Ep 132 – BM Pt. 8 2 Bennetts for 1
On this episode, John C. Wreck-it Bennett’s leaving the church, Nauvoo Legion, and city government left a massive vacuum in his absence. James Gordon Bennett and James Arlington Bennet are appointed to offices to fill his place. We discuss who these guys were, how they found out about Mormonism, and what their places were within the movement after Wreck-it Bennett left.
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James Arlington Bennet biography
Letter from Arlington Bennet
James Gordon Bennett
Susan Easton Black Nauvoo University 1841-45
Historical Study of the Nauvoo, Illinois, Public School System by Paul
Nauvoo Legion leadership ranks
History of the Saints by John C. Bennett
James Gordon Bennett’s 1831 Report on “The Mormonites” by Leonard
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Before I went into podcasting, the job I was working had this general manager who knew anything and everything about how the company worked. He was always the go-to guy when anybody had a question or needed help with something. This guy knew how everything in the company worked from top to bottom. He’d been there for over a decade and a half, helping build the company, establishing rapport with clients, learning and optimizing every day he worked there. This guy quit a year and a half into my time there and the void left behind simply couldn’t be filled by one person. A person under him was promoted to fill the position but he was so overwhelmed that a new hire from the outside with management experience had to be brought in to help pick up the pieces.
Wreck-it Bennett leaving the church wasn’t just a nightmare for the exposes and public outcry stemming from those exposes, Bennett held so many positions of consequence in Nauvoo. Bennett was the glue that held a lot of Nauvoo government and military together. He’d seeped into nearly every crevasse and cured into said crevasse in whatever way he was needed. He’d been there since the beginning of the Mormon settlement when Nauvoo was still Commerce with just a few buildings and thousands of Mormon refugees living out of tents and wagons. He’d pushed through the city charter and built the Nauvoo Legion with his military training and arms supplied by the Illinois state armory and he was awarded the position of Major-General and inspector general for his work. He was chancellor of the University of Nauvoo and helped develop the curriculum in early 1841. He worked with Crazy Willey Smith and the Wasp, along with Don Carlos Smith and later Willard Richards and John Taylor in the Times and Seasons to publish a constant stream of propaganda to combat any negative press coming out of other newspaper syndicates. Bennett also had a lot of friends in really high places that he was beginning to turn against the Mormons who were previously favorable to their plight.
The void left behind by Bennett caused the resulting Bennett Meltdown to affect the city in ways which can’t be easily summarized. Organizational bodies and key pieces of civil infrastructure were imploding from the vacuum left by Bennett. Jo was appointed by the Aldermen of Nauvoo to replace Wreck-it Bennett as mayor of the city. But Jo’s plate was already so full when he was vice-Mayor that his new appointment to Mayor stole even more time from an already thinly-spread schedule with so many positions of authority. The system was already strained by Bennett’s departure and that whole system of Nauvoo church and city government was under even more pressure from the outside with so much bad press with the name “Mormon” in it. It wouldn’t take much more before the stress began to show with these structures breaking down.
Today we’re going to talk about the 3 Bennetts in Nauvoo Mormonism. We know much of Wreck-it Bennett, but there are two others who became affiliated with the religion near the time of John C. Wreck-it Bennett’s volcanic departure from the Church. These other two Bennetts are James Gordon Bennet and James Arlington Bennett and we’re going to discuss what roles they filled the in Wreck-it Bennett’s vacancy.
Important to this conversation are the University of Nauvoo and the Nauvoo Legion. Both of these other Bennetts had their role in Mormonism influenced by these two institutions.
Let’s start by talking about the Nauvoo Legion. I’m going to ask you to put a pin in the University of Nauvoo for the time being and we’ll pick up with it near the end of the episode. As for the 3 Bennetts and the Nauvoo Legion, in late 1842 the Legion was numbering over 2,000 armed, fighting men. Service in the Nauvoo Legion was compulsory, attendance at military drills and parades was mandatory and that was all enforced by the 4 Bishops presiding over the 4 divided quarters of Nauvoo. Service in a city militia enforced by religious authorities, all funneling that power up to the prophet in chief.
Bennett’s vacancy needed to be filled and it was almost immediately when he was excommunicated from the church. Here enters James Arlington Bennet. A little background on James Arlington Bennet. He was old school. James Arlington Bennet was born in Dec 1788, only a few months before the new American government officially went into effect in March of the following year. At the age of 24 he began his service as a lieutenant in the First U.S. Artillery division during the War of 1812. He’d been married to his first wife, Sophia, for only 2 years when he went into military service.
James Arlington Bennet’s military training and veteran status made him a shoe-in for a leading role in the Nauvoo Legion. Whereas John C. Wreck-it Bennett only had military training having never served in active warfare, James Arlington Bennet had legitimate schooling in military and artillery tactics. Beyond that, Arlington Bennet was also educated as an attorney and had spent much of his post-war years editing and publishing periodicals and books. From 1832-1836 he ran the Brooklyn Advocate and Nassau Gazette and also wrote American System of Practical Bookkeeping, which was published in 1824 and used as one of the curriculum books in the University of Nauvoo. He also had spent some time as an educator and travelling lecturer.
