Ep 133 – BM Pt. 9 Moral or Physical Force
On this episode, we get into politics of Illinois in 1842. This year was a contentious race with the Mormons wielding so much power through their friends in high places. Rigdon runs for Illinois State Congress but loses. The Mormons promise their vote for the Democrat to replace Governor Carlin and Thomas Ford takes his seat as the new Governor of Illinois. What begins with letter exchanges and vicious accusation revealing conflict between Jo and Hingepin Sidney Rigdon ends in bygones being bygones and tests of loyalty. Politics will continue to play an increasing role in our historical analysis moving forward.
Biography of Lorenzo Snow by Eliza R. Snow
1842 gubernatorial election
Illinois State Senators
History of Illinois by Thomas Ford
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
September of 1842 was a long month for Joseph Smith and the Mormons. He’d escaped capture multiple times and the threat of the gallows hung over his head every day. The seasons are changing, nights are colder, the blazing summer midday heat is becoming more tolerable. As the temperature outside was cooling off, heat around the prophet was blazing. It was slowly becoming more of a priority to get him in state custody that he’d evaded for months by this point. However, Jo was well protected within the walls of his kingdom on the Mississippi.
Stress was overwhelming. Emma constantly worried whether or not her husband would be arrested and she was shouldering more of government and church responsibilities because her husband couldn’t be seen in public very often without increasing his risk for arrest. She was also taking care of Julia Smith (11), Joseph III (9) Frederick (6), and Alexander (4) while Jo was largely absent with other affairs. By early September, the stress began to take its toll on Emma and she fell ill. Jo records multiple times in his journal of staying at home all day to take care of Emma throughout September. However, Jo wasn’t the only one in the home to take care of Emma. Family friend and newly acquired of Jo’s wives, Eliza Roxy Snow, had just moved in with Emma and Jo on August 18.
Eliza followed a different trajectory when compared to many of Emma’s sister-wives. Tracking most of the women that were taken as polygamist wives of Jo, most of them resulted from Jo living with them or them living with the Smiths. With Fanny Alger in Kirtland, Lucinda Morgan Harris in Missouri, and many others, they lived in the same household as the Smiths and then Jo eventually proposed to them, or had one of his wives propose to them. Eliza Snow, however, went the other way. She was a dear friend of Emma and Emma’s personal secretary in the Relief Society. She was very close friends with Jo as well and her brother, Lorenzo, was a high-ranking Mormon elite since the mid-1830s in Kirtland. Eliza married Jo in July of 42 and moved in with them to the Nauvoo homestead house a month later.
Eliza’s influence in Jo’s writings becomes very apparent around this time. 2 episodes ago when we read through some of Jo’s musings, the poetic nature and writing style reads as Eliza’s words. Another epistle written on September 1st and read to the congregation in the grove near the temple 3 days later bears Jo’s words with Eliza’s iconic handwriting and poetic flourishes. Eliza had made herself very useful to Emma and Jo in many ways, her position and power was steadily growing in the Nauvoo church. By this time in 1842, Jo was beginning to really confide in Eliza and Lorenzo. Eliza recorded some apprehensions of the prophet in her biography of Lorenzo published in Utah in 1887 when Jo taught Lorenzo of the doctrine while Eliza was his wife.
[T]he Prophet Joseph unbosomed his heart, and described the trying mental ordeal he experienced in overcoming the repugnance of his feelings, the natural result of the force of education and social custom, relative to the introduction of plural marriage. He knew the voice of God—he knew the commandment of the Almighty to him was to go forward—to set the example, and establish Celestial plural marriage. He knew that he had not only his own prejudices and prepossessions to combat and to overcome, but those of the whole Christian world stared him in the face; but God, who is above all, had given the commandment, and He must be obeyed. Yet the Prophet hesitated and deferred from time to time, until an angel of God stood by him with a drawn sword, and told him that, unless he moved forward and established plural marriage, his Priesthood would be taken from him and he should be destroyed! This testimony he not only bore to my brother, but also to others—a testimony that cannot be gainsayed.
A lot can be read into that passage and it was also recorded more than 4 decades after the events included had transpired. I’ll simply let it stand on its own merits, you the listener can decide what it means coming from Eliza Snow in the late 1880s.
In spite of hunkering down and taking care of an ailing wife, Jo was still doing his best to attend to church and city affairs while in seclusion. He received a letter from James Arlington Bennett, the newly appointed Major-General and inspector general of the Nauvoo Legion who took Wreck-it Bennett’s place in the city and militia. Arlington had enjoyed meetings with some Mormon elites and reportedly to Jo about the meetings with a very friendly demeanor.
Your polite and friendly note was handed to me a few days since by Dr W[illard] Richards,434 who I must say is a very fine specimen of the Mormon people if they are all like him, and indeed I think him a very excellent representative of yourself, as I find he is your most devoted admirer and true disciple. He spent two days with me, and from his arguments and extremely mild and gentlemanly demeaner almost made me a Mormon.
You have another representative here, (who spent a day with me some time since) of the name of [Lucian] Foster, who is I think president of the church in New York and most unquestionably a most excellent and good man, [p. 190]
and would be so if he were Turk, Jew or Saint. He is Ab initio a good man and to you a most true, enthusiastic and devoted disciple. He has no guile. Dr [John] Bernhisel of New York too, is a most excellent man and true christian. These are men with whom I could associate forever, even if I never joined their church or acknowledged their faith.
Arlington Bennett continues with telling Jo of a very interesting meeting he’d just had with John C. Wreck-it Bennett which had to do with the expose that Wreck-it Bennett was compiling. This letter reveals some interesting details among the 3 Bennetts and Jo, all revolving around this forthcoming expose from Wreck-it Bennett.
