Sp. Coll. Index   |   Mormon Classics   |   Oliver's Bookshelf   |   Newspapers   |   History Vault

John Codman
The International Review XI:3
(NYC: A. S. Barnes & Co., Sept. 1881)

  • pg. 221   Introduction
  • pg. 222   James A. Briggs letter
  • pg. 223   Smith's story
  • pg. 225   Epitome of Faith
  • pg. 227   Utah & Brigham Young
  • pg. 231   Polygamy, etc.

  • Transcriber's Comments:
       John Codman  James A. Briggs

    1875 Codman articles  |  1838 James A. Briggs letter


                                        MORMONISM.                                     221


    THE saying that there are two sides to a question is sometimes true only in part. There are frequently three sides. The third may be the inside, -- a medium between the other two. The subject of Mormonism has lately been discussed in the "North American Review," first by one who has had little experience and small opportunity for observation, writing from an editorial chair in which he has been recently placed for the express purpose of a daily attack upon the Mormons and their institutions; a gentleman withal of culture and private worth, learned and an elegant writer, but encircled by the ring of prejudice in which his lot is cast. The reply comes from one who is also polished in his manners and style, while he writes from a standpoint as opposite as the antipodes. He is a bigoted enthusiast, an apostle and first counsellor of the Mormon Church. Both are sincere. Each intends to be honest. Neither of them is just. The first begins his article thus: --

    "To make the position of the Mormons in Utah clear to the general reader, to deal with the subject without prejudice and yet to state the truth, is a difficult undertaking. (He then goes on to prove his proposition in the sentence immediately following.) Towards the United States the Mormon power observes the form polity, while in fact, it is a despotism as absolute in its control over its own people as ever existed on earth."
    He thus, at his starting-point, places the power of the Mormon priesthood and the rule of the King of Dahomey upon a par. He can find no one good thing that has come out of this Nazareth, not one redeeming trait in the character of Brigham Young, even blaming eternal justice for allowing him to die peacefully in his bed. "No mortal." he says, "can estimate the dreadful influence which his rule of thirty-six years had upon his people," whom he proceeds to describe as absolute slaves and perjurers under the whip of men who are robbers and murders; closing with an appeal to Congress for still more stringent


    222                                     MORMONISM.                                    

    legislation not only with a view to the abolition of polygamy, but of the rule of the Mormon Church.

    On the other hand, the respondent's pages are of a beautiful couleur de rose. Utah is no Nazareth. It is a Utopia from which nothing but good can proceed. The priesthood exercise no control over the people. They have always been persecuted for righteousness' sake. Writing for the reading of a nation of monogamists as if he was preaching from the pulpit of the Tabernacle, he deliberately proposes to convert fifty millions of people to the doctrine and practice of polygamy, in which he assumes that one hundred and twenty thousand already believe; asserts that animalism has nothing whatever to do with this part of the creed, and, a delegate to Congress himself, is defiantly recusant to the law which Congress has enacted.

    Let us see whence came this Mormon religion, what it is to-day, and what influence for good or evil it has had and may yet exert. In 1875 I received this letter: -- 

                                      71 COLUMBIA HEIGHTS, BROOKLYN, N. Y., March, 1875

    MY DEAR SIR, -- I regret that I have not been successful in obtaining for you a copy of "Mormonism Unveiled," -- a book written and published by Mr. Howe, of Painesville, Ohio, some forty years ago, and written when the headquarters of Mormonism were at Kirtland, Ohio. In the winter of 1833-34, a self-constituted committee of citizens of Willoughby, Mentor, and Painesville met a number of times at the house of the late Mr. Warren Corning, of Mentor, to investigate the Mormon humbug. At one of the meetings we had before us the original manuscript of the Rev. Solomon Spaulding, who came to Ashtabula County, Ohio, from Monson, Mass. It was entitled, "The ___________; or, The Manuscript Found." It was obtained from Mr. Patterson, or Peterson, a publisher of Pittsburg, Pa., with whom negotiations had once been made towards its publication. From this work of the Rev. Mr. Spaulding the Mormon Bible was constructed. I do not think there can be any doubt of this. It was the opinion of the committee after comparing the Mormon Bible with the manuscript. The style of composition, the names, etc., were the same.

    In 1833 Joseph Smith was prosecuted by a man by the name of Hurlbut, I think, for assault and battery. I was a law student at the time in Willoughby, and was for the prosecution. The case was before a Justice of the Peace in Painesville, Ohio. The matter attracted a great deal of curiosity. The court was held in the old Methodist Church in Painesville, and the Justice who issued the warrant against the Mormon Prophet invited another Justice of the Peace to sit with him. Judge Bissell was the attorney for the Prophet. The trial lasted three days, and the church was filled to overflowing. During the examination of Smith, he gave the history of the finding of the golden plates of the Mormon Bible, how he was kicked by the Devil when he uncovered the plates and stooped down to get them. It was an interesting story; and, although it had nothing to do with the case under investigation, the Court, his own attorney, and the people all desired to hear the narration, and it came out under oath. Smith, Hyde, Pratt, and all the leaders of the faithful were there, except the ablest and most eloquent man among them all, -- the Rev. Sidney Rigdon. He had been a Baptist minister, and was a man of great natural eloquence. He is yet living, and, I think, could tell something about how the Mormon Bible was manufactured, if he would.


                                        MORMONISM.                                     223

    I guess, in my speech to the Court in the case, I must have been rather hard on the Prophet and his testimony and Mormonism, as I was told that one of his brethren said, "If it was not for his religion, he would whip that young Briggs." I sent word to him "he could for the once lay down his religion, and try it." I was not whipped. Smith was bound over; and Mormonism, persecuted, mobbed, turned out, has flourished.
                                 Yours truly,
                                            JAMES A. BRIGGS.
    Mr. Briggs is still alive, and was until lately Tax Assessor of the State of New York, a man of well known and unblemished reputation. There is an abundance of other testimony proving the origin of the "Book of Mormon." It is a fraud; and yet I would not try to convince the Mormons that it is. It is sacred for them; and as there is no harm in it, let it remain so. Fabulous as we know it to be, it does not contain a single immoral sentiment. It would add to the value of our canonical Scriptures if an abridgment of it could be made to take the place of Solomon's Song. So far from inculcating polygamy, it directly oppose it. "Hearken to the word of the Lord! for there shall not any man among you have, save it be, one wife" (Book of Jacob, c. ii v. 27). Nor, until several years after its adoption as conjointly with the Bible a rule of faith, was polygamy even tolerated. Therefore it cannot be justly said that the religion emanated from animalism any more than it can be maintained that the practice of polygamy at the present day does not come from that source.

    The book is an absolutely harmless, although somewhat tedious, romance, purporting mainly to be a history of an Israelite family, supposed by its author to have drifted over to America in a ship starting from the Red Sea, and after a variety of adventures, in which the trade winds were not taken into account, landing on the west coast. The Jewish Jehovah was also their God, helping them to fight their battles as he had interfered in times past for their ancestors. They had an unusual stock of miracles, and of audible and visible communication with God and Christ, -- the teachings of the latter being generally conveyed in the identical words and phrases in which they are recorded in our translation of the New Testament. 

    Smith's story about the "Book of Mormon" is that ages ago, when the priesthood on this continent lapsed, the last of them was inspired to write a history upon golden plates, and to bury them on a hill of the town of Palmyra in the State of New York; that an angel showed them to him in 1823, and four years later went with him again to the place and directed him to dig them up. The angel then told him how to translate them. Smith and the angel appear to have entertained the same idea that was uppermost in the minds of the revisers of the New Testament, -- that there was a peculiar sacredness in the English of three or four centuries ago; or, as Dr. Wheeler


    224                                     MORMONISM.                                    

    has it: "There is little doubt that the immutability of form in the sacred codes of nations is one of the most important among the causes which have given their religions such a rooted, tenacious hold upon the minds and hearts of those who profess them." Smith was accordingly divinely instructed to adopt the style of the "Book of Mormon," which he found it easy to do, as he had the manuscript of Spaulding as a guide. It would be equally unjust to Spaulding and to Smith to say that the pages of the former were copied exactly. No man of a reflecting mind would have written thus of a newly discovered country where only the vestiges of ancient habitation were found: "We did find upon the Land of Promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forest of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals which were for the use of men." The incongruities are apparent. Nor would anybody who did not accept as literal truth the story of an unaccountably rapid population of the world by the antediluvians have established in his imagination the wars of two powerful nations, originating from the families of two brothers who had occupied the land only forty years. Such passages as these, and many of an equally impossible character, may be conceded to Smith's "inspiration."

