Chapter 6: Prelude to Kirtland
After Rigdon had been ousted from his Mentor pastorship through his conversion (p.71), he managed to obtain quarter with John Johnson in an old log cabin in Hiram, Ohio. From here he departed to New York to meet the Prophet together with his parishioner Edward Partridge (p.71). The Prophet provided Rigdon with an impressive augury, and the two quickly decided to join talents (p.72). Joseph Smith Jr was then working on the Joseph Smith Translation (= JST) of the Bible to replace materials that had been lost due to ignorant translators, careless transcribers or corrupt priests (p.73), and the Bible-steady Rigdon was just the man to assist in this project (p.73).
Van Wagoner points out how many different Bible editions were floating around the United States at that time--over 500 between 1777 and 1833---many revisions of the King James Bible from 1611 (p.72). Even Alexander Campbell, Rigdon's mentor, well-versed in Classics, had taken his favorite translations, combined them with about a hundred pages of notes, and published the whole himself, as the wealthy gentleman farmer that he was, from his printing office in Buffalo, Virginia (p.72).
Once the revelation of Enoch had been worked out (p.74), Rigdon badgered Smith to move to Ohio, where his followers were, arguing that he should escape the New York prosecutions. Furthermore, there were economic considerations.
The most important factor in the eventual migration west, however, may have been the fact that most Rigdon followers in the Kirtland area believed in communalism. Smith and Rigdon, both indigent visionaries with no visible sources of income, generally sought their bread from the sweat of their follower's brow. Amos S. Hayden, wielding a vengeful knife, points this out as he flayed them in his history of the Disciples in the Western Reserve. (p.74)How close Joseph and Sidney collaborated at this point can be seen from the fact that they received the revelation to go to Ohio together (cf. D&C 37). And they shared a belief in the imminence of the judgement day.
Apocalyptic rhetoric and doomsday hysteria abounded in early Mormon preaching. A century and a half of Mormon history has seen it fall to the wayside. But to Rigdon and Smith, the dark pronouncements were necessary. The existing system of social, economic, and political interfaces had to be recast in the image and likeness of a vision compelling enough to draw adherents away from their daily routines to a life that assumed heroic quality. They would become a peculiar people seeking to achieve the Millennium. (p.75)[[I think Van Wagoner is overdrawing the bow here and missing the point that the imminent advent of the Day of Judgement was something many Christians were ready to believe without any prompting from Smith or Rigdon; see the Introduction in Cook's discussion of Smith's law of consecration. RCK]]
When a general conference was held at the Whitmer farm on January 2nd, 1831, Joseph Smith Jr was requested to provide more information on the Ohio venture, and the Prophet proceeded to dictate a revelation (= D&C 38) to Rigdon in front of all (p.75). John Whitmer in his history records that the reactions were ambiguous to the revelation and that some believed "that Joseph had invented it himself to deceive the people that in the end he might get gain" (p.76). In the long run though, the powers of persuasion of Smith and Rigdon won over the Saints, and Whitmer was dispatched to Ohio to take charge of that community (p.76). Rigdon followed January 26th, 1831, with the Palmyra Reflector recording his departure.
Chapter 7---The Law of the Lord
The prophet's syncretic ability to blend others' ideas with his own intuition was a conspicuous feature of his career. It was not surprising that Joseph Smith's communal vision began evolving within days of meeting Rigdon, who discussed with Smith the range of his own religious experience, including communitarianism. (p.79)Upon returning to Hiram, Ohio, Rigdon was asked by his old parishioners why they should accept Smith Jr's revelation. Rigdon pointed to Joseph's ability to translate the old languages and to identify interpolations in the Bible, as well as to the need for a book for the Millennial Church, which he felt the Book of Mormon was (p.79). In his Sunday sermon, on January 30th, 1831, Rigdon challenged his congregation to disprove the divine character of the Book of Mormon (p.80). Unfortunately, the challenge was taken up by Thomas Campbell, Alexander's father, who pointed out that
- he would test the Prophet's language skills "in three or four foreign languages" (p.80)
- disprove the claimed loss of Baptism for 1400 years "by showing it to be in contradiction to Matthew 16:18" (p.80)
- show that the "pretended duty of ``common property`` is anti-scriptural" (p.81)
- show that "re-baptizing believers is making void the law of Christ" (p.81)
- show that "the pretension of imparting the Holy Spirit by imposition of hands, is an unscriptural intrusion on the exclusive prerogative of the primary apostles" (p.81)
- show that "pretentious visions, humility and spiritual perfection, are nowhere superior to those of the first Shakers, Jememia Wilkinson, the French prophets, etc." (p.81)
Campbell was convinced that he could expose the fraud by examining "the internal evidence of the Book of Mormon itself, pointing out its evident contradictions, foolish absurdities, shameless pretensions of antiquity" and generally show it to be "a production beneath contempt" and "unworthy the reception of a school-boy" (p.81). Rigdon burned the letter and never took up the challenge (p.81).
Alexander Campbell followed suite and attacked his former lieutenant Rigdon, for the first time mentioning the possibility that Sidney was suffering from melancholia (p.81).
Though Rigdon would later lose faith in Joseph Smith, he never lost faith in the Book of Mormon, as late as five years before his death, defending it in his correspondence (p.82).
