George R. Gibson
"Origin of a Great Delusion"
New Princeton Review II:6
(NYC: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1886)
Note: George Rutledge Gibson served in the Mexican War
under General A. W. Doniphan, an attorney and Missouri
state militia officer associated with Joseph Smith, Jr.
P R I N C E T O N R E V I E W.
61st Year. NOVEMBER, 1886. No. 6.
THE MODERN NOVEL.
THOSE who mourn, while they deny, the existence of new methods in fiction, utter their deepest lamentations over the absence from the work of modern men of something better, nobler, and grander than life. They maintain with greater unanimity that it is this loftier principle that is the essential quality of art; that those who fail to seek it are artisans of poor degree; and that to the artist alone is vouchsafed a vision of what, to be sure, is not, but might be. This grand, if remote, inspiration, it is held, is abandoned by late writers, and these degenerate scribblers thereby degrade themselves below their presecessors, who reserved their highest flights for the pure wther which was not contaminated by the vulgarity of real life. The reality is hopelessly low, and the business of art is to polish it into a presentable, inoffensive shape; such is their judgment, and it may, perhaps, be worth while to examine a few of the steps by which this aristocratic notion of the supremacy of the ideal grew and began to fade, if one may say that so widespread a notion has begun to fade.
I.It is in the romantic novel that we find full expression given to the desire to represent something greater than life, and it is in Horace Walople's Castle of Otranto that we may trace the crude beginnings of a vast movement. To us of the present day this story is very nearly unreadable; it has more the air of a caricature than of a genuine attempt to attract adult readers, and this feeling was
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ON the 23d day of December, 1805, there was born of obscure and unpromising parentage, in the village of Sharon, State of Vermont. a child who later at the early age of twenty-two conceived the elements of the most remarkable religious delusion of modern times. This child was Joeph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism.
Since the storm and stress period of the Reformation religious thought has been in a state of ferment which has given birth to various shades and species of belief, here being as many as 180 in England alone. As long as they are confined to mere intellectual dogmas they do not specially interest the public at large, and consequently we allow the greatest latitude to religious opinion. When, however, as in the case of Mormonism, it conflicts with the established order of things, it is immediately confronted with rigid scrutiny as to its right to set up practices obnoxious and antagonistic to society.
In order to properly estimate the dignity and charaxter of this strange fanaticism and the right of its disciples to live according to its peculiar precepts, we must consider the origin and development of its pretensions.
That a numerous religious sect should crystallize around the vagaries of a visionary youth in this enlightened day and generation is, indeed, surprising; but we know that credulity is born with man. History is replete with examples of wide-spread manias and delusions. Myths and fables abound not only in the literature of childhood, but in the annals of the human race. Witchcraft, for instance, was not only a vulgar superstition of the common people, but it was recognized and punished as a crime in courts of justice. The mysterious and marvellous have a charm common to all ages. It exhibits itself in the mythology of Greece and Rome, in spiritualism, clairvoyance, and the interpretation of dreams, in the so-called arts of astrology, alchemy, palmistry, and necromancy.
Mormonism relied, primarily, upon this infirmity of man's mind, and, secondarily, upon the magnetic qualities of its founder and early propagandists.
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The story of Smith's life, in view of its long train of attending social, religious, and political consequences, is a valuable historical and biographical study, and in its lights and shadows is as sensational as a tale of the romancer.
When he was ten years of age, his parents removed with their progeny of nine children to Palmyra, N. Y., where the father opened a "cake and beer" shop.
All accounts represent them as a shiftless lot, with no fixed occupations, or as "Jacks of all trades and masters of none." They lived in the most humble abode, and their reputation was not above reproach. Joseph received only the most rudimentary education, but in common with the youth of village communities of that day, he was pretty well versed in Bible teachings. He lived in the centre of what Noyes aptly terms the "volcanic district" of New York, which was a nursery for a variety of peculiar religious and socialistic whims, such as the Millerites, Shakers, Second Adventists, Fourierites, Free-Lovers, Perfectionists, etc. Besides this, the various denominations were engaged in frequent "revivals" of such a character as to stir up the rural mind to a frenzy of religious fervor. To this environment is doubtless due the hallucination or deliberate invention which formed the basis of Mormonism.
Intellectually Smith was not a giant; he did not soar to the lofty heights of philosophical thought; but he must have possessed great imagination and a magnetic personality. He was plausible, persuasive, and gifted with a low cunning and keen insight into the hidden springs which move men's minds. He was apparently most solemnly and consistently earnest, and he impressed this upon his followers. No man can move the world who does not possess or simulate the conquering virtue of enthusiastic earnestness.