    The narrative proceeding more in the style of a novel which deals in possibilities, goes on to relate the final overthrow of the Nephites by the Lamanites, who are supposed to have been the ancestors of the North American Indians. It culminated in a grand pitched battle, somewhere upon the line of the present New York Central Railroad. Mormon, the last prophet and general of the Nephite army, anticipating a defeat, relates, in the beginning of his account of the final struggle, the precautions which he took to save the national records:

    "And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer that the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them), -- therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi and hid up in the hill Cumorah, all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni. And it came to pass that my people, with their wives and their children, did now behold the armies of the Lamanites a marching towards them; and with that awful fear of death which fills the breasts of all the wicked, did they await to receive them."
    Soon after the catastrophe foreshadowed above Mormon died of old age, hastened by grief, leaving the plates on which the history was engraved to his son Maroni, the last of the Nephites, who having buried the precious treasure committed to his charge on the hill Cumorah, and become reconciled to the Lamanites, died, and was


                                        MORMONISM.                                     225

    buried by them on nearly the same spot where centuries afterward, according to an equally veracious and much more entertaining history, the last of the Mohicans found his grave.

    Aside from any amusement this sketch of the romance may afford, it is interesting, because it accounts for the extraordinary zeal of the Mormons in their attempts to convert and civilize the Indian "Lamanites," which have certainly been very successful, and ought to be still further encouraged. While we are discussing the "Mormon problem," the Mormon missionaries are settling the "Indian problem," so far as their influence extends, peacefully accomplishing what we have failed to carry out by rifles and Indian agencies,

    The literary venture of Mr. Spaulding was declined by the publishers, but it was surreptitiously copied by one of Smith's clever associates, and was made the basis of the new sect. Smith had the stupidity in issuing the first edition to take out a copyright as its "author and proprietor," but, soon recognizing his mistake, he afterwards professed to be merely the translator. This, then, is the "Book of Mormon." not the "Mormon Bible," as it has been erroneously called. It will probably surprise many intelligent persons, who have read the Mormons out of the pale of the Christian Church, to learn that they, of all people in Christendom, believe implicitly and literally in the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, and seek most earnestly to be guided by their teaching. The most illiterate among them know the sacred volume almost by heart, and are at all times ready to use its texts, --

    "With apostolic blows and knocks,
    "To prove their orthodox."

      This, their creed, is formulated from it: --

    "1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

    "2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.

    "3. We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

    "4. We believe that these ordinances are: First, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, repentance; third, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    "5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by 'prophecy, and by the laying on of hands' by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer the ordinances thereof.

    "6. We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive Church; namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.

    "7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophesy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, etc..

    "8. We believe the Bible to be the Word of God, as far as it is translated correctly. We also believe the 'Book of Mormon' to be the word of God.

    "9. We believe [all] that God has revealed, and that He does now reveal, and we


    226                                     MORMONISM.                                    

    believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

    "10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the ten tribes; that Zion will be built on this continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its Paradisiacal glory.

    "11. We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

    "12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

    "13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul, 'We believe all things, hope all things.' We have endured many things, and hope to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

    The rules of one of their orders command a spirit of reverence, paternal affection, and pure morality: --
    "1. We will not take the name of the Deity in vain, nor speak lightly of His character or of sacred things.

    "2. We will pray with our families morning and evening, and also attend to secret prayer..

    "3. We will observe and keep the word of wisdom according to the meaning and spirit thereof.

    "4. We will treat our families with due kindness and affection, and set before them an example worthy of imitation in our families and intercourse with all persons. We will refrain from being contentious or quarrelsome; we will cease to speak evil of each other, and will cultivate a spirit of charity toward all. We consider it our duty to seek the interest of each other and the salvation of all mankind.

    "5. We will observe personal cleanliness, and preserve ourselves in all chastity. We will also discountenance and refrain from all vulgar and obscene language and conduct.

    "6. We will observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy, in accordance with the revelations."

    Such was the Mormon religion as at first established. It is now the same among a large sect of the "Latter Day Saints," who are called Josephites because they insist that Joseph Smith never promulgated the revelation of polygamy; and with the addition of that "revelation," it is still the prevailing religion of Utah. It matters little for our present purpose whether Smith did inculcate this practice or not. There is very strong proof that he did, and that the occasion for it was the gratification of his own sensual appetite, which he endeavored to excuse by pretending that he was obeying a new command from heaven. At any rate there stands the religion of Utah to-day, with its excellences, which must be acknowledged by every candid mind, its fanciful ideas about the corporeal substance of the Deity, the location of the future state, baptism for the dead, the


                                        MORMONISM.                                     227

    continual increase of families in heaven, and many other queer notions too abundant for enumeration here, but all of them of no importance to us or of sufficient interest to be considered at length, and its one festering excrescence, which we all desire to extirpate. It is enough to say that a people who profess a religion with a foundation like this, and who practice most of its precepts, cannot in the nature of things be guilty of all the abominable crimes of which they stand accused.

    The Mormon Church has always courted persecution; it has thrived upon it from its inception. Long before the revelation of polygamy it was sufficiently aggressive in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois to bring upon it the hatred of its neighbors without any really legal cause. Envy of the prosperity of the Mormons and a desire to drive them out in order to gain possession of their cultivated lands, added to a dislike of the new religion, were undoubtedly prevailing motives, though it cannot be denied that Joseph Smith was a troublesome and uncompromising fellow. All this finally culminated in his assassination, -- a cruel death for him, but a joyful new birth for the church. Then, in the estimation of his followers, the mission of their Prophet became indeed second only to that of the great Redeemer; and thus it is venerated to this day. 

    Brigham Young was his successor. Taking advantage of their newly aroused zeal and fanaticism he represented himself as another Moses, who would lead them out of a land of bandage to a new land of promise beyond the Rocky Mountains, which God had shown him in a vision. The story has often been told of this exodus; of the long, toilsome journey over the unexplored plains and mountains, when men and women dragged their infants and their small worldly possessions in handcarts on alkaline deserts and through winter snows, fainting, dying by the way, but never flinching, not one of them turning back; marching on with a faith that overcame every privation and torture of life, that triumphed over death itself in an assured hope of immortality.

    These were not "the ignorant masses from Europe." They were mostly men and women of New England blood. The seed from which they sprang was planted on the shores of Massachusetts Bay, grown to maturity in a hardihood of religious obstinacy which made the accomplishment of such a stupendous undertaking possible. The journey of Moses and the Israelites pales into insignificance compared with this. Accepting Jewish revelation, while we ridicule that of the Mormons, we see Jehovah on the side of the Israelites, leading them on with fiery and cloudy pillars, tormenting their persecutors with plague, pestilence and famine; opening the sea for them, making water to gush from the rock, raining down food, fighting their battles while they continually repined and apostatized. At last, ungrateful as they were, they came to a land of plenty, prepared by


    228                                     MORMONISM.                                    

    the hands of strangers for their occupation. Not so with the "Latter Day Saints." As they emerged from Emigration Canyon on the 24th day of July. 1847, their leader pointed out their promised land, -- a desert where only the sage-brush could grow. They marched a few miles before he cried halt. Then every one fell on his knees. A fervent prayer of thanksgiving was offered, and there was a universal loud "Amen!" It echoed back in the Rocky Mountains, as it now echoes Sunday after Sunday from ten thousand voices in the Tabernacle which they have built.

    Are we to believe that a man who could inspire such a lofty faith in the souls of his followers; who could redeem the world that he has pledged to them, by leading the mountain streams through these alkaline wastes until they were so permeated that this valley became, long before his death, one of the most fertile in the world; who built up this lovely little city of incomparable beauty, full of fruit gardens, with wide shaded streets, by the sides of which the running streams play their ceaseless music; who taught his people how to cultivate the soil, built mills and factories, and in short, by his far-seeing knowledge and indomitable will, conferred blessings upon them and their co-religionists who have since been brought here from their homes of poverty abroad, -- are we to believe that he was "one of the very worst and meanest of men;" that he "robbed his people for thirty years, -- robbed them by wholesale and retail;" and that he did every other conceivable thing that was bad, more than there is space now to quote? Although I knew him well, I never knew whether he was sincere in his own faith or not; but he fully believed that this faith was good for the people, -- and so it was. He had a kind heart. It was a most atrocious libel to accuse him of the guilt of the Mountain Meadows massacre. His natural instincts, as well as his policy, would have revolted against such a crime; for the prosperity of Utah depended in a great degree on exchanges with emigrants, who always, excepting in this instance, had received mutual benefit from trade. Whoever incited that tragedy, on whatever side the original blame may lie, certainly nothing of it can be imputed to Brigham Young.

