Ep 172 – HORRIBLE MORMON MURDER
On this episode, we tap into over a dozen news articles to get a finger on the pulse of 1844 America when it came to the Mormons. People across the nation loved to read headlines about the Mormons and papers with those headlines sold like hotcakes. Newspapers ramped up the headlines to sell more copies, which, in turn, made everybody even more frenzied about the deluded religious fanatics that were going to take over the country. A new scandal breaks and Jo deflects everybody’s attention by calling out John C. Calhoun on his complacency toward the plight of the Mormons.
Newspaper articles featured:
March for the Children Oct. 5, 2019
John Whitmer Historical Association Conference
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
By early January 1844, the Mormons were in a state of political flux. Jo had yet to declare himself candidate for president but it was at the forefront of his mind. Like any senator who doesn’t run for reelection because next year is the Presidential election, but still waits to formally declare their candidacy, that’s where Joseph Smith was in the first month of 1844.
Like any presidential candidate, Jo wanted to make his debut on the public stage with reasons. He had White-Out Willard Richards draft his campaign platform while Jo set about writing letters and reading various articles from papers around the nation that were written about the Mormons.
The Alton Telegraph published several very severe articles against the church.
Edward Brotherton published a scurrilous pamphlet at Manchester, England, entitled “Mormonism, its rise and progress, and the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
The Richmond Palladium published an amusing and favorable article on Mormonism.
The Boston Bee published a series of articles favorable to the Saints, which had a beneficial effect in putting down prejudice and representation.
A favorable account of a visit to Nauvoo was published by Samuel A. Prior, Methodist minister.
The Morning Star, a Freewill Baptist paper, published a long and bitter article against the Latter Day Saints, entitled “Mormon Perversion.”
A favorable article entitled “Nauvoo and Mormonism,” was published by a Traveler.
The Quincy Whig published several bitter articles against me.
The Warsaw Message, and subsequently the Warsaw Signal, published a continual tirade of abuse, misrepresentation and lies against the Saints.
The New Haven (Con.) Herald published a favorable account of the Mormons in Nauvoo.
Yes, Mormons were the talk of the nation. Unfortunately, the History of the Church wasn’t kind enough to print each of those articles for us to see, it merely references them. So, I decided to do a little digging myself on a few newspaper archive sites.
Just a brief digression before reading these. Today’s show really illustrates how the internet has fundamentally shifted the social science of history. Until very recently, and I mean extremely recently, within the last 10 years, access to hundreds of thousands of newspapers would have required a person’s entire life of travelling to various local historical societies and reading each edition of each paper individually. I’ve collected a dozen stories about the Mormons and it took me a couple days of searching and reading. For a historian to collect all of these 10 years ago would have been weeks of travelling, making phone calls to archivists, reading faxed copies, throwing away most of them because they aren’t relevant, and weeks or months beyond that to verify an actual holograph copy of these to ensure accuracy of transcripts. Today, I can do a search of multiple databases of indexed newspapers with high-resolution scans of the originals, and find exactly what I’m looking for among so many other gems.
With that in mind, I did my best to find a representative set of articles here. You may hear the general tone of the majority of these is either negative or benign towards the Mormons, but the fact of the matter is, the media generally didn’t like the Mormons, which fed the hungry readers who wanted to hear about the latest happenings in the Mormon Empire. This only shaped people’s prejudice even more, which, in turn, made them even more excited to buy the next issue of the paper that reported on the next Mormon scandal. It was a feedback loop that shaped the minds of Americans and the Americans who bought the papers shaped the articles with their purchasing power. Very little of this feedback loop was supportive of Jo and the Mormons. Even outlets that were largely sympathetic to the Mormons were printing and reprinting articles about troubling aspects of how the city was being run, often with large excerpts from the Times and Seasons or the Nauvoo Neighbor, the Mormon periodicals. But the truth is, Nauvoo Mormonism in 1843 and 44 didn’t do much that was viewed as good. What happened that the national media could report positively on? New businesses cropping up? New buildings being dedicated? “New brick foundry built by the Mormons” doesn’t sell papers. “Horrible Mormon Murder,” “General Joseph Smith’s Special Privileges,” “Mormon Massacre”; those headlines sell paper subscriptions. The point is, the Mormons and Joseph Smith specifically didn’t really do anything headline-worthy that was good.