With his resume, Arlington Bennet was a powerful ally to have with a certain set of very useful skills. Wreck-it Bennett began his departure from the church in April 1842 and was officially excommunicated in May. Arlington Bennet was put in as the Major-General in Wreck-it Bennett’s place and was given the office of inspector general as well. The Nauvoo Legion vacuum left behind by wreck-it Bennett was filled by Arlington Bennet.
Arlington Bennet was very sympathetic to Jo and his true cause. However, at this time, he was a jack-Mormon. Arlington Bennet held the office of Major-General and inspector general of the Nauvoo Legion, but he wasn’t baptized officially as a member of the church until more than a year after his April 1842 appointments in August 1843. Beyond that, Arlington Bennet, as far as I can tell, never lived in Nauvoo. He was located in New York until he died in 1863, which seems like it would be a challenge for him to be a commanding officer of the Nauvoo Legion from 1,050 miles, or just under 1700 km, away.
A letter was sent from Arlington Bennet to Jo on September 1, 1842, 2 days before Jo evaded capture by slipping out the back door of his house into the corn field. The letter is very revealing and you’ll find a link to it on the JSP in the show notes. Fun little sidenote, because this was correspondence between the commander in chief and a Major-General of the Nauvoo legion, each page has written at the bottom “This letter is to be considered strictly Confidential”. Arlington Bennet is entirely reasonable about military conflict between the Nauvoo Legion and the Missouri or Illinois militias, while at the same time very sympathetic to Jo’s plight. He was a very loyal jack-Mormon; however, his own motivations and pursuit of grandeur definitely reveal themselves. Beyond that, he also clearly reveals his desire for a Christian overthrow of the government. Arlington Bennet seems to be just as much a kindred spirit with Jo as Wreck-it Bennett was.
Arlington House Sept.
Lieut. Gen. Smith.
Mrs. Smiths letter to Mrs. Bennet containing a very lucid account of Dr John C. Bennett has been received & the only thing concerning him that I regard of importance, is, that you found it necessary to expose him. I wish most ardently that you had let him depart in peace, because the public generally think no better of either the one party or the other in consequence of the pretended exposures with which the News papers have teamed. But then on the long run you will have the advantage, inasmuch as the universal notoriety which you are now acquiring will be the means of adding to Nauvoo three hundred fold.
That you ought to be given up to the tender mercies of Missouri no man in his senses will allow, as you would be convicted on the shadow of evidence when the peoples passions & prejudces are so strongly inlisted against you & under such a state of things how easy it would be to suborn witnesses against you who would seal your fate. Add to this, too, that <the> great difficulty under which an impartial jury, if such could be found, would labour in their attempt to render an honest verdict, being cohersed [coerced] by surrounding public prejudice & malice. And yet as you are now circumstanced it will not do to appose force to force, for your protection, as this in the present case would be treason against the State & would ultimately bring to ruin all those concerned.
<This letter is to be considered strictly Confidential–> [p. 1]
Your only plan I think will be to keep out of the way until this excitement shall have subsided, as from all I can understand even from the Dr [John C. Bennett] himself, there is no evidence on which an honest jury could find against you & this opinion I have expressed to him. I most ardently wish that you had one hundred thousand true men at Nauvoo & that I had the command of them— Times & things would soon alter. I hope to see the day before I die that such an Army will dictate terms from Nauvoo to the enemies of the Mormon people. I say this in the most perfect candor as I have nothing to gain by the Mormons, nor am I a Mormon in creed, yet I regard them in as favourable a light, (& a little more so,) than I do as I do any other sect. In fact I am a Philosophical Christian & wish to see an entire change in the religious world. I have been long a Mormon in sympathy alone & probably can never be one in any other way, yet I feel that I am the friend of the people as I think them honest & sincere in their faith and those I know as good & honorable men as any other professing Christians.
Dr. Bennett has been the means of bringing me before your people, you will therefore see that for this act I am in honor bound to say “Peace to his Manes.” To act otherwise would be ungrateful & dishonorable, both of which qualities are strangers to my nature. Nevertheless by leaving him as he is I can still be your friend, for be assured that nothing I have yet seen from his pen has in the least altered my opinion of you. I will know what allowance to make in such cases. [p. ]
Doctor Bennett & Bachelor are now delivering lectures in N York against you & your doctrines & asserted practices at Nauvoo. Elder [Lucian R.] Foster told me this forenoon that the seats have been torn to pieces out of his church in Canal St. & that the congregation had to move to another place. I intimated to you in my last that [James Gordon] Bennett of the Herald was about to publish conjointly with the Doctor his Book of Exposures but since have learned that it is about to come out in Boston. He expects to make a fortune out of it & I presume he needs it, but I feel sure that it will only make converts to the Mormon faith. He has burrowed largely from Com Morris' lacivious poems.
A general Order signed by Hugh McFall, ag[ent]t general and authorized by you has this day appeared in the Herald ordering me to repair to Nauvoo to take command of the Legion and to bring with me Brig. Gen. J. G. Bennett, which states that if the requisition be persisted in blood must be shed. I have assured Bennett of the Herald that I deem it a hoax but he insists upon it that it is genuine. My reply to <it> has appeard to day in that paper. I have there stated that I have written to Gov. [Thomas] Carlin for instructions this is not so It is only a ruse. On the whole you will only be made a greater Prophet & a greater man a greater Em[p]eror by the affection & consideration of your good friends. My respects with those of Mrs B. to your lady
I am Dr Sir your Sincere friend—
James Arlington Bennet. [p. ]
Lieut. Gen. Joseph Smith,
Mayor of Nauvoo
[stamped postmark] NEW YORK SEP 1
There’s a bit to tease out of that letter, including Arlington Bennet talking about James Gordon Bennett with the New York Herald, we’ll get to that in a minute once we introduce James Gordon Bennett with a little background. First, the letter.
