The Rise and Ruin of the Sect of Mormon


The Congregational Magazine

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“The Rise and Ruin of the Sect of Mormon.” The Congregational Magazine (September 1844): 641–649.



THE public journals having recently announced the violent and tragic death of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, whose impostures have deluded thousands both in Great Britain and America, it is proposed to present the reader with a brief account of the rise of the sect of Mormon, or, as they call themselves, “latter-day saints,” which will supply an instance of religious fraud on the one hand, and of silly credulity on the other, that has not been equaled by any similar attempt to palm an impudent fabrication upon the simple and unsuspecting during the present century.

The following passages are from the pen of Smith himself, narrating the history of his own life, and of the pretended revelations on which his prophetical commission is based:—

“I was born in the town of Sharon, Windsor county, Vermont, on the 23d of December, 1805.

When ten years old, my parents removed to Palmyra, New York, where we resided about four years, and from thence we removed to the town of Manchester, a distance of six miles.

“My father was a farmer, and taught me the art of husbandry. When about fourteen years of age, I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and, upon inquiring the place of salvation, I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment; if I went to one society, they referred me to one place; and another to another; each one pointing to his own particular creed as the summum bonum of perfection . . . I retired to a secret place in a grove, and began to call upon the Lord. While formally engaged in supplication, my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enrapt 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 noon-day. They told me that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded ‘to go not after them,’ at the same time receiving a promise, that the fulness of the Gospel should at some future time be made known unto me. [641]

“On the evening of 21st September, 1823, while I was praying unto God, and endeavouring to exercise faith in the precious promises of Scripture, on a sudden, a light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room; indeed, the first sight was as though the house was filled with a consuming fire. The appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body. In a moment a personage stood before me, surrounded with a glory greater than that with which I was already surrounded. This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God, sent to bring the joyful tidings that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel, was at hand to be fulfilled; that the preparatory work for the second coming of Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the Gospel in all its fulness to be preached in power unto all nations, that a people might be prepared for the millennial reign.

“I was informed that I was chosen to be the instrument in the hands of God, to bring about some of his purposes in this glorious dispensation.

“I was informed also concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, (America) and shown who they were, and from whence they came;—a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilisation, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people, was made known unto me. I was also told where there was deposited some plates on which was engraven an abridgment of the records of the ancient prophets that had existed on this continent.

The angel appeared to me three times the same night, and unfolded the same things. After having received many visits from the angels of God, unfolding the majesty and glory of events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of 22nd of September, 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hands.

“These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold. Each plate was six inches wide, and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings in Egyptian characters, and bound together in a volume as the leaves of a book, with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction, and much skill in the art of engraving.

“With the records was found a curious instrument, which the ancients called Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim on a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim, I translated the record, by the gift and power of God.”*

The cool mendacity of these statements must excite the indignation of every reader, and that feeling will be increased as he becomes more fully acquainted with the facts of the case. Joseph Smith never [642] showed these golden plates to any one, for a very obvious reason; but to give something like confidence to his disciples, he undertook to read off their contents to a man of the name of Harris, who acted as his amanuensis; and subsequently to another person of the name of Cowdery. This was done in a room that was divided by a blanket, on one side of which sat “the prophet” with his mystic apparatus, as he pretended, and on the other the poor dupe, who was occupied in recording the English version which Smith enunciated. Instead of translating from Egyptian manuscripts, which he blasphemously pretended to perform by the help of a Divine oracle, it is most probable he read from a manuscript tale, which came into his possession as follows. In 1812, the Rev. Solomon Spaulding, of New Salem, wrote a story for the amusement of himself and his friends, based on the hypothesis of the Hebrew origin of the Indian tribes. He afterwards removed to Pittsburg, and there he showed it to one Patterson, a printer, who wished to put it to press. This Mr. Spaulding would not allow; but as Patterson wished to borrow it, the manuscript was left in his possession for a long time, and was at length returned to its author. That gentleman died in 1816, and his widow retained the book in question till 1834, when she was surprised to find that the volume which was the fruit of her husband’s fancy had been published, in a somewhat altered form, as a new revelation from heaven, and was impiously declared to be as much the word of God, as the Bible itself. On further examination, it was found that in the printer’s office at Pittsburg there was a person named Sidney Rigdon, who was a heterodox Baptist preacher; and there is strong reason to suppose that he transcribed this volume from Mr. Spaulding’s manuscript, and that through him it passed into the hands of Joseph Smith, with whom he associated himself, and by whose aid, after three years, he at last completed and published “The Mormon’s Bible,” a duodecimo volume of nearly six hundred pages.*

