Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lyndon W. Cook on William Law's Interview with Wilhelm Wyl

It is not clear how Wilhelm Wyl managed to talk Law into finally, against all his express wishes in the previously exchanged letters, to grant the interview, but grant he did and at the end of March of the same year Wyl came to Shullsburg, Wisconsin.

Interview (March 30th, 1887, Shullsburg, Wisconsin)

Wyl begins the interview with Law's confirmation (p.115) that Joseph Smith Jr had sent Orrin Porter Rockwell (p.115 Fn 2) to assassinate Governor Boggs. Law characterizes Rockwell as the lackey and coachman of Joseph Smith Jr (p.116), though Law could not substantiate Wyl's claim that Smith Jr had bought Rockwell horses and carriages for the assassination attempt (p.116). 

Wyl then turned the interview to the Nauvoo Expositor, "that celebrated sheet, born and killed June 7th, 1844" (p.116). Law interpreted the sheet as a need to show his non-Mormon friends "by publishing the paper, that I had not been in a fraud willingly" (p.116). The Law brothers setup the paper together and funded it: "But I and my brother, we gave the money, about $2,000. I gave the biggest part." (p.116) This was entirely feasible given the Laws' financial circumstances:
We had property to the amount of about $30,000, which was a good deal in those days. We had farms in Nauvoo, city lots, and our residences. My brother had a fine brick two story building. By starting the Expositor we lost nearly everything. (p.117)
And when Wyl asked about the mill and the store, Law added:
Yes, we had a large steam flour and saw mill and a store. It would have been the smart thing to do, to remain quiet, sell our property without noise for what we could get and move away. That would have been smart, but I wasn't cool and smart then. (p.117)
Law then discusses the economic sanctions imposed on himself and his brother.
When the Smiths saw that we were against them, then they applied to us their usual system, that is, to freeze us out. Secret orders went out that nobody could buy property without the permission of Joseph Smith, Hyrum or the authorities, as they called them, so our property was practically worthless. (p.117)
An important myth to bust in that context for Law was the myth of Joseph Smith Jr as the excellent wrestler.
Yes, my brother Wilson stood to me like a man, fully, fearlessly. ... He was a very fine and tremendously strong man. He wrestled with Joe in Nauvoo and threw him on his back. (p.117) 
Wyl then directs the conversation to the question of how William Law joined the Mormon Church to begin with, which quickly turns into a discussion of the moral qualities of the men involved in Mormondom.
John Taylor and Almon W. Babbitt came as missionaries to Canada and preached where I lived, twenty miles south of Toronto [i.e. Churchville, RCK]. I believe that Taylor was sincere then and I believe he was to a late day. Finally the greed of power and money killed his conscience. There was, no and then, a good man in Mormondom, for instance Wm. Marks. He was a very good man and knew as little of the secret crimes of the leaders as I knew myself. (p.117)

Wyl and Law then discussed an anecdote of how Hyrum Smith had invited the Laws to a reconciliation dinner, but Law's detecitve warned him that it was a trap to poison them (p.118). Law pointed to Mulholland and Blashel Thompson, two secretaries of the Prophet, as having died under suspicious circumstances that suggested poison to him. Law also cited Dr Foster's concern that several different people had been poisoned (p.118). Law also claimed that Danites, of whom he professed to know little, were trying to do him in (p.119), but that Joseph would not have it (p.119), and that Law then took precautionary measures.

Law relates that Emma Smith (p.119) would complain to Law about the girls kept in her house; Law repeated his negative assessment of Emma as dishonest (p.119). Wyl and Law then discuss the story of Maria and Sarah Lawrence, two Canadian orphans "worth about $8000 in English gold", whose guardian Joseph Smith Jr became, and whose bonds Sidney Rigdon and William Law were (p.119). According to Law, the Lawrence girls were sealed to Joseph and their gold went into Joseph's pocket. The fact (p.120) that Emma only complained mildly about the Lawrence girls to Law was indication that "she was his full accomplice, that she was not a bit better than he" (p.120).

Law then points out that Babbitt, who took over the guardianship of the Lawrence girls after Joseph Smith Jr's death, was unable to get Emma to make the settlement of $8000. Babbitt found that Smith Jr "had counted an expense of about $3000 for board and clothing for the girls" (p.120). In trying to reclaim the $5000 from some property that was in Joseph Smith Jr's name, Babbitt realized that there was no such property.
[William Law related: RCK] Babbitt, who was a straight, good, sincere, honest man, set about to find out property to pay the $5000 [remaining of the $8000 after the deduction of $3000 for board and clothing for the Lawrence sisters, RCK] with. He could find none. Two splendid farms near Nauvoo, a big brick house, worth from $3000 to $4000, the hotel kept by Joe, a mass of vacant town lots, all were in Emma's name, not transferred later, but transferred from the beginning. She always looked out for her part. (p.120)
And then Law brings himself in as righting that wrong.
When I [i.e. William Law, RCK] saw how things stood I wrote to Babbitt to take hold of all the property left by me in Nauvoo and of all claims held by me against people in Nauvoo. And so the debt was paid by me---Emma didn't pay a cent. (p.120)
After a break, Law returned to a story of how the Sac and Fox Indians visiting Nauvoo in May of 1844 (p.120 Fn 7) had apparently been recruited to do a dark deed against the Laws, where twenty or thirty spent the night in the Laws' hall, guarded by William and Wilson and their friends (p.121).

