i. Everybody knew him when . . .
Scene: The assembly hall of a public school in Palmyra, New York, at the turn of the century. There is a low platform at one end of the hall. At the center table sits the Chairman; at the table to his left the Clerk is taking notes amid a heap of documents; at the table on the right sits Eber D. Howe with bulging dossiers. The hall is full of people. The Chairman looks like a combination of Aristophanes, Rabelais, and Rhadamanthus.
Too many witnesses
Chairman: Let us have a little order, please. This is the time and place fixed by stipulation for the deposition of a number of witnesses in the case of the World versus Joseph Smith, for the purpose of examining parties of record without being bound by the answers.
We want it understood that this is not a formal trial. This is merely an inquiry into some phases of the evidence that has been brought against Mr. Smith, who will not be present.
Eber D. Howe (who has made no effort to conceal his disgust): As counsel for these good people here I object to the whole procedure. The witnesses have already given their sworn affidavits—
Chairman: —and we will do no more than to ask them to repeat those affidavits. We have instructed the Clerk to put their original statements in quotation marks.
Howe: But why is the defendant not present? We can't have a trial without him.
Chairman: No one should know that better than you, sir! It was you and all these people here who have insisted on trying and condemning Smith in absentia through the years. Actually it is your claims rather than Smith's that we are examining at this time. Now, we want this to be a very informal investigation. Anyone who has anything relevant to say is invited to speak up at any time. All we really want to find out is what you people actually knew about Joseph Smith, since your testimony has convicted him of fraud in the eyes of the world. I warn you that I may be a little rough on some of the witnesses, but I have been directed to get to the bottom of this thing. In 1875 a Jesuit writer sought to discredit the work of Smith by appealing to "a published statement by sixty-two contemporary residents of Palmyra."1 Are the sixty-two present?
John C. Bennett (looking very much like Napoleon): It was fifty-one, your honor. Fifty-one reputable citizens of Palmyra, plus eleven prominent citizens of Manchester, make sixty-two in all.2
Chairman: The clerk has the record here. How many was it, clerk?
Clerk: According to some sixty-four, according to others seventy or seventy-four. There seems to be some disagreement.
Lu B. Cake: What difference does it make how many? What is important is that they all said the same thing. "Sixty-four sworn reputables to one reprobate. Now do you believe Joe?"3
Chairman: That will do. We are here to let the witnesses speak for themselves. Will the clerk please read the primary document—the one signed by sixty-two male residents of Palmyra on 3 November 1833?
Clerk (reads): "We, the undersigned have been acquainted with the Smith family, for a number of years, while they resided near this place, and we have no hesitation in saying that we consider them destitute of that moral character, which ought to entitle them to the confidence of any community. They were particularly famous for visionary projects, spent much of their time in digging for money which they pretended was hid in the earth. . . . Joseph Smith, Sen., and his son Joseph, were in particular, considered entirely destitute of moral character, and addicted to vicious habits."4
Bennett: It was the fifty-one who said that. Now let him read the testimony of the other eleven.
Clerk (reads): Eleven prominent citizens of Manchester signed the following: "We the undersigned, being personally acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen., with whom the celebrated Gold Bible, so called, originated, state:—That they were not only a lazy, indolent set of men, but were also intemperate, and their word was not to be depended upon; and that we are truly glad to dispense with their society."5
Chairman: Are there any others?
Parley Chase: Parley Chase speaking. My affidavit was taken separately a month after the others. What I said was that "I was acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sr., both before and since they became Mormons. . . . They were lazy, intemperate, and worthless men, very much addicted to lying. In this they frequently boasted of their skill."6
Chairman: "Frequently"? A liar's "skill," sir, consists in not being recognized as a liar. Skillful liars don't boast about it. Your own technique is defective. Next witness.
John Hyde: Mr. Stafford here can tell you how "Joseph Smith, Sen., was a noted drunkard, that most of his family followed his example, especially Joseph Smith, Jun., the Prophet, who was very much addicted to intemperance," and that "he got drunk in my father's field, and that when drunk would talk about his religion."7
Chairman: Let him speak for himself, Mr. Hyde. You say, Mr. Stafford, that Smith would get drunk in your father's field and in that condition would talk about his religion?
B. Stafford: Though Mr. Hyde put my words in quotes, that is not the way I said it. What I said was that "he one day while at work in my father's field, got quite drunk on a composition of cider, molasses and water [and] . . . fell to scuffling with one of the workmen, who tore his shirt nearly off from him."8
Chairman: That is quite a different story from Mr. Hyde's, who on your testimony has Smith making a regular practice of getting drunk in the Stafford field and giving sermons in that situation.
Hyde: I didn't say he always gave his drunken sermons in the field.
Chairman: No, you merely implied it, so that others could take it up from there. Mr. Weil, I believe you have something to say about Joseph Smith's discourses in the horizontal.
