Ep 139 – A City of Glass Houses
On this episode, Jo was safe for a little while. It was time for the 1843 elections which returned predictable results. Jo elevates the Nauvoo House to the importance of the Nauvoo Temple, but then derides people for aggrandizing themselves. A market center is planned and Jo is given final decision-making power as Mayor. Then Jo goes to the Temple construction site and makes a speech that reveals some interesting details of his character. After that we get a great update on Brother Jake, and then take a turn into somber territory to say goodbye to a dear friend, Deborah “Heretic Woman” Mc Taggart. Last 15 mins contain explicit language.
Have I Done Any Good?
Will Lamartine Thompson
Deborah “Heretic Woman” Mc Taggart
AOA Beyond the Trailer Park
Holy Crap Vlogcast
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Does evil exist? Now there’s a fun google hole to get lost down for a few hours, but it’s an interesting question. Undoubtedly, evil actions exist because altruistic actions exist, it’s a spectrum. But is there such a thing as a purely altruistic act? You’ve heard the phrase there’s no such thing as a selfless act, but if we ignore the self-serving motivations of the actor, can a specific action be judged as altruistic, and conversely, as evil? There’s a parity here, a symbiosis between what we would consider good and evil propositions, but is it just the substance of fantasy? Good and evil characters exist in two-dimensions in every action flick or bedside fable since we have written storytelling, but is the real world so simplistic?
It’s not hard for a conversation like this to immediately shift to the transcendent. If there exists good and evil, then there must be some grand actor or force in the universe leading us to do good or evil. If we can adjudge an action to be good or evil, there must be some kind of higher standard by which to judge it, and where else to posit causation on such a standard than God and the devil?
I don’t much care for the problem of evil in conversations about whether or not god exists. That subject has been debated by people far more intelligent than yours truly for centuries. What I’m talking about stops before we get to the transcendent level. If evil actions exist, does evil exist? Are evil actions merely a manifestation of something we all live with every day, evil? Let’s substitute something that’s a bit less absolute. If greedy actions exist, then does greed exist? If a person is gluttonous then does gluttony exist? On the other side of those spectra, if a person commits a thrifty or conservative action, do the foundational concepts of thrift or conservation exist?
Can we be satisfied with the conclusion that it’s all relative? Many aren’t. I’m not. Why is this relevant? Especially for our purposes, why is the conversation about good and evil relevant? The fiefdom of Mormonism definitely pushes the boundaries of what we consider good and evil. It usually depends on where you land on Joseph Smith as a moral actor as the basis for judging the good and evil of Mormonism or the Mormon prophet. Apologists making the defense that Joseph Smith was a pious prophet are quick to engage in moral relativism. Sure, coercing teenage brides into marriage with promises of eternal happiness for them and their family is immoral, but not when Joseph Smith did it. A person elevating himself above the laws of a secular society to build a theocracy is terrible and should be reigned in, but not when it’s Joseph Smith laying the foundation for Zion. Lying to people is inherently wrong, but lying for the Lord is not only okay, but necessary from time to time.
It’s hard to view Joseph Smith in his entirety and claim he was all good or all evil, but people have been doing just that since he was alive. Almost exclusively, the dividing factor has been whether or not the writer considered him a prophet of god or a fraud.
Making character assessments of this guy can be a challenge. It’s always important to examine the context in which he did each specific action to determine how he aligns on this seemingly arbitrary good and evil spectrum. It can be an even greater challenge to determine his motivations for any individual action. I think the sole motivation of self-preservation holds a lot of explanatory power. Self-preservation, however, has so many dimensions. Preservation from what? From being arrested? Certainly. From having his reputation tarnished in any way? That usually played a role. To preserve his position atop his criminal empire in Nauvoo? That motivated him to do all sorts of things we would consider immoral or evil. To preserve the secrecy of his clandestine activities? Most of his actions were conducted in the shadows, making it a never-ending endeavor for historians to determine what really happened.
The long and short of it is, Joseph Smith did what he felt like he had to do in order to be able to keep doing what he wanted to do, and sanctify his legacy for generations to come.
Self-preservation. That alone can explain a lot of Joseph Smith’s actions throughout his entire life, and especially in Nauvoo.
So, why the philosophy lesson to begin today’s show. Well, we’ll get to it at the end of the main segment, just hang in there with me.
He’d momentarily beaten the legal system. He was released on the writ of habeas corpus, but now he had evidence that Missouri was currently formulating an airtight extradition warrant that would be much harder to win against on a legal basis.
With Jo back in town it was time to hold annual city elections, which was met with some understandable resistance, which we’ll get to momentarily. Before the elections could be held, Jo decided it was a good idea to expand the Nauvoo government even further. The thing is, they’d built Nauvoo Government patterned after similar city ordinances and whatnot, but other city charters and ordinances didn’t map perfectly to the needs and desires of Nauvoo. That’s why for the first few years of Nauvoo government, everything is just a patchwork based on the original charter. Nauvoo government was quick to adapt to specific circumstances because all that was required to pass an ordinance was it being proposed, passed by the Nauvoo aristocracy, and a notice being published in the Times and Season, and it could go into effect immediately after being passed.
With that in mind, here are the newest provisions passed in the first city council meeting of 1843, which convened on January 30.
“Laws and ordinances of the city of Nauvoo.
Of city officers,
There shall be appointed by the city council of the city of Nauvoo, biennially,… an engineer, market master, weigher and sealer of weights and measures, a fire warden in each ward of the city, a sexton, and a police officer, to act under the direction of the mayor, as captain of the watch and a supervisor of streets and alleys…”
And, of course, Jo had become mayor back in May of 1842, so this first provision simply provided more offices within the city government that answered solely to Jo.
“Of the preservation of Good Order.
No person shall keep a billiard table, faro bank, or any other instrument of gambling, where, or on, or with which, money, liquor, or other articles, shall in any manner be played for.”
