(For Part 1, see here.)
Chapter 13---The Kirtland Temple
Kirtland---provisional Zion---was the apex of Sidney Rigdon's religious triumphs. During his later life, especially when seized in melancholia's black talons, Rigdon often floated back nostalgically to the rich loam and tall trees of Ohio's fabled lands. In Kirtland Sidney found his place in the sun, a pinnacle from which he viewed the world for nearly a decade. (p.160)Van Wagoner then sketches the relationship between Smith and Rigdon during this decade.
The window of opportunity, during which Rigdon achieved co-equal billing with Joseph Smith, lasted from 1831-1839. During this era he and the prophet, both gifted visionaries, jointly developed the church's infrastructure and its governing agenda. Retrospectively the duo seemed mismatched. Rigdon was highly educated and well read while Smith possessed only rudimentary education. Rigdon was pessimistic while Smith demonstrated a joie de vivre. Smith was remarkable for his charisma, Rigdon for his eloquence. But despite occasional friction, they were virtually inseparable. Their burdens, in fact, were their bonds. (p.160)And then Van Wagoner throws in one more interesting character observation.
Both the impassioned prophet and his spokesman longed deeply for public recognition. (p.160)Among the plans they now revisited was printing the revelations. When they had last attempted to do that in the fall of 1831, planning to use the press of Phelps in Independence, Missouri, David Whitmer and others had warned that, given the depictions of the Missourians as intruders upon the land of Zion (p.160), who should be cut off and sent away (p.161). Whitmer worried that the printing press would be destroyed and that the Saints would be evicted (p.161), but to no avail. On November 20th, 1831, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery were dispatched to Missouri with the manuscript revelations, arriving in Independence on January 15th, 1832 (p.161). Printing was interrupted by the mob on July 20th, 1833 at section 65. The saints used the few hundred copies of the unfinished book until 1835, then the first D&C came out (p.161).
Rigdon also supported an educated lay ministry, drawing on a lifetime of Baptist experience, and so the School of the Prophets or Elders was inaugurated (D&C 88 on December 27th, 1832). Rigdon was the principal instructor (p.161). By December 1834 the mandate had broadened into the "Kirtland School", which also encompassed children (p.161).
Subjects emphasized in the Kirtland School, mostly by Rigdon and his associate William McLellin, included grammar, reading and writing, geography and history, politics and philosophy, and foreign languages. The main emphasis, however, particularly for adult male priesthood holders, was religious studies. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this instruction was Rigdon's preparation and delivery of a seven part series of theological lectures to a group of prospective missionaries, "the first laborers of the Kingdom," during the 1834-1835 winter term of the School of the Elders. (p.161)The resulting lecture was originally part of the D&C, but was removed in 1921 by LDS leadership (p.162). The publication of the new D&C commenced September 24th, 1834, and was on its way back from the bindery on August 17th, 1835, when it was introduced by the publishing committee to a general church assembly (p.162). Since the Book of Commandments, large numbers of changes had become necessary. As David Whitmer explained,
Some of the revelations as they are now in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants have been changed and added to. Some of the changes being of the greatest importance as the meaning is entirely changed on some very important matters; as if the Lord had changed his mind a few years after he gave the revelations. (p.162)
[Whitmer continued: RCK] These changes were made by the leaders of the church, who had drifted into error and spiritual blindness. Through the influences of S[i]dney Rigdon, Brother Joseph was led on and on into receiving revelations every year, to establish offices and doctrines which are not even mentioned in the teachings of Christ in the written word. In a few years they had gone away ahead of the written word, so that they had to change these revelations. (p.163)On January 4th, 1836, a Hebrew class was organized, and Elder William McLellin managed to hire Jewish scholar, Joshua Seixas, to teach a seven week class at $320 (p.163). On February 15th, 60-70 students were present, and on February 19th, Seixas divided the class to give the advanced students a chance to to work at a faster pace (p.163).
The advanced group of Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith Jr, Oliver Cowdery, W.W. Phelps, Edward Partridge, William McLellin, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, Sylvester Smith, and Warren Parrish continued to study under Seixas until 29 March 1836. (p.163)Rigdon was also the "church's principal advocate with the masses" (p.163), writing "most of the consequential essays in the Messenger and Advocate" (p.163), preaching at religious services and public functions, and bestowing personal blessings (p.163). Nevertheless, Smith Jr quickly learned that his spokesman could be volatile (p.163). Sometimes Rigdon's attack pose was helpful in defending the Mormon position in various paper discussions, but Rigdon had a tendency for ad-hominem attacks (pp.164-165). In later years, Rigdon would lose this ability for mounting a vigorous defense, and that's the Rigdon that was most convenient for the Quorum of the Twelve to keep as they "rewrote Mormon history so radically that Rigdon never again mattered" (p.165).