General John C. Bennett called on me last friday and spent just two hours when he left as he said for the Eastern States. Being aware that Elder Richards was here he had very little to say. He however proposed to me to aid him, wether serious or not, in arranging materials for publishing “an exposition of Mormon Secrets and practices”— which I peremptorily refused on two grounds. 1st. That I had nothing to do with any quarrel that might arise between you and him, as I could not be a judge of the merits or demerits of the matter and 2ndly that inasmuch as he himself had proposed to you and your council to confer on me honors which I never sought, yet which I highly prize,435 it would be the height of ingratitude as well as inconsistent with every principle of common honesty and propriety, for me to join him in an effort to lower my own honors by attempting to lower in public estimation the people from whom those honors emanated. He gave [James Gordon] Bennett of the Herald his commission which I opposed from the very first, and you now see by that paper the sport which that man has made of it.436 I tell you there is no dependance on the friendship of that Editor when his interest is at issue. I am assured that J. G. B. [James Gordon Bennett] is going to publish conjointly with J. C. B. [John C. Bennett]on half profit, the exposition against you and your people, which is going to contain a great number of scandalous cuts and plates. But dont be concerned, you will receive no injury whatever from any thing that any man or set of men may say against you. The whole of this muss is only extending your fame and will increase your numbers ten fold. You have nothing to expect from that part of community who are bigotedly attached to the other churches. They have always believed, and still believe every thing said to your disadvantage; and what General J. C. Bennett is now saying in the papers is nothing more than what was common report before,… You therefore have lost not a whit of ground by it. I must in charity forbear commenting on the course of Genl Bennett in this matter— considering all things, delicacy forbids such a course. There are some things however, I feel very sorely and could wish they had not transpired He and the Herald will make money out of the Book and then the matter will end, as you will find that the Herald will puff it to the skies.438 The books which I sent you, you will retain in your hands for the present. My respects to your amiable lady and all friends and believe me as ever, tho, not a Mormon, your sincere friend—
It’s hard to figure out exactly what was going through their minds that would explain the content in this letter. The most reasonable explanation I can muster is that they all understood that the Wreck-it Bennett expose was going to come out and there was absolutely nothing they could do to stop it. The only thing they could do is just take it into stride and deal with the aftermath. It’s like the modern church buying ads in the pamphlets for the Book of Mormon broadway musical. You can’t stop the message, the best you can do is use a negative message in a positive way. That’s how this strikes me. Wreck-it Bennett’s expose stood in a place to destroy the church but if the Mormon PR machine could process it and weather the storm, Jo would come out famous or infamous on the other side. Regardless of fame or infamy, people would be speaking his name which can only help get the word out there even more. If Gordon Bennet could make some money along the way by providing publicity to the expose and the Mormon response to the expose in his paper, the New York Herald, that would scratch everybody’s back and feed more propaganda to the hungry masses of Americans eager to hear the next gossip coming from the Mormon empire.
Jo’s reply is interesting. He begins by talking up the brothers that Arlington Bennett had mentioned, White-out Willard Richards, Lucian Foster, John Bernhisel and so on. After that he talks about the publicity resulting from Wreck-it Bennett and makes multiple emotional appeals to Arlington Bennett to sympathize with the Mormon cause and persecution they’d suffered.
The next in consideration is John C. Bennett. I was his friend. I am yet his friend; as I feel myself bound to be a friend to all the sons of Adam; whether they are just or unjust, they have a degree of my compassion & sympathy. If he is my enemy it is his own fault; and the responsibility rests upon his own head; and instead of arraigning445 his character before you, suffice it to say, that his own conduct wherever he goes, will be sufficient to recommend him to an enlightened public, whether for a bad man, or a good one. Therefore whosoever will associate themselves with him, may be assured that I will not persecute them; but I do not wish their association: And what I have said may suffice on that subject, so far as his character is concern’d.
Now in relation to his book that he may write, I will venture a prophecy; that whosoever has any hand in the matter, will find themselves in a poor fix, in relation to the money matters. And as to my having any fears of the influence that he may have against me; or any other man or set of men may have, is the most foreign from my heart; for I never knew what it was, as yet, to fear the face of clay, or the influence of man. My fear, Sir, is before God. I fear to offend him, and strive to keep his commandments. I am really glad that you did not join John C. in relation to his book, from the assurances which I have, that it will prove a curse to all those who touch it.
Quite a prophecy. Whoever has a hand in the matter of Wreck-it Bennett’s expose, which supporters of the show over at patreon.com/nakedmormonism are getting on audiobook, will find themselves in a poor fix. Jo seems unfazed by the impending scandal resulting from Bennett’s expose, he almost treats it flippantly, yet with a kind heart in a pious and holy walk, only fearing the god he serves.
The problem with any of these letter correspondences is that we don’t know the mind and feelings of the people as they were writing them, or in Jo’s case, dictating them to one of his wives. Eliza was his scribe for most of this letter and the majority of his journal for this early September period. We can read journals and letters all day but we can never know what was actually on their mind which caused them to write something the way it was written. This letter is a wonderful example of that. Jo was replying to a previous letter he received from a relatively well-connected guy who he wanted to move to Nauvoo to help fill the void left by Wreck-it Bennett. This guy, Arlington Bennett, made for a powerful ally should he decide to officially join the Mormons, even though he’d already been given his military ranks in the Nauvoo Legion. All of these factors mean that Jo had to tailor his letter to a specific audience and not use it as an opportunity to smear his enemies, as Arlington Bennett was already largely on Jo’s side in this whole debacle.
However, those constraints didn’t keep Jo from talking about the plight of the Mormons and making heavy-handed emotional appeals. Of course, because Eliza was his scribe, the rest of the letter bears her distinct poetic and dramatic flourishes.
I feel to tender you my most hearty and sincere thanks, for every expression of kindness, you have tendered towards me or my brethren; and would beg the privilege of obtruding myself a little while upon your patience, in offering a short relation of my circumstances. I am at this time persecuted the worst of any man on <the> earth; as well as this people, here in this place; and all our sacred rights are trampled under the feet of the mob.