This feedback loop of media feeding the public apocalyptic narratives and the public feeding the media through clicks and subscriptions, it’s nothing new, it’s always existed, and anybody who says it started in recent memory or in their lifetime should have their perception checked because this ouroboros has existed a long time. These feedback loops have real-world impact as well. The public went crazy over the latest Mormon scandal, the Mormons reacted by deflecting or manufacturing another scandal which kept the people whipped up and talking about the Mormons until the next scandal broke and city resolutions were passed in Nauvoo as a response. Then the public outrage begins over the latest resolution or ordinance and the whole cycle repeated at the next heightened level of chaos. This is fuel to a persecution narrative. The outrage machine only benefits those who drive it.
So, with that out of the way, let’s see what the national media was saying about the Mormons. I’ve transcribed a bunch in no particular order and I’ll comment as we go along.
We regard the location of this unprincipled scoundrel in Illinois as one of the greatest calamities that ever befell the State. He and those over whom he exercises the most unlimited control now hold the balance of political power in this State. Governed by no political principles whatever, they, at every election, throw themselves in market like cattle for sale.
Suffice it to say, that it is clearly established that a system of all but universal female prostitution exists at Nauvoo, as a secret regulation of the church, none but the faithful being permitted to have the privilege. The teach that this system is what we are to understand by the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
NAUVOO CITY COUNCIL -- GEN. JOSEPH SMITH -- SPECIALPRIVILEGES, &c. -- The last "Nauvoo Neighbor." contains several ordinances passed by the City Council of that city, and among others, one entitled, "An extra ordinance for the extra case of Joseph Smith and others." The preamble to this ordinance sets forth, that Joseph Smith has been greatly harrassed by the persecutions of his enemies, and by the repeated requisitions of Missouri for his person, and therefore it is enacted, "that hereafter, if any person or persons shall come with process, demand or requisition, founded upon the aforesaid Missouri difficulties, to arrest said Smith, he or they shall be subject to be arrested by any officer of the city, with or without process, and tried by the Municipal Court upon testimony, and if found guilty, sentenced to imprisonment in the City Prison for life, which convict or convicts, can only be pardoned by the Governor, with the consent of the Mayor of said city."
Here is a pretty kettle of fish, truly! -- Gov. Ford must keep quiet hereafter with his "processes, demand and requisitions," or if his officers should dare invade the dominions of General Joseph, an example will be made of them instanter -- the[ir] liberties shall be taken from them forever! The Nauvoo City Council hath said it! and the enactments of the City Council, are backed up by the bayonets of the Legion! so says a Mormon. It is, indeed it is, a shame and a pity, that the locofoco authorities of Missouri and Illinois, will not let the poor, inoffensive, defenceless, quiet, law-abiding Mormons, rest in quiet in their new found Jerusalem! Even Gov. Ford shall bestow an act of clemency without the consent of the "Mayor of Nauvoo," so says this City Council!
This same City Council and "Joseph Smith, Mayor, "have passed another ordinance, entitled, "An ordinance for the health and convenience of travellers, and other persons." This ordinance sets forth that the "Mayor of the city, (Joseph Smith,) be and is hereby authorized to sell or give spirits, of any quantity, as he in his widsom shall judge to be for the health, comfort or convenience of such travellers or other persons, as shall visit his house from time to time."
How charitable this towards the "travellers and other persons!" How "convenient" for the "Mayor of the City" -- General Joseph himself!