Wyl and Law then discuss Joseph Smith's parents; Law characterizes Lucy as "in her dotage" and "a harmless old woman" (p.121). Father Joseph Smith, Law considered "an old tramp", and groused about his selling patriarchal blessings that followed a familiar pattern "that my sons should be emperors and my daughters mothers of queens, and that everybody should have as many children as there was sands on the shore" (p.121). Cook affirms that the "[r]ecipients of ``patriarchal`` blessings often paid about $1.50 for the actual blessing and a written copy for their own keeping" (p.121 Fn 9). [[Notice that Wyl in his book has witnesses that claim the blessings were $3 a pop. RCK]]

Law was convinced of the bad nature of Bennett but unclear as to how Smith Jr and Bennett had their break with each other:
Bennett was very smart and clever, but a thorough scoundrel. Never could find out the reason of his downfall. (p.121)
Briefly returning to the question of Emma's reaction to the revelation of celestial marriage, Law re-iterates his story that Emma complained to him but was "not a particle better than he" (p.122). The conversation then touched on the peepstone (p.122), which Law had never seen but had heard from Hyrum to have been used for treasure hunting, and then to the question of Joseph being a drunkard, which Law had only seen once (p.122), to the question of the old woman drowned for the Church (pp.122f), to the issue of abortions in Nauvoo (p.123), which led Law to comment on Joseph's loose talk regarding his women.
Joseph was very free in his talk about his women. He told me one day of a certain girl and remarked, that she had given him more pleasure than any girl he had ever enjoyed.  I told him it was horrible to talk like this. (p.123)
In all of these ways, Wyl was effectively quizzing Law on the claims he had made in his book and iterating down a list. The next item was the question of the Church sanctioned robberies.
Hyrum had once a very fine, bran[d] new blue suit, and people told me [that] the suit was the produce of the spoils of the Gentiles. (p.123)
Law then describes a council that Hyrum had called and where Joseph took Law to attend (p.123).
Eight or ten were present, all leaders in the church. Hyrum made a long argument---he said, "The Missourians have robbed, plundered and murdered our people. We should take our revenge on them as thoroughly as possible, and regain what we have lost in Missouri. The simples way would be if our people would go to Missouri and buy their horses and cattle on credit, and then not pay for them; and our merchants would go to St. Louis and take their large quantities of goods on credit and then, when the notes became due, simply not pay them; our people always go there and pay for everything. That's foolish, very foolish, but it is just the thing that, for instance, Brother Law is doing. He has paid thousands of dollars there; but get all these things from them for nothing, horses, cattle and goods, that would help the people wonderfully. Our merchants should || transfer all they have---not only their stock in trade, but their lots, houses and farms too; to their wives and friends in general, so that the creditors could not get a cent out of them." (pp.123-124)
Law then relates how his cool reaction to the proposal prompted the meeting to ask him explicitly for his opinion.
This seems to me not only wrong and unjust, but at the same time very ridiculous, because it is not practicable. You cannot buy horses and cattle on credit without having established a credit by long trading; and as to St Louis, I was always of the opinion that the people there had been very good to the Mormons. So you would ruin your friends to injure your enemies, punish the innocent to hurt the guilty. The St Louis merchants were surely not the men that persecuted you in Missouri. (p.124)
Hyrum became so angry in Law's recollection, Joseph had to call the meeting off and take Law home, whereby he praised Law for the "justice and honesty of my views" (p.124). Law believes that Hyrum never forgave Law for that council meeting, but there was more to Hyrum's antagonism toward Law, which was tied to the "dirty political trade he made with Hoge against Walker" (p.124). Walker had secured habeas corpus from the Nauvoo city charter for Smith Jr (p.124), and Smith Jr promised 90% of the Mormon vote in return, a deal at which Law was present (p.125). However, Hyrum independently dealt with the Hoge campaign in Galena in the hopes of a seat in Congress for himself (p.125). When it came time to instruct the troops, Hyrum argued for Hoge, but Law tried to keep the deal with Walker, until Hyrum claimed a revelation for Hoge, which Smith Jr sustained (p.125). [[Obviously Law had no problem with the vote trading per se, he opposed the not-keeping of the trading of votes. RCK]]

The conversation turns to whether Law and Smith Jr ever had alterations, where Law was when the Expositor press was destroyed, and how the last interactions between Smith Jr and Law in Carthage went (p.126), where they "spoke not to each other and he [i.e. Smith Jr] seemed greatly preoccupied" (p.127).  Law also approved of Governor Ford (p.127).