One vocation of the Smiths, father and sons, was well-digging, and this led to Joseph's first erratic and visionary exploit -- digging for buried treasures, He professed the miraculous gift of discerning their existence and location by the use of a magic stone (opaque, and resembling quartz), which he found in a newly-dug well. This was a distinct step in advance of the witch-hazel divining-rod. Though at this time only a youth of fifteen, and though, of course, never succeeding in exhuming any valuables, he always had a fluent explanation of failure which satisfied his stupid dupes. It is reason. able to suppose that their extreme gullibility suggested to his fertile imagination the crowning triumph of modern charlatanry -- the alleged
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finding of ancient gold plates bearing inscriptions, and his pretended translation thereof,
He subsequently detailed, in writing, the supposititious events accompanying their discovery, and after reciting the conflict of doctrines which confused his mind, he proceeds:
"I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord. While fervently engaged in supplication my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapt in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in features and !likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noonday.__________
* He was then eighteen years old.
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beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving.
Such is Smith's daring and circumstantial narrative of the origin of the "gold plates," and of his divine authority to translate them. In its professed historical accuracy it certainly stamps its author as a master in the arts of sublime impudence.
It is not dissimilar to Mohammed's account of his vision and revelation. But Mohammed at that time was forty years of age, while Smith had his vision at twenty-two. Mohammed lived in an age of Cimmerian darkness, and his new religion was a manifest improvement upon the idolatry and polytheism of Arabia Smith lived in the nineteenth century, and his new theology was stupid and retrogressive. Mohammed was a prosperous merchant and of high reputation. Smith was a man of no standing and no influence. Yet Mormonism gained more converts in the first three years than Mohammedanism. Smith made a pretence of translating the gold plates, the resulting production being popularly known as the Book of Mormon or sometimes as the Gold Bible. It is dull and prolix in the extreme and is what Mark Twain would pronounce "chloroform in print." It is a bold attempt to counterfeit the Jewish Chronicles, and is about as long as the Old Testament. It purports to detail the flight from Jerusalem, about 600 B. C., or before its destruction, of Lehi with his wife and sons, Ishmael with his sons and daughters, and Zoram, many of whom subsequently intermarried. Lehi believed in the coming of a Messiah and was reviled by his countrymen, and so he set out under God's guidance to escape from them.
After eight years' wanderings in a south-south-easterly direction, amid hardships and privations, they arrived on the sea-shore. Here there were constructed, according to command, vessels which bore them across the great sea, finally reaching this continent, and, according to later Mormon revelation, the coast of Chili.
Early in their wanderings a schism occurred in Lehi's family, between Nephi representing the believing faction, and Laman representing the ungodly. Lehi, who was a descendant of Joseph the son of Jacob, assumed the prophetic role, and predicted the coming of a Messiah within six hundred years. Upon his death Nephi
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and Laman became arrayed in deadly enmity to each other, and this was entailed upon their posterity, The conflict between the Nephites and Lamanites, as they were called, endured until the extinction of the former. The Nephites tilled the soil, built cities, temples, and synagogues, and established a line of kings and judges and a code of laws upon this continent. The Lamanites, however, were so wicked that God changed the color of their skins to black and "they became wild and ferocious, and a bloodthirsty people full of idolatry and filthiness, feeding upon beasts of prey, dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness, with a short skin girdle about their loins." The Mormons consider the Lamanites the progenitors of the American Indians, who according to their theory are, consequently, of Jewish extraction. Repeated engagements occurred between the Nephites and Lamanites, and many minor episodes are introduced. The moral of the story is, that as long as the Nephites were obedient to God's commandments like the Israelites of old, they were successful at arms, but when they got astray, as frequently happened, defeat and punishment were visited upon them.
The rule of kings, at first instituted, gave way to judges whose duties were to administer the established laws and customs of the people. Although the Book of Mormon is, in general, a common-place record of the suppositious experiences and contentions of the Nephites and Lamanites, one episode is extremely bold and sensational. This is the description of Christ's visits to the Nephites on this continent. This event and the physical phenomena which were to precede it are foretold in the earlier pages. Intense darkness fell upon the land before the supreme moment of Christ's appearance here and after His resurrection in Judea. A terrible tempest arose, accompanied by vivid lightning and the cities were destroyed by earthquake, fire and inundation.
Heralded by a voice from out the heavens, Christ descended before the assembled multitudes, clothed in a white robe. Christ selected twelve apostles, upon whom he conferred the power to preach and baptize by immersion. He delivered an almost literal transcript of the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, many of his New Testament sayings are inserted either in paraphrase or literally In the language of King James' translation. He instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Supper and was borne away to reappear twice thereafter.