Rigdon was a key contributor to bring about the Temple in Kirtland (p.166). By June 1833, the land had been bought but construction had not commenced (p.166), so the Saints were chastised verbally for neglecting their duty (D&C 95). By August 4th, 1835, the church hierarchy was arguing that the saints would be unable to redeem Zion until the Kirtland temple was completed (p.166). Though the temple plan came to the First Presidency in a revelation, as Turman O. Angell, later the official Temple architect in Salt Lake City, recalled (p.167).
Despite church leaders' claims that Smith's, Rigdon's and Williams's collective vision depicted the design of the temple, the elements of the still-extant sacred structure are traceable to standard, early nineteenth-century buildings. The exterior was a basic adaptation and modification of earlier plans completed for the never built temple in the City of New Jerusalem. Alterations in the plans succeeded in blending Greek, Revival, Federal, Gothic, and Georgian motifs into an architectural style similar in form to structures throughout Connecticut, western Massachusetts, and New York. Since most Kirtland's settlers and artisans came from those areas, such borrowings were not unexpected, especially by an architecturally inexperienced group. (p.167)
Historian Laural B. Andrew has written that "clearly the Mormons did not start with an a priori concept of 'style'" when they initiated the Kirtland temple. They merely adopted features of several styles, the combination of which created a beautiful building, "following the usual pattern of the migrant, who tends to construct in his new environment the architectural forms with which he is familiar and that remind him of home." (p.167)It is also possible to identify the complete building guides that had been published by 1830 that were perused by the Saints. Asher Benjamin's books, for example, a Greek Revival architect, were relied on by the committee (p.167) [cf. The Country Builder's Assistant; American Builder's Companion; Rudiments of Architecture; Practical House Carpenter; reprint of all four (plus Practice of Architecture), RCK]. They followed Benjamin's patterns in terms of the ornamental woodwork, the window casings and stress supports. The vaulted ceiling, the double hung windows, the wall-supported wrap-around staircase, all carry Benjamin's imprint (p.168). Steeple, belfry and the large Venetian window were inspired by Charles Bulfinch, e.g. his Congregational Church at Pittsfield, Massachusetts in the 1790s (p.168). Joseph Smith Jr was on a New York trip in 1832 and wrote his wife about his interest in the architecture of that city. Two churches that look especially similar to the temple and predate it are the Reform Dutch or Market Street Church (now Sea and Land Church), built by Henry Rutgers between 1814 and 1817, and the All Saints Free Church, built 1827-29 (p.168). [[The style may have been Georgian Gothic; Van Wagoner does not make it clear if that style name applies to the two churches, or five other ones on the lower eastside of Manhattan that Smith Jr could have seen that appear similar to the temple. RCK]]
Van Wagoner then returns to the problem of the logistics of the temple construction:
Like other religious groups, the Mormons built their temple on a hilltop, a high plateau overlooking the East Chagrin Valley where the terrain to the summit served as a continual reminder of how difficult the path to is to heaven. (p.168)Construction on the temple started in the summer of 1833, and stalled while the Zion's Camp had taken the most able-bodied men out of town between May 5th and mid-August of 1834 (p.168).
Rigdon's role in exhorting the Saints to complete the edifice was pivotal. Mormon apostle Heber C. Kimball, speaking of Rigdon's involvement with the temple project, later said that "he frequently used to go upon the walls of the building both by night and day frequently wetting the walls with his tears, crying || aloud to the Almighty to send means whereby we might accomplish the building" (pp.168-169)Though fancy in outside appearance, the initial functions was uncomplicated. Van Wagoner highlights the contrast.
The heavy stucco exterior over the mortared rubble stone was a variation of the time-honored building finish called "rough cast". Another feature of the stucco was the use of crushed china and glassware which caused the bluish-tinted walls to glisten in the sunlight. (p.169) [cf. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Boston (1850), pp.128-129, where Governor Bellingham's mansion has a similar facade (p.176 Fn 32) RCK]
For all practical purposes the temple functioned as a meetinghouse. The prophet in his diary often called it a chapel [e.g. Smith's diary entries for 12 Nov 1835, 4 January 1836, RCK]. Very little uniquely Mormon rituals existed when the building was begun, despite frequent hints from the prophet about a "glorious endowment that God has in store for the faithful." (p.169) [= Smith's Diary Entry for 3 Nov 1835]Even those ceremonies that were instituted had clear antecedents and precedents, and not always just from the Biblical writings.
The first ordinance conducted in the partially completed temple was a foot-washing ceremony. Mentioned in the New Testament, the feat is also a remnant of Sandemanian theology from Rigdon's late 1820s ministry with Walter Scott in Pittsburgh. Joseph Smith first mentioned this early Christian practice during a 5 October 1835 meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. He was more specific on 12 November [= Diary Entry for 12 Nov 1835, RCK]. (p.169)Van Wagoner takes glee in pointing out that the Elders used whiskey, perfumed with cinnamon, as a "sweet smelling oderous wash" (p.170). Then attention turns to Joseph Smith Jr's temple visions, which are recorded in his diary for January 21st, 1836 and not only mention his long-dead brother Alvin and all children who had died before the age of accountability, but also members of the Church leadership who would not persist in the faith (p.170).