This is really an amusing specimen of humbug of the shallowest description, when it is recollected, that "General Joseph Smith, Commander of the Nauvoo Legion," "Mayor of the City," "Prophet in these last days," &c. &c. &c. &c. is a hotel keeper, and craves the loose change that usually drops from the passing traveller -- (particularly those who have not taken the "Pledge") -- in passing through our cities and towns. Truly, 'tis an amusing sight to see the great (!) and titled (!) men of the earth (!) stooping to the low condition of retailing Whiskey at a picayune a dram! How art thou fallen mighty Joseph!
One of the few friendly articles:
Boston Weekly Bee
On Thursday evening,…, agreeable to appointment, Elder George J. Adams addressed a large concourse of people on the Character and Mission of Joseph Smith the Prophet. In speaking of him, he bears a positive and direct testimony to the divinity of his mission. He does this without hesitation, just as if he meant what he said, and said what he meant. He does not say he hopes Joseph Smith is a true prophet, but says he is positive that such is the fact… The Boylston hall was a perfect jam during the day and evening. On Tuesday evening he gave his farewell lecture. That was a rich treat indeed, embodying the outline of the faith and doctrine of Latter-day Saints. But on Wednesday evening, at the great tea party, was the time it was clearly manifested that kindest feelings existed in this city towards the Mormons. There were present on that occasion over five hundred people: three hundred and fifty sat down at the first table. After supper, Elder Adams delivered a very appropriate and eloquent address. It was listened to with profound attention, during which time we saw the tear start in many an eye.
We learn from the Warsaw Signal that the Mormon difficulties in Hancock county, Illinois are increasing. A long list of acts of thieving are given, attributed to the Mormons. Public meetings have been called by the Anti-Mormons to take measures to defend and protect themselves from these depredations. The end of the troubles in that region is not yet.
The Warsaw paper tells a story of a farmer of McDonough county, who brought a load of Pork to Nauvoo, and sold it readily for the hard cash. He had not got out of town, however, before he found that his cash was all Bogus. Hastening back, he found his pork had just taken passage over to the new state of Iowa.
Using Mormons as an example of how crazy folk can be:
Holly Springs Gazette, Mississippi Jan 1844
THE PAST YEAR, The past has been a strange and memorable year. With the aged it must ever be remembered, and by the young its strangely sublime and ludicrous events can never be forgotten. To the wise there has been much for reflection; to the superstitious much to alarm and terrify. Earthquakes welcomed it into being, comets presided o’er its spring, and FLOODS have washed it into the past. Religion gliding into fanaticism, almost bowed to the prophecy of Miller, or listened with credulous ear to the wilder jargon of the Mormons. Piety and virtue were almost forgotten, and events, that should have endeared them to man, but dimmed their luster, or enfeebled their followers.
The Lancaster Gazette, Lancashire, England
MORMON.—This word, it should be known by all, is a Greek word. Donnegan, and other authors of Greek dictionaries, define it, “A bug-bear, a hobgoblin, a raw head and bloody bones, a hideous spectre, a frightful mask, something to frighten children.” It is thus used by a Greek author Aristophanes the comic poet. Solomon Spaulding having tried to preach three or four years and failed, then having tried mercantile business and failed, being a classical Greek scholar, and out of all business, wrote for his amusement what he called the “Book of Mormon,” i.e. (as he understood it and meant) the “Book of Spectres.”
Mel Johnson, who wrote Lyman Wight’s biography, couldn’t corroborate this and this isn’t something that would slip under the radar of Mormon historians, so it’s most likely fake news.
Columbia Democrat 04 Jan 1844 out of Bloomsburg Pennsylvania
The account of the murder of Lyman Wright's[sic] Band of Mormons, thirty in number, is confirmed. They were principally Englishmen, and were attempting to rob a store at the time-
The Times out of Greater London, England
By the late accounts from the Holy City, Nauvoo, the Mormons appear to have settled down into a state of tranquility. They boast that their great and magnificent temple will be completed in a few months.