He began with telling Jo that his best option is to remain in hiding until the heat blows over. He also says that Jo has been wrongly branded as responsible for the Boggs assassination attempt and that any court would find in his favor. Then it turns. Arlington Bennet tells of his sympathies towards the Momrons and that he’s a “Philosophical Christian” who “wish[es] to see an entire change in the religious world.” Consider that within the context of the remaining paragraphs in the letter. With respect to the generated conflict as a result of the Wreck-it Bennett expose, Jo sent a letter to Arlington Bennet to come take command of the Nauvoo Legion. Apparently Arlington was accused of corresponding with Governor Carlin about the matter, which he said is all a ruse. But, if somebody is going to take command of the largest private militia in your state, as a governor, you should know about that and should at least have a meeting with this person to learn what their intentions are. It strains credulity to think that Arlington Bennet and Governor Carlin hadn’t been in touch prior to Jo sending the letter to Arlington Bennet telling him to get out to Nauvoo to take control of the Legion.
The crowning jewel of this letter is the way Arlington characterizes what will result from all this public conflict… “On the whole you will only be made a greater Prophet & a greater man a greater Emperor by the affection & consideration of your good friends.” Near the beginning of the letter, Arlington had said that he “most ardently wish that you [Joseph Smith] had one hundred thousand true men at Nauvoo & that I had the command of them— Times & things would soon alter. I hope to see the day before I die that such an Army will dictate terms from Nauvoo to the enemies of the Mormon people. I say this in the most perfect candor as I have nothing to gain by the Mormons”. Yes, Arlington was acting purely altruistically here. With Jo at the head of 100,000 fighting men all taking orders directly from Nauvoo instead of Washington and Arlington at Jo’s right hand, he had nothing to gain by the Mormons… Those are things he wrote down in the same letter. Like those were thoughts he had, then he wrote them, then he sent the letter to Jo after he had those thoughts. We can already see at the onset that Arlington Bennet is being dishonest with his intentions, the veil is thin with this one.
Now on to the final point he discussed, James Gordon Bennett, our third Bennett of this episode. Let’s get some background on this guy to put what Arlington Bennet said about him “making a fortune” into context.
James Gordon Bennett was born in 1795 to a Roman Catholic family in Scotland. He emigrated in 1819 to Canada and began teaching school there. He soon moved south to Portland, Maine and taught school there briefly before the next year when he moved to Boston, MA and taught school there as well. James Gordon Bennett went to work as a proofreader and bookseller for the Charleston Courier in South Carolina before moving back to the New England area where he worked as assistant editor for the New York Courier and Enquirer. This was Gordon Bennett’s longest time working as a newspaper writer and editor before he finally started the New York Herald in 1835, during the Kirtland Era of Mormonism.
Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald became home to a few firsts in early 19th-century printing practices. Gordon Bennett’s first big story that drew in a deluge of readership was a violent murder of a prostitute in 1836. After that, Gordon Bennett went on to pioneer frequent pictures in paper using woodcuts to print said pictures. The ease and speed with which woodcuts could produce pictures in newspapers was literal cutting-edge technology in the 1830s and Gordon Bennett was one of the first national papers to regularly print pictures with this printing revolution. Because his paper became so widely circulated by the late 1830s, Gordon Bennett was the first reporter to get an exclusive interview with a sitting president, then Martin Van Buren, in 1839.
However, before Gordon Bennett started the New York Herald, he’d gained notoriety as an extremely respected reporter. He traveled a lot and reported to local newspapers what he discovered during his travels. His first run-in with the Mormons was in New York in 1831, barely a year after the religion had begun. He met with a number of Mormons and reported his findings in a two-part article on August 31 and September 1 1831 under the title “Mormonism – Religious Fanaticism – Church and State Party”.
This article is fantastic. Leonard Arrington wrote a scathing article about Gordon Bennett’s 1831 articles in a BYU Studies Quarterly paper in September of 1970. Arrington chose to reprint both of Gordon Bennett’s articles in their entirety in his article and concludes with a judgement call on the part of Bennett when Arrington says:
“James Gordon Bennett’s eagerness to break into print before he had all his facts straight is not untypical of his own career nor of that of the propensities of leading journalists of his age. Considering the state of transportation and communication in antebellum America, newspapers were able to “get away with” ambiguous writing, if not palpable falsehoods. This partly accounts for the pertinacity with which early Americans held on to the false and damaging image of Mormonism conveyed by Bennett and other writers and publishers.”
Just what did Gordon Bennett report that Arrington considered to be ambiguous or palpable falsehoods? Well, he was one of the first reporters to notice some powerful trends within Mormonism before Jo even had 500 followers. Here’s a few extracts from those 1831 articles and we’ll discuss why this is important momentarily.