... the prophet described the glories of the Celestial Kingdom of God, where he saw ... Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, despite the fact that both would later be expelled from the faith. The vision of heaven also included members of the 1835 Quorum of the Twelve, most of whom would ultimately leave Mormonism. (p.170)[[Frederick G. Williams recanted, rejoined the Church in 1840, and died in full fellowship in 1842. Cf. Frederick G. Williams, The Life of Dr Frederick G. Williams: Counselor to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Provo, UT (BYU) 2012, p.4 RCK]]
The pentecostal manifestations enjoyed during these temple services would shortly thereafter be imparted to the general Saints during the building's dedicatory services. On 27 March 1836, Rigdon, who had prayed so fervently to the Lord to send means for the temple's completion, co-presided with Joseph Smith during the dedicatory exercises and appears to have been in charge of the proceedings. (p.170)[[The full account of the proceedings is in the Messenger & Advocate 2 (March 1836), pp.274-278; cf. (p.176 Fn 38) RCK]]
In terms of the experience of the individuals, perhaps Eliza R. Snow summed it up best,
The ceremonies of dedication may be rehearsed, but no mortal language can describe the heavenly manifestations on that memorable day. Angels appeared to some, while a sense of divine presence was realized by all present, and each heart was filled with 'joy inexpressible and full of glory'. (p.172)Van Wagoner also mentions Lydia Knight's History (1888), p.33 in this context (p.172).
The foot washing ceremony followed on March 29th, 1836 (p.172).
... each man first cleansed his face and feet. Then Rigdon, who had years before officiated in a similar ordinance as a Reformed Baptist minister, first washed the prophet's feet. Smith then reciprocated after which the ordinance was performed for the rest of the group by Smith and Rigdon. (p.173) [cf Smith's Diary Entry for March 30, 1836, RCK]One week thereafter, April 3rd, 1836, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith Jr, kneeling and praying at the west end pulpit, had a vision of the Savior, as well as Moses, Elias and Elijah, "each entrusting to them the power of the holy priesthood" (p.173) [= D&C 110].
The pronouncement, claimed to fulfill the final prophecy of the Old Testament found in Malachi 4:5-6, implied that a significant restoration had occurred. A holy temple existed where Christ could dwell and manifest himself on the earth at will. The last days were officially inaugurated, and God's authority was fully restored to the first authentic prophet since Biblical times. (p.173)The joys were only short-lived, albeit.
Nevertheless, this edifice, the spiritual touchstone of the period, was savored only briefly. Just six months after the dedication, discontent within the fold became evident. By late 1837 internal unrest turned into open dissension, culminating in the abandonment of Kirtland and the temple the Saints had struggled so ardently to build. (p.174)
Efforts to establish a self-contained community in Kirtland, Ohio during the 1830s failed as dramatically as attempts to institute Zion in Jackson County, Missouri. But Kirtland's Saints were not driven from the land by malevolent vigilantes. They voluntarily sought sanctuary in Missouri to dwell with their expatriate prophet and his spokesman, who had fled Kirtland in early 1838 to elude creditors and probable imprisonment. (p.177)
Neither Joseph Smith nor Sidney Rigdon demonstrated at any time during their careers the financial acumen that became the hallmark of millionaire Brigham Young's thirty-year administration in the Rocky Mountain Basin. Joseph's and Sidney's fiscal ventures--first at in Kirtland and later at Nauvoo, where both ultimately filed for bankruptcy--proved disastrous forays into high finance and real estate management, areas in which they had little knowledge and less expertise. Rigdon's and Smith's implications that God devised their financial plans left no room for mistakes in the minds of followers who became disillusioned and antagonistic. (p.177)
The church in Kirtland was poor from the beginning. In the spring of 1833, for example, only ten Mormons in the entire town owed enough assets to be levied either personal property or real estate taxes. These assessments represented less than one percent of all taxable assets held by individuals in Kirtland Township. Furthermore, except for prosperous merchant Newel K. Whitney, no Mormon was assessed taxes for both land and personal property. (p.177)[[This still seems like a skewed assessment. Sidney Gilbert is missing from this equation, as is Frederick G. Williams, Partridge, and John Johnson, possibly because they had moved on to Missouri, as had Isaac Morley, who had traveled with Partridge and whose family had gone with the Partridge ladies. RCK]]
Rigdon's and Smith's personal income accrued from the Literary Firm and the United Firm, two private business concerns underwritten by general church revenue. The Literary Firm had published the Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Mormon, and several newspapers, and planned to publish Smith's and Rigdon's completed revision of the Bible. But heavy operating expenses, scant returns from the sales, and destruction of its Missouri office caused the company to fail before it || could undertake that mammoth project. (p.178)The Literary Firm was in debt due to the presses and weak sales of the Morning & Evening Star as early as 1834, and only the agent services of Samuel H. Smith and David Whitmer as subscription seller and money collectors rescued the project until its dissolution in 1836 (p.178). Oliver Cowdery continued it during 1837, printing the 2nd edition of the Book of Mormon, but in February 1837 sold his interest to Smith and Rigdon, who let Warren Cowdery run the business and edit the Messenger & Advocate. By May 1837, Smith and Rigdon had to sell as well (p.178).