Upon arriving in Kirtland February 1st 1831, Joseph Smith Jr and his family moved in with the Whitney's. February 4th, 1831, Smith Jr issued a revelation that he required a house for translating and that Rigdon needed accommodations as well (= D&C 41). But the economic situation remained complicated for Rigdon and for the newly arriving Mormons.
Before the year's [i.e. 1831, RCK] end Smith, two of his brothers, and a host of other Mormons were also warned out of town. (p.82)Rigdon and Smith also had to deal with the religious excesses of the neophyte Mormons, who presented a picture of gifts of the spirit that was not only commented on by Parley Pratt and John Whitmer, but also by the Painesville Telegraph on February 15th, 1831 (p.83). A former slave living on the Morley farm in "the family", Black Pete, followed a black angel off a cliff and landed in a tree on the banks of the Chagrin River (p.83).
Smith and Rigdon also needed to disassemble the communitarianism that the Rigdon followers were practicing, especially the so-called "family" (p.84). Instead new revelations on economic matters "surfaced" (p.84), including the story of the man with the twelve sons (p.84), now redacted as D&C 38. Van Wagoner is dubious about these and similar revelations, and their economic efficacy:
Scores of subsequent revelations---many unpublished, uncanonized and unknown to modern Mormons---were uttered during this period. Substantial textual changes later made by Smith, Rigdon, and others resulted in a convoluted narrative of nineteenth-century church financial policy. Complicating the account, neither Smith nor Rigdon were competent financial leaders, yet they considered their judgement superior to worldly wisdom. Their naivete brought the church to the brink of financial ruin more than once. (p.85)
Perhaps the greatest miscalculation, both in Kirtland and later, was the false assumption that an influx of immigrants would bring prosperity. The exact opposite proved to be the case. Most Mormon converts were of the lower economic classes, and like Smith and Rigdon had few worldly tangible resources to add to the community's financial base. (p.85)Though Smith was clear about eliminating the "commons stock" approach through the law of consecration, which was put into writing February 9th, 1831, Von Wagoner remains unconvinced.
The principles of consecration differed little from those of other communitarian schemes of the day. For the most part they all required that one's possession go to a common fund for the explicit purpose of eliminating poverty and for payment of common debts through personal sacrifice. The implementation of the 1831 Mormon system, however, differed considerable from other idealistic communities of the nineteenth century. Smith's vision combined elements of both individualism and collectivism. (p.85)Van Wagoner gives an accurate one page summary of the law of consecration, explaining about stewardship, private property and private homesteads, the extend of consecration, the forms of contribution, and the consecration of profits, as well as the avoidance of private debt (p.86).
To prevent debt, members were advised to be self-sufficient and independent, "How far is it the will of the Lord that we should have dealings with the world," Smith prayed, and how should we "conduct our dealings with them?" The answer: "Though shalt contract no debts with them." [= Manuscript Copy of D&C 42]. As the church slipped into severe financial distress a few years later and had to borrow immense sums to stay afloat, this clause was deleted and is not included in modern editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. (p.86)The resulting situation quickly became dire.
By spring 1831 the church in Kirtland and vicinity had increased to more than 1,000 members. The Arcadian community was a mixture of new and landless converts, old settlers reluctant to deed their lands to the church, and a penniless hierarchy that had no regular income. Despite Mormon efforts to pool their resources in Ohio, Missouri and later in Utah, success never came. (p.87)And Van Wagoner cites "social historian" Klaus Hansen in agreement (p.87)
Joseph Smith, the originator of these [communitarian] ideas, soon discovered, like Marx after him, that it was as easy to commit them to paper as it was difficult for fallible humans to follow them. Early attempts to put these economic principles into operation quickly faltered, as much because of the imperfections of the practitioners as because of flaws in the principles themselves. (p.87) [= Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience, Chicago (University of Chicago Press), 1981, p.127.
Chapter 8---The New Jerusalem
Every age has its delusions. For early Mormons these included eventually discarded communitarian plans as well as hope in the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ. That return, promised by the apocalyptic voice of the young prophet, stranded the Saints in an advent season--the eleventh hour--which has endured for more than a century and a half. These prophetic failures were at the very root of Sidney Rigdon's eventual loss of faith in Joseph Smith. (p.90)Sidney Rigdon had always lived in the expectation of the imminent Judgement Day.
Rigdon was obsessed with prophecies of Armageddon and was convinced his generation was doomed long before he met the Mormon prophet. Alexander Campbell referred to Rigdon as a "flaming literalist of the school of Elias [Smith], a Millennarian of the first water." (p.90)The connection between America, Zion and Armageddon was nowhere as clearly spelled out as in the Book of Mormon.
Their Holy City of Zion was to arise literally within the borders of the United States. The Book of Mormon warned early readers to flee to that land of refuge or to be destroyed (see 3 Ne 20:22, 21:21-29; Ether 13:1-11). (p.90)While Millennialism was a general malaise of the United States, with revelations, dreams and prophecies astir, only in Mormonism did it engender the specific expectation of Zion, as a safe place from the coming destruction of the world (cf. D&C 45:66). The lost ten tribes, secluded by a huge barrier of ice, would come forth, with their treasures, John the Beloved & the three Nephites, who all had never tasted death, and arrive at the New Jerusalem. (p.91)
The gathered elect would greet Jesus as he descended in glory to direct the ideal society in its ideal state. That vivid image eventually impaled the church in an unwinnable situation in Missouri. (p.91)This was not a new idea, Smith had selected Missouri before meeting Rigdon, even before the Lamnite mission of Oliver Cowdery (p.91). It was the US government, who in the 1820s had moved Indian tribes across the Mississippi, to Missouri who had inadvertently selected the locale for the Mormons (p.91).