* Mr. J. D. Rupp, of Lancaster, Penn. U.S., about two years ago projected “An original History of the Religious Denominations at present existing in the United States, and that the work might be “as free as possible from all grounds of complaint,” he made application to many of the most prominent divines and lay members of different denominations for assistance; many of whom at once consented to write or procure the necessary articles respecting their several bodies. Amongst others, Joseph Smith was applied to, and he supplied the article, from which we have made these extracts; having been obliged by a copy of this interesting and useful work, which was only published at Philadelphia in May last. It is now on sale in London by Messrs. Wiley and Putnam, Amen Corner.

* These facts have been attested by Mrs. Davidson, the late widow of Mr. Spaulding, and by Dr. Ely, of “The Book of Mormon is divided into fifteen books or parts, each purporting to be written by the author whose name it bears. These profess to give the history of about a thousand years from the time of Zedekiah, king of Judah, to A.D. 420. The whole work professes to be an abridgment by one Moroni, the last of the Nephites, of the seed of Israel, from the records of his people. Not to trouble the reader with details respecting this absurdest of all pretended revelations from heaven, we need only say that it undertakes to trace the history of the aborigines of the American continent, in all their apostacies, pilgrimages, trials, adventures, and wars, from the time of their leaving Jerusalem, in the reign of Zedekiah, under one Lehi, down to their final disaster, near the hill Camorah, in the state of New York, where Smith found his golden plates; and in that final contest, according to the prophet Moroni, about 230,000 were slain in battle, and he alone escaped to tell the tale”† [643].

There is, in the book itself, as the reader will readily suppose, internal evidence sufficient to prove its spurious character. It abounds in errors, grammatical, chronological, and philosophical. It relates, for instance, that Nephi was directed across the sea by a compass, almost two thousand years before the invention of that useful instrument.

But to return to the prophet’s own narrative:—“As soon as the news of this discovery was made known, false reports, misrepresentations, and slander, flew, as on the wings of the wind, in every direction. My house was frequently beset by mobs and evil designing persons; several times I was shot at, and very narrowly escaped; and every device was made use of to get the plates away from me; but the power and blessing of God attended me, and several began to believe my testimony. On the 6th of April, 1830, the ‘Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints,’ was first organised in the town of Manchester, Ontario county, state of New York. 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 soon formed in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri; in the last-named state, a considerable settlement was formed in Jackson county; numbers joined the church, and we were increasing rapidly: we made large purchases of land, our farms teemed with plenty, and peace and happiness were enjoyed in our domestic circle, and throughout our neighbourhood; but, as we could not associate with our neighbours, who were, many of them, of the basest of men, and had fled from the face of civilised society to the frontier country, to escape the hand of justice, in their midnight revels, their sabbath-breaking, horse-racing, and gambling, they commenced at first to ridicule, then to persecute, and, finally, an organised mob assembled and burned our houses, tarred and feathered, and whipped many of our brethren, and finally drove them from their habitations: these, houseless and homeless, contrary to law, justice, and humanity, had to wander in the bleak prairies (in the month of November) till the children left the tracks of their blood on the prairie.”

Every reader who credits “the prophet’s” testimony will regard this as a very unprovoked and inhuman persecution, which no resentment at the supposed fanaticism or blasphemy of the Mormonites could justify. But there is a very different, and much more probable version of this sad affair on record.

“They took up their abode in the state of Missouri,” says Mr. Buckingham, “where they purchased some lands at the government price of 1¼ dollar an acre, and began to form a settlement. Not content, however, with occupying what they could buy, and living on the produce of what they could till, they began to preach that Missouri was the promised land, covenanted by God to be given to the believers in the book of Mormon; and that it was their duty, if they could not obtain it peaceably, to take it by force of arms, and Monson, and Mr. Austin, principal of the academy there.

† Baird’s “Religion in America;” Turner’s “Mormonism in all Ages.” to drive out the unbelievers there, as Moses had driven out and extirpated with the edge of the sword, the Moabites and Ammonites that opposed his passage through their territories; and as Joshua, after him, had driven out the Jebusites, the Canaanites, and others, to [644] possess their lands, which the Lord their God had given them. With this example, and the professed direct inspiration of their prophet, these deluded people thought there was no sin, but much virtue, in seizing the promised land of Missouri as their own, as soon as their force would admit of the attempt. The previous settlers in Missouri, however, who had bought land, and improved it, before Joe Smith or the book of Mormon was known to them, did not recognise the heavenly covenant by which they were thus robbed of their legal possessions, and, therefore, they anticipated the Mormonites, by taking up arms and expelling them from the state.