The United Firm, another multi-faceted church enterprise, floundered for several reasons---overextension in mercantile goods, entering real estate transactions, constructing the Kirtland temple, and assisting Mormon poor. United Firm debts were substantial, with estimate ranging from a high of $150,000 [cf. Fawn Brodie, RCK] to a more probable $102,300 [cf. Hill, Rooker & Wimmer, Kirtland Economy Revisited, BYU Studies (Summer 1977), RCK]. Newel K. Whitney, the firm's chief agent, worked feverishly to maintain credit arrangements and procure large quantities of store goods from the east for resale to Kirtland Saints. Large sums were borrowed, mostly from New York creditors, to acquire real estate, operate and maintain a brickyard, a tannery and an ashery in Kirtland, as well as to disperse extra funds to the Literary Firm. (p.178)[[The ashery already belonged to Whitney before the United Firm and was always profitable; its loss due to fire was a big tragedy. RCK]]
Van Wagoner cites John Corrill damning assessment of the leadership [cf. John Corrill, Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, St Louis, 1839, pp.26-27, RCK].
Notwithstanding they were deeply in debt, they had so managed as to keep up their credit, so they concluded to try mercantile business. Accordingly, they ran in debt in New York, and elsewhere, some thirty thousand dollars, for goods, and, shortly after, some fifty or sixty thousand more, as I was informed; but they did not fully understand the mercantile business, and, withal, they suffered pride to arise in their hearts, and became desirous of fine houses, and fine clothes, and indulged too much in these things, supposing for a few months that they were very rich. (p.178)The main attack vector of the church leadership seems to have been prayer; they petitioned the Lord on January 11th, 1834 (p.178); and again on April 3rd, 1834 (p.179), after Orson Hyde "who had previously clerked for Gilbert & Whitney Mercantile" (p.179) had to report that he had failed to raise the money needed in the church's Eastern branches (p.179). So on April 10th, 1834, there was little to do but to dissolve the United Firm, and equalize the partners debts, letting Rigdon off the hook for ~$780 US, about two years salary at the average pay of $1/day [[... and Joseph Smith Jr for $1100 ... RCK]], and providing Rigdon with his church provided home and the tannery, which supplied him economically until his departure from Kirtland (p.179). Continued problems with paying off the debts required the encoding of the United Firm revelations in the 1835 D&C publication (p.179) leading to the confusing terminology of the "United Order" and the "Order of Enoch" (p.179).
The dissolution of the United Firm did not resolve the issues of the Church's debts. On October 23rd, 1835, the Church leadership---Rigdon, Hyrum and Joseph and Samuel Smith, Cowdery, Williams, David and John Whitmer, and Phelps, were again pleading with the Lord for an end of their financial nightmare (p.179). As the financial situation continued, the church started clamping down on members presumed to be wealthy but not pulling their weight, such as Martin Harris' brother Preserved, who was disfellowshipped in 1836 (p.180).
By the summer of 1836, the financial situation was so desperate that Rigdon, Joseph & Hyrum Smith, and Cowdery were ready to go on the hunt (p.180) for "a large amount of money ... secreted in the cellar of a certain house in Salem, Massachusetts" (p.181), which however turned out to be a wild goose chase (p.181).
On December 22, 1836, Rigdon proposed to the other church leaders to address the problem of the Eastern branches dumping their poor in Kirtland (p.181). The situation of the poor Mormons in Kirtland had been commented on by the Painesville Telegraph as early as January 31st, 1834 (p.178) (p.188 Fn 9). An observer [unlikely from 1836, more like the 1833 or thereabouts? RCK] indicated how bad the poor situation was in Kirtland (p.182).
One almost wondered if the whole world were centering at Kirtland. They came, men, women, and oxen, [in] vehicles rough and rude, while others had walked all or part of the distance. The future "City of the Saints" appeared like one besieged. Every available house, shop, hut, or barn was filled to its utmost capacity. Even boxes were roughly extemporized and used for shelter until something permanent could be secure. (p.182) [citing A.G. Riddle, in: Williams Brothers, History of Lake and Geauga Counties, Ohio, Philadelphia (Lippencott & Co.), 1878, p.248, RCK] (p.182)In this context, the Church leadership pushed ahead with the plan to set up a bank (p.182).