Temporarily peace was restored between the warring Nephites
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and Lamanites, and they adopted communal rights to property. This gave way to private ownership, and the old feuds were revived, leading finally, about 420 A. D., to a desperate engagement near the hill Cumorah, where 130,000 Nephites were slain, only twenty-four escaping. Two of these survivors were Mormon and his son Moroni. The gold plates which bore this record were deposited by Moroni in the hill Cumorah, where Joseph Smith, Jr., found (?) them fourteen hundred years later.
The latter portion of the Book of Mormon describes the settlement of this continent by a colony of Jews, headed by Jared, who migrated hither at the time of the confounding of the tongues at Babel. Remains of their occupation of this country were found by the Nephites, and plates that were found and translated by them furnish the material for this valuable historical contribution.
The doctrines taught in the Book of Mormon are harmless enough; the evils of Mormon theology are a fungus of later growth. Its salient points are, the natural depravity of man, doctrine of the Trinity, atonement and salvation through Christ, the laying-on of hands, baptism by immersion, hostility to secret societies, the sins of infant baptism, and of polygamy. It purports to be a strictly American revelation: not contradictory to the Bible nor a substitute for it, but merely a supplementary record not known to the authors of the books of the Bible. It is full of plagiarisms from the Bible, however, and is written in imitation of its literary style.
When presented to the printer, according to his testimony and that of the compositors, the manuscript was full of glowing errors in grammatical construction, punctuation, and spelling. Some were corrected at the time, others in later editions, and many stand to this day.
Professedly the Mormons believe it to be an honest and inspired translation of the gold plates by Joe Smith. Of course, every intelligent person outside the Mormon Church and, perchance, some within, instantly repudiate Smith's absurd and mythical account of its origin.
Smith himself appears to have been a little confused, for the title-page of the first edition bore the inscription, "By Joseph Smith, Junior, Author and Proprietor," whereas in all subsequent editions it merely read, "Translated by Joseph Smith, Jr."
One of the great literary conundrums has been "who wrote the Junius letters?" and it remains a mystery unsolved. In the case of
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the Book of Mormon, Smith was its ostensible and responsible author, but it has been contended by many that he derived its idea and substance from a novel written by Solomon Spaulding, a broken-down business man and clergyman; while others contend that the real brains behind the work were furnished by a cranky Campbellite preacher, named Sidney Rigdon. A Western professor is now engaged in writing a book to show from internal evidence that Sidney Rigdon must have written its doctrinal parts, as they agree wit his peculiar opinions expressed immediately previous to its publication, and that he had been preparing the minds of his flock for some new revelation. It is said by some writers that Rigdon clandestinely visited Smith, during the period of the Mormon incubation, but there is not a shadow of proof that Rigdon knew anything of Smith chimera, until October, 1830, when his attention was openly called to the Book of Mormon by Parley P. Pratt, another Campbellite preacher who had embraced Mormonism while on a visit to central New York.
Whether Rigdon was an accomplice of Smith's or not, the most commonly accepted tradition is that the Book of Mormon is a plagiarism of the Spaulding story.
The evidence of this is rather vague, but may be summarized as follows: Solomon Spaulding, who was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1785, preached a few years, taught school, finally embarked in an iron foundry at Conneaut, O., failed in 1812. He had some antiquarian taste and curiosity as to the Indian mounds in his vicinity and, according to common report, wrote a romance entitled Manuscript Found. It purported to be a translation of an ancient manuscript which he had found, describing aboriginal events as viewed by mariners borne to these shores by chance. He was in the habit of reading this narrative to his friends and neighbors, and after his failure in business, with a view to the publication of his story, he submitted it to a friend in Pittsburgh, named Patterson, who had a printing office.
The printer returned it to the author, however, with the remark, "polish it up, finish it, and you will make money out of it;" and in 18I6 Spaulding died with the manuscript in his possession at Amity, Pa.
His widow removed her effects, including an old, hair-covered trunk, to her brother's residence at Onondaga Valley, N. Y., and after marrying a Mr. Davison, she went to Hartwick, N. Y., in 1820. Her
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daughter "distinctly remembers this trunk and its contents," and that "one of the manuscripts she distinctly remembers had the title Manuscript Found." Later still, Mrs. Davison visited her daughter at Munson, Mass., where she remained permanently, leaving the trunk and manuscript in the custody of her cousin, Jerome Clark, at Hartwick. This was in 1828, or one year after Smith had his vision and began his "translation." Consequently, he could not have had the original in his possession; in fact, this is not claimed.