Wyl then turned the discussion back to the life style that Joseph Smith Jr and his family had.
Joseph lived in great plenty. he entertained his friends and had a right good time. He was a jolly fellow, I don't think that in his family tea and coffee were used, but they were served to strangers when he entertained as tavern-keeper. (p.127)
The Smiths had plenty of money. Why, when I came to Nauvoo I paid Hyrum $700 in gold for a barren lot and at that rate they sold any amount of lots after having got the land very cheap, to be sure. Their principle was to weaken a man in his purse, and in this way take power and influence from him. Weaken everybody, that was their motto. Joseph's maxim was, when you have taken all the money a fellow has got, you can do with him whatever you please. (p.127)
The discussion then turns to how the Laws heard the revelation regarding celestial marriage, and Law reports that Hyrum had given him the revelation (p.128).  When Law challenged Joseph Smith Jr, he stood by the revelation and brushed aside the notion that it was in conflict with D&C 109 written in 1835 by observing that the Church had matured and needed meat now, not milk (p.128).
We talked a long time about it, finally our discussion became very hot and we gave it up. From that time on the breach between us became more open and decided every day, after having been prepared for a long time. (p.128)
Law then comments on the fact that he remembers the revelation to be shorter (p.129), without the "theological introduction" (p.129), and how surprised he had been to see its length in the book (p.128).
The thing [i.e. the revelation, RCK] consisted simply in the command of doing it, and that command was restricted to the High Priesthood and to virgins and widows. But as to Joseph himself, the Lord's chosen servant, it was restricted to virgins only, to clean vessels, from which to procure a pure seed to the Lord. (p.129)
[[This notion of raising of a pure seed to the Lord interacts oddly with the claim to abortions in Nauvoo offered elsewhere. RCK]]

Law then explains that those who were not trusted by the inner circle were used as models for the outside world instead. Law had made the point before, that the Church hierarchy was interested in putting their best foot forward in external things.
Whatever there was of crime in Nauvoo was kept secret. On the outside everything looked nice and smooth. There were lots of strangers every Sunday, as visitors and then the best speakers were put on the stand as samples of the fruits of this fine religion. (p.119)
In a similar vein, Law argued here about the modus operandi of the brethren the inner circle could not rely on to do as told (p.129).
They [i.e. the Prophet and his inner circle, RCK] first tried a man to see whether they could make a criminal tool of him. When they felt that he would not be the stuff to make a criminal of, they kept him outside the inner circle and used him to show him up as an example of their religion, as a good, virtuous, universally accepted brother. (p.129)
Wyl then requested another round of quick sketches about the Smith brothers, and Law declared them cowards (p.129), who "were always dressed well, generally in blue, sometimes in black. Joseph was a fine man, no doubt of it." (p.129) Law refuted the wrestling one more time (p.129), pointing in more detail to the superior strength of this brother Wilson (p.130) and contending that Rockwell's services made Joseph soft.
 Joseph was flabby; he never worked at anything and that probably made him so. (p.130)
Asked about the conspiracy to kill Joseph and Hyrum, Law denies all knowledge and insists on not having wanted that outcome.
I tell you, no, if I had had any idea of any such scheme, I would have taken steps to stop it. I have always considered the killing of Joseph Smith a wrong action. It is my opinion that he deserved his fate fully, much more than thousands of men who paid the penalty of their crime to Judge Lynch---but I would have preferred that he should have been tried by court and sent to the Penitentiary. (p.130)
Asked about practicing medicine in Nauvoo, Law suggests that Joseph Smith Jr never wanted him to do that.
I came to Nauvoo with money. I had had a mill in Canada already. Joseph said to me: ``You must not be a doctor here. Buy lands, build mills and keep a store to keep you running. As to practicing and not making anything, let some Gentiles come and do that. You look out for business and profit.`` (p.130) 
From talking about the other members of the Expositor and Bennett as a doctor (p.131), the conversation returned to Joseph's speaking about his money (p.131).
Oh yes, he [Joseph Smith Jr, RCK] used to boast of his riches. He expressed the opinion that it was all important that he should be rich. I heard him say myself, ``it would be better that every man in the church should lose his last cent, than that I should fall and go down.`` (p.131)
Of the many other interesting things said that day (p.132), Wyl only relates how Law assumed that he had survived his final days in Nauvoo.
What saved me from death in 1844 was, 1. my caution, 2. the devotion of my detectives and 3. Joseph himself. He had inculcated into the minds of his followers the rule, that the ''heads'' of the church must be safe before all. This became a strong superstition in the minds of his people, so strong that they did not dare to touch me. And he himself feared me so much because of my popularity and good standing, that he tried for a long time to put me out of the way in a manner that the church could not be charged with it. At last, however, he became desperate and would have killed me in any manner---but then it was too late in the day. (p.132)
The remainder of the interview, Wyl gives background information about Dr Law to show his good community standing and character; acknowledges the help of his son Judge Tommy Law in setting up the interview;  and gives particulars to the family having hailed from Ireland originally (p.132-136).

Bibliographical Record

Lyndon W. Cook, William Law: Biographical Essay -- Nauvoo Diary -- Correspondence -- Interview, Orem, UT (Grandin Book Company), 1994.

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