“New York has been celebrated for her parties her sects her explosions her curiosities of human character her fanaticism political and religious the strangest parties and wildest opinions originate among us…
You have heard of MORMONISM—who has not? Paragraph has followed paragraph in the newspapers recounting the movements, detailing their opinions and surprising distant readers with the traits of a singularly new religious sect which had its origin in this state. Mormonism is the latest device of roguery, ingenuity, ignorance, and religious excitement combined and acting on materials prepared by those who ought to know better…
The individuals who gave birth to this species of fanaticism are very simple personages, and not known until this thrust them into notice. They are the old and young Joe Smith’s Harris a farmer, Ringdon [sic] a sort of preacher on general religion from Ohio, together with several other persons equally infatuated, cunning, and hypocritic…
Young Joe, who afterwards figured so largely in the Mormon religion, was at that period a careless, indolent, idle, and shiftless fellow. He hung round the villages and strolled round the taverns without any end or aim—without any positive defect or as little merit in his character…
The article then goes on to talk about a gentleman from Ohio that the treasure diggers tried to bring in to help them find treasure prior to the Book of Mormon being published, a man by the name of Henry Rangdon or Ringdon, to which Leonard Arrington editorializes with [note how precise Bennett is in his reporting!], as if to claim that Gordon Bennett making a mistake in the way Rigdon was spelled means that the entire article is false. Such is the argumentation of the 1970s Mormon apologist. However, Gordon Bennett does report explicitly that when Rigdon came along that the excavation for the gold plates on Hill Cumorah was made, giving a detailed description of the specific hill. Gordon Bennett even goes on to say that the marks from their treasure digging are visible throughout the entire area. The article ends with “to be continued”, which it was a mere 2 days later in the next edition of the paper. The opening paragraph of the article is prescient even today. It’s clear that Gordon Bennett was operating on a level above the sycophancy for religious political power that gripped the majority of Americans in the day. His commentary on religion at large, and the granular details of early Mormonism could just as easily have been written today.
“About this time a very considerable religious excitement came over New York in the shape of a revival. It was also about the same period, that a powerful and concerted effort was made by a class of religionists, to stop the mails on Sunday—to give a sectarian character to Temperance and other societies—to keep up the Pioneer lines of stages and canal boats, and to organize generally a religious party, that would act altogether in every public and private concern of life. The greatest efforts were making by the ambition, tact, skill and influence of certain of the clergy, and other lay persons, to regulate and control the public mind—to check all its natural and buoyant impulses—to repress effectually freedom of opinion—and to turn the tide of public sentiment entirely in favor of blending religious and worldly concerns together… They have endeavored ever since the first settlement of Rochester to organize a religious hierarchy, which would regulate the pursuits, the pleasures, and the very thoughts of social life.”
What would that be like, to have religions suppressing freedom of thought and regulating and controlling the public mind? To have a body of religionists trying to blend religious and worldly concerns together… What a hell that must have been in the early 1830s.
Gordon Bennett goes on to remark on Mormonism specifically after deriding the political overreach of private religious groups.
[Mormonism] is a religion run into madness by zealots and hypocrites.
It was during this state of public feeling in which the money diggers of Ontario county, by the suggestions of the Ex-Preacher from Ohio [Rigdon], thought of turning their digging concern into a religious plot, and thereby have a better chance of working upon the credulity and ignorance of ther [their] associates and the neighborhood. Money and a good living might be got in this way. It was given out that visions had appeared to Joe Smith—that a set of golden plates on which was engraved the “Book of Mormon,” enclosed in an iron chest, was deposited somewhere in the hill I have mentioned. People laughed at the first intimation of the story, but the Smiths and Rangdon [Rigdon] persisted in its truth… They treated their own invention with the utmost religious respect… There is no doubt but the ex-parson from Ohio [Rigdon] is the author of the book which was recently printed and published in Palmyra, and passes for the new Bible… It is probable that Joe Smith is well acquainted with the trick, but Harris the farmer and the recent converts, are true believers… At last a printer in Palmyra undertook to print the manuscript of Joe Smith, Harris becoming responsible for the expense. They were called translaters, but in fact and in truth they are believed to be the work of the Ex-Preacher from Ohio, who stood in the background and put forward Joe to father the new bible and the new faith… Such is a brief view of the rise and progress of the Mormon Religion one of the strangest pieces of fanaticism to which the ill-advised and the worst regulated ambition and folly of certain portions of the clergy in Western New York ever gave birth. What a lesson it ought to teach us!”
What a lesson indeed, Gordo. This was published 3 years before Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed which really detailed all the facts about the Rigdon and Jo authorship collusion. This article from 1831, one of the first major exposes of early Mormonism, reveals that Gordon Bennett held absolutely no ideas in his mind that Mormonism was true by any stretch of imagination.
So, why was that 1831 expose by Bennett important? First off, it illustrates his career in journalism and publishing prior to his establishing the New York Herald four years later in 1835. Further, it establishes that he was no friend of the Mormons throughout the 1830s. The New York Herald published multiple articles throughout the 30s covering the Mormons in Ohio and Missouri. The Herald consistently ascribed Book of Mormon authorship to Rigdon as Gordon Bennett had done in this 1831 expose and saw the religion through purely naturalistic lenses. The Mormons were deluded religious zealots lead by a despot in Gordon Bennett’s eyes. Even the expulsion from Missouri was seen as harsh but justified by Gordon Bennett and his reporters for the paper.