Mrs. E. E. Dickinson, a grandniece of SpauIding, has lately written a book, New Light on Mormonism, with the avowed object of proving the Book of Mormon to be essentially a literary theft. She asserts that Smith must have had a copy of the Spaulding manuscript, and, to account for this, she assumes with no adequate proof, 1st, that Sidney Rigdon had heard the Manuscript Found read by Spaulding at Conneaut; 2d, that he had followed its author to the Patterson printing office in Pittsburgh, and had there secretly made a copy of it. It is highly improbable that Rigdon, at the age of nineteen, should have made a copy of this story and kept it unused for fifteen years, finally to give it in 1827 to Smith, whom there is no evidence to show that he ever knew before 1830. But Mrs. Dickinson throws in another surmise for good measure. She says that she often heard members of her family say that Joe Smith was at one time their servant or hired man. "Probably it was while Mrs. Spaulding was at Onondaga Valley." She dismisses the theory that he stole the manuscript, for she tacitly concedes that it subsequently was in the old trunk, but she says that he there "heard of it, and from his knowledge of it: was afterward prepared to use what he knew of the matter."
When the Book of Mormon appeared, it was said that it bore striking resemblance to the Spaulding story, as remembered by some old residents, and in 1833-4 affidavits to this effect were made by various relatives and friends of Spaulding. Almost invariably, however, these witnesses explicitly excepted "the religious portion" of the Book of Mormon from the comparison. John Spaulding said: "I well remember he wrote in the old style and commenced about every sentence with 'and it came to pass' or 'now it came to pass,' the same as in the Book of Mormon, and according to the best of my recollection and belief, it is the same as my brother Solomon wrote, with the exception of the religious matter. By what means it has fallen into the hands of Joseph Smith, Jr., I am unable to
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determine." Various affidavits stated a belief that such names as Nephi, Lehi, Laman, Mormon, Moroni, etc., were also in Spaulding's story.
Naturally, curiosity concerning the facts of the responsible authorship of the Book of Mormon suggested the procurement of the original Spaulding manuscript for comparison. At this date, E. D. Howe, then publishing a newspaper at Painesville, O., was engaged in preparing a work on Mormonism, He sent one Dr. D. P. Hurlbut to Munson, Mass., in 1834, to get it from Mrs. Davison. She gave him an order on her cousin at Hartwick, N. Y., and Mrs. Dickinson says "Very soon after Hurlbut left Munson, the ladies heard directly from Mr. Clark (the cousin) that he had given him The Manuscript Found, and that he opened the old trunk for the purpose."
Hurlbut took this manuscript to Howe, who was disappointed in it, as it was not written in Bible phraseology, contained no events identical with the Book of Mormon, though it did relate a story of aboriginal life. No value was attached to it in consequence and until recently it was supposed to have been lost or destroyed.
Mrs. Dickinson, recognizing the fact that Hurlbut must have gotten the original manuscript, is driven to the alternative of abandoning her theory, or assuming that he found two manuscripts. She chooses the latter, and would have it appear that he delivered on destroying the other, or seeing it destroyed, "by the Mormons at Conneaut in 1834, after his being paid for his share of this transaction." This supposition is the purest moonshine and not supported by a shadow of evidence.
But the manuscript found by Hurlbut, and submitted to Howe and others, has been unexpectedly recovered, and we can judge for ourselves whether it is not, surely, the actual original Manuscript Found, upon which is based the whole theory of Spaulding's story serving as the basis for the Book of Mormon.
In 1839, L. L. Rice, an antislavery editor, bought Howe's printing office and all its accumulation of books, pamphlets, papers, manuscripts, etc. About the year 1880, Mr. Rice went to Honolulu to reside, carrying with him a mass of papers from the printing office.
In the fall of 1884, Mr. J. H. Fairchild, President of Oberlin College, O., while visiting the Sandwich Islands, suggested to Mr. Rice that he might have some antislavery papers that would be a valuable acquisition to the college library. Search was made, and the richest find was what President Fairchild describes as an "old, worn,
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and faded manuscript of about 175 pages, small quarto, which purported to be a history of the migrations and conflicts of the ancient Indian tribes."
The chain of possession is complete, the manuscript is now in the archives of Oberlin College, and President Fairchild, in a private letter, says: "It is a manuscript of Spaulding's, genuine beyond question."
One would expect a graduate of Dartmouth to have some regard for the rules of syntax, orthography, and punctuation; but, after making due allowance for changes in the language during the past sixty-five years, it must be confessed that this manuscript is sadly deficient in these respects. The story, too, is incomplete and very dull. These facts are circumstantial proof of its identity with the original manuscript submitted to the Pittsburgh printer; for he said, "Polish it up and finish it," showing that it was imperfect and unfinished.