This is interesting as a provision passed back in 1841 declared Nauvoo a dry city and outlawed the sale of hard liquor for anything other than medicinal or farming purposes. Now, Nauvoo was to be a city with absolutely no vice whatsoever, even removing gambling houses. But, it’s also noteworthy that the officers set to enforce this provision answered, once again, to Joseph Smith and to Joseph Smith alone. So while these were technically illegal in Nauvoo carrying a $25 fine and another $25 for every 48 hours of operation after notice was given to stop the practice, it was up to Jo as mayor to impose those fines. It’s easy to see how if Jo’s back was getting scratched by the owner of said gambling establishment, he might be a bit more lax in enforcing this regulation. But, if one gambling house was scratching Jo’s back and another wasn’t, the provisions now existed in Nauvoo law for Jo to fine the latter gambling house out of existence. Laws are only as good as their enforcing agents. The other 3 section of that provision, on face, seem to be good ideas. However, when we understand what power it granted to Jo, they definitely take on a more insidious interpretation.
“Any person… who shall make, aid, countenance or assist in making any improper noise, riot, disturbance, or diversion in the streets, or elsewhere; and all persons who shall collect in bodies or crowds for unlawful purposes, to the annoyance or disturbance of citizens or travelers, shall for each offence forfeit and pay a penalty not exceeding fifty dollars in the discretion of the court convicting.”
“No person shall use any abusive, indecent, or threatening words to another individual…”
“If any person shall injure another by quarreling, fighting, assaulting, beating, or otherwise, the person so offending shall on conviction pay a penalty… and moreover may be imprisoned…”
These are pretty boiler-plate provisional sections to keep the peace, I recognize and grant that. You could travel to nearly any American city in this day or even today and find similar provisions. Once again, it comes down to the way this was enforced and what type of gathering was or was not lawful, or what was considered abusive, indecent, or threatening words. As we’ll see very soon, Jo could say just about anything to anybody and never suffer repercussions, but if anybody spoke ill of the one true prophet of god, you could rest assured it would be considered abusive, indecent, or threatening words and they could be fined up to $100 and imprisoned for six months. It’s not so much what laws are on the books, as it’s about the way they’re wielded and enforced.
The next two provisions regulate streets and alleys and try to cut down on nuisances such as trash in the street and rotting animal carcasses smelling too much near public gathering places. The fourth provision established some guidelines on the prevention of fires, and the sixth provision regulates the public markets. However the fifth provision is something incredibly noteworthy.
“Of the city watch.
Be it ordained… that there be established in said city a night watch or patrol, to be composed of a captain of the police,…
It shall be the duty of the captain of the police to keep the general superintendence of the watch, direct the manner of keeping watch,…
The said watch shall be intrusted the peace and safety of the city during the night, and they shall arrest all persons who may be found in said city at unusual hours and under suspicious circumstances, and bring such person or persons before the captain of police, who may in his discretion detain such person or persons until such time as the mayor or some alderman can examine into the nature of the charges against him or them; they shall also stop all riotous or improper noises during the night, and may arrest offenders as aforesaid, and exercise such a discretion in preserving the peace and quiet of the city as may be proper and salutary;…”
Not 3 months before this, when Jo was in hiding evading arrest by the Adams county sheriff, he’d declared martial law in Nauvoo and established the Nauvoo Legion to constantly be on guard. Now, the pressure had simmered down a little since he was released on his writ of habeas corpus, but this provision ensured peace and tranquility in the city. Now, if any person happened to be wandering the streets of Nauvoo after curfew without good reason, the police could arrest the person and Jo or one of his cronies in the position of alderman, would be able to interrogate the prisoner directly to find out what their business was.
If you couldn’t deduce this by now from everything we’ve covered in the last 20, or so, episodes, Nauvoo was not a great place to live if you weren’t on the prophet’s good side. Jo had spent so much time expanding his power that if somebody was on his naughty list, he could make their lives living hell and do so completely within the confines of the law of Nauvoo. He was absolute ruler. And what could somebody do to challenge him? Nothing. That’s the entire point. Nobody could challenge his ever-expanding power, or even begin to try and rein it in. What solution did somebody have to stop this expansion of theocratic power? The list of solutions was quickly shortening to the point that vigilante justice would soon be the only option. But even then, how could that be done? He had an army of 3,000 devoted believers who revered him as the sole ruling authority, you’d somehow have to get him in the night without raising the suspicion of the Legion or giving them enough time to assemble, but Jo just established a night watch and you could be certain that there would be at least one police officer outside his house guarding him at all times of the night. You could try to get him in the daytime, but you’d be seen coming a mile off and would never be able to get past his first line of bodyguards.
How else could vigilante justice be served? Get one of his trusted elites to turn on him or infiltrate his ranks in hopes of getting him while his guard was down. But Jo was smart and knew he had thousands of enemies. With only a few exceptions, he was very smart about who he allowed into his tightest circle of elites. Anybody trying to remove the prophet from his throne had no realistic opening to affect a plan.
And thus, we see the power structures of demagogues. This is what Jo always wanted and what he had always planned on doing. This is exactly what he tried to do in Missouri before the state militia drove him and the Mormons out of their state.
Another piece that makes this even more interesting is how Jo was able to finance all of this. The Nauvoo charter passed in late 1840 had established a number of organizations which allowed people to purchase stock. Section 124 of the modern Doctrine & Covenants even requires dome people by name to buy a certain amount of stock. But before they were even established by decree of the Nauvoo charter Jo had taken on well over a hundred thousand dollars in personal debt in land purchase agreements. By signing all these agreements Jo essentially held most of Nauvoo in his name, then he’d turn around and sell it to the Mormons at an increased value to try and repay the debts. But the Mormons were largely destitute so it regularly amounted to Jo simply handing over land deeds to his trusted elites who would then go on to speculate on the land that had already been inflated from speculation long before it came into Jo’s possession. When loans and speculation drive up the price of everyday commodities when gold and silver is nowhere to be found and not coming into the city from any outside sources, how are goods to be traded? Rag money. Bogus and counterfeit have been a constant in Mormonism since the Kirtland Safety Society anti banking company and likely long before, but counterfeit money and rag notes were beginning to run completely wild in Nauvoo by early 1843.