With Cowdery, Pratt, Whitmer and Peterson [[and Frederick G. Williams, RCK]] busy with the Lamnite mission in 1831, Smith and Rigdon returned to their JST project "in the newly completed Smith cabin on Father Morley's property" (p.92). However, the project was interrupted in early June, when they stopped at Matthew 9:2 and Genesis 26:71. The financial straits of the church required that new converts were found (D&C 42:39) to consecrate. Rigdon together with Pratt and ex-shaker Leman Copley, tried their hand with Shaking Quakers living to the north of Kirtland (p.93), but failed to make an impact, even though Rigdon read them a revelation that Smith had received just for the encounter (D&C 49), an encounter that is recorded in the diary of their leader, Ashbel Kitchel (pp.93-94).
In the meantime, they were waiting for news from Oliver Cowdery, and finally received his enthusiastic and optimistic April 8th 1831 report, which talked about great success among the Lamnites (p.94). But the Indian affairs office intervened and threatened them with prison when hearing the impolitic claims that the Great Spirit would lead the Indians back upon their stolen lands, as "a young lion among the flocks of sheep" (p.95) [citing Ezra Booth in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, p.196].
In May, the New York saints arrived, poor because they had sold their property at a loss or abandoned it (p.95), and no one was ready for them, as John Whitmer observed (p.95). Bishop Partridge was required to secure a contract with Leman Copley for 1,000 acres in Thompson, sixteen miles northeast of Kirtland (which required taking on debt), and there the New York Saints were settled to plant some crops. (p.95) When Copley rejected his Mormon faith, he wanted the New York Saints out, and sending them to Missouri was the only possibility left (p.96).
After more missionary activities and a brief run-in with Alexander Campbell (p.96), the church held a three day conference, June 3-6 1831, in which context the High Priesthood was introduced or reintroduced (p.96). Van Wagoner points out firstly that the earlier church had only known the distinction of elders and others (D&C 20:1-12, 38-45; 21:1-12). Furthermore, Cowdery and Smith had already been ordained to the Higher Priesthood in May 1829 (p.97). An additional twist was that in a letter dated September 7th, 1834 to W.W. Phelps, Cowdery first reported that the "ancient apostles Peter, James and John" (p.97) had been present. [[But here Van Wagoner is in error---Cowdery only mentions the angel for the first time, who is missing in the 1833 edition of what is now D&C 27. RCK]] And in the official history, a work in progress under Joseph Smith Jr's supervision, it stated that on this date "the authority of the Melchisedek Priesthood was manifested and conferred for the first time" (p.97) on twenty-three elders. The plurality of alternate memories for this event, including such persons (and their diaries) as Parley P. and Orson Pratt, David & John Whitmer, Lyman Wight, William E. McLellin, John Corrill, J.C. Brewster and William Smith, the prophet's younger brother (p.97). David Whitmer blamed Rigdon for the introduction of the notion of two orders of priesthood and their lineal dependency (p.98).
On June 19th, 1831, Smith and Rigdon, Martin Harris and Edward Partridge, W.W. Phelps and Joseph Coe, Ezra Booth, and the Sidney Gilberts left Kirtland for Missouri (p.98).
They traveled by wagon, canal boat and stagecoach to Cincinnati .... (p.98)
After leaving Cincinnati the travelers landed at Louisville, Kentucky, where they waited three days for a steamer to convey them upriver to St Louis. Weary of waiting at that historic city, Smith, Harris, Phelps, Partridge and Coe went on foot to Independence, where they arrived about mid-July. The rest of the company, including Rigdon, came by water a few days later. (p.99)[[Notice that this means that Smith walked and Booth took the boat on their way to Missouri. RCK]]
Both Rigdon and Smith were unimpressed with the rough frontier town of Independence, whom Smith considered "a century behind the times ... without the benefit of civilization, refinement or religion" (= HC 1:189) (p.99).
This may be why neither Rigdon nor Smith ever made his residence in Jackson County, the divinely proclaimed "land of their inheritance". (p.99)The disappointment about the small congregation that had converted and the prophecy of a large constituency, reported by Ezra Booth via Howe, p.202, caused an additional rift between the elders, and Rigdon was especially disappointed (p.99) with Joseph Smith Jr. On August 2nd, 1831 the city of New Jerusalem was dedicated by Rigdon, as commanded in revelation (= Book of Commandments LIX:63) (p.100). By August 8th, a revelation was given (= Book of Commandments, LXI) that specified how to get back to Ohio speedily---by boat to St Louis, and then Sidney & Joseph & Oliver by boat from there, while the rest was to hike and preach (p.101). The following conflict laden return trip has only survived in Ezra Booth's description to Eber Howe, p.204, who gives Sidney & Joseph & Oliver travelling by stagecoach (p.102) though it consumed all of their monies and they had to pawn their trunk in Cincinnati (p.102).