    But his faults were prominent, and most deplorable. He may have been a hypocrite: God only knew. If we adopt the charitable conclusions of Sir Walter Scott in analyzing the character of Cromwell, whom in many respects Young resembled, we may believe that he did not know himself: --
    "His religion must always be a subject of much doubt, and probably of doubt which he himself could hardly have cleared up. Unquestionably there was a time in his life when he was sincerely enthusiastic, and when his natural temper, slightly subject to hypochondria, was strongly agitated by the same fanaticism which influenced so many persons of the time. On the other hand, there were periods during his political career when we certainly do him no injustice in charging him with a


                                        MORMONISM.                                     229

    hypocritical affectation. We shall probably judge him and others of the same age most truly, if we suppose that their religious professions were partly influential n their own breasts, partly assumed in compliance with their own interest; and so ingenious in the human heart in deceiving itself as well as others, that it is probable neither Cromwell himself, nor those making similar pretensions to distinguished piety, could exactly have fixed the point at which their enthusiasm terminated and their hypocrisy commenced; or rather, it was a point not fixed in itself, but fluctuating with the state of health, of good or bad fortune, of high or low spirits, affecting the individual at the period."
    Brigham Young was a gross sensualist, and when passion subsided it was replaced by the most grasping avarice. It grew upon him continually, until death came, -- none too soon to relieve his reputation of former years from the balance which was rapidly counting up against it. At his funeral people mourned for the days of his departed glory, and were resigned because no further shadow could creep over their light. 

    The final settlement of the Mormons in the Salt Lake Valley was determined upon by Brigham Young mainly because it was upon Mexican territory. He fondly hoped that the Rocky Mountains would form a perpetual barrier between his people and those of the United States, and that a civilization based upon an absolute theocracy would rival in success that of ancient Israel, under a similar special protection of God. The New England Puritans entertained the same idea when they escaped from the intolerance of the mother country. With them independence signified freedom from oppression and liberty to oppress. But as Massachusetts of to-day is not the Massachusetts of the seventeenth century, so the present Utah is not the Utah of thirty years ago. More than a hundred years were needed to enlighten New England; but light travels faster now, and to-day no one is molested in Utah because of his religious belief. Persecution of witches, Quakers, and Baptists is buried with ":blood atonement" in the grave of the past. The green sods must soon be piled upon polygamy; but Calvinism and Mormonism, shorn of their atrocities , will survive as Christian sects, alike entitled to the influence which they can legitimately exert.

    While the assertion of Mr. Godwin that the Mormon Church is an absolute despotism is so broad as to carry its refutation with it, Mr. Cannon errs equally in the opposition by giving one the impression that the church does not dictate the votes of the people. When, at Conference time, the names of fifty or more appointees or missionaries have been announced from the pulpit, and ten or twelve thousand hands have gone up in their favor, has any one ever seen a single sign of opposition on the negatives being called? It would not be politic to propose secular officers in the same way. This is done in the church newspaper organ, and the vote for them is likewise


    230                                     MORMONISM.                                    

    unanimous. Nor has any one the right to complain. There is the same unanimity on the other side for Gentile candidates.

    While Mr. Goodwin is wrong in his remark that ":almost all the leaders are of foreign birth," he would have been right in saying that almost all the additions to the church are imported from abroad, and that, generally speaking, they are too ignorant on arrival to care for themselves. Therefore it is a wise and kindly organization which parcels them out in different districts, and appoints the most intelligent men in the settlements to preside over them as "bishops," -- an office they hold, not implying gown, bands, and missals, but besides conducting religious meetings, it includes the direction of the laity "in temporal affairs," which forms Mr. Godwin's chief cause of complaint. If he had travelled through the valleys of Utah, he would have seen the excellent results of this system in the industry, sobriety, frugality, and general good behavior of these immigrants, which so soon replace the slavery and poverty in which many of them had heretofore lived. He would have seen how forcible is the complaint of the thirty or forty lawyers of Salt Lake, whose business is now derived from the quarrels of the Gentiles in the mining camps, that they can make nothing out of the Mormons. He might have been present at a Mormon Court, where the President of the "Stake" presides over twelve counsellors chosen by agreement, six facing the other six, the plaintiff, defendant, and witnesses sitting between them; he would have heard the court opened with prayer, a ceremony which he derides, and then he would have listened to the story as told by the parties at issue, the statement of their witnesses, the decision of the president (subject to an objection from any one of the council), a verdict arrived at by a vote, followed by a shaking of hands by the contestants, another prayer for their future peace, and an adjournment after all had broken bread in fraternal love, the cost of the suit being nothing to either party. It is only in towns of a large and mixed population like that of Salt Lake City that police courts are required. The complaints of the Gentiles that they are oppressed by the local jurisdiction of the Mormon Church is absurd. If the Mormons are oppressed by it they are willing to bear the burden. The continual cry of the Mormons that they are persecuted by the Federal Court has likewise for the most part no foundation. If they persist in the crime of polygamy, they must expect to be punished when convicted. I am aware of only two instances of unjust, although perhaps of not technically illegal, interference with them in other matters. On one occasion the city undertook in a summary way to put an end to rum-selling, and on another to abolish prostitution. Liquors were started into the gutters, and the inmates of houses of ill fame and their furniture were turned into the streets. For these offences against individuals the Federal authorities obliged


                                        MORMONISM.                                     231

    the corporation to pay so roundly that the Gentile morals have not since been interfered with. In no territory of the Union can there be found an equal proportion of settlers who, upon the whole, are happier and more contented with their lot. If they are ignorant when they arrive, the young soon acquire the learning which the common schools afford. Moreover, in the remote settlements as well as in the larger towns, knowledge is derived from sources not generally accessible to men on the frontier. Mormon missionaries who are scattered over the world are constantly returning when their terms of service have expired, bringing with them stores of information from abroad, which they distribute in conversation and lectures at home. "Preach the gospel," said President Taylor to a crowd of these men who were appointed at the last Conference, "but keep your eyes and ears open. Learn all you can about everything, and bring it back for the instruction of your friends." 

    There is a university in Salt Lake City where the languages, classics, and sciences are taught by competent professors. The "world's books" are freely used and circulated in families as well as in schools. Clergymen of all denominations are welcome to preach in their meeting-houses and in the Tabernacle, either on topics in which all Christians can agree, or to discuss Mormonism if they choose, upon the sole condition that they will acknowledge the inspiration of the whole Bible. This conceded, the Mormons conceive that they stand upon their own ground, any one of them, like Elijah, fully competent to contend against four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, even without the aid of fire from heaven.

    Nor is it fair, because they are as a rule disobedient in opinion to one law of the land, to make the sweeping accusations that they are disloyal. When on their march across the plains, the Mormon legion of five hundred young men, who least of all could be spared at that critical period, went to the war to fight for a cause which was the means of making their new home American, although probably they did not anticipate such a result. All their disloyalty now consists in the refusal to believe that one single law is just, -- not to the supposed extent in the violation of it. 

    The census of Utah has been thus returned: Total, 143,907. Males 74,471; females, 69,436. Native born, 99, 974; foreign born, 43, 933. There are 5,035 more males than females in this community, where every man is supposed to own a harem! Of the whole population, 20,000 in round numbers are Gentiles, leaving 124,000 Mormons. Of these it has been carefully computed that about 3,000 of the males and 7,000 of the females, the majority of them old people, are living in a state of polygamy. Young men and women have seen its evil effects in the families of their parents, and need not be urged to


    232                                     MORMONISM.                                    

    avoid it. Indeed, the most powerful preaching fails to induce its continuance, now that the introduction of the fashions has enhanced the cost of living so that the support of more than one wife, in the large towns, is an expense which a husband does not willingly incur. There are women who have been made the victims of lust by the argument that they would thus secure a heavenly inheritance to compensate for their earthly self-sacrifice. If they desire to be released from bondage, generosity can be manifested in no better way than by supporting them independently. Most of the "plural wives" of the present time come from those Scandinavian lands where chastity is scarcely considered a virtue, but is readily yielded for earthly profit, to say nothing of celestial glory. There is a market for them in the small settlements and on ranches, where they prefer to be members of the family, even of the second or third grade, rather than to accept the position of servants. On such women sympathy is wasted. They are criminals equally with the men. On their arrival at Castle Garden they should be instructed upon the consequences of their violation of the statute; and then, if Government considers the abolition of polygamy a matter of as much importance as the police of our cities regard the suppression of houses of ill fame, let it make similar periodical raids on the farm-houses of Utah. What more, in addition to carrying out the present laws, can be done to hasten the work which railroads, newspapers, and fashions are fast accomplishing?

