Ezra Booth's Letters (p.175b-p.221)
Booth begins his process of disenchantment with the arrival in Western Missouri.
On our arrival in the western part of the State of Missouri | (p.177) the place of our destination, we discovered that prophecy and vision had failed, or rather had proved false (p.176f).This disenchantment was even present in the upper echelons of the Mormon hierarchy.
The fact was so notorious, and the evidence so clear, that no one could mistake it -- so much so, that Mr. Rigdon himself said that "Joseph's vision was a bad thing." (p.177)Booth claims that he followed up his investigations with discussions with Rigdon and Cowdery which only deepened in his mind the impression that there was massive deception on foot.
Booth commences by pointing out that Smith Jr abuses his prophesying spirit to settle matters that have no spiritual aspect, such as whether a bucket of water gains weight by putting in a fish.
The massive deception has one key point
the establishment of a society in Missouri, over which the contrivers of this delusive system, are to possess unlimited and despotic sway. (p.178)
Second LetterFor the benefits of others, who could or have been misled as Booth has been, Booth commences in the second letter to
... as far as I have ability, unfold a system of darkness, fraught with glaring absurdity, and deceptive as falsehood itself. (p.179)Booth then sketches the apocalyptic stance of the Mormons, with their expectations of the Second Coming, the pouring out of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Esther-like expectation of avenging themselves against their enemies and taking their riches (p.180). Booth comments on the lack of success of the display of apocalyptic powers, esp. in the healing arts. The flock keeps failing the shepherd.
In the commandment given to the churches in the State of New York, to remove to the State of Ohio, they were assured that these miracles should be wrought in the State of Ohio; but now they must be deferred until they are settled in Missouri. (p.181)Booth then sketches the cardinal role of these continued commandments within the Church, and the authority they have within the apocalyptic assumption of corruption:
When they [i.e. Joseph Smith Jr.'s prophetic commandments] and the Scriptures are at variance, the Scriptures are wrongly translated; and Smith, though totally ignorant of the original, being a translator or an alterator, can easily harmonize them. (p.181)The commandments can be as mundane as giving Smith Jr a house or a thousand dollars, in Booth's reconstruction (p.182). Smith either originates all revelations, or judges the origin of a revelation as either divine or devilish that others receive (p.182), thus preserving exclusive control.
Booth then corroborates his interpretations by talking with the principle members of the Church, which he was able to do during this time there.
Joseph Smith, Jun., Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, may be considered as the principals in this work; and let Martin Harris tell the story, and he is the most conspicuous of the four. (p.182)
Third LetterBooth detects a change of character in Mormonism since its foundation, with some of its roots now being relegated to oblivion (p.183). There is first the ability to speak in tongues (p.184), which was then discarded as the devils work (p.185). Then people would receive commissions from the Heavens, written onto parchment or a Bible cover, or similar (p.185). Furthermore, there were visions, of the New Jerusalem (p.185) or the position and condition of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel (p.186), which they expect to be hiding in the polar region behind a wall of ice and snow. Only Joseph Smith Jr still sees with his spiritual eye, either translations or angels. Finally (p.187), the Mormons expect there to be many treasures in the earth and that the fulness of time will put them into their command.
Booth now describes the apocalyptic expectations of the Mormons (p.188f), esp. with respect to bodily healing. Booth narrates the incident of Brother Murdock (p.190) whose hand Smith Jr attempted to heal through faith; the incident of the elder, who could not use his legs; even the situation of a child, two days dead, that was commanded to rise again.
Booth then narrates how, during the disappointment of the Mormons over the faith healing not succeeding, Sidney Rigdon sent everyone home instead of preaching to them; Booth speculates he was scared of the congregation and their sentiments (p.191).
Booth now relates how the move to Missouri came about (p.192). Commandments were issued to send the Elders to do missionary work there, but the provisions were unequal.