The Morning Chronicle from London, England
MORMONS IN LEICSTER.—A correspondent informs us that this strange sect has obtained a footing in this town, and meets on Sundays and Tuesdays, near St. Nicholas’s Church, when the initiated members speak in the “unknown tongues.” After one has thus spoken another brother interprets the mysterious language. Upowards of one hundred persons are said to have already joined the “latter day saints.” They “take the sacrament” in common with other sects, baptize, lay on hands, and believe the Book of Mormon to be equal in importance to the Mosaic Writings, or the New Testament.
Nauvoo.—The following resolution was recently passed by some Mormons.
Resolved, Nauvoo, is the great Emporium of the West, the centre of all centres, a City of three years growth, a population of 18,000 souls! Congregated from the four quarters of the Globe,!! Embracing all intelligence!!! Of all nations!!!! With industry, frugality, economy, virtue, and brotherly love, unsurpassed in any age of the world, a suitable home for the saints!!!!!
Sunbury Gazette, Pennsylvania
Joe Smith, the immaculate Mormon prophet has commenced keeping a tavern in Nauvoo. They say the way he can flirt a gin-cocktail is a caution to professors in general.
Overt political maneuvers:
The Whig Standard D.C. reporting on the first session of the 28th Congress.
Mr. ADAMS presented a variety of other petitions, (one from the Mormons, praying Congress, by some legal enactment, to acknowledge the supremacy of Christ) which gave rise to questions of order, appeals, &c., &c., and in the midst of this chaos, The House Adjourned.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
WHO SALL BE OUR NEXT PRESIDENT?—Joe Smith, the Mormon Prophet, says in the last number of the Times and Seasons: “We shall fix upon the man of our choice, and notify our friends duly.” Joseph is too modest a man to offer himself?
With only 2 exceptions, these are all headlines from just the three weeks of December 23 1843 to January 6 1844. Simply put, the Mormons were the talk of the nation and any headline with Mormon or Joe Smith in it quickly sold. People also knew that Jo was going to be running for president because he’d put himself in the public position for the past 4 years he’d been building his kingdom on the Mississippi. It was the perfect time for another Mormon scandal to make its way into the public consciousness.
New York Daily Herald, picked up from England papers from a month prior.
HORRIBLE MORMON MURDER.—A horrible occurrence took place at, Keeve, Cheshire (where there are a great many Mormons) on the 23d November last. The priest of the order is a blacksmith, of the name of Cartwright, and among the devotees is a fanatic of the name of Pugmire, also a smith or engineer. The latter was married to a respectable woman of about thirty years of age, who had borne him three children, and was within three months of her next confinement. She had steadily refused to adopt the fanatical opinions of her husband, and much altercation had ensued in consequence. Worn out, however, with his repeated solicitations, and his continued declarations that unless she submitted to be baptized into the order, she would be eternally lost, she declared her intention to one of her neighbors to obey her husband’s wishes, being satisfied, as she said, that unless she did so she would never have any more peace with him. On Thursday, the 23d ult., at eight o’clock at night, the poor, worn-out creature was taken by her husband and the blacksmith priest down to the river below the works, was denuded of all her clothing except a small flannel singlet, and, notwithstanding her interesting situation, these wretched fanatics, after muttering some incantations, plunged her into the stream. The night was dreadfully cold and dark, and, in consequence of the late heavy rains, the river was running at a great rate, and was much higher than ordinary. The priest, having hold of her naked arm, unfortunately let go his grasp, and the current running like a mill race, immediately carried her away, and it being pitch dark, she was instantly overwhelmed by the boiling flood and drowned. The husband walked home with the greatest deliberation and nonchalance, and told his neighbors what had occurred; and after seating himself in a chair, rolled himself in flannel and declared his conviction “that it was the will of God that she should be drowned,” adding “that it was the wickedness of her faith that caused it, but that he was now satisfied that she was in glory.” That body was subsequently found, and a coroner’s verdict of “manslaughter” rendered against the priest and the husband, both of whom were arrested. Talk of romance, indeed. Why, the every day occurrence of life present appalling realities which set at naught the wildest creations of fiction.