I am now hunted as an hart, by the mob, under the pretence or shadow of law, to cover their abominable deeds. An unhallowed demand has been made from the Governor of Missouri, on oath of Governor [Lilburn W.] Boggs; that I made an attempt to assassinate him on the night of the sixth of May; when on that day, I was attending the officer Drill, and answered to my name when the roll was call’d: and on the seventh, it is well known by the thousands that assembled here in Nauvoo, that I was at my post in reviewing the Nauvoo Legion in the presence of twelve thousand people: And the Governor of the State of Illinois, notwithstanding his being knowing to all these facts, yet he immediately granted a Writ; and by an unhallowed usurpation, has taken away our chartered rights, and denied the right of Habeas Corpus; and has now about thirty of the447 blood-thirsty kind of men448 in this place, in search for me; threatening death and destruction, and extermination upon all the Mormons; and searching my house almost continually from day to day; menacing and threat’ning, and intimidating an innocent wife and children, & insulting them in a most diabolical manner; threatening their lives &c. if I am not to be found, with a gang of Missourians with them; saying they will have me dead or alive; and if alive, they will carry me to Missouri in chains, and when there, they will kill me at all hazards. And all this, is backed up, and urged on, by the Governor of this State, with all the rage of a demon; putting at defiance, the Constitution of this State—our chartered rights—and the Constitution of the United States: For not as yet, have they done one thing that was in accordance to them…
I now appeal to you Sir, inasmuch as you have subscribed yourself our friend; will you lift your voice and your arm, with indignation against such unhallowed oppression? I must say, Sir that my bosom swells with unutterable anguish, when I contemplate the scenes of horror that we have passed through in the State of Missouri; and then look, and behold and see the storm and cloud [p. 194]
gathering ten times blacker; ready to burst upon the heads of this innocent people! Would to God that I were able to throw off the yoke. Shall we bow down and be slaves? Are there no friends of humanity, in a nation that boasts itself so much? Will not the nation rise up and defend us? If they will not defend us, will they not grant to lend a voice of indignation, against such unhallowed oppression? Must the tens of thousands bow down to slavery and degradation? Let the pride of the nation arise and wrench these shackles from the feet of their fellow citizens, and their quiet, and peaceable, and innocent and loyal subjects. But I must forbear, for I cannot express my feelings. The Legion would all willingly die in the defence of their rights; but what would this accomplish? I have kept down their indignation and kept a quiet submission on all hands; and am determined to do so at all hazards.
It continues on like that for about 2 more pages. I cut a bit but included the last paragraph because I thought it was an interesting illustration of the public mind at the time. When Jo first went into hiding after he and Pistol-Packin’ Porter Rockwell were released from the custody of the constable, martial law was briefly declared in Nauvoo. While still dancing the knife’s edge between friend and foe, Wreck-it Bennett, as Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion at the time, called out a standing force to guard the streets as well as a night watch to alert the Mormon leadership of any disturbance or militia force coming to arrest the prophet. Tensions were high. According to Jo in this letter, the Nauvoo Legion was still rearing to go at the first sign of trouble. Apparently, Jo alone was able to keep them subdued for long enough that they wouldn’t kill the Missouri or Illinois officials who were staying in Nauvoo to arrest Jo. More than anything this illustrates that the Nauvoo Legion’s fealty to the prophet far outweighed any fealty they may have had for the Governor or the federal government. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody though, they were Jo’s bodyguards first and foremost.
One final point in the letter I wanted to address provides an interesting window into internal conflict within Nauvoo. Apparently, some letters sent by Arlington Bennett failed to reach Jo and some other funny business was going on. Here’s the passage:
Another calamity has befallen us. Our Post Office in this place, is exceedingly corrupt. It is with great difficulty that we can get our letters to, or from our friends.455 Our papers that we send to our subscribers, are embezzled and burned, or wasted. We get no money from our subscribers, and very little information from abroad; and what little we do get, we get by private means, in consequence of these things: and I am sorry to say, that this robbing of the Post Office of money, was carried on by John C. Bennett; and since he left here, it is carried on by the means of his confederates.
This passage in the letter reveals something we’ve yet to discuss on the podcast, and that is the relationship between Jo and Hingepin Sidney Rigdon. Rigdon has been largely out of the way of our timeline for quite a while, because he had largely disconnected himself from leadership roles within the Nauvoo church.
Look, Liberty Jail was a tough situation for Rigdon. He toiled for the three months he was locked up, and his mental state was already fragile before his incarceration. Once he got to Commerce after he was released, Hingepin Rigdon helped the Mormons settle, toured land to purchase, and advised Jo on what the best course of action would be.
Once Commerce became Nauvoo, Jo had aligned with more chaotic evil characters that Rigdon likely saw as quite unsavory. People who’d come out of the woodwork blatantly there to only capitalize on the plight of the Mormons, Rigdon probably took notice and began to actively distance himself from the leadership. Beyond that, people who’d been with the church since the Kirtland era, like Bloody Brigham and Heber the Creeper Kimball, had changed since the exodus from Missouri. Unsavory characters were beginning to heavily influence Mormon theology and increasingly monopolizing Jo’s time, all the while, Hingepin Sidney Rigdon was tumbling further into manic depressive episodes and disconnecting himself from meetings where his presence would have been expected only a few years prior.
What is interesting to see throughout the History of the Church Dan Vogel edition is all of the meeting minutes restored to their original document. The History of the Church has been changed and edited so many times throughout the actual history of Mormonism, and there are dozens of examples throughout Nauvoo history where Rigdon gave a speech at a gathering but that detail was simply removed from the official History of the Church. So, yes, Hingepin Rigdon did make efforts to disconnect himself from the Nauvoo leadership and the church at large, but he wasn’t completely gone or out of the loop. Brigham Young simply made a concerted effort to minimize Rigdon’s role in Nauvoo after the death of Joseph Smith, and all the edited meeting minutes exhibit that very clearly.
What Rigdon was able to do, however, was land the government contract for the Nauvoo post office. How he acquired the contract is not very simple, but it reveals plenty of disagreements between Jo and Rigdon, along with Rigdon’s son-in-law, George W. Robinson.