With such a track record, we wouldn’t expect a guy like Gordon Bennett to align with the Mormons. However, Gordon Bennett was a guy in high places with a lot of connections. He was also a war of 1812 veteran and knew his way around artillery and commanding soldiers. He became a target of the carrot method of coercion of Mormon elite near the end of 1841. By the time Wreck-it Bennett began his exposes, Gordon Bennett was completely coopted by Jo. Arlington Bennet and Gordon Bennett were good friends. At the same time Wreck-it Bennett was lanced from the Nauvoo Legion like the cancerous growth many thought him to be, that’s when Arlington Bennett was promoted to Wreck-it Bennett’s position as Inspector general of the Nauvoo Legion, while Gordon Bennett was given a position as Aide-de-camp, probably as a direct assistant to Arlington Bennett. At the same time Gordon Bennett was given this aide-de-camp position in the Nauvoo Legion, the New York Herald coincidentally experienced a shift in its tone concerning how it reported about the Mormons. As Aide de camp to the Nauvoo Legion, Gordon Bennett, just like Arlington Bennet, remained in New York and merely visited the kingdom on the Mississippi when occasion dictated.
Given these circumstances, Arlington Bennett published a letter he sent to Gordon Bennet on 31, August, 1842, which Gordon Bennet published in the New York Herald, which Wreck-it Bennett published in his expose book, History of the Saints at the end of 1842. This letter seems to reveal a flippancy with which the Bennetts treated their newfound military appointments and the Mormon theocracy at large.
From Arlington Bennet to Gordon Bennett:
“Sir, As the ranking Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion, I have received a General Order to repair immediately to headquarters, and assume the command, accompanied by my principal Aid-de-Camp, Brigadier-General James Gordon Bennett.
Now, sir, I shall ever hold myself ready to defend the Mormon people, or any other people with whom I might be associated, against mob violence; but at the same time feel that I am not bound to act against the constituted authorities of the State of Illinois, nor of any other State in the Union, nor would I do it were it for a brother.
I have transmitted the Order to his Excellency Governor Carlin for instructions, while, at the same time, I shall repair immediately to Nauvoo, and take command of the Legion, where I expect you will accompany me, in conformity with its mandate.
I should desire no better fun than to despatch you with orders on my horse Cicero, among the whizzing bullets, or blue pills of Galena.
Most respectfully yours, &c., James Arlington Bennet, Inspector and Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion.”
Galena is a ye olde turn of phrase referring to bullets in this context. So, Arlington Bennet states he desires no better fun than to issue orders to the Nauvoo Legion from the back of his horse, Cicero, while under fire from the Missouri mobocrats. Arlington Bennet was a friend of the Mormons, and his primary Aid-de-camp, Gordon Bennett, had been swayed to favor the Mormons as well.
That letter merely captured how Arlington Bennet was approaching his commanding role in the Nauvoo Legion and his newfound fealty to Jo. Taken in conjunction with the letter we opened this episode with sent one day after that previous letter, we can clearly see that Arlington Bennet desired military notoriety. He told Jo that he had nothing to gain, but desired to take orders from the prophet while he was head of 100,000 soldiers. Arlington Bennet could see a religious revolution breaking over the horizon and wanted to be on the winning side. It seems that Gordon Bennett held similar ideas throughout the summer of 1842 when he attached his name to the roles of the Nauvoo Legion.
From June 17, 1842, Gordon Bennett published an article in his paper, the New York Herald. This article reports facts of the Mormon theocracy, but you’ll sense the tone as being from a friendly source who was looking forward to the overthrow of the United States Government to establish the new Mormon theocracy, Zion, the New Jerusalem.
Highly important from the Mormon Empire—Wonderful progress of Joe Smith, the Modern Mahomet.—Spread of the Mormon faith, and a new religious revolution at hand.
By the mails last evening we received a variety of letters and papers from Nauvoo, the capital of the new religious revolutionary empire, established by Joe Smith, and also from other towns in Illinois, exhibiting the extraordinary progress of this most extraordinary people, who call themselves the ‘Latter Day Saints.’
…All these letters and documents disclose a most extraordinary movement in human affairs. What they mean, we can hardly tell; but is it not time for some great religious revolution, as radical as Luther’s, to take place in the Christian world?
What follows is Gordon Bennett drawing similarities to Jo and Martin Luther who kicked off the Protestant reformation. He glorifies the religious revolutions across the world throughout history. You’ll see what I mean. If I remove anything from this article it completely loses the context so I’ve chosen to read it from top to bottom so as not to lose the central point of the article.
I just want to point out that the mentality captured in this article is absolutely terrifying to yours truly. When I see people pining for a religious revolution to build a theocracy, I see how that’s played out in history for those who speak out against religious oppression as a result of the theocracy. This mentality still lives in the minds of many Mormons today and we should spare no opportunity to disabuse these people of the dangers of theocracy. Just remember Gordon Bennett’s 1831 version of reporting on the Mormons contrasted with the rest of this article. It’s very apocalyptic. He constructs a narrative that the world has been shaped by religious revolutions and the time is nigh at hand for the next religious revolution caused by the Napoleon of the States, Joe Smith.