How was this scandal handled? Like every other scandal in Joseph Smith’s history, deflection. John C. Wreck-it Bennett is publishing exposes about polygamy? Look at how much we were persecuted by Missouri! The Prophet is the chief suspect in the assassination attempt of a former Governor? Have you seen our collection of mummies and papyri? Oh, a pregnant woman died getting baptized into our church? Look at how much of a dick that slave-driver John C. Calhoun is!
Mr. John C. Calhoun from Fort Hill, South Carolina
Sir:--You ask me what would be my rule of action relative to the Mormons or Latter Day Saints, should I be elected President; to which I answer, that if I should be elected, I would strive to administer the government according to the Constitution and the laws of the Union; and that as they make no distinction between citizens of different religious creeds, I should make none. As far as it depends on the executive department, all should have the full benefit of both, and none should be exempt from their operation.
But, as you refer to the case of Missouri, candor compels me to repeat what I said to you at Washington, that according to my views that case does not come within the jurisdiction of the federal government, which is one of limited and specific powers.
With respect, I am, &c., &c.,
Mr. Joseph Smith
Jo’s reply is perfectly expected. He used fiery language and emotive arguments to destroy Calhoun’s political character. It’s a long read but it’s very entertaining.
To which I wrote the following reply:--
Sir:--Your reply to my letter of last November, concerning your rule of action towards the Latter Day Saints if elected President, is at hand; and that you and your friends of the same opinion, relative to the matter in question, may not be disappointed as to me, or my mind, upon so grave a subject, permit me, as a law-abiding man, as a well-wisher to the perpetuity of constitutional rights and liberty, and as a friend to the free worship of Almighty God by all, according to the dictates of every person’s conscience, to say I am surprised that a man, or men, in the highest stations of public life, should have made up such a fragile “view” of a case, than which there is not one of the face of the globe fraught with so much consequence to the happiness of men in this world, or the world to come.
To be sure, the first paragraph of your letter appears very complacent and fair on a white sheet of paper, and who that is ambitious for greatness and power would not have said the same thing? Your oath would bind you to support the Constitution and laws; and as all creeds an religions are alike tolerated, they must, of course, all be justified or condemned, according to merit or demerit; but why, tlel me why, are all the principal men, held up for public stations, so cautiously careful, not to publish to the world, that they will judge a righteous judgment, law or no law[?] for laws and opinions, like the vanes of steeples, change with the wind.
One Congress passes a law, and another repeals it, and one stateman says that the Constitution means this, and another that: and who does not know that all may be wrong? The opinion and pledge, therefore, in the first paragraph of your reply to my question, like the forced steam from the engine of a steam-boat, makes the show of a bright cloud at first, but when it comes in contact with a purer atmosphere, dissolves to common air again.
Your second paragraph leaves you naked before yourself, like a likeness in a mirror, when you say that “according to your view, the federal government is one of limited and specific powers,” and has no jurisdiction in the case of the Mormons. So then, a State can at any time, expel any portion of her citizens with impunity, and in the language of Mr. Van Buren, frosted over with your gracious “views of the case,” though the cause is ever so just, government can do nothing for them, because it has no power.