“This was not done without many a hard struggle, for, being all armed, they fought desperately, and many were killed and wounded on either side. The sheriff of the county in which the first affray occurred, took part with the people of Missouri; and the result was, that they were ultimately driven across the river into Illinois, where they now occupy the small town of Commerce, just twelve miles above Keokuck, on the opposite side of the Mississippi, and their number is said to exceed 5000 persons.”*

This places the case in a new and startling position, and shows how frightfully this impostor perverted the word of God. The warrant of Moses for his edicts against the Moabites and Ammonites was the possession of a miraculous power, which, in fact, worked with the chosen tribes for the subversion of their enemies: this sufficiently attested the authority of heaven, and authorised its vengeance on earth; but without any such credentials this ambitious and cruel adventurer, under the pretence of a Divine commission, involved whole districts in the horrors of civil war; and when overtaken with public vengeance he could hypocritically whine about “the injustice, the wrongs, the murders, the bloodshed, thefts, misery and woe that have been committed upon our people by the barbarous, inhuman, and lawless proceedings of the state of Missouri!”

After their very natural expulsion from Missouri, they found a temporary asylum and too-confiding friends in the state of Illinois.

“Here, in the fall of 1839,” to resume the prophet’s own narrative, “here we commenced a city, called Nauvoo, in Hancock county, which, in December, 1840, received an act of incorporation from the legislature of Illinois, and is endowed with as liberal powers as any city in the United States. Nauvoo, in every respect connected with increase and prosperity, has exceeded the most sanguine expectations of thousands. Nauvoo now contains near 1500 houses, and more than 15,000 inhabitants. The charter contains, amongst its important powers, privileges, or immunities, a grant for ‘the University of Nauvoo,’ with the same liberal powers of the city, where all the arts and sciences will grow with the growth, and strengthen the strength of this beloved city of the ‘Saints of the last days.’”

How greatly “the saints” need some educational establishments may be inferred from the style of their leader; but the following story from an American paper leaves it beyond dispute:—

“Some time since, the Rev. Henry Caswall, a Professor in Kemper College, near St. Louis, and an Episcopal clergyman of reputation, being about to leave America for England, paid a visit to Smith and the saints, in order that he might be the better able to represent the imposture to his countrymen. It is so happened that the Professor [645] had in his possession a Greek psalter of great age, which, as a relic of antiquity, was a curiosity to any one—but to some of the saints who happened to see it, it was a marvel and a wonder. Supposing its origin to have been as ancient, at least, as the prophet’s Egyptian mummy, and not knowing but the Professor had dug it from the bowels of the same sacred hill in Western New York, whence sprung the holy Book of Mormon, they importuned him to allow ‘brother Joseph’ an opportunity of translating it!

* Buckingham’s “Eastern and Western States of America,” iii. 192.

“The Professor reluctantly assented to the proposition, and, accompanied by a number of the anxious brethren, repaired to the residence of the prophet. The remarkable book was handed to him. Joe took it—examined its old and worn leaves—and turned over its musty pages. Expectation was now on tip-toe. The brethren looked at one another—at the book—then at the prophet. It was a most interesting scene! “Presently the spirit of prophecy began to rise within him; and he opened his mouth and spoke.— ‘This book,’ said he, ‘I pronounce to be a dictionary of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics!

“The brethren present were greatly astonished at this exhibition of their prophet’s power of revealing hidden things. After their exultation had somewhat subsided, the professor coolly told them that their prophet was a base impostor! for that the book before them was only a plain Greek psalter! Joe ‘stepped out.’”

When Dr. A. Reed was in the United States, he met with a company of these deluded fanatics on their way to the “far west.” A gentleman inquired of one of them, why they left their own country? “Oh,” he said, there is ruin coming on it?” “How do you know?” “It was revealed to him.” How was it revealed to you?” “I saw five letters in the sky.” “Indeed! what were they?” “F A M I N,” was the reply: a reply which occasioned much ridicule and some profanity.*

Amongst the other wonders of Nauvoo is the Mormon temple, of which Joe Smith has the impudence to speak in the following terms:—“The temple of God, now in the course of erection, being already raised one story, and which is 120 feet by 80 feet, of stone with polished pilasters, of an entire new order of architecture, will be a splendid house for the worship of God, as well as a unique wonder for the world, it being built by the direct revelation of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the living and the dead.”