Given the accepted barter system of the day, when the basic unit of exchange was often a bushel of wheat, neither of the former farm hands had probably handled, currency, stock certificates or bonds. (p.182)[[Possibly, but they had access to merchants like Partridge and Whitney, successful farmers like Martin Harris, landowners like Williams and Johnson, and experienced editors like Phelps. RCK]]
... they formulated a bold plan for financial salvation based on the belief that God would back them fiscally and bring success to their economic plans. [According to his son Wickliffe, Sidney Rigdon, RCK] ... originally opposed the idea of the Kirtland Safety Society Bank, arguing "it would not be legal as they had no charter". Others opposed the bank as well. William McLellin, at the time a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, noted that Smith, Rigdon, and other church leaders did not wait for a charter. They forged ahead thinking that "everything must bow at their nod---thus violating the law of the land." McLellin, who left the church shortly after, said that the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon warned Smith against "this evil course" but managed only to rouse his anger. (p.182)
By early fall, the society began to issue stocks.
Rigdon, whose name is listed first in the Safety Society sock ledge, purchased 2,000 shares of stock for $12 on 18 October 1836. The following month he added another 1,000 shares. Rigdon, Smith and two others subsequently held 3,000 shares each, making them the largest stockholders. (p.182)
Rigdon was elected president and Smith cashier [on November 2nd, 1836, RCK]. Cashiers at that time were commonly the chief operating officers, responsible for daily operations including transactions, bookkeeping, accounts, records, and personnel, answering to the president. (p.182)After Smith's murder in 1844, the Quorum of the Twelve, esp. Jedediah M. Grant, were ready to fix the blame for the Kirtland Safety Society on Sidney Rigdon (pp.182-183), but the two had been co-equals and their two signatures were on "nearly every bank note issued by the firm" (p.182).
Grant's inaccurate assessment of Rigdon is but one example of misrepresentation characteristic of the Illinois period of Mormon history. Under the guise of denying polygamy, protecting "the Lord's anointed" or advancing the Quorum of the Twelve of to the pinnacle of ecclesiastical power, the character of many good men and women was assailed by forces of fanatical religious allegiance. (p.183)In October 1836, Oliver Cowdery "traveled to Philadelphia to obtain bank note plates from the firm of Underwood, Bald, Spencer, and Huffy" (p.183). Orson Hyde, a member of the Whig party, which was pro-banking, went to the state legislature in Columbus for a bank charter; but despite his political loyalties and connection, the legislators could not sustain him (p.183).
All three legislators representing the Kirtland area where Whigs, politicians too savvy to support a Mormon bank in a Democrat stronghold. Furthermore, these three Geauga legislators were closely linked to Grandison Newell, a rabid anti-Mormon who in 1837 practically singlehandedly drove Rigdon and Smith from Ohio under a barrage of legal encumberances. (p.183)
Since January 27t 1816, it had been prohibited in Ohio to issue and circulate unauthorized money (p.138). Under their financial duress, Rigdon and Smith recast their financial institution as a "mutual stock association" (p.138).
On 2 January 1837 officers of the Kirtland Safety Society met in their new building just south of the temple. Assuming they could assign banking functions to a private corporation as had been done in other areas, they executed a revised "Articles of Agreement". (p.183)The list of subscribers covered everyone who was anyone, including Lucy Smith and Brigham Young (p.184). Joseph Smith Jr endorsed the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company in the local newspaper, inviting the brethren from abroad "to call on us, and take stock in our Safety Society" (p.184). From the 6th to the end of January, 1837, $15,000 worth of bank notes had been issued and were circulating in the neighborhood (p.184). As Dale W. Adams pointed out (p.487),
The founders of the bank did not realize that because Oliver Cowdery arrived with pieces of paper with dollar signs and numbers on them which summed to $150,000 this did not add one penny to Kirtland's wealth. (p.184)Smith's enthusiasm for the new financial institution found expression in exuberant support from God, including glossing it vis-a-vis Warren Parrish as "a Banking-Anti-Banking Institution, which, like Aaron's rod, should swallow up all other Banks ... and grow and flourish and spread from the rivers to the end of the earth" [= Letter to Painesville Telegraph] (p.184) and remarking in the presence of Wilford Woodruff that "all would be well" if the Saints heeded His Commandments, which Woodruff noted in his diary.