This was a problem for many reasons, chief of which was that the government wouldn’t take rag money as payment for taxes. For that matter, most businesses outside of Nauvoo wouldn’t take Nauvoo rag money for any goods whatsoever. The wild speculation surrounding land and various public works projects caused the value of this rag money to fluctuate wildly and even eventually led to different degrees of counterfeit money having different values. In a time before Andrew Jackson’s Specie Circular of 1836, these problems would have had less impact, but now they were becoming a real problem to Jo and the other Mormon elites.
To compound complications even further, many of the Mormon elites had been relieved from their personal debts by being granted bankruptcy status at the end of 1842. However, the state refused to grant such status to Jo, so his personal monetary concerns were a bit heavier than most of his acolytes.
With all of this context in mind, the annual Nauvoo elections were in order. Votes were, of course, unanimous. But, a man named Benjamin L. Clapp saw the strings being pulled and raised a worthy complaint, which was heard by the mayor, Joseph Smith.
HoC Vogel edition 5:257
I rode on to the hill to enquire about the caucus which was there held the previous evening, Davidson Hibbard presiding; and br. Benjamin L. Clapp, chief speaker, reporting that Joseph and Hyrum had attempted to take away the rights of the citizens, referring to the slim election of the last city council. Esqu. Higbee, Dr. Foster &c. H[iram] Kimball being concerned gave those present a blowing up. I corrected the error and returned home.
Yes, because Jo was mayor, and all his aldermen and counsellors were elites, any opposition raised by anybody, regardless of if it had any merit, could easily be quashed. Voicing dissent in Nauvoo earned nothing but your name’s addition to Jo’s naughty list. And, we know what happens to the people at the top of his naughty list…. Food for the Mississippi catfishes.
But all was not peaceful in the kingdom on the Mississippi. Dissent raged among many trusted elites and they were dealt with appropriately. Concerns of the fiscal responsibilities of Nauvoo and the cloud of debt hanging over the city eventually overtook the subject of discourse in many places Jo found himself in public gatherings.
February 11th marked election day. Unfortunately, historians can’t reconstruct what took place in this meeting beyond what the History of the Church documents. However, you can feel the tension in Jo’s speech. Most of the concerns must have involved properly paying members of the Nauvoo government. You’ll see what I mean, but everything in this passage has an undertone of a crisis situation where there doesn’t seem to be any money in the city and it’s way behind on paying its open tabs. This is how the exchange is recorded in the HoC:
At ten o’clock attended the city council. Seven new councilors sworn in. I prophesied to James Sloan, city recorder, that it would be better for him ten years hence not to say anything more about fees; and addressed the new council, urging the necessity of their acting upon the principle of liberality, and of relieving the city from all unnecessary expenses and burdens, and not attempt to improve the city, but enact such ordinances as would promote peace and good order, and the people would improve the city. Capitalists would come in from all quarters and build mills, factories and machinery of all kinds; new buildings would arise on every hand, and Nauvoo would become a great city. I prophesied that if the council would be liberal in their proceedings they would become rich, and spoke against the principle of pay for every little service rendered, and especially of committees having extra pay for their services; reproved the judges of the late election for not holding the polls open after six o’clock, when there were many wishing to vote. Judges were Geo[rge] W. Harris, Daniel Spencer, and [Benjamin] Warrington.
Bob the builder Robert D. Foster then took a stand against the ticket as it stood, but to no effect.
Dr. Robert D. Foster took an active part in electioneering for the opposition ticket, and obstructing the passage to the polls.
The council elected James Sloan, city recorder; henry G. Sherwood, marshal; William Clayton, treasurer; approved W.W. Phelps as mayor’s clerk; Dimick B. Huntington, William D. Huntington, Lewis Robison and John D. Parker, constables; Alanson Ripley, surveyor; James Allred, supervisor of streets; Dimick B. Huntington, coroner; James Sloan, notary public; Theodore Turley, weigher and sealer; Henry G. Sherwood, market master; W.W. Phelps, fire warden; Sidney Rigdon, city attorney; and Samuel Bennett, market inspector for the city.
A board of health was established, to consist of Joseph Smith, William Law, William Marks and Samuel Bennett.
Sure, Robert D. Foster could voice opposition, but to what end? It had absolutely no effect and Joseph Smith was elected and all his cronies were given their same positions in the city government they’d held before, or their power was expanded by appointing them to new boards and offices in addition to their old positions. This was no election, it was a dictatorship masquerading as a democracy. It was exactly what Jo had envisioned all along, his theodemocracy with himself at the top. The skeleton of Talos was near completion.
The next passage, in my opinion, is rather remarkable. Since the new provisions were passed and the new offices of market management were created with the recent bill passages just a week and a half prior, the next item in the meeting had to do with establishing a market center in Nauvoo. Why I find this remarkable is that the Mormons had been settling this area for nearly 5 years, and had never yet established a market center before this business item came up in city council. Everything, and I mean just about everything in Nauvoo was done in the wrong order. The Mormons moved to the area in hopes of making Nauvoo an industrial paradise, but it was nothing but a swamp before they arrived. Usually major metropolitan and manufacturing cities evolve out of commercial farming areas or shipping ports, but Jo wanted to skip all those growing pains and jump straight to a major industrial and manufacturing center in just a few years. He wanted to build the Nauvoo Temple, but the city didn’t have the infrastructure to support such a major resource vacuum built solely for religious purposes. The only reason the Kirtland Temple was successfully built was because they built it in a wealthy commercial hub on a highway connecting one of the great lakes with larger southern Ohio farming cities. Kirtland was wealthy and was home to a lot of wealthy Mormon converts, but Nauvoo was completely destitute and could thus never afford a temple project similar to that of Kirtland. Similarly, he built up a city militia before they had any hostile encounters to warrant forming said militia. He formed them even before he had arms to provide for them, and many of the Mormons had their guns taken away and never returned during their exodus from Missouri 5 years prior. He established the Nauvoo House Association, attempting to make a nice hotel in Nauvoo while thousands of Mormons were still homeless. He tried to dig a canal through the middle of town to harness the energy from the Mississippi in order to power all the workshops and factories they had grand dreams for, but the factories were never built and the canal never got beyond the planning phase. Everything Jo did he did backwards from how it was supposed to be done, or at least the logical way of doing it.