By October 27th, 1831, Sidney and Joseph and Oliver were back in Ohio. Sidney immediately penned the description of Zion requested in the dedication revelation (= Book of Commandments LIX:63), but produced instead "an apocalyptic essay calling sinners to repentance" (p.103). Rigdon was promptly reprimanded by a revelation (D&C 58:51) for his "stem-winding epistle" (p.103) and produced a better version, that made Missouri sound even better (p.104). During his eviction from the church in 1844 by the Quorum of the Twelve, Jedediah Grant made this a specific point of attack (p.104):
He [i.e. Sidney Rigdon, RCK] expatiated on the beauties of Jackson county in such a profuse manner, that fears were entertained by the brethren that it would cause the saints from the east to apostatize, as soon as they should arrive, not findings things as set for by Elder R[igdon]. (= Grant, Collection of Facts ..., Philadelphia (1844), p.7)But Grant was referring to the first version here, and the second was deemed acceptable, and indeed it opened the purses of the various Saints (p.105). Ezra Booth complained to Partridge in a letter (p.104) about the fact that Rigdon claimed "infallible inspiration of the holy spirit" for his writeup (p.105). The initial success with gathering monies for Missouri did not change Rigdon's or Smith's attitude about the place.
Rigdon and Smith still preferred their inheritance in the more cultivated Kirtland (= HC 1:189). The essence of this was etched in stone on 11 September 1831, when Smith, shortly after arriving at his Ohio homestead, announced that Kirtland was to be retained as a "stronghold ... for the space of five years" (D&C 64:21). With this pronouncement the call to gather to the New Jerusalem lost some of its urgency. Although the Saints of that generation did not know it, their "shining city on a hill," where the downtrodden would find refuge and bring about the Advent, was a mirage, an air castle that would ultimately become part of the lost world of utopian dreams. (p.105)
Chapter 9--Tarred and Feathered
A freelance evangelist, Nancy Towle, visited Kirtland, Ohio in September of 1831 and gave an account of what the Mormons appeared like at that time in the Western reserve. [[p.137-147 in the edition that Van Wagoner perused, pp.150-160 in the 2nd edition used here.]]
That a day of great wrath, is bursting upon all the kindred, of the earth; and that, in Mount Zion. and in Jerusalem alone, shall be deliverance in that day; (even in the land, which the Lord Jesus had given to them, for a dwelling-place, and an everlasting possession.) The place where they then hod their stay, was not the "Land of Promise;" — but that, lay, on the western boundary of the State of Missouri; In which place, they were then assembling; and where they believed. In process of time, they should have a temple; and a city, of great magnificence, and wealth; and that shortly, they should increase, and tread down all their enemies, and bruise them beneath . their feet. After which period, Christ Jesus should descend, and reign with them, personally one thousand years upon the earth. And then their enemies should be loosed for a season; (or, as one said to me, for the space of three months,) when, should take place, the General Judgment; and the final consummation of all [created, RCK] things. (p.108)[[This could show that the OT vengefulness was already present in 1831. RCK]]
Smith and Rigdon moved to Hiram, Ohio, during that time, to work on the JST (p.108), Rigdon residing in John Johnson's old log cabin, and Smith with Emma and their newly adopted twins in a spare room of the Johnson farmhouse (p.109). Hiram belonged to Mantua and had been one of the locales were Rigdon had successfully spread the Reformed Baptist movement (p.109). Here, Ezra Booth, a Methodist minister, and Symonds Ryder, a Reformed Baptist minister, had originally converted to Mormonism (p.109). But when Booth's call to Missouri on June 7th 1831 entailed a late-arriving commission with a misspelled name, Ryder became suspicious and refused to go. When Booth had returned, the two decided that this was all craft and deception (p.109).
Losing his license to preach for the Mormon church in September 1831 (p.109), Booth nevertheless (p.110) wrote articles for the Ohio Star of Ravenna from October 13th to December 3rd, 1831, voicing his criticism of Mormonism (p.110), upon invitation of his friend Ira Eddy of Nelson, Portage County, which Howe reprinted in his Mormonism Unveiled, pp.176ff.
The extensive circulation of these letters had dramatic impact on the public mind for several months. Booth's opposition was based on several factors, including the inconsistencies and failures of Smith's revelations, and what he saw as the despotic personalities and personal weaknesses of Smith, Rigdon, and others. (p.110)Smith and Rigdon were forced to react, so a revelation told them to stop translating for a space (= D&C 71), and they took up the arms in debate and the Ohio Star (p.110). Neither Ryder nor Booth, though the latter was expressly invited, attend the December 25th lecture that Rigdon had announced (p.111). Rigdon skewered Booth's character; when Booth wrote another letter to the Ohio Star editor, the editor was no longer interested in continuing the controversy (p.111). Rigdon taunted Ryder to debate in a January 12th, 1832, letter, but Ryder neither felt like putting up with Rigdon's antics nor accidentally what he saw as a sinking ship (p.111).