Go on, then, Missouri, after another set of inhabitants, (as the Latter Day Saints did) have entered some two or three hundred thousands dollars’ worth of land, and made extensive improvements thereon: go on, then, I say banish the occupants or owners, or kill them, as the mobbers did many of the Latter Day Saints, and take their lands and property as a spoil: and let the legislature, as in the case of the Mormons, appropriate a couple of hundred thousand dollars to pay the mob for doing the job; for the renowned senator from South Carolina, Mr. J.C. Calhoun, says the powers of the federal government are so specific and limited that it has no jurisdiction in the case! Oh, ye people who groan under the oppression of tyrants, ye exiled Poles, who have felt the iron hand of Russian grasp; ye poor an unfortunate among all nations, come to the “asylum of the oppressed”; buy ye lands of the general government, pay in your money to the treasury to strengthen the army and the navy; worship God according to the dictates of your own consciences; pay in your taxes to support the great heads of a glorious nation; but remember a “sovereign State!” is so much more powerful than the United States, the parent government, that it can exile you at pleasure, mob you with impunity; confiscate your lands and property; have the legislature sanction it; yea, even murder you, as an edict of an emperor, and it does no wrong, for the noble senator of South Carolina, says the power of the federal government is so limited and specific that it has no jurisdiction of the case! What think ye of imperium in imperio?
Ye spirits of the blessed of all ages, hark! Ye shades of departed statesmen, listen! Abraham, Moses, Homer, Socrates, Solon, Solomon, and all that ever thought of right and wrong, look down from your exaltations, if you have any, for it is said [“]in the midst of counselors there is safety,[“] and when you have learned that fifteen thousand innocent citizens, after having purchased their lands of the United States, and paid for them, were expelled from a “sovereign State” by order of the governor, at the point of the bayonet; their arms taken from them by the same authority: and their right of migration into said State, denied under pain of imprisonment, whipping, robbing, mobbing, and even death, and no justice or recompense allowed; and from the legislature with the Governor at the head, down to the justice of the peace, with a bottle of whiskey in one hand, and a Bowie-knife in the other, hear them all declare that there is no justice for a Mormon in that State, and judge ye a righteous judgment, and tell me when the virtue of the States was stolen; where the honor of the general government lies hid; and what clothes a senator with wisdom? Oh, nullifying Carolina! Oh, little tempestuous Rhode Island! Would it not be well for the great men of the nation to read the fable of the partial judge, and when part of the free citizens of a State had been expelled contrary to the constitution, mobbed, robbed ,plundered and many murdered, instead of searching into the course taken with Joanna Southcott, Ann Lee, the French prophets, the Quakers of New England, and rebellious Niggers in the slave States, to hear both sides and then judge, rather than have the mortification to say, “Oh it is my bull that has killed your ox, that alters the case! I must inquire into it, and if, and if!”
If the general government has no power to reinstate expelled citizens ot their rights, there is a monstrous hypocrite fed and fostered from the hard earnings of the people! A real “bull beggar” upheld by sycophants; and although you may wink to the priests to stigmatize; wheedle the drunkards to swear, and raise the hue-and-cry of imposter, false prophet, God damn old Joe Smith; yet remember, if the Latter Day Saints are not restored to all their rights, and paid for all their losses according ot the known rules of justice and judgment, reciprocation and common honesty among men, that God will come out of his hiding place and vex this nation with a sore vexation, yea, the consuming wrath of an offended God shall smoke through the nation, with as much distress and woe, as independence has blazed through with pleasure and delight. Where is the strength of government? Where is the patriotism of a Washington, a Warren, and Adams? And where is a spark from the watch-fire of ’76, by which one candle might be lit, that would glimmer upon the confines of democracy? Well may it be said that one man is not a state, nor one state the nation.
