s still divinely inspired and the Book of Mormon is true, even if Jo has departed from the covenant path. Keep following Mormonism with this new information, and have a mature faith in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, regardless of what Jo or the leadership is doing. Or, leave… Leave your friends, your family, your entire community, your land and all your property, leave it all behind and deal with the fact that the last X number of years of your life have been a waste and that Jo had swindled you, taken your money, and caused you untold pain, anguish, and trauma to accomplish selfish desires. What would you do?
There are other decisions that could have been made, and they’re largely contingent on the mentality of the person making the decision. The most terrifying, in my mind anyway, is the person who didn’t know about the true Joseph Smith, and dealt with the information contained in this, and the remainder of his expose, with acceptance. Jo was the one true prophet, this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in whatever direction the prophet leads us, that is the will of God. Jo has told us repeatedly that if he leads us astray that God will remove him, brother Smith is still alive, so this must be the true church and the path God wants us to walk. Jo could shoot somebody of 5th avenue and wouldn’t lose this follower. If Jo is a vicious dictator, affecting his will by a black-ops underground militia, he’s doing it to build Zion, the New Jerusalem, on the American Continent so when the savior returns he’ll reign over the new dispensation and godking on earth. Anything Jo and the leadership did was to convert the Gentile world to the one true gospel. Any action, polygamy, murder, overthrow of the government, any action was justified because they’re building the kingdom of God on earth.
The information contained in Bennett’s expose would galvanize this group of Mormons to fight the anti-Mormons with even more unrelenting zeal. This mentality causes a lot of good people to do the most heinous and absolutely evil things on the planet. This Mormon allows the prophet to sexually abuse their 14-year-old daughter. This Mormon doesn’t argue with authority, they follow every jot and tittle of every word that falls out of the prophet’s mouth. This Mormon kills their own child if that child is labeled as an anti-Mormon. This Mormon is handsomely rewarded in the earthly kingdom with fine possessions of curious workmanship, their celestial mansion will be filled with wives and progeny. This Mormon can think critically about every religion on the planet except their own. The one true gospel can never be harmed in their mind, even if the whole world rises in opposition to them. This Mormon leverages the Haun’s Mill trauma and the extermination order as justification for any evil act commanded by the prophet. You could bribe them with every piece of gold on the planet to renounce their religion, you could hold their earthly family hostage with threats of death in an effort to force them to renounce their religion, you could threaten them with bodily harm of every sort…. Still, they would never back down from their convictions. These kinds of followers make the best kinds of followers when a despot is building a theocracy. They’d come in handy to Jo before, and they’ll continue to be very useful to him, and his successor will surround himself with exclusively these people.
So, what did the average Mormon do when Bennett’s expose arose? Either they ignored it and called it persecution, burying their heads, or they fell into one of the categories previously discussed. Bennett’s expose did have something of a purging effect. The remaining Mormons after the end of 1842, Jo could rest assured that they would never depart from his side…. At least for the most part.
Thank Jay Mumford!!!
Hushed Ones Doc.
Copyright Ground Gnomes LLC subject to fair use. Citation example: "Naked Mormonism Podcast (or NMP), Ep #, original air date 09/20/2018"