Let us for a moment examine its contents. In the introduction, Spaulding says that as he was walking in the remains of an ancient fort, on the west bank of Conneaut River, reflecting upon the various conjectures respecting the character, situation, and numbers of those people who far exceeded the present Indians in works of art and ingenuity, he trod upon a stone. This stone had a singular appearance, and bore upon its face characters considerably effaced by the ravages of time. He found that it covered an artificial cave, into which he descended, discovering a cavity in the wall. Within this cavity he found an earthen box, with a cover, which shut it tight. In revised spelling and punctuation, he then proceeds:
"My mind, filled with awful sensations, which crowded fast upon me, would hardly permit my hands to remove this venerable deposit, but curiosity soon gained the ascendancy, and the box was taken and raised to open it. When I had removed the cover, I found that it contained twenty-eight rolls of parchment, and that when * * * appeared to be manuscripts written in elegant hand with Roman letters and in the Roman language. They were written on a variety of subjects. But the roll which principally attracted my attention contained a history of the author's life, and that part of America which extends along the great lakes and the waters of the Mississippi. Extracts of the most interesting and important matters contained in this roll I take the liberty to publish."
Surely the title of Manuscript Found possessed by the manuscript from which Solomon Spaulding used to read, is perfectly descriptive of the story now before us.
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The first chapter begins:
As it is possible that in some future age this part of the earth will inhabited by Europeans, a history of its present inhabitants would be a valuable acquisition. I proceed to write one and deposit it in a box," etc.
This might be recalled by Smith's story of finding his record "hid up " in the hill Cumorah, the difference being one was written on parchment while the other was engraved on gold plates.
The parchment is supposed to be written by Fabius, a young Roman, who sailed from Rome to Britain during the reign of Constantine, but as they neared their destination boisterous seas and furious westerly gales swept them into the open sea. Consternation seized the voyagers, but at length a mariner arose and cried out:
"A voice from on high hath penetrated my soul and the inspiration from the Almighty hath bid me proclaim, 'Let your sails be wide-spread and the gentle winds will soon waft you into a safe harbor, a country where you will find hospitality.'"
The Book of Mormon also relates a voyage to our shores, though by a company of Jews, not Romans, and across the Pacific and not the Atlantic.
This company of Romans were received in a friendly manner by the tribe of savages, called Deliwanucks, and after residing amongst them for two years, they pushed on to the confluence of two great rivers. After a twenty-five days' march they reached the large city, Owhahon, where they found different and more highly civilized tribes, presumably the mound-builders of Ohio. Then follows an account of the social relations, religious rites, amusements, laws, government, and tribal wars. The language is pretentious and bombastic, and the style of composition is diametrically opposite to that in the Book of Mormon.
The incidents, too, are wholly dissimilar. While the Book of Mormon. makes no mention of any indigenous tribes, the multiplication of Lehi's Jewish colony forming the exclusive population, whose fortunes and misfortunes are detailed, in the Oberlin story the Roman voyagers found the continent densely peopled by Indians, whose conditions of life are portrayed.
Among the names employed in the Book of Mormon, all of which have a more or less Jewish cast, are Mosiah, Sariah, Noah, Jacob, Benjamin, Gideon, Enos, Ether, Aaron, Alma, Helaman, Jarom, Gilgal, .Ammon. Amalekites, and Josh.
In most instances the local names introduced in this manuscript are unlike those of the Book of Mormon, such names, for example,
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as Deliwanuck, Owhahon, Crito, Bombal, Hamkel, Tobaska, etc., being peculiar to the manuscript. There are some, however, that suggest one another, such as
Laban is a Jewish name and appears in Genesis, and belongs to one of the historical personages in that Book of the Bible.
It is very true though that this resemblance, such as it is, might be an accidental result of the attempt of two writers to coin unique words.
When it is remembered that Spaulding's hearers were uncritical, that his story was not sufficiently interesting to have deeply impressed itself upon them, that they heard it over twenty years before, it would not be surprising if the shadowy resemblance of a few names and incidents common to both, such as the finding of ancient records relating to aboriginal life, should after this long lapse of time persuade them that the one was based upon the other.
The Oberlin manuscript has no moral or religious purpose or matter, and the original Manuscript Found, according to almost uniform testimony, was devoid of the religious element. From a literary point of view, it would be hard to conceive of the sterility of the Book of Mormon, if divested of its religious purpose. Its purpose, its literary garb, the very warp and woof of the entire work are, essentially and intrinsically, religious. The events all hang on moral and religious conduct, and to say, as the affidavits in 1833-4 do, that the Book of Mormon resembles the original Spaulding story as remembered by witnesses, except in its religious part, is obviously a fatal admission. But all the literature on the subject up to the discovery of this manuscript concedes the probability that the Book of Mormon was fashioned after Spaulding's story; that it was a servile imitation covering the same names, phraseology, and incidents, everything except its religious cast. Senator Edmunds of Vermont, who should be familiar with Mormon history, in a private letter, says: "I think that the Book of Mormon is founded on the Spaulding romance."