In the days of General Jackson, when France refused the first instalment for spoliations, there was power, force, and honor enough to resent injustice and insult, and the money came; and shall Missouri, filled with Negro-drivers and white men stealers, go “unwhipped of justice!” for tenfold greater sins than France? No! verily no! While I have powers of body and mind: while water runs and grass grows; while virtue is lovely, and vice hateful; and while a stone points out a sacred spot where a fragment of American liberty once was; I or my posterity will plead the cause of injured innocence, until Missouri makes atonement for all her sins—or sinks disgraced, degraded and damned to hell, “where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
Why, sir, the power not delegated to the United States, and the States, belongs to the people, and Congress sent to do the people’s business have all power—and shall fifteen thousand citizens groan in exile? Oh, vain men, will ye not, if ye do not restore them to their rights and $2,000,000 worth of property, relinquish to them, (the Latter Day Saints) as a body, their portion of power that belongs to them according to the Constitution? Power has its convenience, as well as inconvenience. “The world was not made for Caesar alone, but Titus too.”…
And let me say, that all men who say that Congress has no power to restore and defend the rights of her citizens, have not the love of the truth abiding in them. Congress has power to protect the nation against foreign invasion and internal broil, and whenever that body passes an act to maintain right with any power, or to restore right to any portion of her citizens, IT IS THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND, and should a State refuse submission, that State is guilty of insurrection or rebellion, and the President has as much power to repel it as Washington had to march against the “whiskey boys of Pittsburgh,” or General Jackson had to send an armed force to suppress the rebellion of South Carolina!
To close, I would admonish you, before you let your “candor compel” you again to write upon a subject, great as the salvation of man, consequential as the life of the Savior, broad as the principles of eternal truth, and valuable as the jewels of eternity, to read in the 8th section and 1st article of the Constitution of the United States, the first, fourteenth, and seventeenth, “specific” and not very “limited powers” of the federal government, what can be done to protect the lives, property and rights of a virtuous people, when the administrators of the law, and law-makers, are unbought by bribes, uncorrupted by patronage, untempted by gold, unawed by fear, and uncontaminated by tangling alliances—even like Caesar’s wife, no only unspotted, but unsuspected! And God, who cooled the heat of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, or shut the mouths of lions for the honor of a Daniel, will raise your mind above the narrow notion, that the general government has no power—to the sublime idea that Congress, with the President as executor, is as almighty in its sphere as Jehovah is in his.
With great respect, I have the honor to be,
Your obedient servant,
It’s important to understand the mentality of the Mormons and the religious leaders at this time. The Mormons had suffered a lot in the nearly 14 years they’d been a religion. From mobs chasing them from town to town and destroying their property, to multiple arrests of the prophet and high-ranking church leaders, to lawsuits, to the more overt perceived persecution in Missouri. In Missouri the Mormons had come against their most powerful enemies to that point, supremacist Missourians. The Missourians didn’t like the Mormons, the Mormons didn’t like the Missourians, the Missourians killed a bunch of Mormons, the Mormons killed a few Missourians, and then the Missourians won because the Mormons were violently removed from the state. That horrible time for the Mormons in Missouri was a bottomless well to draw from in order to reinforce the Mormon persecution complex.
And that’s the underlying trend in all of these incidents, the Mormon persecution complex. You simply can’t be a powerful religious leader if you don’t have an enemy to galvanize your people against. For most American religions at this time, those threats were ethereal, Satan, the powers of evil ruling the world. But a person can only fight an unseen force by using their own unseen forces of prayer and piety. This narrative works for most religions, but others need a more temporal and tangible enemy. Small religions, in particular, thrive on having a common enemy. Instead of Satan being the enemy, it’s Satanists or atheists. Instead of the family being torn apart, it’s the gays that are tearing families apart. Instead of the forces of darkness ruling the unenlightened world, it’s communist Russian that’s going to take over, unless they helped your favorite candidate get elected then we’re totally cool with Russia again.
Having a common enemy is one of the constituent pieces to a successful religion. That piece is integral. That “otherizing” is required for a religious group to work. You have to have an evil “them” to have a chosen “us”. Far from mitigating these human tendencies, Joseph Smith capitalized on them. He stoked the flames of religious supremacy in his group and inferiority of the rest of the world. He exacerbated the problem because it benefitted him and made his followers more devout.