Not even a week after the issuing of the first notes, on January 12th, 1837, the local newspapers began to complain about the financial scheme. Van Wagoner cites the Cleveland Daily Gazette (p.184):
During the past two days an emission of bills from the society of Mormons, has been || showered upon us. As far as we can learn there is no property bound for their redemption, no coin on hand to redeem them with, and no responsible individual whose honor or whose honesty is pledged for their payment. They seem to rest upon a spiritual basis.---Aside from the violation of the statute rendering them void, and of course the notes given for them, we look upon the whole as a more reprehensible fraud on the public, and cannot conceal our surprise that they should circulate at all. We do not object to private or company banking, as a system, provided it is done upon a system and made safe, but we consider this whole affair a deception. (pp.184-185)Not even a week later, on January 18th, 1837, the Cleveland Daily Gazette again commented on the "stupendous fraud in the community" (p.185):
We know that Rigdon, a notorious hypocrite and knave, is at the head of the concern, for ourselves, we are anxious to see some guaranty that there is good faith and property in this banking matter---something to protect the community against a revelation that Joe Smith should take up what little money they have, and depart hence. (p.185)J.H. Kennedy, Early Days of Mormonism, London, 1888, p.163, tells the story of a group of Pittsburgh bankers who tried to cash in on their stack of notes, and were told by Rigdon that the whole point was to provide "a circulating medium for the accommodation of the people" (p.185).
The stock ledge of the Safety Society reveals that 200 persons subscribed to 79,420 shares of stock at a face value of approximately $3,854,000. Yet the paid-up cash reserve totalled a meager $20,725. ... By 1 February the $70,000 worth of notes were being discounted at 12.5 cents on the dollar. (p.185)By February 1st, 1837, the Cleveland Weekly Gazette had raised serious questions about the legality of the Kirtland Safety Society, prompting Samuel D. Rounds, "a frontman for the prosperous Kirtland farmer and businessman Grandison Newell" [[who was also buddies with the three Whig legislatures who had not supported Orson Hyde, RCK]], to take out a writ against Rigdon and Smith on the grounds of "illegal banking in defiance of the 1816 Ohio statutes" (p.186). The legal story was short and painful:
A hearing on 24 March 1837 postponed the trial until the fall session of the court. At the jury trial in October 1837 Rigdon and Smith were both found guilty and fined $1,000 each plus court charges. Although they appealed, both fled the state before their court date. (p.186)In (p.190 Fn 47), Van Wagoner speculates that trusted associates outside the Mormon community, perhaps even Democratic party leaders, must have encouraged the Saints to expect that they would be granted a bank charter soon.
... Orson Hyde again applied on 10 February 1837. The eleven Mormon names attached to this application included Rigdon, Smith, Whitney, Warren Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, and Oliver Cowdery. Non-Mormon signatures included Benjamin Adams (Painesville postmaster and local Democrat leader), Nehemiah Allen (prominent citizen of nearby Willoughby), Benjamin Bissell (Rigdon's and Smith's personal lawyer, also a prominent Democrat), Horace Kingsbury (prominent Painesville citizen and Democrat), and H.A. Sharp (prominent Willoughby citizen). Despite this list of supporters, the charter bid again failed. (p.190 Fn 47)Van Wagoner cited Eber D. Howe's assessment in his Autobiography that the flurry of lawsuits were public expressions of a wish to "counteract the progress of so dangerous an enemy in their midst", attributing a decisive role to his Painesville Telegraph to having sensitised the public (p.186).
In the face of all these lawsuits, the Kirtland Safety Society hobbled on. The Prophet continued to sign bills until June 1837, when he was treasurer and Frederick G. Williams was secretary; the doors did not close until November 1837 (p.186). By March 1838, the Kirtland Safety Society was listed in the newspapers as one of seventeen "Broken Banks and Fraudulent Institutions" (p.186). The effects were immediate and dramatic.
The bank's failure reverberated throughout the Mormon economy. Land speculators were unable to pay creditors, merchants who purchased good on credit from Buffalo and New York became insolvent, consumers were unable to pay bills or make purchases, and the job market dried up because employers would not hire Latter-day Saints. The entire economy quickly folded. (p.186)This did not stop Joseph Smith Jr from having glorious visions for the future of Kirtland (p.186). As Wilford Woodruff recorded in his diary for April 6, 1837 that the plat for Kirtland that Joseph Smith was envisioning Kirtland to be connected by steamboat and railroad (!) to the larger economy, including Zion (p.186).
Then in May 1837 the banking crisis swept the land, suspending the operations of some 800 banks with a total deposits of $120 million.
Even with a legitimate bank charter, the Kirtland Bank [sic!] would likely have failed during the economic turmoil of 1837-42. (p.187)But the damage was done, and the lack of foresight of the prophet translated directly into Church difficulties.
Between November 1837 and June 1838 approximately 300 Kirtland members, representing perhaps 15 percent of all Mormons, withdrew or were excommunicated from the church. Included were nearly one-third of the church's leading officers, the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, four members of the Quorum of the Twelve, three original presidents and three current presidents of Seventy, as well as Frederick G. Williams, a member of the First Presidency. (p.187)Van Wagoner (p.191 Fn 53) mentions the Master Thesis of Max H. Parkin as another source of information about the financial disasters in Kirtland, Ohio.