    The various religious sects, so abundant in Salt Lake City, exert an influence with their schools, while they scarcely ever convert the adults to their creeds. Many of them become apostates; and these apostates become spiritualists or infidels. Gentile example is destroying polygamy and introducing many refinements; but the harm it is doing in other directions has not been calculated. It has advanced education, but it is robbing the simple people of their faith and of their sobriety. Far better would it be to reform Mormonism, rather than to attempt its suppression. Encourage the "Josephites." the anti-polygamists, in their missionary work, so that Mormonism may become as pure and undefiled as any other Christian sect. What will it matter if men choose to believe that Joseph Smith was a saint and a martyr? The Catholic Church has hundreds of saints and a noble army of martyrs. No one cares about its reverence of old dogmas and old bones.

    The complaints of ostracism in society on the part of Gentiles and Mormons are alike well founded. It is the faith of both. The former, equally "under the control of their bosses," with the latter, cannot or dare not associate with people who are supposed to be wallowing in the sink of iniquity. The least approach to a kindly feeling toward them excludes them from their own society, bringing upon them the


                                        MORMONISM.                                     233

    reproach of "Jack Mormonism," -- a condition which may be likened to the position of mahomet's coffin. On the other hand, the Mormons are jealous of the aggressive missionary spirit, fearing its influence on their children. Confident of a superior "exaltation" in the other world over their fellow Christians, they look upon them here with indifference, if not contempt. Thus in the capital there is a lamentable state of society, which renders a residence in it far from being desirable. There are Gentile and Mormon receptions of Presidents and other public men; Gentile and Mormon newspapers, banks, stores, theatres, and celebrations of the Fourth of July. Segments of both parties who are inclined to liberality are restrained from its exercise by the influence of their majorities. The condition of neighborhood is common in a smaller degree to all limited and secluded communities, and cannot be overcome by argument or legislation.

    After all, what is polygamy as a factor in the discussion of Mormonism? It is merely a weapon in the hands of the combatants on both sides. Neither party cares for the bone, except for the purpose of contention. Neither at heart wishes to have the practice abolished. The church keeps its hand upon it solely in order to court "persecution." By relinquishing it Utah could become a State, with a Mormon governor, a Mormon judiciary, and with every other office under Mormon control. Yet, for all these advantages, the church will not resign its great capital, which has always paid it such a high rate of interest. On the other hand, the Gentiles are apprehensive of the treatment which they might receive from the Mormons, and of taxation upon their peculiar industries, if the power which their small minority now holds in the territory should fall into the hands of the great majority. With neither is polygamy the true issue. On the part of the Gentiles, Mr. Goodwin candidly, though somewhat too abundantly, confesses: --

    "The control of the chiefs, as in Mahometan countries, is absolute; their organization superb; the discipline of the people perfect. From tithes $1,000,000 annually is collected, with which to strengthen their position. They are a hardy race, indifferent to hardships and privations. Already they are such a power that demagogues in their own country, other demagogues in Congress, and great moneyed corporations with their subsidized newspapers pander to them; and it is plain that this institution, which was jeered at but a few years ago, has now become an absolute terror and menace to the United States. The organization is governed by a code which is said to be a close copy of that which prevailed in Peru under the rule of the Incas."
    There is some truth, while there is a great deal of exaggeration and no little of downright absurdity, in all that. But this much is fact; The Mormons have a most effective organization. They have already settled nearly all the arable land of Utah. They are pushing their


    234                                     MORMONISM.                                    

    emigration into the neighboring territories. One of their chief apostles is now in Mexico, and it is credibly reported that he is in treaty with the Government for the purchase of a large tract of land for colonization, with the guarantee of absolute religious freedom in doctrine and practice. Ere long there need be no further discussion of polygamy in our own borders. In view of the propagandism of the Mormon Church, when that is no longer practised, the question before the American people will be, Is it desirable to restrain it? And, if so, what authority does the Constitution of the United States confer upon the Government to interfere?

                               JOHN CODMAN.


    Transcriber's  Comments

    John Codman (1814-1900)

    John Codman and the Mormons

    James A. Brigg's interesting 1875 letter to John Codman was perhaps solicited by Mr. Codman as supplementary information on the Mormons for use in his 1875 articles written for the New York Evening Post. The essence of those articles was restated in Codman's four-part "Through Utah" series, published in The Galaxy between September and December 1875. However, when Codman published his "Through Utah" articles, he neglected to tell anything about early Mormonism. He filed Briggs' informative letter away for future reference, not making any use of it until 1881, when he wrote his "Mormonism" article for the International Review.

    John Codman had already made a name for himself as being something of an "expert" on the subject of Utah and the Mormons, writing extensively on that subject in his 1874 The Mormon Country: A Summer with the "Latter-day Saints." And he enhanced his stature as an authority on Utah and the Mormons after publishing his 1879 The Round Trip by Way of Panama through California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado... It was in this volume that Codman first enunciated his rather naive championing of the anti-polygamy "reforms" of the Josephite (RLDS) Mormons (pp. 210-211). Codman restated his views on this subject in the 1881 "Mormonism" article: "Encourage the "Josephites." the anti-polygamists, in their missionary work, so that Mormonism may become as pure and undefiled as any other Christian sect." Such artless advocacy for monogamist Mormonism no doubt fell upon unsympathetic ears among the "Brighamite" leadership in Salt Lake City. Codman continued to express his generally sympathetic view of Mormonism in two subsequent articles: "The anti-polygamic Mormons," in the 1885 Christian Register, (pp. 548ff) and "The Mormon Situation," in the Jan. 7, 1886 Unitarian Register. Codman also had good things to say about the RLDS and their leader, Joseph Smith III (with whom he corresponded and met personally on one occasion) in his 1885 book, A Solution to the Mormon Problem. As late as 1890 Codman still maintained hopes for anti-polygamist "reforms" among the western Mormons (see his "Mormonism in Idaho," Belford's Magazine, V:26, pp. 169-178).

    Although Codman must have learned about the recovery of a Solomon Spalding manuscript in Honolulu and the great RLDS interest in that document, during his 1885 meeting with Joseph Smith III in Idaho, the Gentile writer seems to have retained no great interest in that particular subject. While Smith was carrying on his "anti-polygamist" crusade in Utah and Idaho in 1885, the RLDS printed the Spalding story, probably thinking they had thus relieved themselves of the troublesome Spalding authorship claims once and for all. In his 1881 article Codman makes reference to the Spalding authorship claims for the Book of Mormon only in the most laconic sort of way, almost as an afterthought which he expected his readers would agree with automatically. Codman made no attempt to critically examine the 1875 report on Kirtland Mormonism which he received from James A. Briggs and the highly significant assertions of that report remained forgotten in the pages of the International Review until Briggs himself revisted the subject in 1885.

    James A. Briggs and Book of Mormon Origins

    James Alfred Briggs, Esq. (b. 1811, Ulster Co., NY; d. 1889, Brooklyn, NY) was a prominent attorney in Cleveland, Ohio, and New York State. He, at various times, worked as a civil official, financal journalist, temperance advocate; political supporter of Abraham Lincoln, NY correspondent to to several newspapers, and was also briefly the editor of the Cleveland True Democrat in 1848-49. Briggs had moved west with his parents, Rufus and Nancy Hayes Briggs, in about 1831-32, and from about October 1832 to the end of March, 1834, lived in studied law in Chargin (now Willoughby) Ohio. He was admitted to the Cuyahoga County Bar Association in October, 1833 and by April 1834 had opened a law office on Superior Street in Cleveland, adjacent to the law office of Varnum J. Card. James A. Briggs was joined in his legal practice by Van Rensselaer Humphrey, Esq. later in 1834 with Briggs as the senior (though younger) partner in the firm.