After nearly 5 years of settlement, it was time to put in place a central market complex in Nauvoo where goods could be more easily traded about instead of just small businesses dotting the city with no rhyme or reason. But, because Jo knows better than everybody else, it wasn’t resolved without a bit of contention. He is the prophet after all, what reason did they have to question him.
The council resolved that a market be established in the city. It was proposed to build two markets, but I told the council that if we began too large, we should do nothing; we had better build a small one at once, to be holden by the corporation, and if that would support itself, we could go on to build another on a larger scale. That the council should hold an influence over the prices of markets, so that the poor should not be oppressed, and that the mechanic should not oppress the farmer; that the upper part of the town had no right to rival those on the river. Here on the bank of the river was where we first pitched our tents; here was where the first sickness and deaths occurred; here has been the greatest suffering in the city; we have been the making of the upper part of the town, we have located the Temple on the hill and they ought to be satisfied. We began here first, and let the market go out from this part of the city; let the upper part of the town be marketed by wagons until they can build a market, and let the first market be established on the rising ground on Main street, about a quarter of a mile north of the river.
Voted that a market house be built, that the committee on public improvements be required to select a piece of ground for Market and the rise of ground on Main St. [be] reported. Voted that it be left discretionary with the Mayor how large the market shall be.
This is another example of Jo doing things backwards. What is revealed in this portion of the meeting is a little bit of class warfare among Nauvoo residents. It’s pretty well understood today that when a temple is announced property values nearby increase because all the good Mormons in the surrounding area want to live by the temple. This phenomenon obviously encourages speculation. That started in Joseph Smith’s day and the Nauvoo Temple was his crowning jewel of land speculation and playing favorites. Nauvoo was divided into two main sections. There was the hill in town where the temple was being built, which is about a mile inland from the banks of the Mississippi river. Then there were the flats below the temple hill where the majority of Nauvoo residents lived. The area on the top of the hill was where the wealthiest of Mormons lived and the majority of heavy infrastructure was devoted. Most brick homes were built up there and built there earliest. The flats is where more people were, but they had less money among them than those living up on the hill.
The argument here seemed to be to what extent Nauvoo could build a market that would bring in the most money with the least overhead, that’s business 101. So, would a large market or a couple of smaller markets be more cost effective, and if they only went with one small market to begin with, where was the best location. They had a city of about 8,000 people, that required a lot of goods and services, which seems to make reasonable sense that a large market where the most people could access it would probably stimulate the quickest growth. However, if you’re going with small markets in hopes of expanding, wouldn’t it make the most sense to put a small market near the most wealthy residents to bring in that immediate income with less overhead, then expand to the lower residents once enough money has come in to justify an expansion? Sure, that’s favoring the richer class in Nauvoo, but I fail to see how any other American city has ever done it differently.
But, because Jo was king of Nauvoo, the last line in there is important, “voted that it be left discretionary with the Mayor how large the market shall be.” At the end of the argument, it all came down to Jo getting his way. That shouldn’t surprise anybody.
All of his actions here can be summarized by greed for power combined with gross incompetence. That and the need to be the guy in the room at all times with all the answers squashing any dissenting voices. Those all played into what we next discuss, which was a public speech Jo gave, impromptu, in response to some temple construction workers who were unhappy with not getting paid anything and not having enough provisions to feed their families as winter waned towards a close in mid-February.
Here we go, and I’ll comment as we go through it. It began like a normal day, Jo attended the mayor’s court at the smoke house and then headed to the temple grounds to oversee construction there. Lucian Woodworth, somebody who’s only made very infrequent appearances in our timeline thus far, but he was the chief architect for the Nauvoo House and helped with the Nauvoo Temple considerable. Some of the workers raised the ire of Lucian Woodworth when they were complaining about not getting paid. Lucian made a speech to hopefully resolve their concerns. After he was finished, Joseph Smith decided to chime in with his two cents, and it is simply fascinating. Here’s the exchange from vol 5:275:
At 11, I went to the Temple and found a large assembly, and br. Haws preaching about the Nauvoo House, after which Mr. Lucian Woodworth, the architect of the house, spoke: [I will] say something vindicating my own character; [I] commenced under peculiar circumstances, have made all contracts for Nauvoo House, [and] was employed to build from the commencement. Some brick on hand, most ready to start brick work. One says, “can you give me something to eat?” “I’ll try.” Another says, “I will have my pay.” “Go to hell and get it,” said I. “I have set me down to a dry Johncake and cold water and the men who have worked with me. No man shall go into my poverty stricken foundation to build himself up for I began it and will finish it. Not that public spirit here as in other cities; don’t deny revelation. If the Temple and Nauvoo House are not finished you must run away.”
[Woodworth] continued the subject and said “When I have had a pound of meat or a quart of meal, I have divided with the workmen. ([‘]Pretty good doctrine for Paganism,[‘] said I. At this time Mr. Woodworth was not baptized, and called himself the Pagan Prophet.)
Did Jo forget that he instituted communalism in Kirtland and Missouri that looks an awful lot like this?
We have had about 300 men on the job, and some of the best men in the world; those that have not complained I want to continue with me, and those that hate Mormonism and everything else that’s good, I want them to get their pay, and run away as quick as possible.” When Mr. Woodworth had done speaking, I addressed the multitude in substance as follows:--
Well, the Pagan Prophet has preached us a pretty good sermon this morning, and I don’t know as I can better it much, but I feel disposed to break off the yoke of oppression and say what I have a mind to. If the Pagans and the Pagan Prophet feel more for our prosperity than we do for ourselves, it is curious; I am almost converted to his doctrine. He has prophesied that if these buildings go down, it will curse the place. I verily know it is true: let us build the Temple. There may be some speculations about the Nauvoo Hosue, say some. Some say, because we live on the hill, we must build up this part on the hill. Does that coat fit you, Dr. Foster? (“Pretty well.”) Put it on, then. This is the way people swell, like the ox or toad in the fable; they’ll come down under the hill among the little folks, and say, “Br[other]. Joseph, how I love you; can I do anything for you[?]” and then go away secretly and get up opposition, and sing out our names to strangers and scoundrels with an evil influence. I want all men to feel for me, when I have shook the bush and borne the burden in the heat of the day; and if they do not, I speak in authority, in the name of the Lord God, they shall be damned.