Chapter 15---Exiled to the Land of Milk & Honey
Possessing entirely different personalities in most respects, Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith were surprisingly alike in other ways. One of their most intriguing similarities was a powerful belief in their own correctness. Neither readily conceded personal error or misconduct. Plans that went awry were attributed to someone else. The collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company illustrates this as well as any example. Although Rigdon and Smith were principal officers and stockholders in their failed bank, neither accepted culpability. Strategies for shifting blame involved a convoluted reconfiguring of events whereby Warren Parrish, the president's personal secretary, and Frederick G. Williams, a member of the First Presidency, were made villains. (p.192)
... problems within the Mormon flock erupted as early as 19 February 1837, when some church members, murmuring that they had been fleeced, divested themselves of Kirtland bank notes at a substantial discount. (p.192)Again, the irrepressible Wilford Woodruff notes this event in his journal, entry for February 19, 1837 (p.192). The embarrassment of the pecuniary situation of the church was topical at the April 6th, 1837, conference as well (p.192). The words of Joseph & Hyrum Smith, Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon about unliquidated debts are recorded in HC 2:478-80 (p.193). During the remaining months, Rigdon and Smith had to frequently go into hiding, sometimes for days at a time, to escape their creditors (p.193).
On 13 April [1837, RCK] both missed the wedding of Wilford Woodruff and Phebe Carter and nuptials of George W. Robinson and Athalia Rigdon, Sidney's oldest daughter, .... (p.193)Among those who hounded them was Grandison Newell, "the wealthy industrialist who lived in nearby Mentor" (p.193), who "made the oppression of Mormonism his personal vendetta" (p.193). He tried to put a wedge between Rigdon and Smith and pull Rigdon to his side (see Newell to Rigdon Letter #2), by labelling Smith "the impious fabricator of gold bibles---the blasphemous forger of revelations, with which he swindles ignorant people out of their hard-earned property" (p.193). Newell brought charges against Joseph Smith, in a June 3rd, 1837 (p.193) and a June 9th, 1837 trial (p.194), but by then the judge was commenting on Newell's hatred of Smith, and public opinion had sided with Smith, so the matter was quietly dropped (cf. Max Parkin, Conflict at Kirtland, p.213-219 [edition has different pagination, RCK]).
At the same time as Smith and Rigdon were busy with these trials, the defections in the upper echelons of the church started. Warren Parrish, who had been the teller of the Kirtland Safety Society (p.194), and who had contributed hard money to the launch (p.195), was the most formidable of the dissenters [= Letter to Painesville Telegraph] (p.194). When pressuring Parley Pratt to pay back his debts, Smith and Rigdon received a furious 23 May 1837 letter from Pratt, which criticized the bank as well as the real estate deals (p.195). Again Wilford Woodruff recorded it all in his May 28th, 1837 diary entry (p.196).
In addition to being on trial in the worldly courts, Smith was now dragged before the bishop's court, by Orson Pratt and Lyman Johnson. Orson also brought charges against Rigdon. Isaac Rogers, Artemas Millet, Abel Lamb and Harlow Redfield were called to testify against the dissenters, but the council could not decide what to do, and the meeting dissolved in confusion (p.196). On June 5th, 1837, Warren Parrish and some of his men entered the Temple service with guns and Bowie knives and were ejected only after a scuffle with the security forces (p.197). When the following Sunday, Parley P. Pratt and Benjamin Winchester continued their attacks, challenging that Smith was God's agent, Rigdon left in protest, together with others (p.197). Smith himself was incapacitated by the verbal onslaught (p.197), as he had been during the Bishop's court trial (p.196).
When he was well enough to act again, Rigdon and Smith first put the Kirtland Safety Society behind themselves (p.198).
Despite the fact that an estimated 82 percent of bank notes were issued during their tenure, they resigned their offices on 8 June, sold their interests, and walked away from the institution. (p.198)Williams and Parrish tried to rescue the sinking ship by issuing another $15,000 notes, but that only increased the devaluation (p.198).
Rigdon and Smith then went on a five-week fund-raising excursion to Canada, though they almost did not make it to Fairport Harbor but got stuck in Painesville, until Anson Call convinced sheriff Abel Kimball that they would return and offered himself as bondsman (p.198). However, Kimball had one more writ to serve, and Smith had to stand trial in Painesville until acquitted at 10pm, at which point it was too late to leave (p.198). It was not until the following day, when they took a steamer from Ashtabula, where they had rested on the beach and swum in the lake, as deck passengers to Buffalo, NY. From thence they spent more than a month in Canada, visiting branches and attempting to raise money. (p.198)
While they were in Canada, Warren Cowdery wrote a critique of the Kirtland economy in a candid essay for the July 1837 issue of the Messenger & Advocate (p.199), where he complained both of the lack of appreciation of financiering as a separate science, and the transfer of power to the church leadership as an Un-American move (p.199).