    In 1833-34, while he was still living at Chagrin, Briggs fell into association with some of the leading anti-Mormons of Cuyahoga and Geauga counties, and through the auspices of these persons, young Briggs became acquainted with the anti-Mormon activist D. P. Hurlbut. It appears that Hurlbut called upon Briggs to prosecute an "assault and battery" charge he had filed against Joseph Smith, Jr. in the latter part of Dec. 1833. Although documentary evidence is lacking, it may be that Briggs helped Hurlbut get William Holbrook, a Painesville Justice of the Peace, to issue a writ against Smith, who was then residing in nearby Kirtland. If this is indeed what happened, Smith almost simultaneously managed to get a counter-charge filed against Hurlbut, and a warrant for Hurlbut's arrest (also returnable in Painesville) was issued. Hurlbut was subsequently arrested. Whether or not Smith was also arrested by the authorities remains unclear. It appears that the two cases were combined, in a single hearding held before two magistrates (Hon. William Holbrook presiding) in Painesville on January 13-15, 1834. James A. Briggs represented Hurlbut; Benjamin Bissel, Esq. represented Smith.

    The outcome of the Jan. 1834 trial was that D. P. Hurlbut was placed under a monetary bond and remanded over to the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas. Court records indicate that it was Joseph Smith, Jr. who brough charges against Hurlbut -- for threatening his life. At about this same time is appears that Hurlbut may have also retained Briggs in connection with a property suit he was attempting to bring against Hyrum and Joseph Smith. That attempt at legal action on Hurlbut's behalf never reached the pre-trial hearing stage. Or, if it did, Hurlbut's charges against the Smiths were dimissed. When D. P. Hurlbut's case came up before the Court of Common Pleas in April, James A, Briggs was nolonger acting as the anti-Mormon's attorney.

    In his March 1875 letter to John Codman, Briggs ignores the fact that he lost the Jan. 13-15 pre-trail hearing before Judge Holbrook. James A. Briggs nowhere indicates how the case he argued in Painseville finally turned out; but, had his client Hurlbut been the victor, Briggs certainly would have mentioned that fact in his report to Codman.

    Briggs' 1875 report of having once viewed an unpublished Solomon Spalding manuscript, the contents of which greatly resembled those of the Book of Mormon, is potentially a highly consequential assertion. If he indeed saw and read from such a Spalding holograph, then being exhibited by D. P. Hurlbut, then his testimony of that fact stands as a major piece of supportive evidence for the validity of the Solomon Spalding authorship claims. The fact of the matter is that no other members of the self-styled anti-Mormon "Committe" which operated on the fringes of the Mormon colony at Kirtland in 1833-34 have left any accounts of their having encountered this same ellusive Spalding manuscript. Briggs says that he and other members of the "self-constituted committee" compared "the Mormon Bible with the manuscript" then exhibited by Mr. Hurlbut, and that "the style of composition, the names, etc., were the same." A few other witnesses living in the Kirtland area at the end of 1833 independently voiced corroborating allegations, saying that they had each seen this particular Spalding manuscript in the hands of D. P. Hurlbut. However, this additional testimony notwithstanding, no concrete contemporary documentation has survived to prove that whatever it was that Hurlbut was then displaying was a verified Spalding holograph matching the wording of the Book of Mormon.

    Briggs made several other, generally akin statements about D. P. Hurlbut, Spalding, the Book of Mormon, etc. in the years that followed. He was an inveterate writer of letters to newspaper editors on all sorts of subjects and it is likely that several of his reports on Kirtland Mormonism remain unnoticed among the back issues of late 19th century American newspapers. Relevent published sources by or about James A. Briggs are included in the following bibliographic chronology:

    James A. Briggs -- Bibliographic Chronology

  • 1875 (Mar.) James A. Briggs sends a letter relating his experience with early Mormonism, D. P. Hurlbut, etc. to James Codman, who is writing books and articles on the Mormons. Codman files Briggs' letter away for possible future use.

  • 1881 (Sep.) The letter that James A. Briggs wrote to John Codman in 1875 is published in a Codman article publshed in the International Review
  • Briggs says: "In the winter of 1833-34... we had before us the original manuscript of the Rev. Solomon Spaulding... From this work... the Mormon Bible was constructed... the opinion of the committee after comparing the Mormon Bible with the manuscript. The style of composition, the names, etc., were the same."

  • 1883 (spring?) Shortly before D. P. Hurlbut dies (June 18, 1883) James A. Briggs writes him a letter of inquiry. Briggs says that he and Hurlbut are "the only persons living who were at the Mentor, Ohio, meeting in 1834" where Hurlbut exhibited Spalding's "Manuscript Found." Briggs requests Hurlbut "to tell... what he did with the manuscript of Spaulding we had there," but Hurlbut "made no reply." Briggs' recollections are later published in an Oct. 1886 issue of the Detroit Michigan Christian Herald.

  • 1884 (Jan. 23?) The Cleveland Leader publishes a James A. Briggs letter, apparently written on Jan 19, 1884. Briggs says: "In the winter of 1833-'34 several gentlemen ... employed a man by the name of Hu[r]lbut, who was once a Mormon, to help in the investigation. He went to Pittsburgh and found a printer there for the manuscript of the book written by the Rev. Solomon Spalding, 'The Manuscript Found.' We compared it with the Mormon Bible, and the names and language and style of the Bible were so like the manuscript that all were convinced that the 'Mormon Bible' was made out of this manuscript of Spalding."

  • 1885 (c. Nov.) James A. Briggs writes a letter to Lewis L. Rice in Honolulu, requesting that Rice send him information about the Spalding manuscript discovered there among Rice's old papers.

  • 1885 (Dec. 4) Lewis L. Rice sends an answer to James A. Briggs in Brooklyn, telling him about the Spalding manuscript discovered in Honolulu.

  • 1886 (Jan. 29) James A. Briggs reads a news report in the New York Tribune.about Solomon Spalding, issued by Samuel S. Partello. Briggs then writes the Editor of the Tribune.a letter responding to Partello's article.

  • 1886 (Jan. 31) Briggs' letter of Jan 29th is published by the New York Tribune. Briggs says: "In a letter to me dated Honolulu, Dec. 4, 1885, Mr. Rice says: 'After the death of my wife in 1877, at Oberlin, I came out here to be with my daughter Mary (Mrs. Dr. Whitney). I have a pleasant home here -- am in good health for a man now eighty-five.' This is the Mr. Rice from whom the news comes to you of the manuscript of Spaulding."

  • 1886 (Feb. 21) Lewis L. Rice writes his last of several letters to the Editor of the RLDS Saints' Herald in Lamoni, Iowa.

  • 1886 (Feb. 26) Lewis L. Rice writes one of his last letters to James A. Briggs. At this point Rice still did not accept any connection between the writings of Spalding and the Book of Mormon. However, at about this same time Rice receives information from Briggs which helped him change his mind and give the Spalding authorship claims more serious consideration.

  • 1886 (Mar. 4) Lewis L. Rice writes his final statement regarding the Oberlin Spalding manuscript and the Spalding claims for Book of Mormon authorship. This he sends to the Editor of the local Honolulu Bulletin.

  • 1886 (Mar. 11) Lewis L. Rice's letter of Mar. 4, 1886 is published in the Honolulu Bulletin. Rice quotes from Briggs' Jan 29th letter to the New York Tribune and then says: "This testimony of Mr. Briggs is entirely reliable. I was acquainted with all the members of the 'self-constituted committee' of which he speaks."

  • 1886 (Mar. 11) James A. Briggs writes an "Open Letter to Joseph Smith III." The letter is not responded to directly by President Smith or any other RLDS leader. Nearly two years later Arthur B. Deming prints the piece in his Naked Truths About Mormonism. It is unclear whether Deming received the letter directly from Briggs or simply reprinted it from some obscure published source, such as The Booklyn Magazine.

  • 1886 (Apr. 3) Lewis L. Rice's letter of Feb. 21, 1886 is printed in the RLDS Saints' Herald. Rice asks that a copy of the recently published Oberlin Spalding manuscript be sent to James A. Briggs in Brooklyn, N.Y.C.

  • 1886 (Sep. 9) The Boston Watchman publishes a letter by James A. Briggs, probably written about Sep. 5, 1886. Briggs says: "In the year 1833-4, I was one of a self-appointed committee... investigating the origin of the Book of Mormon. Dr. D. P. Hurlburt had been in New York and Massachusetts looking up testimony; we had the manuscript of Rev. Solomon Spaulding before us, that we compared with the Mormon Bible, and we had no doubt that from Spaulding's writings Rev. Sidney Rigdon got up the Mormon Bible."