Some say, that the people on the flats are aggrandizing themselves by the Nauvoo House; but who laid the foundation of the Temple? Br. Joseph, in the name of the Lord, not for his aggrandizement, but for the good of the whole of the saints…
Yes, Jo wanted to build the temple for purely altruistic reasons, it had nothing to do with self-aggrandizement. In other news, fish don’t actually like water, and the sky doesn’t like being blue, it’s just begrudgingly blue to make us petty little humans happy.
Our speculators say, [“]Poor folks on the flat are down, and keep them down[“]: how the Nauvoo House cheats this man and that man, say the speculators. Those who report such things as facts ought to hide their heads in a hollow pumpkin and never take them out again.
The first principle brought into consideration is aggrandizement. Some think it unlawful, but it is lawful with any man while he has a disposition to aggrandize all around him. It is a false principle for a man to aggrandize himself at the expense of another. Everything that God does is to aggrandize his kingdom. And how does he lay the foundation? “Build a Temple to my great name, and call the attention of the great, the rich, and the noble.” But where shall we lay our heads? In an old log cabin.
Alright, let’s just try to put that in perspective. No, aggrandizement isn’t illegal, it’s just something that total dicks do. When that aggrandizement comes at the cost that Jo was incurring to build up these monuments to himself… because let’s face it that’s what the temple was. He said it was a commandment of God, but he’s the only dude who’s allowed to speak for god, so there’s no distinguishing between the two. At what cost was the temple or the Nauvoo house being built? People were going hungry. Public works projects were put on hold in order to funnel resources into these two projects. The only way he could finance these projects was through affinity fraud. The Mormons weren’t rich enough to contribute enough taxes to build these things, and tax money shouldn’t have even been used for religious buildings, but come on… of course it was. So no, aggrandizement isn’t a crime, just ask any podcaster out there who spends more time plugging how awesome they are instead of providing actual content. But, committing fraud for the sole purpose of aggrandizement is illegal and also makes you a total dick. The resulting dissent from these two competing projects was just an inevitable result of dividing up the town the way it was and locating the projects where they were. Sure, the Nauvoo House had a great view of the temple and the rich people living up on the hill and the people living up there had a great view of the people living on the flat, but this is a social structure that’s existed in nearly every society. Rich and poor people, whether by organic happenstance, or deliberate planning, often congregate near each other. The temple for the rich people and the Nauvoo house for the poor people just played into those old social structures and served as catalysts for contention. But then, Jo ends this little screed about division in the most condescending way… “but where shall we lay our heads?” asks the destitute construction worker who’s donating one in every 10 days to construction as their tithing…. “in an old log cabin.” Jo answers, as he lives in one of the largest and well-furnished homes in the town with half a dozen teenage female house servants. Jo just ascended to about the ultimate in dickhood here. But, just wait, because Jo’s childish screed wasn’t over. He still had some specific people to call out.
I will whip Hiram Kimball and Esquire Wells, and everybody else over Dr. Foster’s head, who, instead of building the Nauvoo House, build a great many little skeletons. See Dr. Foster’s mammoth skeletons rising all over town; but there is no flesh on tehm, they are all for personal interest and aggrandizement, but I do not care how many bones there are in the city, somebody may come along and clothe them. See the bones of the elephant yonder, (as I pointed to the big house on Mullholland Street, preparing for a tavern, as yet uncovered) the crocodiles and man-eaters all about the city, such as grog shops, and card shops and counterfeit shops, &c., got up for their own aggrandizement, and all for speculation, while the Nauvoo House is neglected. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The building of the Nauvoo House is just as sacred in my view as the Temple. I want the Nauvoo House built; it must be built, our salvation depends upon it.
Alright, so Bob the Builder Robert Foster was apparently not working quickly enough for Jo’s liking and just leaving skeletons of buildings up all over without ever finishing them. But he was one skilled carpenter in a city that needed hundreds of buildings done, there’s only so many hours in a day. Instead Jo threatens to whip him and any other dissenters who aren’t working hard enough for his liking. Did Jo ever lift a hammer? I mean he did help a little bit every so often, but Jo spent most of his days in meetings or travelling around town to see friends. Jo lived a very posh life when compared with the people in Nauvoo who were actually using the squares and compasses to build the town itself. I’m sure his condescension was recognized by at least some present. I also love how he elevates the Nauvoo House to the level of importance that the Temple held. I… I mean God… commanded us to build a temple, but we also need to finish my super swanky awesome house too, it’s just as important to me… I mean… to God. It doesn’t get any less terrible from here. He continues:
When men have done what they can, or will do for the Temple, let them do what they can for the Nauvoo House. We never can accomplish one work at the expense of another. There is a great deal of murmuring in the church about me, but I don’t care anything about it. I like to hear it thunder, and I like to hear the saints grumble, for the growling dog gets the sorest head; if any man is poor and afflicted, let him come and tell of it. And not complain or grumble about it.
That paragraph alone says a lot of Jo’s personality, doesn’t it? I like to hear it thunder, I like to hear the saints grumble, for the growling dog gets the sorest head. He’s not wrong, I just don’t like what it says about him that this was his rationale and way of answering when people had problems with him.
The finishing of the Nauvoo House is like a man finishing a fight, if he gives up he is killed; if he holds out a little longer he may live. I’ll tell you a story—a man who whips his wife is a coward. When I was aboy, I once fought with a man who had whipped his wife: it was a hard contest, but I still remembered that he had whipped his wife, and this encouraged me, and I whipped him till he said he had enough. Brethren, hurry on to the Nauvoo House thus, and you will built it. You will then be on Pisgah’s top, and the great men will come from the four quarters of the earth, will pile the gold and silver into it till you are weary of receiving them, and if you are not careful you will be lifted up and become full of pride, and will be ready to destroy yourselves, and they will cover up and clothe all your former sins, and according to the Scripture will hide a multitude of sins, and you will shine forth fair as the sun, clear as the moon, and you will become terrible like an army with banners.