Upon their return from Canada, both writs and a mob was waiting for Rigdon and Smith in Painesville, and their lawyer Bissell warned them to make a run for it, causing the to flee into the woods (p.198). They were pursued into the night, with lighted torches, and at one point the younger Smith had to carry the older Rigdon piggy-back for a few miles. They arrived at Kirtland at daybreak (p.199).
Seeing Cowdery's editorial essay, Rigdon announced that the Messenger & Advocate would be terminated and replaced with the Elders' Journal edited by Joseph Smith Jr (p.199). Joseph Smith Jr immediately used that platform to warn in the August edition against the current instantiation of the Kirtland Safety Society (p.199), thereby pushing the blame on Warren Parrish and Frederick G. Williams (p.200). By 1864, for example in George F. Smith's narrative, Warren Parrish and others had enriched themselves from the cash reserves (p.200). Smith Jr did accuse Parrish of stealing in the August 8th 1838 editorial in the Elder's Journal (by then already published in Far West), but Frederick G. Williams preferred not to sustain the suspicion and rather leave the First Presidency (p.200)---though different forms of that story exist.
As late as June 19th of 1844, Joseph Smith Jr was still wrestling with the fallout, writing in the Nauvoo Neighbor,
After the first officers who signed said bills retired, a new set of officers were appointed, and the vault of the institution broken open and robbed of several hundred thousand dollars, the signatures forged upon said stolen bills, and those bills are being slyly bartered or had in trade, .... (p.201)Back in 1837, on September 3rd, a conference was scheduled to deal with the Kirtland Safety Society (p.201). Brigham Young was worried that Smith and Rigdon would not be sustained and insisted on many attendees. Rigdon and Smith passed, but Williams, Luke S. Johnson and Lyman E. Johnson were not sustained. John F. Boynton was not sustained either, but he made a confession to salvage his situation (p.201). Rigdon suggested the failure had been due to a departure from the men's calling; Boynton argued that he had thought no one could sink the bank, since God was behind it; but Smith Jr challenged that, pointing to the fulfilment of God's commandments [see Wilford Woodruff's diary entry regarding the success of the bank, RCK] as a precondition to the institution's success (p.201).
On September 10, 1837, the Johnson brothers and Boynton returned to the fold, and Parrish seemed to have calmed down as well, so Rigdon and Smith Jr felt sufficiently secure (p.201) to leave Kirtland on September 27th, 1837, following a mission assigned to them by an Elders' conference on September 18th, 1837 (p.202).
During their November 7th general meeting in Far West, Missouri, Rigdon and Smith were sustained in the presidency, while Frederick G. Williams was replaced with Hyrum Smith (p.202). Rigdon took the opportunity to preach on the temperance movement that was then beginning to sweep through the country, demanding a reduction of liquor to wine for the sacrament and for external washing [for which they had used whiskey in Kirtland, RCK] (p.202).
After a few similar remarks from Rigdon, the Far West audience "unanimously voted not to support Stores and Shops selling spirituous liquors, Tea, Coffee or Tobacco." (p.202)Upon returning to Kirtland, Smith and Rigdon found that not all was well, however (p.202). The dissenters had begun starting a new movement, again called the Church of Christ, and planned to elect David Whitmer as their president (p.202). More, they had obtained physical control of the temple and were accusing Joseph Smith Jr of belittling the worship experience, by referring to Rigdon's sermon style as `dressing up the truth` and by training a pet dove to come to his ear with seeds (p.202), so that the congregation should think it were the Holy Ghost (p.203). At the called meeting in the temple, Joseph Smith Jr stood his ground, but Rigdon, sick at the time, failed to support him in the right way, "resorting to witchhunting" (p.203).
In his wrath, he accused dissenters of a long inventory of crimes including lying, stealing, adultery, counterfeiting and swindling. His ruthless verbal assault rose in a crescendo of violent epithets. Finally, when his might was spent, Rigdon was assisted down the long aisle to the eastern vestibule. (p.203)This was the launch of a general "cacophony of charges and counter-charges" that convinced Smith Jr that the unity he and Rigdon had constructed was now broken (p.203).
By early January 1938, Grandison Newell was ready to start lawsuits against Smith and Rigdon again. When Kirtland constable Luke Johnson heard that an arrest warrant was out, he executed it before Sheriff Kimball could, then letting Smith Jr go on a $50 fine (p.203). Though this saved Smith Jr in this instance, he and Rigdon knew that the time had come to move on to Missouri (p.203). After receiving a revelation [recorded in the Scriptory Book only, RCK] (p.204), Rigdon and Smith left Kirtland on the fastest horses they could obtain during the night of January 12th, 1838, followed by their families in open wagons (p.204).
Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, Salt Lake City (Signature Books), 1994.