When Nauvoo was just commerce, Isaac Galland, the guy who sold the Mormons the 20,000 acres in the half-breed tract in Iowa that was largely fraudulent, along with a couple hundred acres in Nauvoo as well; he was the postmaster of Commerce. When Commerce became Nauvoo, George W. Robinson was able to secure the contract for the new post office. Another frustration between Jo and George W. Robinson was Jo seizing the ferry on the Mississippi that Robinson was running. Jo must have thought that he could run the company better or make some money from it and simply took. He just took it from George W. Robinson, his friend’s son-in-law.
Here’s a little from Richard Van Wagoner’s Sidney Rigdon, a Portrait of Religious Excess on page 277 about this whole ordeal and reveals a little of the conflict that arose from Jo being the resource black hole that he was.
Eventually a powerful banker in Friendship, New York, [George W.] Robinson was a sagacious businessman. Much of his income in early Nauvoo came from lucrative ferry rights between Commerce and Mormon settlements across the Mississippi in Iowa. During a 15 March 1840 Nauvoo High Council meeting, convened within days after Joseph Smith’s return from Washington, the ferry’s operation was removed from Robinson’s control and placed under Smith’s. Rigdon, possibly made aware of the prophet’s impending seizure while the two were in Washington, took immediate action to secure another source of income for his son-in-law. Senator Young wrote Elias Higbee on 9 April that he had ‘received from Mr. Rigdon the Pettition and papers in relation to a change of postmaster at Commerce, with an affidavit rom Doctor Galland [the former postmaster]. Two weeks later Robert Johnstone, Second Assistant Postmaster General, informed Senator Young that Robinson had ben appointed. He served in this position until 24 February 1841, when Rigdon himself was appointed to the post, an action that would cause considerable friction between him and [Joseph] Smith.
Rigdon’s illness, and historians have debated what exactly it was, hampered his abilities to be any force of power in Nauvoo. Rigdon spent most of his time in Nauvoo Mormonism confined to his home, refusing any engagements where he would have derived some vitality before. Later in 1840, Rigdon was challenged to a debate by his brother, John Rigdon, who was a Campbellite minister. A situation where Rigdon in a previous life would have jumped at the opportunity to grand stand in a public debate with crowds listening to his overly-complicated theology juxtaposed with the faith system he used to be a preacher of a mere 18 years prior.
This was Rigdon’s reply to the debate challenge, revealing what really complicated matters with his level of influence in Nauvoo Mormonism. Once again, from Van Wagoner’s biography of Rigdon on page 279:
My health continues very bad, and it is only at intervals that I am able to write… it is known through the country, generally, that I am unable to get five miles from my house, let alone discuss a subject of importance with any person. And it is also a fact that my attendent Physician, has forbid my using any exertions, either mental or physical, except very moderate exercise, as it will endanger my life.
That’s one of dozens of writings from Hingepin Rigdon’s own hand which reveals his fragile state in Nauvoo. What exactly ailed him, nobody knows for sure. Undoubtedly, it was a combination of physical and mental, likely exacerbated by alcohol consumption. Manic Depression and anxiety from his long and colorful past possibly played a role. His symptoms may have been purely psychosomatic, maybe he did have some kind of physical illness which brought down his mood and caused the depression and anxiety, it’s really tough to know for sure. Needless to say, Rigdon’s writings from this time are rather dark.
Jo and Hingepin Rigdon’s relationship had been vacillating for the Nauvoo years. Rigdon had been given a line in the monumental D&C 124, the first canonized revelation coming out of Nauvoo which established the temple, Nauvoo house, and a number of other pieces of key Nauvoo infrastructure, Jo promised Rigdon health if he would remain by Jo’s side.
If my servant Sidney will serve me, and be counselor unto my servant Joseph, let him arise and come up, and stand in the office of his calling, and humble himself before me.
And if he will offer unto me an acceptable offering, and acknowledgements, and remain with my people, behold, I, the Lord your god, will heal him... and he shall lift up his voice again on the mountains, and be a spokesman before my face.
All of that had transpired before the Bennett Meltdown. When Bennett left the church and began compiling information to assassinate Jo’s character, Nancy Rigdon, and the entire Rigdon family were dragged into the fray.
Whether or not Hingepin Rigdon and Wreck-it Bennett were actually aligned is a matter of considerable dispute. However, that simply doesn’t matter. What truly matters is that Jo THOUGHT that Rigdon and Bennett were in league with each other, and George W. Robinson, as Rigdon’s son-in-law, and a voice of opposition to the prophet’s power, were aligned. The notion that his closest friend from the Kirtland and Missouri years was now in league with Wreck-it Bennett who was trying to bring the prophet down, drove Jo to assail Rigdon’s character in retaliation. As a result, Rigdon’s reclusiveness became even more overwhelming, to the point that in summer and autumn of 1842 he seldom even left his house, as his duties being postmaster-general of Nauvoo kept him occupied and disconnected from the drama consuming other Nauvoo elites.
Another point that fueled this conflict between Rigdon and Jo was simple pettiness on Jo’s part. At a time when Rigdon was overwhelmed by a depressive episode, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith approached his brother, Jo, and told him of something that was likely an issue in Rigdon’s mind.
“Br. Joseph, you have ordained me and Br. Don Carlons and others, to be Prophet’s Seers, and Revelators, but you have not ordained Br. Sidney, and I have thought that he feels that you have slighted him, I want you to go… and ordain him to the same office.”
Van Wagoner continues:
Shortly afterwards the prophet and Nauvoo Stake president William Marks performed the ordinance. IN its next issue the local newspaper contained the brief mention: ‘We have to announce that Sidney Rigdon has been ordained a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.’
Jo had ordained his brothers as prophets, seers, and revelators, yet throughout the history of Mormonism up to this point, Rigdon had held higher leadership roles than all of them, yet he HADN’T been ordained to the trifecta office as they had. This must have cause irreparable harm between the two, especially when it was done as an afterthought only following Sidekick-Abiff Smith petitioning his younger brother to do the ordinance.
