The International Review XI:3
(NYC: A. S. Barnes & Co., Sept. 1881)
John Codman James A. Briggs
MORMONISM.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
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
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.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
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
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, --
"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.
believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 (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
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.
The tabulation below indicates the sources of the more important details related by James A. Briggs and used to compile his "composite account."
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