Just finish the Nauvoo house, and all the rich people of the world will give us their gold and silver, and all my… I mean your sins will be covered up. Wow. This says a lot. Most notably, that Jo regarded what was happening with finances in Nauvoo as a sin. A sin he’d created, perpetuated, and made worse through his own actions. But, of course, he’s laying blame at the feet of the people that he’d screwed in all the Nauvoo financial dealings. What more do we need to understand Jo’s motivations than him telling everybody to hurry up and finish the Nauvoo House so they could finally be rich?
I will say to those who have labored on the Nauvoo House, and cannot get their pay, be patient, and if any man take the means which are set apart for the building of that house, and apply it to his own use, let him, for he will destroy himself.
That’s exactly what Jo was doing. He and many of his cronies were using stock notes of the Nauvoo House Association as rag money. This was literally the exact thing Jo was doing, and he was right, because it would eventually play into him being destroyed.
If any man is hungry let him come to me, and I will feed him at my table. If any are hungry, or naked, don’t take away the brick, timber, and materials that belong to that house, but come and tell me, and I will divide with them to the last morsel, and then if the man is not satisfied, I will kick his backside.
That started generous, but once again ended with violent resolution. If somebody is hungry, don’t use materials designated for the Nauvoo house to feed yourself, I’ll take care of all your problems. I’ll feed you. I’ll be your savior. And if you aren’t satisfied, prepare to have your backside kicked. Joseph Smith was so generous, wasn’t he?
There is a great noise in the city, and many are saying there cannot be so much smoke without some fire. Well, be it so. If the stories about Joe Smith are true, then the stories of John C. Bennett are true about the ladies of Nauvoo, and he says that the Ladies’ Relief Society are all organized of those who are to be the wives of Joe Smith. Ladies, you know whether this is true or not. It is no use living among hogs without a snout; this biting and devouring each other I cannot endure; away with it; for God’s sake, stop it.
That was an oddly revealing paragraph. Sure, the rumors about Joe Smith might be true, but if they are then the rumors about John C. Wreck-it Bennett are true as well. That is a very odd way to admit guilt or complicity in the wife and daughter-swapping ring that was Nauvoo Mormonism. But, of course, Jo just says STOP IT, I’LL HAVE NO MORE OF IT. I can’t even with this right now, that’s Jo’s defense when people were accusing him of adultery.
There is one more thing I wish to speak about, and that is, political economy. It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good, and unpopular that which is unsound. ‘Tis right politically, for a man who has influence to use it as well as for a man who has no influence to use his; from henceforth I will maintain all the influence I can get. In relation to politics, I will speak as a man; but in relation to religion, I will speak in authority: if a man lifts a dagger to kill me, I will lift my tongue.
To anybody who was challenging Jo’s increasing political power, he knows what’s best for you. And, if you try to remove his political power by killing him… he’ll lift his tongue and you’ll have the nightwatch, city police, and an entire army to contend with. He didn’t say it that explicitly, but come on… that’s exactly what he meant. If people were terrified of his growing power, I think they had absolute justification to be scared.
When I last preached I heard such a groaning, I thought of the Paddy’s eel: when he tried to kill him, he could not contrive any better way to do it, so he put it in the water to drown him, and as he began to come to—“See,” said he, “what pain he is in, how it wiggles his tail.” So it is with the nation; the banks are failing, and it is our privilege to say what a currency we want. We want gold and silver to build the Temple and Nauvoo House; we want your old nose-rings and finger rings, and brass kettles no longer; if you have old rags, watches, guns, &c., go and peddle them off, and bring the hard metal, and if we will do this by popular opinion we shall have a sound currency. Send home all bank notes and take no more paper money. Let every man write back to his neighbor before he starts for him to exchange his property for gold and silver, that he may fulfil the Scriptures, and come up to Zion bringing his gold and silver with him. I have contemplated these things a long time, but the time had not come for me to speak of them till now. I would not do as the Nauvoo House Committee have done:--sell stock for an old store-house, where all the people who tried to live in it, died; and put that stock into a man’s hands to go east and purchase rags to come here and build mammoth bones with.
This passage reveals the danger of apocalyptic preaching. Sell all your stuff and give the proceeds to the church to decide what to do with it. No more watches, rings, brass kettles, old clothing, even guns… Peddle it all off and bring your rich friends into town so we can build these building with gold and silver, just like Jesus commands us in the scriptures. This is absolutely dangerous, but it was also nothing new. Utah couldn’t be built for white American settlers without the existence of public speeches just like this. Theocracy, especially that of an apocalyptic Zionist flavor, is absolutely dangerous. The leaders of said theocracies are absolutely dangerous as well. That’s the Mormon prophets for you.
As a political man, in the name of old Joe Smith, I command the Nauvoo House Committee not to sell stock in the Nauvoo House without the gold or silver. We must excuse br. Snider, for he was in England when the committee sold stock for the store-house. I leave this subject.
Forget that Jo literally commanded people in the name of God to buy stock in the Nauvoo House Association, because now he’s literally commanding people in the name of God to only buy stock in the house with gold and silver. What an insufferable dickbag.
Then he brings his speech to a close with this:
This meeting was got up by the Nauvoo House Committee. The Pagans, Roman Catholics, Methodists and Baptists shall have place in Nauvoo, only they must be ground in Joe Smith’s mill. I have been in their mill. I was ground in Ohio and York States, in a Presbyterian smut machine, and the last machine was in Missouri, and the last of all, I have been through the Illinois smut machine; and those who come here must go through my smut machine, and that is my tongue.
As I closed, Dr. Robert D. Foster remarked to the assembly: “Much good may grow out of a very little, and much good may come out of this. If any man accuses me of exchanging Nauvoo stock for rags, &c., he is mistaken. I gave a thousand dollars to this house, (this he said upon his own responsibility) and fifty dollars to the Relief Society, and some to Fullmer to get stone to build Joseph a house, and I mean to build Joseph a house, and you may build this, and I will help you. I mean to profit by this: and I will divide the mammoth bones with you. I am guilty of all of which I have been charged…
I replied—…“The doctor’s mammoth bones are skeletons, and as old Ezekiel said, I command the flesh and sinews to come upon them, that they may be clothed.”