Robert Richards: Indeed I have. While I was on my way to California in the 1840s, I visited Montrose, Iowa, where "looking over a fence I saw Joseph Smith himself lying alone on the grass, with a whiskey bottle by his side, and decidedly far gone in a state of intoxication. He was talking and laughing, and evidently congratulating himself, in a soliloquy, on the success of his devices. 'I am a prophet,' he said, 'a profitable profit.' "9
Chairman: That will do for now; we shall hear the rest later. You see, gentlemen, how these things grow. Who is next?
Willard Chase: I am Willard Chase. "I have regarded Joseph Smith Jr. from the time I first became acquainted with him . . . as a man whose word could not be depended upon. . . . After they [the Smith family] became thorough Mormons, their conduct was more disgraceful than before."10
H. Harris: I appended my testimony to Chase's: "The character of Joseph Smith, Jun., for truth and veracity was such that I would not believe him under oath."11
Howe: Before we hear from the others I would like to introduce the testimony of a man of impeccable character and cultivated mind, President Fairchild of Michigan College. President Fairchild, would you please tell us your story?
President Fairchild: "It was in August, 1850, that I found myself spending a week in the immediate vicinity of Palmyra and Manchester. Three men were mentioned to me who had been intimately acquainted with Joseph Smith from the age of ten years to twenty-five and upwards. The testimony of these men was given under no stress of any kind. It was clear, decided, unequivocal testimony in which they all agreed."12
Chairman: Since the three men are here in person, and all present have been duly sworn, we would like to hear from them personally what they told Dr. Fairchild.
Man No. 1: "Joseph Smith was simply a notorious liar."
Man No. 2: "We never knew another person so utterly devoid of conscience as he was."
Man No. 3: "The thing for which Joseph was most notorious was his vulgar speech and his low life of unspeakable lewdness."13
Cake: Think of it! "Seventy reputable men who knew, stated under oath that this Smith family was ignorant; that the males were drunkards, blasphemers, liars, thieves; who put in their time digging for hidden treasures of the Captain Kidd kind, and defrauding their neighbors. Reputable citizens aver under oath that these Smiths were a low, wicked household and Joe was the worst of the lot."14
Hyde: That about sums up the case. May I call the attention of our worthy Chairman (who as an outsider seems to be somewhat prejudiced in favor of the accused) to the fact that this evidence is irrefutable: "Here are positive statements by men who knew Smith well; who had known him long; who had no motive to exaggerate. . . . No attempt has been made to meet them."15
Cake: May I underline that last point. "The Smiths never controverted these affidavits, which is a silent plea of guilty. They left, which is equivalent to—no defense."16
Chairman: They left?
Cake: Yes, they moved right out of Palmyra, bag and baggage.
Hyde: "The Smiths never could, and did not, oppose to these affidavits anything but a bare denial, but moved out of that part of the country." "No attempt has been made to meet them, only to cry persecution and run away. . . . To run away is to tacitly admit, if not the direct charge, certainly their inability to refute it."17
Chairman: And by leaving they in effect pled guilty to the charges?
Cake: That is what we said.
Chairman: When did they leave?
Cake: Let me see. I think it was some time early in 1831.
Chairman: So they left Palmyra in 1831 because they could not face up to "these affidavits" which were made in 1833? I don't think further comment on that is necessary. Let's see how reliable these witnesses are. Mr. Hyde's statement goes to the root of the matter. If you will recall, he made three unqualified claims: (1) that the affidavit swearers had known Smith well and long, (2) that they made positive statements about him, and (3) that they had no motive to exaggerate. As to the first point, the most specific claims were made by Dr. Fairchild's three witnesses. Will they please come forward? It was stated that you three were "intimately acquainted with Joseph Smith from the age of ten years to twenty-five." Will the clerk please confirm that?
Clerk (reads): ". . . from the age of ten years to twenty-five and upwards."
Chairman: So you all knew the defendant intimately for at least fifteen years?
Three Men: That is right.
Chairman: How could you be acquainted with him when he was "twenty-five and upwards" when he left Palmyra for the last time at the age of twenty-five?
Howe: A mere quibble!
Chairman: Not when absolute accuracy is the point in question. Since he is posing as the discoverer of perfect and unshakable testimony, Dr. Fairchild at least should have taken the pains to check his facts. But the point we wish to emphasize here is that these men knew Smith very intimately for at least fifteen years. Now why would these three honest and reputable men, and for that matter all the "prominent residents" of Palmyra and Manchester who knew Smith so long and so well, have persisted in associating with this monster for so many long years?
Man No. 2: "Monster" is putting it a bit strong, sir.
Chairman: Your actual words were, "notorious liar, . . . utterly devoid of conscience, . . . low life of unspeakable lewdness." Is that strong enough for your boon companion?
Three Men: He wasn't a boon companion. We just knew him.
Chairman: Already you are weakening your priceless testimony. The term Dr. Fairchild used was "intimately associated." Did you at any time share in Smith's "low life of unspeakable lewdness?"
Three Men (horrified): Of course not!
Howe: I object to these insinuations that blacken the character of my clients.
Chairman: Exactly. If they were really Smith's cronies, they must have been pretty low-life themselves. And if they were not his cronies, how could they have discovered the vices they know so much about?