The entire issue of polygamy always grinded against Rigdon’s personality. He made a number of statements and private writings against the practice he was obviously privy to. This was a statement Hingepin Rigdon wrote concerning polygamy around the same time that Jo had propositioned Nancy Rigdon. The statement concerns Nancy Hyde, a wife of Jo that he apparently shared with White-out Willard Richards. Hingepin is very derisive of the practice as it ran counter to his ultimate understandings of the nuclear family he knew society to be constructed around.
If R[ichards] should take a notion to H[yde]’s wife in his absence, all that is necessary to be done is to be sealed. No harm done, no adultery committed; only taking a little advantage of rights of priesthood. After R[ichards] has gone the round of dissipation with H[yde]’s wife, she is afterwards turned over to S[mith] and thus the poor silly woman becomes the actual dupe to two designing men, under the sanctimonious garb of rights of the royal priesthood.
That was an 1845 letter but it was clear that Rigdon knew was going on when it was happening, especially with the name of Rigdon being cast into the fray unwillingly with Nancy.
With all that context in mind, Jo was completely convinced of Rigdon and his son in law, George Robinson, and Wreck-it Bennett colluding. Jo also became jealous of Rigdon’s position as postmaster general.
Postmaster general was steady money coming into the town from an outside source that would never dry up, regardless of how bad the larger Nauvoo economy looked. From what is transpiring here in late summer and early fall of 1842 reveals that Jo had concluded that Rigdon was a problem. What that problem was, it would be hard to succinctly summarize, but Rigdon and Jo’s relationship was definitely on the rocks.
Wickliffe Rigdon, Hingepin’s son and original biographer, wrote of how he perceived the interaction, even though he was not even a teenager yet at the time.
“a bad feeling exist[ed] between Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon they did not often meet although they lived within a few rods of each other they did not seem to be on Verry friendly terms.”
It could be the case that the post office was one thing in town which Jo didn’t control, which probably frustrated him. Undoubtedly, Jo proposing to 19-year-old Nancy Rigdon, Hingepin’s eldest single daughter, must have driven a wedge into their relationship. Sidney and Phoebe Rigdon also just had their twelfth child, Ephraim Robinson Marks Rigdon. They were busy, keeping the mails in town running, a full-time job, keeping their kids alive and well, and trying to stay away from the constant drama that seemed to be digging its teeth deeper into Nauvoo religion and politics every day. Jo dragged them into the drama by proposing to Nancy, and Bennett made Nancy one of the focuses of his expose letters coming out of the Sangamo Journal.
There was a bit of bad blood between Rigdon and Jo by this time. So, when Jo said in that letter to Arlington Bennett that “Our Post Office in this place, is exceedingly corrupt. It is with great difficulty that we can get our letters to, or from our friends. Our papers that we send to our subscribers, are embezzled and burned, or wasted.” He was alluding to the fact that Rigdon and Wreck-it Bennett were conspiring, at least in his mind, and that Rigdon was using his position as postmaster to screen letters to and from Jo without Jo’s knowledge or consent. There’s no evidence this ever occurred, but Jo’s accusations that Rigdon had corrupted the post office was enough for Jo to go on in the belief that Rigdon was conspiring against him. It’s truly a tangled mess and that’s before we even discuss the next point in Rigdon’s career.
Another point which has completely escaped our examination thus far which may have caused contention between Jo and Rigdon, Hingepin Rigdon ran for Illinois State Congressman for the 1842 election cycle. In June of 1842, the Wasp, Crazy Willey Smith’s paper, published an article announcing Rigdon’s candidacy for Congressman. Rigdon’s opponent for the race was an infamous name in Mormon history, Jacob Cunningham Davis.
Jacob C. Davis was more than just a non-Mormon representative running against Rigdon. Davis lived in Warsaw, Illinois, the headquarters of the anti-Mormon party started by Thomas C. Sharp, editor of the Warsaw Signal. Should Jacob C. Davis win the ticket, the Mormons stood to lose significant power in Illinois Congress, as Davis was a primary foe of the Mormons. Beyond that, Jacob C. Davis was one of the five men tried for the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in 1844, but was acquitted with the rest.
The Mormons were playing a long game of political favors, getting Hingepin Rigdon into the lower house of representatives would have moved forward their mission. However, he lost the election and Jacob C. Davis took the Congressional seat from the Mormons. This put a powerful anti-Mormon in Congress who could oppose the other politicians who’d been coopted for years to favor the Mormon cause.
Regardless of Rigdon’s position running for office in 1842, the broader election was hotly contested with the Mormon influence up for grabs. It’s understandable that any tension between Rigdon and Jo wasn’t made better by Rigdon losing the election, but it gets deeper than that.
For their entire time in Nauvoo, the Mormons were a swing voting bloc. Whoever could gain their favor would inevitably do well against their political opponent. Illinois was a Whig state. From 1838-41, only 3 elections didn’t have whigs taking more than 60% of the vote. This is understandable as the Whig party was largely one founded on the ideas of industrializing the world and improving commerce for large companies, while the Democrat party was still in its early stages of platforming since Jackson had created it only a decade and a half prior. The Whig party, however, was even younger than the Democratic being founded in 1834 directly to oppose the tyrannical rule of Andrew Jackson before his presidency was ended in 1837. Martin Van Buren was the next president, elected on the Democratic ticket, took 50.9% of the popular vote, that’s 170 electoral votes, while the Whig, William Henry Harrison took a mere 73 electoral votes.
Van Buren’s presidency was fraught with disillusionment, largely due to the economic downturn resulting from the panic of 1837, in the first year of his presidency. This gave whoever the next Whig nominee a shoe-in to the election, which was the case in 1841 when William Henry Harrison won as a war hero claiming to be the guy who shot Tecumseh. His vice president, John Tyler, took over after Harrison died after one month in office.
John Tyler began the death of the Whig party just as much as the issue of slavery vs. abolition divided it. He ran as vice president on the Whig ticket, but he looked much more like a wealthy Democrat to many people given his silver-platter upbringing on a plantation in Virginia. The Whig party, from that time forward, continued to increasingly lose power in politics, which eventually led to its ultimate and official demise in 1860 shortly after the formation of the Republican party.