In the early ages of antiquity, before the dates of the monuments of Egypt, we have distinguished names handed down to us by tradition. Brama, Vishnu, Confucius, Zoroaster, Isis, Osiris, including Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, were the master-spirits of a great antiquity throughout the ancient world. IN later times, we have Moses and the Prophets, Peter and Paul, and the apostles of Christ—and even Mahomet, who acknowledged the truth of Christianity. Each of these movements was a religious revolution, but that which followed the time of Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, and the apostles, has developed the only true system of morals, of belief, of revelation, of prophecy, of man, of God, of eternity. When the Christian church was overwhelmed with the follies and superstitions of Rome, and the thousand quarrelling sects of monks and idlers, a fresh spirit arose in the world—a spark came down from Heaven—Luther lifted up his voice, and a religious revolution started at his word, and renovated Christianity. But a new age has come—a fresh infusion of faith is required—a strong impulse is rendered necessary.
May not this wonderful Mormon movement be the signal for a new religious revolution? Is not Joe Smith its master-spirit, and General Bennett its military spirit? The vast progress of the last century, in art and science, through steam and type, has changed the nature of man and society. Is it not necessary that a new religion and a new faith should come down from Heaven, to carry out the destiny of the race, under its present condition?
It is very evident that the Mormons exhibit a remarkable degree of tact, skill, shrewdness, energy, and enthusiasm. The particular features of their faith are nothing against their success. Do they believe their new Bible—their virgin revelation—their singular creed? If they do so with enthusiasm, and practise their shrewd precepts, the other sects will fall before them. This is certain—this is human nature. [Holy Shit dude…] In Illinois, they have already shown how to acquire power and influence, by holding the balance of power between both the great parties. They can already dictate to the State of Illinois, and if they pursue the same policy in other States, will they not soon dictate to Congress, and decide the Presidency? In all matters of public concernment, they act as one man, with one soul, one mind, and one purpose. Their religious and moral principles bind them together firmly. They may be, and have been abused and calumniated—partly true—partly false—but whether true or false, these attacks only increase their popularity and influence. Unlike all other Christian sects, they adopt, at once, all the modern improvements of society, in art or literature, and from their singular religious faith, give the highest enthusiasm to the movement at large. There is nothing odd, or singular, or absurd about them, that they will not cast away, if it interferes with their progress to power.
Verily, verily, we are truly in the latter days; and we should not be surprised to see that the Mormon religion is the real millennium already commenced. One thing is certain. The Mormons are so constituted, that,… they will swallow up all the other lukewarm Protestant sects; and the moral and religious world will be divided between the Pope and the Catholics on one side, and Joe Smith and the Mormons on the other. The oyster is opening, and will soon be equally divided.
This mentality is pure evil. The idea that a religious revolution is a good thing…. Not just a good thing, but an absolute necessity, to move the world forward, is disturbing, to say the least. I’ve tangled with people who have this mentality on social media with the #DezNat many times. My main question to them every time is where do apostates and gentiles live in this theoretical Deseret Nation? Where is their place in a theocracy? If history teaches us anything, it’s that non-believers don’t belong in theocracies. Believers in other religions have no place in theocracies. What happens to those non-believers, infidels, and apostates when they refuse to conform to the de jure religion of the theocracy? They die. Usually in horrific and torturous ways. Anybody advocating for a theocracy of any kind, or a religious revolution as Gordon Bennett was in 1842, they are advocating for genocide, even if they aren’t aware of it.
Time to pull the pin out of the University of Nauvoo. I said at the top that it would play into the 3 Bennetts so how does it factor into this chaotic milieu of shifting military leaders and jack-Mormons? First, a little background on the University of Nauvoo. It was established as one of the line items in the Nauvoo City Charter passed at the end of 1840. Susan Easton Black wrote a great article on it titled “The University of Nauvoo, 1841-45”, you’ll find a link to it hosted on BYU religious studies in the show notes.
Joseph said of the university component of the charter, “We hope to make this institution one of the great lights of the world, and by and through it, to diffuse that kind of knowledge which will be of practical utility, and for the public good, and also for private and individual happiness.”
Structure of the University
On February 3, 1841, the first meeting of the Nauvoo City Council was held in Joseph Smith’s office. At the meeting, the council voted to establish the “University of the City of Nauvoo.” According to council minutes, the university was to be a self-governing entity that would provide educational opportunities for adults and children in Nauvoo. The university was charged with all education in town—university, seminary or secondary, and common schools. Supervision of the three educational levels was given to a chancellor, registrar, and board of regents. Later, other administrative officers—trustees, wardens, directors and examiners—were added. Seventy-seven men served in an administrative function in the University of Nauvoo. In retrospect, the top-heavy administration, had too many leadership layers to successfully implement all administrative directives. Ideas generated at a low level of the vertical structure were slow to reach the top officials of the hierarchy.
The city council appointed Bennett as university chancellor and William Law as registrar. The council selected and appointed twenty-three men from its ranks to serve on the board of regents, among whom were Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, William Marks, Samuel H. Smith, Daniel H. Wells, and Newel K. Whitney. This multitier governing body was autocratic and operated in a strict line of authority. It also had uncontested power of perpetual succession.