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If, however, the Oberlin manuscript is the original production of Spaulding which he read to his friends and neighbors in Ohio in 1810-12, as the writer of this article fully believes it to be, must not history and opinion be revised on this point? If this is the original, granting that the author of the Book of Mormon saw or heard of it, can it be said that his production is a plagiarism, where the plot characters, and motives, are in nowise identical with the Oberlin manuscript.
That it is a genuine Spaulding manuscript is an established fact and as it appears that Spaulding had but little ability, and as his friends and neighbors never mention the existence of two different stories, it is improbable that he invented two distinct imaginative accounts wholly dissimilar in motive and literary style. The writer believes that any other Spaulding manuscript than this is a myth, and that the story is due to imagination, allied to defective memory. Until some convincing proof is brought forward, Joseph Smith, Jr. must stand as the actual author of the Book of Mormon, and while his literary equipment was not complete at the early age of twenty-two, his mind was fully imbued with Bible readings, which furnished the basis for his production. That he made no verbatim copy of somebody's work, and that he kept no exact duplicate on hand, is conclusively shown by his embarrassment when the first 116 pages of his alleged translations were lost. He had intrusted them to one of his believers, Martin Harris, a simple-minded, honest, well-to-do farmer, whose wife secretly burned the pages. She knew that Smith was trying to inveigle her husband into defraying the expenses of publishing the new Bible, and she had wit enough to foresee the disastrous pecuniary consequences. Smith did not know their fate, but supposed that some enemy to his purposes had stolen them, intending to confound him by pointing out such discrepancies as might be discovered in comparison with any subsequent " translation." Any variation would spoil his claims to plenary inspiration, so he resorted to an original contrivance -- a pretended direct revelation from God, depriving him temporarily of his gift of translation. He thus gained time to find the missing pages or construct a substitute. This was in July, 1828. In May, 1829, another revelation restored his gift, but commanded him to translate some of his other gold plates, instead of attempting to reproduce the missing pages. The manuscript work was completed by the aid of an amanuensis, who copied from dictation. Oliver Cowdery, a village schoolmaster and dupe, was
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Smith's principal assistant, and they sat on opposite sides of a blanket partition.
Smith arranged with E. B. Grandin, a printer of Palmyra, N. Y., for the publication of 5,000 copies of his patent Bible, and Harris pledged himself as security, giving a mortgage on his farm. Harris' action resulted in a rupture with his wife, a division of their property, and marital separation.
The Mormon community was extremely small at that time, and as neither curiosity nor literary taste created anxious buyers, the publication was a losing pecuniary venture.
It appears that Harris did not relish the outlook, and, to keep him well within the traces, Smith professed to have another revelation, entitled: "A Commandment of God and not of Man, to Martin Harris, by Him who is Eternal." The Lord is supposed to address Harris, in part, as follows:
"And again I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the book of Mormon. * * * Behold this is a great and lasting commandment which I shall give unto you concerning this matter; for this shall suffice for thy daily walk even unto the end of thy life, and misery thou shalt receive if thou wilt slight these counsels, yea, even the destruction of thyself and property. Impart a portion of thy property, yea, even a part of thy lands and all, save the support of thy family. Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer."
This is quoted as sufficient length to show the methods employed to hoodwink and terrorize his simple-minded followers. They were superstitious, and his audacity in invoking God's punishment upon all who hesitated or declined to obey his wishes, and to promise divine protection and favor to all who obeyed, worked like a talisman in governing the Mormon hierarchy. It was a mine of more varied and prolific resources than Pandora's box to the magician. One would say that his affectation to act as a medium for the expression and transmission of God's pleasure or disapprobation would be a ridiculous phantom weapon, but it was more effective than force or logic, His pretended revelations were afterward published in book-form, known as the Book of Doctrines and Covenants. This constituted the by-laws of Mormonism, and herein appears its real essence and distinctiveness as a religious dogma.
The constitution of the Church was the Book of Mormon, which was published in the early summer of 1830.
In order to procure its acceptance Smith naturally had to provide
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some evidence besides his own assertion as to the existence and genuineness of the alleged translation. Necessarily, he could not offer to exhibit his mythical plates to the public, for even if he had some sham plates, the fraud would be immediately exposed.
In anticipation of this dilemma, he very cleverly had inserted a proviso in the Book of Mormon itself which stated that the gold plates should not be seen by the world "save it be by three witnesses." It further says that "they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein: and there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few, according to the will of God, to bear testimony of His word unto the children of men."
The three witnesses selected by Smith were, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, of whom we have already spoken, and David Whitmer, a Pennsylvania Dutchman and simple farmer.
They signed a proclamation to the world, which accompanied the Book of Mormon on its appearance. They say that they have seen the plates through the grace of God, and "know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for His will has declared it unto us." They say, also, that they have seen the engravings on the plates, and "they have been shown to us by the power of God and not of man, and we declare with words of soberness that an angel of God came down from Heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw, the plates and the engravings thereon."