Smith and Rigdon were happy enough with the outcome to get back to the JST (D&C 73) (p.111). At a church conference in Amherst, Lorain County, Ohio (p.112), Smith was made president of the High Priesthood, and Rigdon laid his hands on him and blessed him, according to Orson Pratt's journal (p.112). In February 1832 they received the "vision of the Three Degrees of Glory", now D&C 76, explicated as celestial, terrestrial (p.112), and telestial (p.113). Though the revelation was sent to Independence, Missouri, where it was printed in July 1832 in the Morning & Evening Star, its decidedly Universalist slant was a big problem for many saints, as Brigham Young reports for his brother Joseph, a trained Methodist minister (p.113). The official church history records no such stumbling (cf. HC 1:252-253).
In March 1832, Joseph Smith Jr received a non-canonized revelation on the Duties of the Bishop, which authorized him to take counselors and preside over all the concerns of the church (p.113). On March 8th, Smith Jr chose Jesse Gause and Sidney Rigdon as his counselors (p.113). Gause had only been a Mormon for a few weeks, but had lead Shaker communes in Massachusetts and Ohio for three out of his twenty three years as a Shaker (p.114). However, Gause was excommunicated December 3rd, 1832, already, and his name replaced in his revelation by Frederick G. Williams (see D&C 81).
While the JST project was proceeding satisfactorily to Rigdon and Smith in Hiram, Ohio (p.114), resistance was forming. As Alanson Wilcox wrote in his History of the Disciples of Christ in Ohio, Cincinnati 1918, p.126, the majority of the Campbellites saw the switch to Mormonism of Rigdon as a scheme to get their monies into a common fund and let "certain persons" live without work (p.114). The brothers Omstead and John Johnson Jr were worried that Rigdon, Smith or the church would take their inheritance (p.114), a fear corroborated by Samuel F. Whitney, Newel's brother (p.114), and Orson Hyde, who had married into the Johnson family. Symonds Ryder, a probable ringleader in Campbellite mischief (p.114), pointed out that the Campbellites were upset not for religious reasons, but because of the law of consecration placing their plots under control of the Prophet (p.115).
The result was effectively a siege, with someone possibly even trying to blow up the log house in which Rigdon resided February 15, 1832. On March 24th, 1832, Campbellites from Shalersville, Garrettsville and Hiram drag Rigdon out of bed and over the frozen ground so that he bumped his head senseless, tarred and feathered him and possibly tried to pour nitric acid on his face (p.115). Then they fetches Joseph Smith Jr, whom (p.116) they threatened with castration and tarred and feathered as well (p.116). Smith chipped a tooth but could preach the next day; Rigdon was sick in bed for weeks (p.115). Van Wagoner pooh-poohs the depictions of the pro-Mormon historians as attempts on the life of the Prophet and the Scribe.
Had this [i.e. to kill Rigdon and Smith, RCK] been their intent they would have brought weapons and succeeded. But the fact that they came prepared with a bucket of hot tar (they got feathers from Rigdon's pillow) suggests they were proffering a warning. (p.116)[[This reconstruction seriously underplays the castration attempt on Joseph Smith Jr, which need not have ended in a healthy way for the Prophet. RCK]] Van Wagoner also points out that this type of action was tolerated at the community level during Rigdon's lifetime (p.116), citing the case of Shaking Quakers prophetess Mother Ann Lee who was dragged from a followers house and whipped by a mob in 1783 (p.120 Fn 41). [[Not the best example, being 60 years old, though it indicates that such treatment was not reserved for men. RCK]]
Nevertheless, the head trauma may have induced violent mood swings, including depressive spells that made Rigdon ponder suicide or killing his family (p.116). Henceforth, Rigdon's mood swings were widely noted and commented upon by Whitney or Grant (p.117). Van Wagoner suggests this was the reason that Rigdon was effectively ill for the five years that the Saints stayed in Nauvoo, 1839 to 1844. By March 24th, 1832, Rigdon was at least capable of moving to Kirtland---his children had measles and had to be transported in an open wagon (p.118). After another mob-interaction on April 1st, 1832, Rigdon fled via Charon to Warren, whence he and Gause accompanied Joseph Smith Jr to Independence, Missouri, arriving April 24th 1832 (p.118).
Chapter 10---Literary and United Firms
On March 1st, 1832, Joseph Smith had received a revelation to setup the mercantile and literary efforts of the church (p.123). With their arrival in Missouri, Rigdon & Smith and Gause were ready to discuss its extension to the Missouri leadership (p.123), once the antagonisms between Partridge on the one hand and Rigdon on the other hand was defrayed (p.123). The precursor had been the Literary Firm which had been revealed December 4th, 1831 in (D&C 72:20) and was charged with publishing the revelations and the Bible revisions, the church hymnal, children's literature and newspapers as well as an almanac (p.124). Now the United Firm, which was to support the Literary Firm, was upgraded to include Partridge, Cowdery, Phelps, Gilbert and Whitmer (p.125). The two separate fronts---Gilbert, Whitney & Co of Missouri and Newel K. Whitney & Co of Ohio---were established, the powers of attorney sorted out---Gilbert & Whitney---and the bond for the business drafted by Phelps and Gilbert (p.125). The Kirtland branch was requested to take out a $15,000 loan (p.125).