When I first started transcribing parts of this speech into the show notes here, it just kept on giving. Every paragraph is worse than the previous. Everything Jo said in here revealed something about his character. That’s why we just went through the whole thing from top to bottom with only minimal cuts here and there. And what’s even more important is to consider the context in which this speech was given.
Nauvoo Mormonism under Jo’s leadership was a great deal many things. Cohesive and tranquil are not fitting descriptions. I know people can point to so much of what happened in Nauvoo and call it religious persecution, but that completely abdicates any responsibility that Jo had in matters and further ignores all the context and series of his own decisions that led him to Carthage.
History is filled with dictators and demagogues. Often, we ascribe some judgement call of good or evil which often hinges on just how far in the past they were or whether their quest was motivated by secular or religious purposes. To see Joseph Smith as solely the prophet who founded the modern church as a restoration of the ancient one true religion requires one to force him into the odd space of the world’s first unwilling demagogue. The only theocratic dictator in all human history who happened to find himself atop a nearly sovereign empire against his will. How can that be?
The point to bring this all together, and why I started the show today with some armchair philosophy, is how are we to judge Joseph Smith’s actions on the grand sliding scales of the abacus of morality? The truth of the matter is, no person rose to a position of prominence like Joseph Smith had in Nauvoo without doing some things that are judged as objectively evil, especially by those who suffered at the wrong end of those evil decisions. But, are we to judge a person’s actions as good or evil based on the subjective interpretation of their contemporaries? That’s not fair.
So where does that leave us? Well, I would argue that defrauding people out of thousands of dollars, signing contracts for land that you never pay back, operating a wife and daughter swapping ring with your best friends and all the required sexual coercion and abuse associated, ignoring laws or fabricating laws for the sole purpose of expanding one’s own power, completely undermining the democratic process in a democratic country, and threatening physical torment to any person who opposes or contradicts you, and all of these actions are predicated on the founding of a religion that was known by the founder to be completely fabricated by him; all of those sure seem to strike a judgement of Jo somewhere on the chaotic evil side of the morality spectrum, doesn’t it?
There was a recent talk by Elder Lawrence Corbridge of the Seventy where he said that there are primary issues and secondary issues in the church. Once a person answers the first four questions he proposes, all the other questions become insignificant.
According to Corbridge, as part of his calling he’s had to read through a great deal of material antagonistic to the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon. He’s so bold as to say, “There may not be anything out there (of that nature) I haven’t read.” Now, that’s just absurd. I know a few Mormon historians and I don’t know anybody who would ever claim such a bold-faced lie that they’ve read every single history book about Joseph Smith or the church. He’s just lying. But the proposed four “primary” questions, as he calls them, I think reveal a great deal about his own cognitive dissonance.
Is there a God who is our Father? Is Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Savior of the world? Was Joseph Smith a prophet? Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the kingdom of God on the earth?
Questions one and two are absurd and invalid propositions if you don’t grant the existence of God, so we won’t deal with them. But question number 3 is so fascinating to me. Was Joseph Smith a prophet? That’s kind of a foundational question the entire religion is built upon, right?
When I look at Joseph Smith, if not for my childhood programming, the word “prophet” should be the furthest word from anybody’s mind when they study this man’s history. He was a great deal many things, but prophet? You first have to prove that a god exists and that this god interferes in people’s lives and chose this one white guy in 19th-century America to do all the things and bring about the one true religion. If all of those steps can’t be proven beyond a person’s subjective bosom being burned, then what are we even doing here? Joseph Smith was a compulsive liar. He was a demagogue, a dictator who always set himself atop an ever-expanding religious empire. He was such a horrible human being that he couldn’t be touched by government officials because they feared it would spark America’s first holy war. Joseph Smith was never arrested because he was a prophet of a religion that people didn’t like, there was always a secular explanation. So, if evil exists the way greed and gluttony exist, yeah… Joseph Smith was an evil man.
Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the kingdom of God on earth? There is no set of logical propositions that could lead a person to ever ask that question. But if it is, then this god is a capricious, despicable, deviant who can only build his earthly kingdom on lies and corpses. So yeah, apparently this god is just as evil as his self-proclaimed representatives.
I’m about to take all of you on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. First, we’ve been trying to help Brother Jake Frost through gofundme.com/gojakego to help with medical costs. Some great news came down the pike and I’m just going to read from the gofundme page verbatim:
Behold an update from Jake himself.
I’m so grateful for all the donations made. Erica showed the comments from everyone who donated and I’m very appreciative. Everything is going well at therapy so far—I’ve been making progress walking and I should be mobile in the next couple of months. I can now talk, use technology, groom, eat, and make snarky remarks to the nurses all by myself. Things are going fairly well, considering everything, and I am remembering more and more. I’m looking forward to heading home in one month to continue working on my recovery.
Thanks again for your generosity!
A Note from Erica:
Going through a life event like this is something you never want to do. But if you have to do it, having a community like the one we have makes it so much more bearable. Thank you for helping us with the unexpected costs that have and will pop up due to everything. Having to worry about money less is a huge blessing.
Help spread the word!
Yes, it looks like Jake is doing better every day, even though he has a long way to go. Altogether, the fund raised $30,847 and was closed by the Frost family this last weekend. Let me just say that again, this community of ExMormons/PostMormons, or whatever these groups want to call themselves raised over $30,000 for one of our friends in need. That is absolutely incredible. That’s money that never needs to be repaid, comes with no strings attached, and doesn’t come with the condition that the Frost family keep paying their tithing in order to continue getting this much-needed support. It was given through pure altruism to somebody who needed the world to show them that the world cares.
I still have another treasure dig to do on this show for people who donated and sent in their receipt. That’ll be next week. So, with that high-note, I’m afraid I have to take things down to a bit of a somber place. If you want to shut off the show right now and keep that euphoria going, feel free to, because it’s not good after this.