Singularly enough, these three witnesses, with their eyes of faith, were all subsequently excommunicated from the Mormon Church. Harris was the only one of three whose word was considered as of any value, and it appears that Smith had to discipline him before he could be made to "see" all these things."
As he was investing money in the new Bible, based on the gold plates, he naturally had some curiosity and claims to see them, but, to blind his eyes, Smith resorted again to his patent revelation process, of which Harris stood in awe. In March, 1829, or a year before the book was issued, the Lord is made to say to Harris:
"If he will bow down before me and humble himself in mighty prayer and faith, in the sincerity of his heart, then will I grant unto him a view of the things which he desires to see, and then he shall say unto the people of this generation, 'Behold I have seen the things which the Lord has shown unto Joseph Smith, Jr., and know of a surety that they are true. * * * But if he deny this he will break the covenant which he has before covenanted with me, and, behold, he is condemned."
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Another statement went out to the world, signed by three Smiths, four Whitmers, and Hiram Page, a root doctor, who married one of the Whitmer girls. In this an angel did not show them the plates as to the three witnesses, but "Joseph Smith, Jr., author and proprietor," showed them. They say: "We have seen and hefted and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken, * * * and we lie not, God bearing witness of it." The plates themselves have not been preserved and the tradition is that an angel, literally, spirited them away.
It would not be easy to imagine a more transparent fraud, which indeed approaches the ludicrous more than the serious, yet this is the beginning of a religious sect which was organized by Smith on April 6, 1830, and soon reached very large proportions. In one of Smith's subsequent accounts of the infancy of the faith, he says:
"Some few were called and ordained by the spirit of revelation and prophecy, and began to preach as the spirit gave them utterance, and though weak, yet were they strengthened by the power of God. And many were brought to repentance, were immersed in the water, and were filled with the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. They saw visions and prophesied; devils were cast out and the sick healed by the laying-on of hands. From that time the work rolled forth with astonishing rapidity, and churches were so on formed in the States of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri."
Before their region had crystallized into the obnoxious tenets and practices of succeeding years, they made an open bid for converts among other denominations in the Middle and Eastern States and in New York city. Their missionaries pushed out to Europe, and to the uttermost parts of the earth, and the returning tide of proselytes greatly swelled their numbers.
Though supported by able lieutenants, Smith was the ambitious head of this growing sect, and he lost no opportunity to aggrandize himself. Lust and cupidity were his controlling passions, and, like Mahomet, he was fondest of "women and perfumes." He used his pretended revelations to direct his disciples how and what they should contribute, and through this mean; he introduced the tithing system, by which the Mormon faithful were to contribute one-tenth of their income in money or in kind to tile support of the Church. This not only proved to be an effective agent in concentrating power in the hands of the Mormon leaders, but it also gave them private opportunities for enriching themselves. Space does not allow, and this article does not require, that the evolution of Mormon theology
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should be traced -- Its one present distinguishing feature is polygamy; prior to its adoption, the millennial or latter-day idea was, perhaps its most peculiar precept. The name, "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," shows their idea that we are now living in the latter days preceding Christ's return to earth and personal reign.
The " Church," in 1831, migrated to Kirtland, O., where the first "stake" was driven. Soon after the Mormons established themselves at Independence and in adjoining counties in Missouri, Smith and Rigdon organized a bank in Kirtland, which collapsed, involving their hasty retreat " between two days." In Missouri, the Mormons got a very bad name, and between the hostility of the people and the State authorities they were compelled to leave.
They took refuge in Hancock County, Illinois, founding the town of Nauvoo in 1839, procuring for it a charter with extensive powers. Its population rose to 15,000, and, in 1843, Joseph Smith was elected mayor. He was lieutenant-general of the "Nauvoo Legion," a military company under his control, and, in 1844, he issued an address as candidate for President of the United States! He wielded great political influence in Illinois politics, and practically held, for some time, the balance of power between the Whigs and Democrats. Even Stephen A. Douglass did not disdain to espouse his cause in return for political aid. But secret vices and immoral practices undermined his high estate, and, coupled with his supercilious and dictatorial conduct, brought down upon him the severe retribution of a violent death, and the uprooting and transplanting of the Mormon settlement. His high-handed action, in conjunction with the Common Council, in ordering the destruction of the printing office of the Expositor, a sheet which issued only one number, but was designed to expose his crimes, led to his arrest on the charge, first, of inciting riot, and, afterward, of treason. He was imprisoned in the county jail at Carthage, but killed by a mob, who overpowered the guards, on June 27, 1844. Thus perished a notable character, whom the "Gentiles" would pronounce a prince of impostors, but who, according to the Mormon Book of Doctrines and Covenants, did "more (save Jesus only) for the salvation of men in this world than any other man that ever lived in it." It proceeds to say that "he lived great and he died great in the eyes of God and his people, and, like most of the Lord's anointed in ancient times, has sealed his testimony with his own blood."