  • 1886 (Sep. 16) The Detroit Michigan Christian Herald publishes an article entitled, "A Question of Identity." The writer of this article supports the arguments made by James A. Briggs in his recent letter to the Boston Watchman.

  • 1886 (Oct.) James A. Briggs' claims regarding D. P. Hurlbut, etc. are given publicity in various newspapers' reprints of his letter to the Boston Watchman. Among the various publications carrying this story is the October issue of The Booklyn Magazine.

  • 1886 (Oct. 2) The Chicago Daily Tribune reprints Briggs' letter to the Boston Watchman. Briggs says: "I have believed since the spring of 1834 that Rigdon got up the Mormon Bible out of the "Manuscript Found," and there are many persons who have testified to Rigdon's connection with the manuscript. They have testified to the intimate acquaintance of Rigdon with Lambdin of Pittsburg, the partner of Patterson, printer, with whom Spaulding left his manuscript."

  • 1886 (Oct. 14) James A. Briggs, having read the "A Question of Identity" article in the Sept. 16th Detroit Michigan Christian Herald, writes a response entitled, "Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?"

  • 1886 (Oct. 21?) The Detroit Michigan Christian Herald, publishes Briggs' letter. He says: "The 'Manuscript Found is in the possession of Dr. D. P. Hurlbut. What did he do with it? Did he sell it to the Mormons? He denied it. He got the manuscript. His statements in regard to it were conflicting. He made no explanation. He kept silent. When I wrote to him a short time before his death, and said to him we were the only persons living who were at the Mentor, Ohio, meeting in 1834, and asked him to tell me what he did with the manuscript of Spaulding we had there, he made no reply."

  • 1886 (Oct. 30) The Editor of the RLDS Saints' Herald says that the recent article by James A. Briggs' regarding the writings of Solomon Spalding, etc. "is going the rounds of the papers."

  • 1887 (Apr. ?) James A. Briggs writes a letter to the Washington D. C. Evening Star. It is printed in that paper in mid-April.

  • 1887 (Apr. 19) The letter written by James A. Briggs' to the [Washington D. C. ?] Evening Star is reprinted in The Cleveland Leader. Briggs says: " In a letter to me, written by Mr. Rice, a friend of fifty years, at Honolulu, February 26, 1886, says: '... At President Fairchild's request, I was overhauling my pamphlets and manuscripts... when, for the first time I examined the package. The words "manuscript found" do not occur on the wrapper, or in the manuscript at all. The wrapper was marked in pencil 'manuscript story, -- Conneaut Creek.'"

  • 1888 (Jan.) The "Open Letter to Joseph Smith III" Briggs wrote on Mar. 11, 1886 is finally published -- by Arthur B. Deming in his Naked Truths About Mormonism I:1. Briggs says: "The manuscript of Rev. Solomon Spaulding, Conneaut, Ohio, found by Mr. L. L. Rice, of Honolulu, Sandwitch Islands, and now in the archives in the Library of Oberlin, Ohio, and published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Lamoni, Iowa, throws no more light upon the authorship or origin of the 'Mormon Bible' than it does upon the real authorship of the Letters of Junius."

  • 1888 (Mar. 5) In what were perhaps his last words published in a newspaper on this subject, the New York Times prints Briggs' communication of Feb. 27th, saying: "{I} heard Jo Smith in a justice court, where he was before ot in a charge if assault and battery, testify as to his finding the 'Golden Plates' of the 'Mormon Bible,' and how he was kicked out of the hole in the earth where he was digging, when he struck the plates, by an unseen power."
  • (see Dan Vogel's Early Mormon Documents I, p. 206).

    James A. Briggs' Claims -- A Composite Account

    In reading the following account, please remember that it is NOT a precise set of quotations taken from James A. Briggs. Rather, it is a reconstructive PARAPHRASE of various details related or alluded to by him, taken from eight different of his own published accounts, as well as supplementary material drawn from various other sources.

    Recollections of James A. Briggs

    From October 1832 to the end of March 1834 I lived in Chagrin, Cuyahoga Co., Ohio. Near the end of that period the township was transferred to Geauga Co. and renamed "Willoughby." I studied law at Willoughby during most of my residence there, and was admitted to the bar in Oct. 1833, as a young and still inexperienced lawyer. One of my first clients, in fact, was the infamous "Doctor" Philastus Hurlbut, a man who, in those days, had sworn to expose and destroy Mormonism in nearby Kirtland.

    I lived only about two and a half miles from the spot where the Mormons were building their temple, on the rise overlooking Kirtland Flats. I heard much of Mormonism by report and even more as an eyewitness to much that transpired in and around the Mormonite headquarters at Kirtland. When time permitted I went to hear the leaders of the sect preach, especially their most eloquent champion, Rev. Sidney Rigdon.

    Rigdon was a natural orator, had a fine command of pious language, and was a very impressive speaker. He had much native genius and probably at least a smattering of a classical education. As I recall he was the first real preacher of Mormonism, having previously been employed in northern Ohio as a Baptist minister of no little fame. There were early rumors that Rigdon was the real founder of the Mormonite delusion and I eventually came to believe that he was the real brains of the concern. Smith exhibited a considerable imaginative qualities, coupled with a natural ability to fool many people in various ingenious ways, but he had not the capacity, natural or acquired, to found a religion and compile its unique "scriptures." He was cunning but not intellectual. Rigdon was both intelligent and devious, a man who could plan and execute deep laid schemes and put a plausible face upon all sorts of self-serving knavery.

    While engaged in studying the law at Willoughby I became acquainted with several of the leading citizens and professional men of Chagrin, Painesville, and Mentor. Several of these gentlemen shared a growing concern that the Mormonites would soon increase their numbers to such a degree as to pose a serious political and economic threat to the "old settlers" of Geauga County. Professional men like Dr. George W. Card and Judge Nehemiah Allen had first-hand experience in dealing with these fanatical sectarians. They counseled their friends and neighbors that it might be a good idea to investigate the hidden origins and dark secrets of these people, and to deflate their ballooning expansion before they became a serious menace to their "Gentile" neighbors.

    Just about the beginning of the winter of 1833-34 these gentlemen and their associates read in the newspapers of the Mormonites being ejected from their colony in Missouri and decided it was time to instigate some similar, if less violent, actions against the sect in Ohio. Col. Warren Corning, who knew most of the leading men in the region, graciously offered the use of his house in Mentor as a place for the "investigators" to hold their consultations. I accompanied Dr. Card to their first gathering in Mentor and there became more closely acquainted with Samuel Wilson, a prominent businessman, Judge Jonathan Lapham, Judge Allen, Mr. Corning, and his son. The non-Mormon town officials of Kirtland had recently held a public meeting and had decided that the great majority of the Mormonites under their jurisdiction were a public nuisance, barely able to feed themselves and totally unprepared to shoulder their fair share of responsibility in the township. Plans were underway to warn most of them out of Kirtland. The Campbellites of Mentor were also unhappy at the growth of the new sect at their own expense. They had lost almost all their members in Kirtland to Mormonite conversions and had barely rescued the congregation at Mentor from a similar fate. Mr. Corning was well acquainted with all of these opponents of Mormonism. He an a couple of neighbors with "deep pockets" had resolved to check the Mormonite political threat in the coming elections in Kirtland township.

    So, although none of us actually held residence in Kirtland, we built upon the foundations laid by the recent town meeting in that place and styled ourselves as a "Committee" of that meeting, organized to consult together and report back to Mr. Corning's associates across the township line. I myself had little to contribute to the "Committee," except a youthful eagerness and a firm resolve to expose religious blasphemy wherever I might encounter it.

    At about the time the "Committee" met for the third time in Mentor, we heard of a man who was just then lecturing against the Mormonites in the little Methodist chapel adjacent to their half-built temple at Kirtland. We were then operating under the impression that this man was a well qualified physician who had uncovered many embarrassing secrets relating to the "Latter Day Saints" and their leaders. This Doctor met with us at the Corning home and solicited our financial assistance in sending him back to his previous home in Ontario, County, new York, the very place where Mormonism had first reared its displeasing head. This "Doctor" Hurlbut promised to return with many incriminating signed affidavits taken from the former neighbors of the Mormon Smith family. This much I heard him say myself. The man also dropped dark hints about his being able to prove the altogether human origin of the Mormon Bible in the writings of a certain deceased clergyman. The details of this impending disclosure Hurlbut shared only with Judge Allen, Dr. Card and Col. Corning. However, I was later informed that he had displayed to them and to three other men, not members of the "Committee," two personal statements he had recently obtained from the brother and sister-in-law of this mysterious deceased clergyman -- depositions which detailed the true origin of the so-called Book of Mormon.