On the return home, Rigdon & Smith & Whitney had a runaway coach incident: Joseph made the jump; Whitney got caught in the wheel when he jumped and mangled his foot; Rigdon stayed inside and remained unharmed (p.125). As a result, Whitney needed four weeks of tending in a public house in Greenville, Indiana, with Joseph providing care, while Rigdon hurried to Kirtland (p.125).
Upon his return, Rigdon tried to get a new house by claiming that the keys of the kingdom had been taken from them until he had new lodgings (p.126). Joseph Smith Jr, when he arrived, rebuked him and took away his license (p.126); a new one was issued to him eventually, but the old one remained with Bishop Whitney (p.127). Sidney's bipolar mood swings were interpreted as "buffetings of Satan" (p.127); contemporary witnesses report Rigdon being thrown about the room like a ragdoll by Satan (p.127). For several weeks Rigdon was out of favor, a situation for which Joseph Smith Jr sympathized with Rigdon in a letter to Phelps from July 31st, 1832 (p.127). Once all was well again, the church did provide Rigdon with a new house (p.128).
Rigdon's stock rose quickly again. In a March 8th, 1833 revelation, he and Frederick G. Williams as counselors were promised equal holding of the keys of the kingdom with Joseph Smith Jr (p.128) and on March 18th, 1833, during a gathering of the High Priesthood, Rigdon's wish was granted (p.128). Seven months later, while at Perrysburg, New York, Rigdon was revealed (D&C 100) to be a spokesperson for the Prophet (p.128).
Despite his eccentricity, Rigdon was more polished, logical and verbally gifted than Smith. For years he had been Mormonism's unofficial pitch man, and his designation as "spokesman unto my servant Joseph" satisfied Book of Mormon prophecy (see 2 Ne[phi] 7, 15, 17 [[which I could not verify RCK]). This became Rigdon's crowning touchstone. Despite a ministry overshadowed by mental illness, unofficial efforts to affect the Second Advent, and failed attempt to build the New City of Jerusalem, Rigdon felt that God had anciently foretold his role as a spokesman. That belief caused him to rise, phoenix-like, again and again. (p.128)
Chapter 11---Book of Mormon Authorship
Antagonists have expended considerable energy attempting to discredit the Book of Mormon, which gave Joseph Smith's prophesying a concrete legitimacy that the visions and predictions of other seers of the day could not match. The Book of Mormon had a particular appeal for people emerging from a twilight of visionary dreams and folk magic, men and women looking to demonstrate their literacy and enlightenment. It fit the popular belief that what was written was a greater truism and more authentic than the spoken word. (p.132)While people had early doubted that Smith Jr was the author of the book.
To cynics it seemed improbable that a semi-literate farm boy could author a literary work so intricate in plot and steeped in biblical lore as the Book of Mormon. The logical explanation for the holy book was that Smith must have collaborated behind the scenes with someone better educated and more sophisticated. (p.132)Oliver Cowdery as a former school teacher was considerably better educated than Joseph Smith Jr and thus the first suspected co-author (p.133); but with the rise of Sidney Rigdon, the suspicion that he was the co-author was not far behind (p.133). However Rigdon always insisted that until Parley P. Pratt had given him the book, he had not even known of the book's existence (p.133). Van Wagoner then recounts the story of Spalding and his manuscripts (p.134), and how Doctor Philastus Hurlbut, after being evicted from the church "for making an obscene comment to a young woman" (p.134), began to lecture in Pennsylvania against the Mormon and there met former neighbors of Solomon Spaulding, who told him of the romance (p.133). This lead Hurlbut to assume that Rigdon had acquired Spalding's manuscript and used it to write the Book of Mormon. Several old Campbellites---"Judge Orris Clapp, and both sons, Thomas J. and Mathew S. Clapp, and Adamson Bentley"---gave Hurlbut money to track down the Spalding manuscript (p.134).
Hurlbut went to New Salem and collected affidavits from family members, former neighbors and friends of Spalding (p.135). The people seemed to support his hypothesis. On route to Monson, Massachusetts, where the widow of Spalding now lived, Hurlbut stopped off in Palmyra and spent two months gathering affidavits against the Smiths (p.135). That his activities were well known there is documented by the fact that on December 20th, 1833, the Wayne Sentinel published the first sketch of what would become the Spalding-Rigdon hypothesis (p.135). Spalding's widow in Manson sent him on to Harwick, New York, where Hurlbut secured the novel and returned to the Western Reserve (p.135). Here Hurlbut lectured against the Mormons (p.135). In this context Hurlbut stated that he would wash his hands in the prophet's blood, which allowed Smith to file a legal complaint against him. Hurlbur was sentenced April 1st, 1834, fined $200, and told to keep his peace (p.136).
Hurlbut, now tarnished and embarrassed by an affair between his wife and his former funder, Judge Orrin Clapp, sold his research to Eber D. Howe, editor of the Painesville Telegraph, who held a grudge against Mormonism because his wife and daughter had converted (p.136). Van Wagoner points out that Rigdon makes for such a bad candidate for the Spalding thesis, because he was so insistent on the Book of Mormon not being his work (p.136). Furthermore, many early Mormons such as William McLellin noted that--if anything--Rigdon was the tool of Smith, not vice versa (p.137).