Polygamy, which is denounced by federal statutes, and by
220 THE ORIGIN OF A GREAT DELUSION.
opinion, is no less condemned by the Book of Mormon, as well as by Mormon literature up to 1844. The reversal of its belief was as radical and complete as if Abolitionists had abandoned their anti-slavery principles and espoused the proslavery cause. The article on marriage in the Mormon Church is repugnant to plural marriages, though by verbal jugglery Mormon apologists would now have it otherwise interpreted.
It runs: "Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again." They contend that the word "crime" refers to fornication, for if both fornication and polygamy had been meant, the plural form, "crimes," would have been used. Further, that while it expressly says one woman should have but one husband, it merely says that one man should have one wife, not prohibiting more than one. Of course, this is an after-thought, and a silly piece of philologic legerdemain, but it is put forth in all seriousness. It is not easy for them, however, to explain away the following plain language, addressed to persons about to marry: "You both mutually agree to be each other's companion, husband and wife, observing the legal rights belonging to this condition, that is, keeping yourselves wholly for each other, and from all others, during your lives."
Joseph Smith, Jr., married a Miss Hale in Harpersville, Penn., in 1828, and, owing to her parents' opposition, the young couple eloped. By her he had several sons, one of whom, Joseph, is now the respected head of the non-polygamous Mormons known as "Josephites" in contradistinction to the " Brighamists." Their numbers are about 8,000, and their head-quarters are at Lamoni, Iowa. They never accepted Brigham Young's presidency, and in a private letter the present Joseph Smith writes that "it may be correctly said that we never departed from the Mormonism of Utah, but that they departed from original and primitive Mormonism."
The question arises, Since polygamy was at first condemned by the Church and is still condemned by a surviving branch, when was the doctrine interpolated into Mormon theology?
On August 29, 1852, eight years and two months after Smith's death, Brigham Young read before a special conference at Salt Lake, a document which he declared was a copy of a revelation to Joseph Smith, Jr., on July 12, 1843. It purports to be God's answer
THE ORIGIN OF A GREAT DELUSION. 221
Joseph's Inquiry how He "justified" His servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, also Moses, David, and Solomon, "touching the principle and practice of their having many wives and concubines." The Lord gives His consent to it and says further: "Those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same, for behold, I reveal unto you a new and everlasting covenant, and if ye abide not that covenant then are ye damned." Thus polygamy was, by these terms, to be no idle doctrine. That Smith did issue this revelation, even privately, or approve of this practice, has been denied, especially by the Josephites, but there are internal evidences, aside from historical grounds, for believing both. Senator Edmunds writes: "I think Joe Smith practiced and privately sanctioned polygamy."
The alleged revelation goes on to explain and defend the plural-wife doctrine, and commands Joseph's wife, "the elect lady," Emma, "to receive all that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me, and I command my handmaid Emma Smith to abide and cleave unto Joseph and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; * * * and again, verily I say, let mine handmaid forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses." This suggests the idea that Smith had already committed bigamy, that his wife Emma was dissatisfied, and contemplated a separation and scandal, and that this "revelation" was necessary to justify his acts, To have publicly promulgated the doctrine, however, would have subjected his followers to arrest for bigamy under the laws of Illinois. The private life of leading Mormons of Nauvoo gradually became a matter of gossip outside their community, and they were compelled to deny their belief in polygamy.
As late as February, 1844, seven months after the date of the alleged revelation sanctioning polygamy, Joseph and Hyrum Smith cut off an elder for his " iniquity" in preaching " polygamy and other false and corrupt doctrines" in Michigan. The spiritual-wife doctrine, which provided for the "sealing" of a woman to a man for her soul's salvation, was the germ which grew into a great social evil. The secret practice of the plural-wife doctrine at Nauvoo paved the way, too, for its ready adoption as an acknowledged tenet of the Church in Salt Lake. At this time the Mormon community was firmly established in a remote and isolated region, free from the restraints of law and social judgment. Under these conditions it was openly proclaimed as a legal and Christian practice.
222 THE ORIGIN OF A GREAT DELUSION.
Its announcement was a crushing blow to Mormon propagandists in all enlightened communities, and, particularly since that epoch, recruits have come almost exclusively from the lower classes of Continental Europe,
For years the Mormons have defied the national statutes, sought to intimidate all Government officials, and have enjoyed, practically unmolested, an
GEORGE RUTLEDGE GIBSON.