    With funds supplied to some extent from our own pockets (but largely by the three non-members of the group), Dr. Hurlbut disappeared from our view for several weeks, during which time he communicated with us by letters sent to a magistrate in Kirtland who was a Campbellite and a friend of Mr. Corning. Near the end of December, in 1833, Hurlbut returned to Ohio and the first we heard confirming that event was that the fellow was again lecturing in and around Kirtland. A few days before Christmas our "Committee" reassembled itself in Mentor and prepared a few sharp words for Hurlbut. The man presented himself with copious apologies for having let the cat out of the bag before sharing his findings with our little group. His excuse was that he had obtained such startling evidence documenting the Mormon fraud that he feared for his life and thought it best to make the exposure public to as many persons as possible and as quickly as possible. This justification of his aroused the curiosity of the Committee members and we all sat down to pour over dozens of signed and certified statements Hurlbut had brought back from Ontario and Wayne counties in New York. But, as he then said and as I still now believe, his "biggest fish" was a pile of tattered old manuscripts, retrieved from an old attic near Syracuse and a defunct publishing firm in Pittsburgh, or so he said. These, he remarked, were the "bones upon which Sidney Rigdon hung the meat of Mormonism."

    The manuscripts were written with a quill pen and in a crabbed, old-fashioned hand. They appeared to us to be little more than a useless pile of rubbish, until Hurlbut began pointing out words, names, phrases, and then, whole sentences, that matched in partly or fully their numerous counterparts in his well-thumbed Book of Mormon. The style of composition, the names, etc., were the same. "This is it!" exclaimed Samuel Wilson, with a broad grin. "We publish these papers, along with certificates testifying to their authenticity, and the Mormon hoax is finished."

    Dr. Hurlbut solicited still more funds from the Committee, and promised to compile the lot of his documents into a readable book, to be published at Chardon within six weeks. By this time we had all become more than a little aware of the man's deficiencies in scholarly attainments, and the common feeling was that Hurlbut should retire from the field and allow more capable hands to carry out the publicizing of his great discoveries. This idea Hurlbut protested with much bombast and a great show of hurt feelings. The meeting broke up without a clear plan of action determined upon, and with Dr. Hurlbut retaining all but a few specimens of his collection of wondrous documents. Those left temporarily in our keeping were a sheaf of letters penned by those who had known the deceased clergyman. From these and from other facts related by Hurlbut, we were convinced that Sidney Rigdon, when he had lived near Pittsburgh, copied a work of fiction, "The Manuscript Found," and from that and other things made up the Mormon Bible. The Committee did not come together again to discuss this dilemma until after Christmas, and during that slack time matters quickly spun entirely out of hand.

    For several reasons I do not need to relate here, Dr. Hurlbut, who had once been a Mormon himself, was involved in serious trouble with "the Saints" in Kirtland. His boisterious lecturing and defiant exhibitions of the documents he had recently collected did not set well with Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. One night he got into a brawl with Joe Smith on the very steps of the unfinished Mormon temple at Kirtland. No blood was drawn and the two pugilists came away from the hostile encounter none the worse from the wear. But, from that moment onward, I think, Hurlbut realized that discretion was the better part of valor, and that he had far fewer friends to defend him than the Mormons had ruffians to follow him about on dark nights. He moved out of Kirtland Flats and into the security of Cambellite Mentor that very night.

    You might imagine my surprise when none other than the good Doctor sent word that I should come to meet him at once at his new residence. His stated reason for calling upon my services without notice was that three other capable attorneys had turned down an important prosecution he was determined to bring against the Mormon leader, Joe Smith. Telling me right off that he hoped my services would be rendered gratis, Hurlbut requested that I at once go with him to a Justice of the Peace in order to file a complaint against the Mormon prophet, on the charge of assault and battery. He had his witnesses and they were prepared to swear under oath that Smith had struck first in their recebt passage at arms in front of the temple. Deciding that Dr. Hurlbut might find his best opportunity to pursue such a course of action among the magistrates in Painesville, the two of us immediately repaired to that town, and not long after the break of day he had his writ against Smith, returnable to Judge Holbrook. However, before a copy of the order could even be placed in the hands of the Painesville constable, word reached us that Benjamin Bissell, Esq. had secured the issuance of a similar warrant, against my client, from Judge Dowen in Kirtland. The attorney for the Mormon Prophet had accused Hurlbut of planning to murder Smith, following their nocturnal bout of fisticuffs in Kirtland.

    So began an extraordinary game of cat and mouse, in which my client, Dr. Hurlbut, played the mouse and was soon after arrested in Painesville. Joe Smith surrendered his own person to the tender mercies of Judge Dowen and the Kirtland constable, and ended up under arrest in his own house, if that may be properly called an arrest at all. Benjamin Bissell was a consummate practitioner of the art of legal defense and I harbored little hope of success in a battle against his lawyer's wits. By some slight of hand, Bissell was able to have our intended prosecution of Joe Smith suspended until Smith's own case against my client could be set in motion. The result of this skillful lawyering was that the magistrate hearings for both Hurlbut's prosecution and Smith's counter-prosecution were combined, in a three day legal farce, the recollection of which I would most happily relinquish altogether.

    Hurlbut was released from the constable's arms into my keeping for the three days of the hearing in Painesville. Judge Holbrook determined that the public curiosity had been so much aroused as to render holding the proceedings in the court-house impractical. The old Methodist chapel on the southeast corner of the square in Painesville was requisitioned, and for three days the dual-hearing circus was performed daily to a full crowd of gawking spectators, all eager to catch a glimpse of the Mormon Elijah. If there had been court recorders in those days the verbatim report of the combined hearings would have been a rare curiosity. The presiding Judge had attended Hurlbut's lectures and he had handled some of the same manuscripts our Committee had perused at the Corning home in Mentor a few days before. My hopes were that he would quietly assist us gain some publicity in the county papers for our battle against Mormonism. But the best I was able to obtain was a knowing aside from His Honor, at the bench, saying that the Court of Common Pleas would doubtless exonerate Dr. Hurlbut -- and that such an outcome would spread the good Doctor's marvelous discoveries across the front pages of papers from Detroit to Buffalo. In the meanwhile, Hurlbut was placed under bonds to keep the peace in his relations with all men, and with Joe Smith in particular.

    The most interesting part of the hearing was certainly not in listening to the catalog of deadly threats recited by the witnesses restating my client's regrettable outpourings among the Mormonites. Even Hurlbut conceded he may have said such things, in th heat of anger. He meant to say he would kill Mormonism -- but that may have come out as "I'll kill Joe Smith and his church too."

    The truly memorable two days of the hearing occurred when I had Prophet Smith called to the witness stand to tell his side of the story. He left off talking about Hurlbut and began telling of his purported discovery of the book of plates that was the original to the Mormon Bible and the judge, after some hesitation, allowed Smith's sworn testimony. According to the teller of the tale, under oath, he found some golden plates buried in the earth in a field in Palmyra, New York. The fortunate digger had barely obtained the precious plates from his diggings, when a malevolent spirit assaulted him with the intention of getting them from his possession, and actually jerked them out of his hands -- Smith, not at all daunted, in return seized them back again, whereupon the demonic power applied his cloven hoof to the seat of the prophet's pantaloons, and raised him a good four feet into the atmosphere. The whole trial was exceedingly rich, and the old church was crowded with incredulous spectators. In my summation I must have played a little rough with Morminite sentiments, for as soon as the proceedings had ended, one of the leaders of the Kirtland Mormons confessed aloud, "if it were not for his religion he would whup that skinny fledgling, Briggs." My offer to forget the fanatic's "religion" for the moment was declined and I perhaps became the only lawyer who has ever escaped a beating on account of his opponent being a Mormon.