They were commanded to go two by two, with the exception of Rigdon, Smith, Harris, and Partridge; and it was designed that these should find an easier method of transporting themselves, than to travel that distance on foot. They were careful to make suitable provision for themselves, both in money and other articles, that while on their journey, they might carry the appearance of gentlemen filling some important station in life; .... (p.192)For Booth this was a disappointing experience
I seldom proclaimed Mormonism with that liberty which I enjoyed in my public exercises, while a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. (p.193)In Missouri the missionaries expected displays of divine power and a community in full-swing, created by the missionary work of Oliver Cowdery. Little like that materialized.
We expected to find a large church, which Smith said, was revealed to him in a vision, Oliver had raised up there. This large church was found to consist of four females. (p.194)
We expected to witness the exercise if those miraculous gifts, to which some were ordained while in the State of Ohio. But the same difficulty, the same want of faith among the people, which counteracted them here, prevailed there; consequently no miracles could be wrought. (p.194)Even the consecration of the newly begun rebuilding of Zion was a disappointment.
The childish exultation of the Mormonite leaders, while they echoed and reechoed, the Lord has given us this whole region of country; "this whole region of country is ours;" when it was manifest, agreeable to the commandment, that the gift was only obtained, by purchasing it at a dear rate with money, .... (p.195)And since the pursuit involved such mundane approaches, the socio-economic status of the converts interfered with the success story.
... Mormonites as a body, are comparatively poor, and destined so to remain, until they pursue a different course as it relates to economy and industry, from what they have hitherto pursued. (p.196)
Sixth LetterBooth points out that the head quarters of the Mormons in Independence, Mo, is a mere 12 miles from the Indian reservations (p.196), which the Mormons were visiting to preach to the Indians (p.197). Booth denies however that any conversions took place when he was there, to he acknowledge polite interest in some of the prophecies about the Indians expelling their enemies.
The second part of the letter (p.198) concerns the laying of the foundation stone for the new Zion. Rigdon and Cowdery were both present on that occasion, according to Booth.
He [i.e. Sidney Rigdon, RCK] enjoined it upon them to express a great degree of gratitude for the free donation, and then, as the Lord's Vicegerent, he gratuitously bestowed upon them, that for which they had paid an exorbitant price in money. (p.198)Cowdery placed the cornerstone for Zion proper (p.198), while Joseph Smith Jr placed the cornerstone for the temple of Zion (p.199).
[Visitors, RCK] can there have the privilege of beholding the mighty work, accomplished by about thirty men, who left their homes, traveled one thousand miles, most of them on foot, and expended more than $1000 in cash. (p.199)The general whereabouts of Independence did not appeal to the Mormons, however, being still a frontier settlement.
Having completed the work, or rather finding but little business for us to accomplish in Missouri, most of us became anxious to return home. And none appeared to be more so than Rigdon and Smith, whose plans for future subsistence were considerably frustrated. They expected to find a country abounding with the necessaries and comforts of life. (p.200)
But no matter for that, it [i.e. returning to Kirtland, OH] will save them [Rigdon and Smith Jr] the difficulties and hardships incident to the settling of a new country; and also the dangers to which they would be exposed, in case the Indians should commence hostilities upon the whites; and moreover, they have an easy method [i.e. commandments] to supply themselves with cash at any time when occasion requires. (p.200)Booth sticks with that economic interpretation of the motivation for the Mormon leadership for the remainder of the letter.
The authority of a commandment will easily untie the purse strings of those whose consciences are under their [the Prophets and his head men, RCK] control; ..., [Joseph, RCK] Smith [Jr, RCK] has commanded himself not to labor, and by his mandate, has enjoined it upon the church to support him. The Bishop [Edward Partridge, RCK], when we were in Missouri, intimated that he [i.e. Joseph Smith Jr] and others were too much inclined to indolence. -- He [i.e. Joseph Smith Jr] replied, "I am commanded not to labor." (p.200)
Seventh LetterBooth now turns to describing how he wrote a letter to Bishop Edward Partridge concerning his impressions of the arrangement in Missouri with respect to the Kirtland Saints. However, this necessitates some background information about Partridge from Booth's point of view.