The Mormons couldn’t be nailed down for Whig or Democrat. However, they’d curried favor with some powerful democrats like John Wentworth of the Chicago Democrat, and James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald. The Whig presence in Illinois was powerful, but it was on the decline. To any political adept trying to divine the tea leaves, they might have seen Democrat as the safer party with more staying power. Thomas Carlin was elected as Democratic governor over a largely Whig state. The only Whig Governor of Illinois was Carlin’s predecessor, Joseph Duncan, who’d left the Democrat party during the execution of the Indian Removal Act and voting to recharter the Bank of the United States, which was one of Jackson’s pet annoyances he worked to dismantle. Other than Joseph Duncan, Illinois was governed by Democrat governors, and Thomas Carlin, a Democrat, had treated the Mormons with some level of favors throughout their settlement period following the exodus from Missouri.
Carlin had paved the way for the next Democrat Governor with the Mormons. Jo had said that Carlin wouldn’t have their vote, but he declared in the paper that anybody who would be a “good friend” of the Mormons would have their vote. Thomas Ford was the next Democratic nominee and Carlin retired for 2 years before running for Illinois Congress in 1844, an election he lost. Thomas Ford, however, in the 1842 election, secured the Mormon voting bloc and ended up with 46,452 votes, or 53.52%, while the Whig, Joseph Duncan, pulled 45.4% of the votes with 39,429. The two independents account for the remaining 1.04%. Altogether, the Democrat party pulled out a major win in the state of Illinois 1842 election. A number of factors had led to the Whig party losing pull, mostly their economic platform and the internal disunity in the party concerning abolition of slavery and how much the union should expand into unsettled territory west of the Mississippi. Democrats capitalized on the lack of Whig votes by completely controlling the state’s government.
Democrat Thomas Ford would now be the Governor the Mormons would be working closest with. As political tensions continued to rise throughout the remainder of 1842 and all the way to Joseph and Hyrum’s deaths in 1844, Ford would be forced to dance a sharpening knife edge between placating the Mormons and attempting to limit their political power, while also keeping them safe from the anti-Mormons who were steadily growing in size and force. But that relationship goes both ways. Ford would also be responsible to his non-Mormon constituents to show that he wasn’t controlled by a single religious despotic regime, but beholden to the entirety of the people he represented. This balancing act ensured Ford’s time as governor of Illinois was to be a controversial one. What makes this even more of an issue is that Thomas Ford wasn’t the Democratic party pick for the 1842 election, that was Adam Snyder. However, Adam Snyder died in May of 1842 during his presidential campaign. Thomas Ford, as an attorney, learned he had become the de facto party nominee after a mundane hearing he’d taken part in. This was fortuitous for Ford as he’d long held a family dispute between his family and the family of his opponent, Joseph Duncan. Jo had already declared in May that the Mormons would vote for Adam Snyder. When Ford stepped into the vacuum left by Snyder, he picked up all those Mormon votes.
How would Thomas Ford strike the balance between the Mormons and the Gentiles? How would he keep the two groups from killing each other? It’ll be interesting to watch Thomas Ford and his relationship with the Mormons play out in the coming years throughout our historical timeline. Another problem Ford had to constantly battle against, the Illinois state economy. Illinois had severely suffered during the Panic of 1837.
When Ford took office in early 1843, the state was millions in debt. They’d begun the Illinois and Michigan Canal project in 1836. This canal linked the great lakes to the Mississippi river, a major economic development the state was in desperate need of in order to expand market reach beyond what could be carried in caravans over land. Much like the Erie canal opened up the great lakes and all the major cities on the lakes banks to the greater New York area, this Illinois and Michigan Canal would unlock all those wealthy eastern markets to farmers and manufacturers in the state of Illinois. But, as stated, the canal project broke ground in 1836, then the panic of 1837 caused a nationwide depression that threw the brakes on the project. The state was $15mn in debt to this project alone, that’s just shy of half a billion dollars in 2017 money. Once the project was completed, the increased commerce and exports could pay it off, but when Ford took office in 1842, the project was only a resource vacuum. In Democrat party fashion, Ford did some political maneuvering and raised taxes to funnel enough resources into the project. It wouldn’t be completed until a year after his term was up and the debt wouldn’t be paid off for another 3 decades after that, but without Ford’s sage fiscal decisions, Illinois never would have experienced the boom it did in the 1850s that made it a major political and commercial powerhouse for the rest of American history.
Thomas Ford was a smart guy. His History of Illinois makes remarkable observations of the political and social sphere of Illinois throughout the first half of the 19th century. His observations about the Mormons are particularly poignant. Here’s a few passages from his History of Illinois, circa 1854, which are remarkably well-put concerning the politics of the Mormons in Illinois. You’ll find a link to it on archive.org, this is beginning on page 262:
In the State of Missouri, the Mormons had always supported the democratic party. They had been driven out by a democratic governor of a democratic State; and when they appealed to Mr. Van Buren, the democratic President of the Untied States, for relief against the Missourians, he refused to recommend it, for want of constitutional power in the United States to coerce a sovereign State in the execution of its domestic polity. This soured and embittered the Mormons against the democrats. Mr. [Henry] Clay, as a member of the United States Senate, and John T. Stuart, a member of the House of Representatives in Congress, from Illinois, both whigs, undertook their cause, and introduced and countenanced their memorials against Missouri; so that, when the Mormons came to this State, they attached themselves to the whig party. In August, 1840, they voted unanimously for the whig candidates for the Senate and Assembly. In the November following, they voted for the whig candidate for President; and in August, 1841, they voted for John J. Stuart, the whig candidate for Congress in their District.