“Since the organisation of this church,” Smith adds, “its progress has been rapid and its gain in numbers regular. Besides these United States, where nearly every place of notoriety has heard the glad tidings of the gospel of the Son of God, England, † Ireland, and Scotland have shared largely in the fulness

* Narrative of a Visit to the American Churches. Vol. i. Letter 10.

† It is truly humiliating to know, that “the travelling elders” of this sect have seduced multitudes of our countrymen, both in the manufacturing and rural districts, although they are in most cases so ignorant, as to be unable to read their own texts. They maintain the efficacy of immersion-baptism for the remission of sins, and their strange practice of administering it at midnight, or at early morn, appeals still more strongly to the superstitious feelings of an uneducated and credulous populace. In the close of the past year, the following article appeared in the daily papers:


“On Monday last, an inquest was taken before Mr. T. Badger, coroner, and a highly respectable jury, at the Gate Inn, at Handsworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, on view of the body of Robert Turner, of Sheffield, aged thirty-five, by trade a spring-knife cutler, whose body had been discovered on Sunday afternoon last in the river Rother. It appeared from the evidence of William Bellamy, Matthew Gregory, Simeon Gee, and others, that Turner had embraced the religion of the Mormonites, or Latter-day Saints, and after preaching at Handsworth Woodhouse on Sunday, the 19th of November, he gave out, that if any person felt thoroughly convinced of the truth of the religious principles which he professed and preached, and would attend early on the following morning, he would baptize them in the river Rother. Accordingly, very early on the following morning, several persons met Turner, their preacher, in a meadow called ‘Fairy Meadow,’ adjoining the river above Woodhouse Mill, and the party, after praying and singing, and being addressed by one of their preachers from Sheffield, as to the absolute necessity of their being born of water and of the Spirit, or else they could not enter the kingdom of heaven, several of their disciples at once proceeded to strip off all their clothes, and Turner plunged into the river, which was deep, and considerably swollen by the late rains, followed by one William Bellamy, a collier, whom he baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He got out safe, and then one Matthew Gregory went in, and the priest, after plunging him over head, to use the man’s own words, and nearly ‘slockening’ him, he, with great difficulty, of the everlasting gospel; and thousands have already gathered, with their kindred saints, to this the corner-stone of Zion. Missionaries of this church have gone to the East Indies, to [646] Australia, Germany, Constantinople, Egypt, Palestine, the islands of the Pacific, and are now preparing to open the door in the extensive dominions of Russia. There are no correct data by which the exact number of members composing this now extensive and still extending church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be known.

Should it be supposed at 150,000 it might still be short of the truth.”

But though Smith’s report of the position of himself and his disciples was so flattering, their affairs at Nauvoo were already disturbed. Amongst other personages of great authority amongst them was General John C. Bennett, commander-in-chief of the Nauvoo legion! chancellor of the University of Nauvoo!! mayor of the city of Nauvoo!!! &c. It is obvious from his numerous and high-sounding offices, that he must have been familiar with the secret councils of the great prophet and his brother Hiram, the patriarch of the church. These illustrious [647] functionaries at length quarrelled, and General Bennett, the commander, the chancellor, and the mayor, of the legion, the university, and city of Nauvoo, made affidavits, in which he charged Smith with having first foretold the violent death of Ex-Governor Boggs, and then of having employed one of his minions to fulfil his deadly prediction by assassinating his victim. Bennett offered also prove “the prophet” guilty of another murder if the Governor would interfere. The wife of one of the elders also published on oath, an exposure of Smith’s base conduct towards herself, and which is supposed to have driven her husband, Elder Platt, to commit suicide. These disclosures naturally provoked resistance to the prophet’s administration. A newspaper was set up in Nauvoo, called The Examiner, in the columns of which his conduct towards his ignorant dupes was fearlessly exposed. This their spiritual dictator could not permit.

He, therefore, collected a mob of his most devoted adherents, who proceeded to the office of the Examiner, which they attacked, and at once thoroughly demolished.