The Bishop [i.e. Edward Partridge, RCK] is, in reality, the Vicegerent of Smith, and those in coalition with him; and holds his office during their will and pleasure. (p.200)Booth then describes how the bishop began to doubt, due to the way the commandments for the professionals and the believers were incommensurate.
The conference last year, gave him [i.e. Bishop Ezra Partridge, RCK] a tremendous shock, from which with difficulty he recovered. The law of the church enjoins, that no debt with the world shall be contracted. But a thousand acres of land in the town of Thompson could be purchased for one half its value, and he was commanded to secure it; and in order to do it, he was under the necessity to contract a debt to the world. He hesitated, but the command was repeated, "you must secure the land." (p.201)Booth therefore thinks Partridge will not last.
He [i.e. Edward Partridge] saw the impropriety, and it shook his faith. I am suspicious the time is not far distant, when by commandment, this office will be bestowed upon a more trusty and confidential person; perhaps Smith's brother or father, or some one who has been disciplined in the State of New York. Then it will become his business to make over the whole property, by deed of conveyance, to the person appointed by the commandment to supercede him. (p.201)[Booth is mistaken, Partridge remained a Bishop until his death in 1840; after all, he had been one of the earliest converts, so he was "disciplined in the State of New York" (p.201) already, as Booth had put it. RCK]
Only now is Booth in a position to quote his own letter to Bishop Partridge in full (pp.201-2??).
Booth first explains to Partridge how his faith had been shaken by the overestimate of the size of the church established by Cowdery in Missouri, which had been estimated to be several hundred when it turned out to be "three or four families" (p.202). Booth then reminds Partridge of an interaction he had with Smith Jr in Missouri
When you [i.e. Bishop Partridge, RCK] intimated to Joseph that the land which he and Oliver had selected, was inferior in point of quality to other lands adjoining, [he abused you, RCK]. (p.202)According to Booth, Partridge had called Smith Jr out on the size of the church, and Smith Jr merely answered evasively. Booth then wants to know whether Partridge has not observed these contradictions on his own in Smith Jr before.
Now, permit me to inquire, have you not frequently observed in Joseph, a want of that sobriety, prudence and stability, which are some of the most prominent traits in the christian character? Have you not often discovered in him, a spirit of lightness and levity, a temper easily irritated, and an habitual proneness to jesting and joking? Have you not often proven to your satisfaction that he says he knows things to be so by the spirit, when they are not so? (p.203)Booth goes on to relate the story of a canoe trip that formed part of the journey, and how Smith Jr. and Cowdery and Rigdon behaved during that journey. When a controversy broke out, Smith Jr tried to get the upper hand over his elders but failed.
Joseph [Smith Jr] seemed inclined to arm himself, according to his usual custom, in case of opposition, with the judgments of God, for the purpose of pouring them, like a thunder bolt upon the rebellious elders; but one or two retorted, "None of your threats:" which completely disarmed him, and he reserved his judgment for a more suitable occasion. (p.205)In Booth's recollection, Smith Jr the next morning sidestepped the issue of the river journey by revoking the previous with a new commandment:
... and he [Joseph Smith Jr, RCK] again had recourse to his usual method, of freeing himself from the embarrassments of a former commandment, by obtaining another in opposition to it. (p.206)In addition, the prophet demanded a privileged mode of transportation for himself and his head men through the commandment.
Joseph, Sidney, and Oliver were to press their way forward with all possible speed, and to preach only in Cincinnati; and there they were to lift up their voices, and proclaim against the whole of that wicked city. The method by which Joseph and Co. designed to proceed home, it was discovered, would be very expensive. "The Lord don't care how much money it takes to get us home," said Sidney. (p.206)Such blatant inequality raised Booth's ire, and he expressed this to the bishop. In addition, he complained to Partridge about Smith Jr and his head men neglecting the preaching part of the commandment and giving divergent excuses for this (p.207).