    I parted company with Hurlbut following the unfortunate outcome of the hearing. The "Committee" held a few more meetings in Mentor to discuss matters, but by the beginning of February, 1834 it was evident to everyone that Hurlbut either no longer had all the manuscripts we had read through in his current possession, or he was unwilling to further share their contents. In either case, he broke the agreement he had previously made with the Committee in half a dozen different ways. A good deal of his affidavits and other papers ended up in the care of Painesville editor Eber D. Howe, and, from that time forward the "Committee" washed its hands of Hurlbut and, except for its financing non-Mormon candidates for local office and underwriting a few lawsuits against leaders of the sect, was effectively disbanded. When Howe published his interesting book some months later, practically all the best discoveries of Dr. Hurlbut were left unmentioned, or, if mentioned at all, were wholly undocumented.

    Hurlbut's case came before the Court of Common Pleas at the end of March and he again sent word, inquiring if I would represent him at that trial. I do not recall now whether I even sent him a reply, as I was then busy packing my belongings in order to remove from Willoughby to a law office in Cleveland. The last I heard of the man in Ohio was in a cock-crowing editorial published in the pages of the Mormon journal issued at Kirtland. He lost the case brought against him in Chardon and thenceforth disappeared from the sight of all, leaving behind only an earful of unsavory rumors as to the questionable nature of his personal character.

    In later years the account of Rev. Solomon Spaulding having written a good deal of the Book of Mormon was bandied about in the papers, and it even appeared in various forms in a number of books, complete with fresh affidavits and additional particulars. One report I recall reading said that D. P. Hurlbut boasted of having made $400 from his sale of Spaulding's "Manuscript Found" to the Kirtland Mormons. Another said that it was common knowledge among former important Mormons living in Missouri that such a nefarious transaction did take place at an earlier date, but that Smith and Company had neglected to pay the agreed upon sum in full and that all Hurlbut ended up with was a postage-stamp piece of worthless swamp land, located somewhere in Erie Co., Pennsylvania.

    I have read the story written by Solomon Spaulding and published recently by the non-polygamous Josephite Mormons of Iowa. I have no doubt, as they profess, that Mr. Howe obtained this piece of work from Hurlbut early in 1834. We had this thin tale before us on the table in Mentor, along with a few other scribblings of a similar kind. I remember then reading about the ancient ruined fort on Conneaut Creek, the mound within which the writer claimed to find some ancient records, etc. But we also had before us, and we compared it closely with the Mormon Bible, a longer, more finished story, which I have ever since believed was the "Manuscript Found" and the basis for the Book of Mormon. The words if that story were written in the same style as the text of the Mormon Bible. The unique names -- singular examples of concoction -- were the same as in the Mormon book, not to be forgotten. This other, larger manuscript was not put into the hands of Mr. Howe. What did Hurlbut do with it? Some years back I wrote to him, reminding him that he and I were the two surviving participants in those almost forgotten meetings at Mentor, and asking him what he had done with the "Manuscript Found." He died without ever replying to my questions.

    Besides my own remembrances of the evidence put before us in Corning's drawing room, a great deal of supporting evidence has been subsequently brought forth and placed before the public eye. I have ever believed that I once held in my hands the Spaulding original of the Book of Mormon, and I can honestly say that all I have learned of these matters since then only serves to confirm my long-held beliefs in this respect. Mormonism was founded upon a fraud and it is a pity that so many have been, and continue to be, so badly deceived. I can only hope that those who read my statement will allow it enough credence that they will look into this affair more deeply on their own account, and thus help to promote the cause of truth and justice in a world sorely beset by such aggravations as Mormonism, Rigdonism and Brighamism.

    The tabulation below indicates the sources of the more important details related by James A. Briggs and used to compile his "composite account."

    01 = Feb. 1838 Letter to Berkshire Advocate
    01 = Mar. 1875 Letter to John Codman
    02 = Jan. 19, 1884 Letter to Cleveland Leader
    03 = Jan. 29, 1886 Letter to New York Tribune
    04 = Mar. 11, 1886 Letter to Joseph Smith III
    05 = Sep. 5?, 1886 Letter to Boston Watchman
    06 = Oct. 14, 1886 Letter to Michigan Christian Herald
    07 = Apr. ?, 1887 Letter to Washington Star
    08 = Feb. 17, 1887 Letter to New York Times

    01   __   __   __   __   __   __   __   was a law student in Willoughby
    __   __   __   04   __   __   __   __   lived in Willoughby form Oct. 1832 to Apr. 1, 1834
    __   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   was admitted to the bar in Oct. 1833

    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   in the winter of 1833-34
    __   __   __   04   __   06   __   __   or (early) spring of 1834
    __   __   __   __   05   __   __   __   in the year 1833-34

    01   02   03   04   05   __   __   __   a (self-constituted) Committee

    01   02   03   04   05   06   __   __   held meetings / met
    01   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   met several times / a number of times

    01   02   03   04   05   06   __   __   in Mentor (Geauga Co., Ohio)
    01   02   03   04   05   __   __   __   at the home of Mr. W. Corning / Warren Corning

    01   02   03   04   05   06   __   __   to investigate Mormonism / origin of Book of Mormon

    __   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   including Judge/Legislator (Nehemiah) Allen
    __   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   including (businessman) Samuel Wilson 1833-34
    __   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   including Dr. (George W.) Card
    __   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   including (Judge) Jonathan Lapham

    01   02   __   04   __   __   __   __   of Willoughby, and/or Mentor, and/or Painesville

    __   02   __   __   05   __   __   __   D. P. Hurlbut had been a Mormon
    __   __   03   04   __   __   __   __   D. P. Hurlbut lived in (was in) Kirtland

    __   02   03   __   __   __   __   __   they employed D. P. Hurlbut (to look up testimony)
    __   __   __   04   05   __   __   __   D. P. Hurlbut looked up evidence on Mormons

    __   __   __   __   05   __   __   __   Hurlbut went to New York & Massachusetts
    __   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   Hurlbut went to (Pittsburgh) Pennsylvania

    01   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   a Spalding MS, was obtained from Pittsburgh
    01   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   MS. obtained from Patterson / a printer/publisher
    __   02   03   04   __   06   __   __   Hurlbut obtained Spalding's "MS. Found"

    __   __   __   __   __   __   __   __   Hurlbut brought the Committee his evidence
    __   02   03   __   __   __   __   __   Hurlbut brought the Committee Spalding's writings
    01   02   03   04   05   __   __   __   the Committee examined Spalding's writings
    __   __   __   04   05   __   __   __   one MS. they examined was the Oberlin story
    01   02   03   04   05   06   __   __   one MS. they read matched the Book of Mormon
    01   02   03   04   05   __   __   __   Committee said Book of Mormon came from MS.
    __   02   03   04   05   __   __   __   Committee believed Rigdon was the compiler
    __   __   __   04   05   06   __   __   Briggs believed Rigdon was the compiler

    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   Briggs thought Rigdon an eloquent preacher
    __   02   03   04   __   06   __   __   Briggs thought Rigdon smarter (than Smith)

    __   __   03   04   05   __   __   __   Hurlbut gave Howe one MS. / kept the other
    __   __   __   04   05   06   __   __   Hurlbut sold "Manuscript Found" (to LDS)
    __   __   __   04   05   06   __   __   Briggs later asked Hurlbut about the MS./MSs.

    __   __   __   04   05   06   07   __   Oberlin MS. is not "Manuscript Found"

    __   __   03   __   05   __   __   __   Hurlbut had difficulties with LDS at Kirtland
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   08   (in 1833) Hurlbut charged Smith with assault
    __   __   __   04   __   __   __   __   Painesville J.P. issued a warrant to getbSmith
    __   __   03   04   __   __   __   08   (early in 1834) Hurlbut had Smith arrested

    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   08   Smith tried (in Painesville) (before Magistrate)
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   hearing was in the Painesville Methodist church
    01   __   03   __   __   __   __   __   Painesville hearing was held before two J.P.s
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   Painesville hearing lasted three days
    01   __   03   04   __   __   __   __   the hearing attracted great public interest

    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   Briggs acted as Hurlbut's attorney
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   Benjamin Bissell was Smith's lawyer
    01   __   03   04   __   __   __   __   Orson Hyde attended
    __   __   03   __   __   __   __   __   Oliver Cowdery attended
    01  __   03   04   __   __   __   __   (Parley?) Pratt attended

    __   02   03   04   __   __   __   __   Briggs called upon Smith to testify
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   08   Smith testified about his finding the plates
    01   02   03   04   __   __   __   08   he said he was kicked (by demonic power)
    01   02   __   __   __   __   __   __   a Mormon leader threatened Briggs

    return to top of page

    Return to:  Special Collections Index  |  Spalding Studies Library

    last revised: April 24, 2012