The governor of Illinois, hearing of this outrage, marched, in June last, to Carthage, eighteen miles from Nauvoo, and found the people of that place greatly excited against “the prophet” and his partisans, and resolved to proceed to “the blessed city of the saints,” in order to arrest him and all his city-council, that they might answer for this riot and their other crimes. To prevent this, the governor sent messengers to Nauvoo to summon Joe Smith and his associates to appear at Carthage, to face the accusations that were urged against them. The prophet and his brother the patriarch, and their confederates, became alarmed, and would have fled the city to escape from justice; but the inhabitants felt that, if they were not secured, vengeance would fall upon the people, and the innocent would suffer for the guilty, and they would not, therefore, permit them to escape. They all, therefore, proceeded towards Carthage, and surrendered themselves to a posse sent by the governor for their arrest, and also gave up all the arms of “the Nauvoo legion,” which belonged to the state of Illinois. “The prophet” and his friends half-drowned, much starved, and frightened, scrambled out of the river, and saved his life; but Turner, on leaving hold of Gregory, unfortunately slipped forward into the deep water, and the current running strong, he was carried away into the middle of the river, and soon sank to rise no more. Exertions were made to save the man, without effect. Daily efforts have since been made to find the body, and on Sunday afternoon last it was discovered standing upright in the river, with the head partly out of the water, and about twenty-five yards only from the place he was drowned. The corner and jury, after making strict inquiry into all circumstances of the case, but strongly condemning the rash and inconsiderate conduct of the parties in plunging into the river, where is was both seep and dangerous, and strongly recommending the survivors not again to run such risks, returned a verdict of ‘Accidental death.’” having entered into a recognisance for their appearance at the next circuit court, were again arrested on the charge of treason against the state of Illinois. On this they were committed to gaol; but their examination was postponed in consequence of some military movements of the governor, who left only one company of fifty men in Carthage, eight of whom were on duty at the gaol, and the remainder were in camp about a quarter of a mile distant. Governor Ford proceeded with sixty horse to Nauvoo, where he made a speech to the Mormonites, telling them of the excitement which prevailed against them, and warning them of the dangerous ground on which they stood. Whilst he was thus absent from Carthage, an armed band of about 200 men in disguise, attacked the [648] gaol on the afternoon of Thursday, June 27, and, overpowering the eight soldiers who were on duty, they rushed towards the apartment where these unhappy deceivers were confined, and fired upon them. Hiram Smith, struck by a ball in his head, exclaimed, “I am a dead man!” and immediately expired. His brother Joseph received several shots in his body, and leaped towards the window, but escape was impossible, and he fell before the fire of his assailants; and crying, “O God!” he also died. Elder Taylor was also severely wounded in several places, and his state was considered dangerous. The violent men who committed this frightful outrage immediately fled to the woods, but were not pursued, for there was not sufficient force to arrest them; besides, as they were all disguised, their persons could not be known, though it is conjectured that they were disaffected Mormonites.

It is said that there is but one opinion throughout the country in reference to this dark tragedy, and that is, that summary vengeance has at length fallen upon the men who merited it. At the same time, all persons must regret that it occurred while they were prisoners, and when they had a right to expect the protection of the state. The Mormonites will now claim for their prophet the rank of a martyr; when, had he been tried and convicted, he would have died a felon’s death, which, it is believed, he most righteously deserved. On the arrival of the news of this event at Nauvoo, “the prophet’s” wife and children manifested but little sorrow, and his votaries found it expedient to be extremely quiet, as the inhabitants of the surrounding district have cut off all the supplies of the city, and are resolved that the Mormonites shall not remain in a body in that place.

The governor has issued a proclamation, calling out the militia of ten counties to preserve the peace, and 500 troops of the federal government are ordered into the district for the same purpose. Happy will it be if these vigorous measures prevent any further effusion of human blood. But the testimony of history awakens our fears. In the fanatical outbreaks of the Anabaptist Millenarians of the sixteenth century, in Germany and Holland, under Munzer, John Bockhold of Leyden, and other deceivers, it was found that they were so mad in favour of their dogmas, that property and life were violated with impunity, till they were put down by the iron hand of military power; and we dread a similar close to this wild project.

The Rev. Henry Caswall, to whom the public are indebted for this account of the catastrophe, has truly remarked, that “there is something extremely awful in the termination of the earthly career of this daring impostor; and we may imagine his agony when, about to enter upon eternity, he uttered his last exclamation, ‘O God!’” At the early age of thirty-nine, after an unprecedented career of villany, he has met with a terrible retribution. He “ploughed wickedness,” and “reaped iniquity.” “His years have been shortened,”—he has “perished, and come to a fearful end.” May it awaken his besotted votaries from their delusion!

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