Booth then points out that other of his travel companions had learned secrets about Oliver Cowdery that put him on par with the outcase Apostle and Elder Ziba, but that the same transgressions caused no expulsion in the case of Cowdery (p.208).
Booth closes his letter to Partridge by reminding him that Partridge's description of Zion is in conflict with Rigdon's, for which Rigdon's claimed infallible inspiration of the holy spirit; such contradiction with Rigdon which moved Partridge onto the "bad" list of Rigdon's, as he told Booth (p.208). For this reason alone, Partridge should fly the false association of these men (p.209).
Once the letter to Partridge has ended, Booth points out that Sidney Rigdon ends up twisting the truth by his penchant for exaggeration (p.209) and that in his disputations he is less compelling by virtue of argument than by being a verbal bully, as Rigdon himself shows when reiterating how he "defeated" his former master Alexander Campbell by yelling him down (p.210).
Booth questions whether the origin of the American natives is even a topic suited to the religious improvement of mankind (p.210). Nevertheless, in the Book of Mormon, that information is given, for the Mormonite, and is intimately related to the mission among the Lamanites (p.211), a charge committed to Oliver Cowdery, specifically in D&C 28, which Booth then cites (p.211-212). Booth also presents a contract-like response of Cowdery, his co-missionaries--Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer, and Ziba Peterson---and other Mormon leaders--Joseph Smith Jr and David Whitmer--(p.212-213) from October of 1830, where Cowdery and his co-missionaries accept the charge in the presence of the Mormon leaders. The response also includes the charge to put up a pillar where the new Zion will be located, a task not explicitly given in the revelation (p.213).
But Booth then points out the other aspects of D&C 28, as a rejection of Cowdery's attempts to prophesize and the clarification on the almost inviolate status of Joseph Smith Jr as a prophet, which puts the revelation into the context of a power struggle between Smith Jr and Cowdery (p.214). Smith Jr had taken a similar approach with Brother Hiram Page, but had delegated Cowdery to be the executioner of the chastisement (p.215); similarly with a female prophetess in Kirtland, Ohio (p.216).
Ninth LetterBooth (p.216) returns to his description of the mission to the Indians. While traveling thence, Cowdery detoured to Kirtland, Ohio, where he met Pratt's friend Rigdon and brought him into the fold. Rigdon had visions that supported his conversion to Mormonism, involving the absolute truth of the Book of Mormon as divine revelation (p.217). The actual missionizing began in Sandusky, but was unsuccessful (p.218), and so Cowdery and partners moved on to Missouri, where the were evicted from the Indian reservation by U.S. agents. Booth pours scorn on the simple fashion in which Cowdery let himself be despirited and pushed aside.
But alas! he [i.e. Oliver Cowdery] was arrested by man in his course, and by the breath of man the mighty undertaking was blown into the air, and Cowdery was thrown back among the Gentiles, to wait for the spirit to devise some new plans in the place of those which had been frustrated. (p.219)Which meant that solutions had to be found that violated the original commandment.
But as the city and temple must be built, as every avenue leading to the Indians was closed against the Mormonites, it was thought that they should be built among the Gentiles, which is in direct opposition to the original plan -- ... foreign from the design of the spirit, expressed in several commandments .... (p.219)Alternate Indian plans were conceived of, including a letter of recommendation by the Elders for the US Agent (p.219f) and the use of the "Storehouse for the Lord" as a base of what amounts to smuggling goods to the Indians (p.220). Finally, one man was declared as divorced from his non-Mormon wife, so that he could go and marry an Indian woman, which would allow for him to live amongst them, US Agent or not; but that plan did not come to fruition because the person was worried about the legal repercussions should they ever return to New York (p.220).
Booth then concludes this enterprise, which he considered unpleasant to himself. He hopes that his reward will be that someone will be kept out of the clutches of the delusion. (p.221)
End of Part 3 -- See Part 4 for the continuation
- E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unveiled, 1834.