But where does this end? You begin to vilify anybody who doesn’t like your religion, you eventually arrive at a point where you have to vilify anybody who isn’t a member of your religion; those who aren’t possible investigators anyway. Eventually, any person who speaks ill of your religion, even from the inside, is a traitor, a heretic, an apostate. Then anybody they talk to are colluding with the apostates and can never be forgiven for their treason. Then the whole world is evil and only your religion is acceptable and all other religions are evil abominations. All news reports that are favorable are to be enjoyed, anything in opposition is slanderous fake news. Eventually the government is trying at every turn to destroy your religion and if not for the free exercise of religion the government would march into your religious town and massacre every single member of the “us”. It’s not a slippery slope fallacy if the slippery slope is real and this is exactly what happened with the Mormons and the rest of the world in the 19th century.
This results in a big question. Was the persecution narrative calculated or sincerely believed? Humans are programmed for efficiency and rarely consider their own beliefs through a skeptical lens because it takes mental resources. I believe Jo floated out the persecution narrative in New York because he genuinely believed he was being persecuted, even if the primary “persecutors” were his friends and fellow magicians just 3 years before the religion began. The persecution narrative worked then and I think he simply ran with it and never questioned whether or not it was a good idea. As a religious leader, he spewed from the pulpit supremacist ideas and the followers grew, the tithing income increased, and people began to swear their lives to the cause. It’s very organic and needn’t an explanation in malice.
It was incredibly effective. Tap into the Mormons’ collectively shared trauma anytime the will of the prophet is opposed by anything or anybody, including the due process of law, and instantly the majority of Jo’s sycophants are goose-stepping in line behind their supreme leader. What couldn’t be accomplished with 15,000 who were willing to die for their beliefs? What couldn’t be accomplished with 7 million who are willing to follow the prophet through thick and thin without asking questions? The same persecution narrative that was organically crafted by the founder of the church survives and thrives today. The escalation we see in the 1840s never ratcheted down; the heat on this boiling pot of religious persecution was never turned down. Rational actors and critical voices have no place inside the persecution narrative. Any effort to diffuse the situation results in the person who feels persecuted thinking they’re being persecuted even more. Persecution is used by leaders to control members and those same leaders have been hearing the narrative their whole lives so of course they perpetuate it.
The more this happens, the more civil discourse dies. We have ex-mormons screaming at apologists about historicity and anachronisms. We have apologists screaming at ex-Mormons supposedly committing crimes when they write CESletter.org on the cover page of the Book of Mormon when they stay at a Marriot. It only escalates. Escalation in this irrationality fosters anger, hatred, and frustration in the minds of all those who participate and this escalation has its roots in the very foundation of the church. The worst part of this escalation is its causal relationship otherizing. We’re locked in a race of Mutually Assured Dehumanization and that’s a trend which pervades every single aspect of our culture and day-to-day life. So, when an apologist writes a blog post that’s flippant in its generalizations or an exmormon says that Mormonism is a cult, don’t buy into the MAD doctrine of Mormonism. PSA from yours truly here: we all commit logical fallacies, we all see our interlocutors as idiots, we’re all quick to champion somebody on our side and dehumanize somebody on the other, we all wait with bated breath for the next smackdown or gotcha, but none of these things are good. Because guess what, we’re all humans. We’re all working with the same equipment here. We all have stuff going on in our lives that we take joy from or is stressing us out. We all have things and people we love and hate. All our brains operate in fundamentally the same way just with different information. The more we play into this Mutually Assured Dehumanization, the more we fall into the same patterns that exiled Brigham Young’s Mormons to Mexico where they committed genocide with impunity. We can never learn from history if we keep repeating the patterns that caused it to be the way it is. I applaud people who post thoughtful articles or blogs that are meaningful and thought provoking, believer or not, but for every one of those there are 15 slams from one side against the other. This escalation only drives us all closer to MADness.
Letter For My Wife
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