On February 9, 1841, just six days after being appointed, members of the board of regents met at Joseph Smith’s office. There the board established laws and ordinances necessary for the welfare of the university, its officers, its faculty, and its students. The laws and ordinances were in compliance with the laws of the state of Illinois and the U.S. Constitution…
In August 1841, the first session of higher education began in Nauvoo. Classes were held in a loosely knit upper- and lower-university campus. On the upper campus, classroom instruction was given in private homes and in public structures such as the Concert Hall and the Nauvoo Temple. On the lower campus, private residences and the more public Masonic Hall, Seventies Hall, and Joseph Smith’s store were used as places of learning. Several adults participated in university classes, although a record of their attendance has not been preserved. The absence of records suggests that attendance was not a requirement for university enrollment…
Professors received a percentage of the taxes levied against property owners in Nauvoo. As for textbooks and other scholastic necessities, students bore the expense. Although the fees varied from fifty cents to ten dollars per course, few students purchased the requisite texts or other classroom necessities.
Matriculating students did not receive a university degree for successfully completing course work, because a curriculum leading toward graduation was never developed.
Interestingly, the University of Nauvoo was one of those ideas that was started but was never chased to completion. Much like the canal through the middle of town, the Nauvoo House, the Nauvoo Temple, the University of Nauvoo in 1842 was an accredited university by virtue of being written into the city constitution, but it didn’t have any graduates. Beyond that, the reagents had full control over the curricula and required books, 2 of which were books written by Gordon Bennett, but there was no structured system to advance students to graduation. This was a complete fly-by-night school system. As Susan Black said, most membership role books were not preserved since then, either that or they were never recorded in the first place because the term “organized” isn’t a trait that strikes me when it comes to anything in Nauvoo Mormonism.
Just because the University of Nauvoo didn’t have the system in place to actually graduate students, it didn’t stop the school from issuing state accredited degrees to anybody it saw fit, or anybody who did the Mormons a favor of some kind. Accordingly, our two new Bennetts, James Gordon and James Arlington, were awarded honorary degrees through the University of Nauvoo.
Another letter printed in Wreck-it Bennett’s expose, History of the Saints, is addressed to James Gordon Bennett and treats his newly acquired doctorate of law degree with some level of flippancy.
J.G. Bennett, LL. D.
I address you as Doctor, because I am assured that the University of this city has conferred on you the degree of LL. D.; and this is no small feather in your cap, when we consider the talent and learning possessed by the faculty of this chartered institution, which will, before long, be equal, I not superior, to any college in this country.
This is completely tongue-in-cheek. The University of Nauvoo was a joke to most people. There may have been some who thought it would eventually be a well-renowned university, but the University of Nauvoo was a nothing-school and people knew it. It had only been founded a year prior to Gordon Bennett being awarded his degree, it had no strict curricula, none of the teachers were nationally renowned in their field, classrooms were overcrowded, the vetting process for teachers was a meeting with the reagents who rubber stamped nearly anybody through who wanted to teach, and it hadn’t actually graduated anybody in the year and a half it was operating by late 1842. The University of Nauvoo was simply a joke. It may not have been totally viewed as such to Nauvoo Mormons then, but most of the gentile world outside Nauvoo likely held no illusions that it was anything other than a farce.
This is the 1840s though. When a person makes an appearance on TV today with letters after their name people usually don’t check if they actually have the degrees the letters indicate. Even less frequently checked is what university gave them the degree. When you question a person’s credentials you can just google them and the university to see if the paperwork checks out. Do you think that process was somehow easier in the 1840s?
So, the University of Nauvoo had a board of regents, professors, a University Chancellor, and William Law was registrar. As the organization continued to develop, trustees, wardens, directors, and examiners were added. According to Susan Black, by 1844, 77 “men served in an administrative function in the University of Nauvoo.” She notes after that, “In retrospect, the top-heavy administration, had too many leadership layers to successfully implement all administrative directives.”
Of course, of those 77 men, well over 90% were Mormon elites. Jo, Hyrum Sidekick Abiff Smith, Hingepin Sidney Rigdon, William Marks, Sam Smith, Newel Whitney, were all members of the board of regents, while Orson Pratt, Gustavus Hills, John Pack, Orson Spencer, and Sidney Rigdon were among the professors teachings mathematics, navigation, calculus, astronomy, chemistry, French, Hebrew, English, German, music, oratory and rhetoric, and, of course, Mormon history as it was being published in the Times & Seasons beginning in March 1842.
The Mormons had always favored education. They were striving to build a population of industrialized educated people, but education and degrees weren’t what they needed at the time. What I mean by that is they were living in an area with some farm land and no factories. They needed skilled laborers more than they needed educated folk. They were working on a 50-year plan to make Nauvoo a prominent manufacturing and shipping area on the Mississippi, but that would require so much infrastructure to get to the point where Nauvoo could utilize 2 or 3 generations of educated people. They were trying to skip the growing process that most major cities go through beginning with a small settlement, evolving into a farming or shipping town, then to industry and business with suburbs on the outskirts of the town. Nauvoo was attempting to jump right to the top of that growth ladder and do so by leveraging debt and political favors.
And therein lies the utility of the University of Nauvoo, and, for that matter, the Nauvoo Legion. Regardless of the reasons the University was started, what it became by spring 1842 was a state-accredited institution to give honorary degrees to people who treated the Mormons with favors. James Gordon Bennett and James Arlington Bennet are perfect examples of this. They were both men with high social status, Arlington as a renowned military commander and lawyer, while Gordon was a nationally-renowned reporter and owner of one of the largest weekly newspapers at the time. They both had friends in high places. Now, thanks to their friendliness to the Mormon elite, they both had honorary doctorate degrees.