I want to tell all of you about somebody. But before that, here’s a little snippet of Mormon history to preface what I’m about to tell you.
Will Lamartine Thompson was born in 1847 in Ohio. Thompson was a member of the Church of Christ, also known as the Temple Lot Mormons, or the Hedrickites. By the 1880s he’d established a successful music store and composing/songwriting business. He wrote dozens of popular hymns and his hymn, Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling, was sung at the funeral for Martin Luther King Jr. Well, in 1904, five years before Thompson’s death, Thompson penned this:
Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone’s burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?
While this is, indeed, a hymn used by multiple factions of Mormonism, including the Brighamite, as well as some Southern Baptist congregations, that first verse is completely secular and I think it captures something we should frequently consider. On an individual basis, if we don’t leave this world better than we found it, then what are we even doing here? What’s the point of life if we aren’t striving to make it better for those around us and ourselves??
With that in mind, I want to share with all of you a little bit about a friend of mine, Deborah Mc Taggart. Some of you may know Deb from her screen-name, Heretic Woman. Deb has truly been a force for good in the world of atheism and skepticism for at least 5 years that I’m aware of. I first interacted with her on the original Atheists on Air with Cash and Professor Stephen. She started her show, Beyond the Trailer Park in early 2015 and has done it weekly since then for 180 episodes now.
The truth of the matter is, Deb has helped a lot of people get started in the community. She had David Michael, Cash, and myself on episode 9 of her show, which was super early in my podcasting career, and she’s had me on 4 or 5 times since then. Honestly, I owe Deb for a lot of the presence in the atheist and skepticism community that I have today. If not for Deb, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I know I’m not the only one in the community who’s in that same position.
Deb has devoted the last 5 years of her life to being a force for good in this community. She’s a member of the Full Quaranic team of podcasters reading through the Quran, she frequently guest hosted on Holy Crap the vlogcast, and she’s made the rounds on most of the big-name atheist podcasts. She’s been a guest on this show, on the NaMo hangouts, and on Glass Box Podcast, offering her wealth of knowledge on the history of religions to anybody willing to lend an ear. The people she’s helped, and the ways she’s helped them, could only be enumerated in a volume of books. Deb is truly an incredible person with an amazing legacy in this community and I’m sad to say our community lost this shining star at the beginning of this week. We lost a force for good. Deborah Mc Taggart unfortunately passed away in her sleep the morning of January 20, 2019. If you want any idea of how much good she did and how dearly she is missed, look at her facebook page and all the posts of people completely stunned by this dark and unfortunate news, yours truly included.
Deb was a personal friend of mine, and I’m sorry to unload this baggage on all of you here. After spending hours together online, we first met in person at ReasonCon 2015 and we’ve hung out at nearly every major atheism and skepticism conference or gathering since then. She’s been at the frontlines fighting against religion and bullshit and I’ve been honored to be a fellow soldier in that fight for nearly as long.
But more than being a force for combatting religion and dogma, Deb has done so in a positive way, which is a hard line to tow. There are few people in this world who have impacted so many people in a positive way as Deb. Her pool of friends is better described as an ocean. She’s fought religion and bullshit with love, forging a network of friends and loved ones every step of the way. She was truly a genuinely good human being, and that’s a label very few people in this world deserve to wear.
I gotta be honest, this is a time when I wish religion was right, that I could meet Deb again in the afterlife and chat for eternity about our shared interests next to an endless fountain of Long Island Iced Teas and never suffer a hangover. Right now, I honestly wish that alone was true. Unfortunately for us all, that’s just wishful thinking and cold hard reality offers no solace for a web of grieving friends and loved ones. The real world doesn’t care what we want, doesn’t care who we love, and isn’t changed by what we deeply wish were true. The real world can really suck sometimes. A single bright shining star of this community has lost it’s light and will never be replaced.
And that leaves me at a loss for words. Death sucks. Death hurts. Death doesn’t care about those left behind, it just happens indiscriminately. How can somebody like Deb be lost when so many evil people continue to live in good health? Why did the universe see this injustice as acceptable when our world is rife with greater injustices every day? With the passing of Heretic Woman, the world as a whole just got a little bit worse.
So, where does that leave us? Well, these morose feelings will pass. The yearning for another moment with Deb will eventually fade as do all trifling emotions. What’s left behind is much deeper and richer than these feelings of injustice and sorrow. Deb left behind a legacy worth veneration. She was smart and critical, always spoke her mind, and yet somehow always left people with a smile on their face. What remains of Heretic Woman are 180 episodes of brash critical thinking, exposing Islam, Scientology, Mormonism, and every other brand of dogmatic bullshit with her cohosts on all her shows. But beyond that, what truly remains is the lasting impressions she gave to anybody who ever interacted with her. I consider myself very lucky to have called Deb a friend, even if doing so makes this moment hurt that little bit more. Deb never failed to put a smile on my face. Her presence in my memory will forever put a smile on my face, and that’s a legacy worth veneration.
So, if you don’t know who Deborah Mc Taggart and her callsign, Heretic Woman, is, check the show notes to find her various projects and see how much of a force for good she’s been in this community. I’ll be joining her cohosts for a memorial episode of Beyond the Trailer Park this upcoming Monday night Jan, 28. You’ll find links to it on this social media page. To close out this episode, I’m going to leave you with about 12 minutes we recorded off-air. The full conversation is on episode 5 of Glass Box podcast if you want to hear it. Full disclosure, this clip is uncensored Bryce and Heretic Woman talking about everything and nothing at all. Those sensitive to explicit language may want to shut it off here, if you haven’t already, but for everybody else, thank you for joining me this week; and I present to you, Heretic Woman, Deborah Mc Taggart, a cherished friend and ally in the community, in memoriam. You touched so many lives, Deb, you will be missed, and your legacy will forever be cherished by the community you left behind. You did good in the world, you helped friends in need. You cheered up the sad and made many feel glad. You did not fail, indeed. You made people’s burdens lighter because you were willing to share. Because of you, the sick and weary were helped on their way; when they needed your help, you were there. From stardust you were born, and to the stardust you have returned. Goodbye Deb.
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