At the legislature of 1840-41, it became a matter of great interest, with both parties, to conciliate these people. They were already numerous, and were fast increasing by emigration from all parts. It was evident that they were to possess much power in elections. They had already signified their intention of joining neither party, further than they could be supported by that party, but to vote for such persons as had done or were willing to do them most service. And the leaders of both parties believed that the Mormons would soon hold the balance of power, and exerted themselves on both sides, by professions, and kindness and devotion to their interest, to win their support…
In a very short time after the two parties had their candidates fairly in the field, Joe Smith published a proclamation to his followers in the Nauvoo papers, declaring Judge Douglass to be a master spirit, and exhorting them to vote for Mr. Snyder for governor. The whigs had considerable hope of the Mormon support until the appearance of this proclamation. The Mormons had voted for the whig candidate for Congress in August, 1841. But this proclamation left no doubt as to what they would do in the coming contest. It was plain that the whigs could expect their support no longer, and that the whig party in the legislature had swallowed the odious [Nauvoo city] charters without prospect of reward.
The Mormons, however, were becoming unpopular, nay odious, to the great body of the people. As I have already said, their common council had passed some extraordinary ordinances calculated to set the State government at defiance. The Legion had been furnished with three pieces of cannon and about two hundred and fifty stand of small arms; which popular rumor increased to the number of thirty pieces of cannon and five or six thousand stand of muskets. The Mormons were rapidly increasing by emigration. The great office of Lieutenant General had been created for the commander of the Legion, of higher rank, as was said, than any office in the militia, and higher than any office in the regular army. A vast number of reports were circulated all over the country, to the prejudice of the Mormons. They were charged with numerous thefts and robberies, and rogueries of all sorts; and it was believed by vast numbers of people, that they entertained the treasonable design, when they got strong enough, of overturning the government, driving out the old population, and taking possession of the country, as the children of Israel did in the land of Canaan.
What follows those passages is important. It reveals why papers with the word “Mormon” were flying off the shelf. It shows why national recognition had been turned to the Napoleon of the Americas as the Mormons represented an interesting microcosm of so many pieces of American and human culture writ large. What Thomas Ford is saying is that the Mormons became influencers of politics from the inside, but their intimidating presence had its own effect on politics just by their mere existence. The Mormons, as much as they were holding a couple of wild cards in their political hand, were being played as their own political card by politicians who had something to gain by leveraging the Mormons. Whether it was the Democrats in 1842 paying favors to the Mormons within the narrative of the plight of religious refugees, or it was Whigs using the Mormons as an example of how a single people united in a single ideal can leverage politics to infringe on people’s collective sovereignty. Depending on where a politician or a regular voter found themselves in the political landscape, the Mormons were being used as political fodder. Ford continues from page 269
The whigs, seeing that they had been out-generaled by the democrats in securing the Mormon vote, became seriously alarmed, and sought to repair their disaster by raising a kind of crusade against that people. The whig newspapers teemed with accounts of the wonders and enormities of Nauvoo, and of the awful wickedness of a party which would consent to receive the support of such miscreants.
The Mormons were good business for a lot of people. They were a political trading card for politicians, they turned every newspaper into hotcakes, they were exciting and controversial and people across the country knew about them or had at least heard the name “Mormon”. Internally, the Mormons were forced to lobby politicians to get their way. However, their ‘way’ happened to be contrary to a number of laws and proscriptions within the federal constitution. Joseph Smith stood atop a criminal empire with insane amounts of power. The fact that Mormonism was used as a political wild card shouldn’t minimize the very real power held by Jo and the Mormon elites.
America in the 1840s was in a rare state of peace. How could it be maintained? I mean, I can only say it was peaceful if we ignore the constant atrocities committed against the Native Americans throughout the entire 19th century, so ‘state of peace’ is kind of a weird phrase to use, but I mean there wasn’t any major calamity or foreign power trying to take over America as had been the case in the early 1810s and would be the case a mere 20 years after this. But how much of that peace is just a shared illusion? The truth of the matter is that the Mormons were raising the collective temperature of American religion and politics. They were in the process of testing the system and how peaceful it could remain when a criminal empire raged in its midst.
What could anybody do? Jo was constantly being shuffled around various safehavens in Nauvoo and actively evading arrest. His crimes were conspiracy but RICO laws wouldn’t be enacted for well over another century. People were very infrequently prosecuted for adultery, even when there was ample evidence for it as was the case of Jo. Could the government make a case for fraud? Once they open up that can of worms, they’d eventually be required to prosecute nearly any religious leader with a sizeable following and unique scripture. Where does that end?
What Nauvoo Mormonism exhibits to history is that the system can bend and bend until something breaks. But, there aren’t really any legal checks and balances to stop a person like Joseph Smith rising to prominence. Maybe that’s the problem, nothing in law can stop a religious revolution until it’s far too late.
To illustrate my point, I’ll let Governor Thomas Ford take us out. He seemed to understand these same trends and the lack of systemic checks to stop a Joseph Smith from becoming the religious revolutionary he aspired to become. Ford recognized that the rule of law only works when everybody plays by the rules, but when somebody comes along and breaks all the rules, something more than just politics is required. This quote, written 7 years before the civil war, is timeless and I think it speaks a powerful lesson to us today.
The organization of men into political parties under the control of leaders as a means of government, necessarily destroys individuality of character and freedom of opinion. Government implies restraint, compulsion of either the body or mind, or both. The latest improvement to effect this restraint and compulsion is to use moral means, intellectual means operating on the mind instead of the old mode of using force, such as standing armies, fire, sword and the gibbet, to control the mere bodies of men. It is therefore a very common thing for men of all parties to make very great sacrifices of opinion, so as to bring themselves into conformity with the bulk of their party. And yet there is nothing more common than for the race of newspaper statesmen to denounce all such of the opposite party as yield their own opinions to the opinions of the majority, as truckling and servile. They may possibly be right in this. But undoubtedly such submission is often necessary to the existence of majorities, entertaining the same opinion. A little further experience may develop the fact, that when this means of securing majorities shall fail, the government will fall into anarchy.