These honorary doctorates weren’t confined only to these two high society folks. John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, also received an honorary doctorate in law about the same time that Joseph Smith sent him his first vision account to be published in that paper. That account is the canonized version in the Pearl of Great Price that most Mormons know today and it mostly comes from the so-called “Wentworth letter”. That’s the account Jo wrote and sent to John Wentworth and gave the guy an honorary doctorate for publishing the account in the Chicago Democrat.
In many ways, the University of Nauvoo was just an endless well of gifts to well-connected Jack-Mormons. The Nauvoo Legion was leveraged in similar ways. Gordon Bennett was granted position as Aide-de-Camp, while Arlington Bennet was granted that of Major-General and Inspector General. Here are a few other names that should ring bells to anybody who’s extensively studied Mormon history, all of which had some rank in the Nauvoo Legion:
Albert P. Rockwood, William and Wilson Law, Robert B. Thompson, Isaac Morley, Zenos Gurley, James Allred, John Butler, John Snider, Alpheus Cutler, Elias Higbee, Henry G. Sherwood, Vinson Knight, Shadrach Roundy, Hugh McFall, George W. Robinson, Daniel H. Wells, John Fullmer, Lucien Woodworth, Lyman Wight, Chauncy Higbee, Francis Higbee, Dimick Huntington, George Miller, Alanson Ripley, Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, Parley and Orson Pratt, Orson Hyde, John E. Page, Charles C. Rich, Alexander McRae, Amasa Lyman, Philo Dibble, the list goes on and on and on with the who’s who of Mormon elites.
All these men had positions within a state-sanctioned militia. They were all Chaplains, Quartermasters, Surgeons, Aides-de-camp, Majors, Sergeants, Inspector Generals, Adjutant Generals, and every other rank a militia of over 2,000 men required. The Nauvoo Legion was a force to be reckoned with on paper, but what did service in the Legion actually amount to? They performed drills under the direction of a few men with military training, but they had no Andrew Jackson or George Washington in their ranks, nobody who could be regarded as a war hero veteran with experience in military tactics and strategy. The drills amounted to them marching up and down main street in Nauvoo in uniform and occasionally running a sham scrimmage battle with dummy rounds. During Jo’s lifetime, the Nauvoo Legion never saw a battle or open warfare, they were just thousands of Mormons in military uniform marching around in parades because service was mandatory for anybody living in Nauvoo over the age of 18. After the parades it was common for most of the men to head to the nearest saloon and drink with all their friends in full battle regalia. The Nauvoo Legion was literally a couple thousand guys playing dress up a few times a year. As a reward for playing dress up, they got a military rank attached to their name, paid from taxes collected by the city, and they accomplished their only task, which was to make Joseph Smith look far more imposing than he really was.
The University was similar in that it really only existed to give fake honorary degrees to people who Jo needed a favor from. With these two institutions, when Gordon Bennett teamed up with the Mormons, he went from a respected lawyer and reporter, to a respected lawyer with a doctorate in law from an accredited university and Aid-de-Camp to the Nauvoo Legion. And, because he was friends with the Mormons and published articles they wanted, suddenly he had a few hundred new subscribers to the New York Herald. Gordon Bennett’s back was thoroughly scratched.
Arlington Bennett was similar. He was a man with major military aspirations of taking over the country, who went from being a washed-up War of 1812 Veteran as lieutenant in an artillery division who published a small paper, to being a Major-General and Inspector General of a large state-sanctioned militia with a doctorate in law from a state-accredited university. Arlington Bennet’s back was thoroughly scratched as well.
A University that doesn’t graduate anybody and a militia that doesn’t fight any battles, what are they good for? Status. Social status, and that’s it. We see all these political and military movement by Jo and the Nauvoo church and it leads me to wonder, what could actually happen if they were turned one specific direction by a zealot. Could the Nauvoo Legion actually catalyze the overthrow of the United States Government? Could the University of Nauvoo ever rise to the level of being a reputable institution?
I often get lost in alarmism within Mormon history. I see the political movements made by the leadership and imagine what they imagine, a world ruled by the Mormon hierarchy. I see Jo running for president and establishing his ruling Council of Fifty and understand the endgame behind doing so, and I can’t help but think what that world might look like.
When you do a podcast about a single topic for long enough, it gets to a point where most issues boil down to a few fundamental points that seem to underlie so many of the issues discussed. Mormonism’s influence in politics for its entire history is one of those bedrock issues. I see Jo running for president and see what he wanted to accomplish and can’t help but wonder how much those institutional aspirations still exist within the church today. The University of Nauvoo was a joke, 4 internationally-recognized universities bearing the name of Brigham Young are no joke and they similarly have granted honorary doctorates to people like Orrin Hatch. The Nauvoo Legion may not have ever fought in a battle during Jo’s lifetime, but the Nauvoo Legion under Brigham’s leadership exterminated thousands of Native Americans, massacring hundreds of them in single battles. The Nauvoo Legion may not exist in any form today, but a state full of sleeper cells with basements full of food storage and guns is a powerful wild card to hold in your back pocket. Joseph Smith was assassinated during his presidential campaign, but if not for a number of factors out of his control, Mitt Romney got dangerously close to being the first Mormon president and Mormons are woefully overrepresented in politics with respect to their actual slice of the American population.
As is always the case, history has an uncanny ability to forecast possible trends for the future. The history of Mormonism is not pretty. I can’t see how its future will be any different.
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