If any one item defined Rigdon it was his untiring belief in the authenticity of that "ancient voice from the dust". It provided him the shelf on which he rested his soul. And in the end, when he was disillusioned and bereft of faith in Joseph Smith, he still avowed that the Book of Mormon was precisely what it claimed to be---the word of God. (p.137)
[[As Appendix 2 indicates, Van Wagoner finds it more plausible that Smith was familiar either directly or via Oliver Cowdery with Ethan Smith's book on the American Indians as the rediscovered Hebrews. Van Wagoner points out that Ethan Smith and Solomon Spalding overlapped at Dartmouth and heard lectures from Professor John Smith, who was interested in prophecies, the Millennium and the origins of the Indians. (pp.461-466). RCK]]
Loss of Zion
Mormonism in its purest distillation is the fused product of Joseph Smith's and Sidney Rigdon's revolutionary thinking condensed into the prophet's revelations. Their joint vision recast existing American social, economic and political systems into an apocalyptic model they called Zion. Faced with the uncertainty, if not the menace of the future, their followers were drawn from daily routines into the larger-than-life existence in which the group's endeavors took on an epic quality. (p.142)
What was more or less unique about the Mormon religious commonwealth was the application of biblical prophecies and events to the American scene. Jackson County, Missouri, at the heart of the continent, was the site of the fabled city of New Jerusalem. ANd that sacred ground, declared the prophet---not Mesopotamia or the Great Rift Valley of Africa--had been old Eden, the cradle of humanity. (p.142)
June 25th, 1833, Sidney Rigdon was instrumental in sending an elaborate draft of plans for Zion to the Church leadership in Jackson County, Missouri (p.143).
He included extensive architectural details "of the house to be built immediately ... for the [First] Presidency." (= HC 1:363) The heart of the city of New Jerusalem, as specified in Rigdon's packet of information, would be three large blocks set apart for a twelve building temple complex. (p.143)At this point Van Wagoner does a bit of foreshadowing.
Most studies incorrectly presume that Rigdon's disenchantment with Joseph Smith began later in Nauvoo when the prophet sought Rigdon's daughter as a plural wife. To the contrary, his loss of faith was gradual, a discontent that initially erupted when the prophet's vision of the New Jerusalem and the subsequent promises of Mormon redress proved failures of epic proportion. (p.143)Van Wagoner then points out how inbred the Mormon isolationism had been from the beginning in Ohio and Missouri, and how easily misunderstood.
From their earliest years, Mormons in both Ohio and Missouri began to isolate themselves. To validate their uniqueness they minimized socialization with outsiders and emphasized their differences. Being eccentric made them feel special, but they did not understand that what seemed to be solidarity to them appeared to be insularity to outsiders, an exclusivity that would provoke tragic misunderstandings, persecution and bloodshed. (p.143)Van Wagoner looks to communities such as the Harmonists in Pennsylvania and Indiana, the Shaker congregations, as well as the Wallingford Community in Connecticut and the Oneida Community in New York State (the latter two even practiced free love) (p.143) and tries to understand why these neither excited their neighbors nor aroused persecution.
The deciding distinction between such groups and Mormons was that the former neither sought political power nor pressed their opinions on outsiders through newspapers or proselyting. (p.143)On the other hand,
The political aims of Mormons and Missourians were on a collision course, a clash of disparate cultures, from the beginning (p.143).The sources for the Missouri discontent make it clear that the aloofness, the poverty, and the talk of inheritance was a key problem for the other residents of Jackson County. In addition, the Missourians feared that the Mormons would bring "free negroes" as converts into their Slave state, or tamper with slavery in some other fashion (p.144), though Van Wagoner believes the slavery issue to be overplayed (p.145), seeing instead blood-and-soil nationalism (p.145).
Mormons ... simply viewed the Promised Land as their God-given entitlement. They proclaimed that high-minded belief to native Missourians who took umbrage. (p.145)Van Wagoner also cites Colonel Pitcher from an 1881 interview, who especially blames Phelps' newspaper as a source of the revelations of Joseph Smith Jr.
The troubles of 1833, which led to their expulsion from the county, were originated by these fanatics making boasts that they intended to possess the entire county, saying that God had promised it to them and they were going to have it. This of course caused ill feeling toward them, which continued to grow more and more bitter, until the final uprising. (p.145)Colonel Pitcher also explicitly rejected slavery as a source of contention, because the Mormons, although Northerners, did not interfere with the negroes, and no one cared whether they owned slaves or not. (p.145)
On July 20th, 1833, the Saints were given a fifteen minute ultimatum to depart, and when they refused, the group tarred and feathered Partridge and Charles Allen, wrecked the printing press, and forced the Gilbert store to close (p.146). July 23rd, 1833, the leaders signed a warrant that they would leave by January 1st, 1843.
Despite firm assurances that God would protect the Mormon people, the Missourians had beaten their hand, so to speak, and won the pot. (p.146)Oliver Cowdery went to Kirtland to brief the First Presidency. Shortly thereafter, a revelation was issued (D&C 101) that placed the blame for the disaster on the Saints in Missouri, who had not been at their morally best and gambled away their inheritance almot (p.146). They were guaranteed redress, and if judge, governor and president should fail, the God would come "and in his fury vex the nation" (p.146). However, the governor deferred to the judges, who were cowed by the mobocrats (p.147). New revelations thundered God's anger against the Missourians, calling the Mormons to "break down the walls of mine enemies ... ands scatter the watchmen" (p.147). A further revelation issued February 24, 1834 claimed that God had "suffered [the Missourians] thus far, that they might fill up the measure of their iniquities, that their cup might be full" (p.147) and compared their enemies to the salt to be trodden under the foot of men.