Either moral or physical force must be used for purposes of government. When a people are so gross that moral power cannot operate on them, physical force must be resorted to. Also, when the officers of government lack talents and moral power, physical force may thereby be made necessary; so that it may be said, that a people may stand in need of being governed by absolute violence, just in proportion to their want of a proper civilization; and sometimes also just in proportion to the want of moral power in the government.
Well said, Governor. Well said…
That’s it for the main segment, but stick around because I have a proposition for you. Last week I talked briefly about a friend and colleague, Jake Frost, or Brother Jake, as many of you know him from his awesome YouTube videos and Infants on Thrones podcast. Jake suffered a major cardiac event that has rendered him unconscious in intensive care in the hospital. A gofundme was started to help the Frost family get through this and the impending years of medical bills that will surely follow.
We happen to live in a country where medical care can be exorbitantly costly on individuals. You have great insurance? That’s awesome, not everybody does, not everybody even has health insurance. Some hard numbers here for you, a 2011 study found that 26 % of all bankruptcies are due to out-of-pocket medical costs, a 2013 study found that number is closer to 57%, further concluding that 1 in 4 of those were due to the insurance companies simply denying the claim, which they can do for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Out of pocket is what people have to pay even though they have health insurance, so there’s no getting away from those medical costs. A 2015 Kaiser study found that medical bills cause 1 million adults to declare bankruptcy every year. A U.S. Census survey found that 52 million Americans struggle to pay for medical bills every year. We don’t currently live in a political sphere where these gross oversights and injustices will be rectified for the foreseeable future, so what we’re left with is supporting each other.
If Brother Jake were on good terms with the church and actively attending while paying tithing, the Frost family could get on the church’s welfare program and be supported for years as Jake recovers and the family pays all the coming medical bills. However, he’s an Ex-Mormon and the church’s support network is not really an option. Ex-Mormons only have each other to rely on when something like this happens. We don’t have a multi-billion-dollar entity providing a safety net during tough times, we just have online communities and crowdfunding.
Here’s the latest available update on Brother Jake from his brother:
Thanks everyone for reaching out and offering support regarding Jake.
This has been such a hard time for us as a family, but the outpouring of
love, concern, faith, prayers has been palpable. Here are a few
1. Jake's wife Erica is a total rock. So proud of her strength in the face of the terrible circumstances. I'm proud to call her my sister (in-law). Jake would not be alive if not for her quick thinking and efforts.
2. Jake is getting very great care at a top notch facility(Duke).
3. My mom and multiple siblings are either there with them or en route. Also, Erica's parents just happened to be serving a church service mission 20 minutes away and have been there from the first hour. That is not a coincidence, God is watching over them.
4. Jake and Erica have a great support system there; a lot of really great friends. One in particular is a doctor at the same hospital and has been a godsend it providing updates with technical data to close friends and family.
5. Jake is a fighter, he has always had a stubborn streak and that will serve him well.
6. When Jake first went in on Wed morning, he was on the maximum level of life support. He has since been able to show slow but steady signs of improvement, but is still on a reduced level of life support.
7. Doctors have a working theory but are still not sure what caused him to go into cardiac arrest. No blockages were found. His heart is still not pumping on it's own be but has shown signs of improvement.
8. Doctors are trying to assess the impact on the brain and other organs. He is still not conscious but has shown increasing signs of movement; opening eyes, squeezing hand, etc.
9. At this point, it is taking one step at a time to show increased movement, etc. along with various tests being performed by the teams overseeing his treatment. Modern medicine is incredible.
It is so humbling to have great friends. Thank you for your prayers.
Gofundme.com/gojakego. It was started Dec 2, 2018 and funded in 8 days. The goal was $20k and it’s sitting at just under $23k at the time of recording this. Anybody who’s had significant medical bills in America knows that $20k won’t even cover a couple days of hospital stays, let alone all the doctor’s bills, rehabilitation, specialist evaluations, and everything else that comes along with recovery from something like this. A standard outpatient knee replacements are like $45k a piece, most of it covered by insurance, but the out-of-pocket costs for something like Jake is going through right now may very well threaten the Frost family livelihood for years to come. I can’t sit idly by and watch that happen for such a great person and his family. The gofundme goal may have been met, but with so much unknown and Jake still in intensive care and life support, there’s no telling how far that $20k will take them. Any of you who know what the American health care system looks like know that every penny of that $20k has long since been spoken for. I make like 7 bux an hour so I’ve been racking my brain for how to help Brother Jake with my unique set of skills, and I’ve come up with a way to help and it involves all of you and a little bit of historical fiction.
If you donate to Jake’s gofundme, I want to write you into a treasure-digging scene. To make this work, I need proof that you donated. Once you donate any amount to gofundme.com/gojakego, forward the email receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll get a shout out on the show. But hey, why don’t we go ahead and make this really fun? If you donate $50 or more to Brother Jake’s gofundme, I’ll write you into a treasure-digging scene and read it on air in a coming episode. But, let’s sweeten the pot even more. I’m teaming up with a guy named Mark Elwood. Mark is writing a graphic novel on Joseph Smith’s treasure digging and is an amazing illustrator. If you donate $100 or more to gofundme.com/gojakego, not only do you get written in to a magic treasure-digging scene, but Mark will draw your likeness in his iconic 19th-century occult magic picturebook style art and you’ll get a high-resolution pdf sent to your inbox. You can see his artwork at theglasslooker.com. Just be sure to include a picture of yourself or whatever personal effect you’d like drawn into the treasure-digging scene in your email. We’ll be doing this fundraising drive for Brother Jake until the end of the year.
The Frost family may not have home and visiting teachers bringing over casserole right now, but we can show them that there’s a community out here that looks out for their own. So, show your appreciation for Brother Jake and help the family get through the hardships they’re currently enduring. Just donate to gofundme.com/gojakego, which you’ll find in the show notes, and forward your receipt to email@example.com to get a shout-out, get written in to a treasure-digging ceremony, and even get drawn into a treasure dig by Mark Elwood. Help us help Brother Jake, this is a really good cause for really good people that really need our help right now.
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