The strong response to this was the Camp of Zion, whose divine support was explicated in revelation D&C 103, which promised the participation of angels, the divine presence, and the eventual recapture of the land (p.148). Attempts to raise monetary support in the range of $2,000 and young men to fight resulted in barely $200 and about 100 volunteers that were barely equipped with the necessary provisions (p.148). [[Van Wagoner draws no connection here to the bad financial state of the Kirtland authorities, who would have consumed most of the $2K support. RCK]] In his April 7th, 1834 [[Van Wagoner writes 1st by mistake, RCK]] letter to Orson Hyde, still looking for support in New York, Joseph Smith Jr spoke of the Saints losing their inheritance if no more help was forthcoming (p.148).
For both Smith and Rigdon, the Second Advent was basically "now just before us" (p.149), and they preached accordingly at the conference at Norton on April 21st, 1834, focusing on the fact that without the redemption of Zion, "we must fall" (p.149). On May 1st, 1834, in the context of mustering the troops for Zion's Camp, Rigdon announced the change of the church from "The Church of Christ" to "The Church of the Latter-day Saints" to emphasize the proximity of the Millennium. (p.149)
When on May 2nd 1834 Joseph marched Zion's Camp to Missouri, Rigdon remained behind, having had "confirmed upon him the blessings of wisdom and knowledge to preside over the church" (p.149) by the prophet and the promise of seeing "all his enemies under his feet" (p.149). Rigdon and his assistant Cowdery took their first action on May 10th, writing a circular asking for more volunteer's for Zion's Camp; the writing gave Rigdon a chance to explain the rationale for defending the Mormons' holdings in Jackson County, Missouri (p.149).
The camp tracked the 1000 miles across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri in about forty-six days. By then it was clear that governor Dunklin was not going to support them and Joseph Smith Jr wrote to his wife on June 4th, 1834, that the camp was much too small to do anything than scare the Missourians a little (p.150). To make matters worse, they were struck with a siege of cholera. "[N]either Smith nor any of his liberation force set foot in Jackson County." (p.150) Though Smith produced a revelation from God that blamed the ineffective attempt on the "transgression of my people" (D&C 105) (p.150), but promised that "within three years they should march to Jackson County and there should not be a dog to open his mouth against them" (p.151). For many of the camp, this was not good enough (p.151). There was griping and complaining against the Prophet upon arrival back in Kirtland, and Joseph Smith Jr had another meeting with the camp to quell the unrest (p.151). In this context, Joseph Smith Jr stated that "even fifty-six years should wind up the scene" (p.151), which lead to a whole tradition of expectations of the end of the world around 1890 (p.151).
Most nineteenth century Mormons seemed not to notice when ill-fated predictions about the end of the world or the redemption of Zion misfired. (p.151)But as so often, millennial predictions turned out to be mistaken.
In 1903, Patriarch Benjamin F. Johnson, a close friend of Joseph Smith, could not conceal his disappointment when he remarked "we were over seventy years ago taught by our leaders to believe that the coming of Christ and the millennial reign was much nearer than we believe it to be now." (p.152)And putting on his Franz Overbeck hat, Van Wagoner adds:
An important part f that failed dream was the expectation, fostered now for over 160 years, that the expulsion from Jackson County, Missouri, was only temporary. John Whitmer, early Mormon historian, noted the tradition among early Saints that "those who obeyed the covenant in the last days, would never die: but by experience they have learned to the contrary." Mormons today face the reality that the generation of Saints alive in 1832 did not live to see the redemption of Zion, the establishment of the holy city of New Jerusalem, or the second coming of Christ, all of which promised in revelations, patriarchal blessings, and numerous pronouncements by church leaders. (p.152)Van Wagoner then iterates through the expectations of imminent return of the likes of Brigham Young (p.152), Orson Pratt (p.152), George Q. Cannon (p.153), Wilford Woodruff (p.153), Lorenzo Snow (p.153). After some comment on past millennial expectations and the story of William Miller (1782-1849), also known as Miller the Prophet, whom both Rigdon and Smith were aware of (p.154), Van Wagoner then points to the research by Festinger, Riechen & Schachter, When Prophecy Fails, Minneapolis 1956.
When Mormon prophecies fail, members resort to self-blame. The loss of Zion, the city of New Jerusalem, was a consequence of their misdeeds. (p.155)
In 1838-3 both Rigdon and Smith would come to realize that the city of New Jerusalem was a glittering improbability and that Zion would likely not be redeemed in the near future. Alanson Ripley reported that "Joseph Smith Jr counseled to sell all the land in Jackson, and all other land in the state." This countered the earlier position that the lands could not be sold because "to sell our land would amount to a denial of our faith as that land is the place where the Zion of God will stand, according to our faith and belief in the revelations of god and upon which Israel will be gathered according to the prophets" (p.155).But until then, Smith and Rigdon had to conceive of a "sort of sacred space in exile", with the focus in Kirtland (p.155).
Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, Salt Lake City (Signature Books), 1994.