Howe: I will tell you how: Everybody knew about those vices. You heard all the witnesses say that Smith was notorious for them.
Chairman: Indeed I did hear them say it, and it immediately made me very suspicious. The worth of all these testimonies lies entirely in the fact that the witnesses are supposed to have known the accused personally and intimately—that they are in a position to give concrete and specific information not known to the general public. Yet every last one of them is careful to specify that what he knows about Smith is "notorious" general knowledge. Even so, I wonder just how notorious these things were. Take Mr. Harris's notorious "Gold Bible Company," for example. Mr. Harris, what did you say about it in 1833?
Harris: I said that "a while before the gold plates were found . . . Joseph Smith, Jun., Martin Harris and others" were "familiarly known by the name of the 'Gold Bible Company.' "18
Chairman: You see, they were so well known as to be given a familiar, popular moniker. Yet of all the witnesses of the time, racking their brains to remember every scandal, only Mr. Harris remembers this notorious Company. So when I read that the sixty-two signers confine their testimony exclusively to characteristics for which Smith was "particularly famous," I wonder the more. In all those years of intimate association with Smith did these three or any of the others ever see him commit any specific crime? I notice that the most eloquent witnesses of all, Messrs. Stafford, Ingersoll, and Chase, confine their testimony not to what they saw Smith do, but to what they claim other people told them about him, and to secret private conversations between themselves and Smith. The utter viciousness and depravity of the Smith family to which all testify must have expressed itself from time to time in overt acts odious to society and punishable by law. Why was no legal action ever taken against them? Why are none of those acts ever reported? Can it be that our witnesses are holding back from feelings of modesty? Were they in any way reluctant to testify, President Fairchild?
Fairchild: Indeed they were not. They volunteered their testimony frankly, as I said before, and "it was clear, decided, unequivocal testimony in which they all agreed."19
Chairman: Thank you. Well, it is plain that these men had no intention either of shielding Smith or denying their own association with him.
Howe: Have you considered, sir, that there might have been some youthful peccadillos which the witnesses might not wish to be made public?
Chairman: Youthful peccadillos at twenty-five and upwards? We are not talking about youthful peccadillos but gross immorality. Here three men rush forward, eager to tell all—after fifteen years of intimate association with the most notorious scoundrel alive! We wait with bated breath for their report—what stories they can tell! And what do we get? The monotonous repetition of familiar generalities as they lamely fall back on what they insist are matters of common knowledge. This brings us to Mr. Hyde's second point, which is that the witnesses all make positive statements. Positive statements about what? About Smith's "notorious" traits of character. Consider again what these three say about Smith. Will the clerk read from their testimony?
Clerk (reads): "We the undersigned have been acquainted with the Smith family for a number of years, while they resided near this place, and we have no hesitation in saying that we consider them destitute of that moral character which ought to—"
Chairman: Thank you, that will do. The key to the whole thing, you will observe, is "we consider"—the Smiths were not what these people thought they "ought to" be. Much has been made of the claim that "no attempt was made to meet" the charges. Only there were no charges—only opinions. If you swear that in your opinion I am a scoundrel, you have said nothing at all, and I could only deny it by saying you were another. But if you say I robbed a bank on the 13th then we would have something to go on. Read the testimony of the third witness.
Clerk (reads): "The thing for which Joseph was most notorious was his vulgar speech and his low life of unspeakable lewdness."
Chairman: Here we have the sort of thing that promises to be most intimate and personal—yet even here our witness sticks to things "for which Joseph was most notorious," i.e., charges that could not and in the public's mind need not be examined or proved. He is playing it safe. But what did our sixty-two star witnesses say Smith was "most notorious" for?
Clerk (reads): The sixty-two testified "that they were particularly famous for visionary projects."
Chairman: And what did Mr. Stafford swear to?
Clerk (reads): "Joseph Smith, Sen., was a noted drunkard, that most of his family followed his example, especially Joseph Smith, Jr., the Prophet."
Chairman: Apparently some of these witnesses who knew Smith so long and so well (as Mr. Hyde assures us they did) overlooked his most conspicuous trait—his drunkenness, while others failed to comment on his gross licentiousness, and still others failed to make any mention of his visionary propensities, though the sixty-two claimed that the Smiths were "particularly famous" for them. When certain parties diligently trying to recall all the worst traits of the so-well-known Smith fail even to mention characteristics described as "most notorious" and "particularly famous" by others, a person cannot but wonder just how well those people really knew Smith.
Howe: But here we have members of the family to testify! I think Mrs. Abigail Harris has something to tell us.
Abigail Harris: Yes, I have plenty to tell! One night I was at the Martin Harris house and Joseph Smith, Sr., and his wife were there; we talked "until about 11 o'clock" about Joseph Smith and his golden Bible.20
Chairman: Was Joseph Smith, Jr., present?
A. Harris: No. He was away in Pennsylvania.
Chairman: Yet your entire affidavit is taken up with what you heard during that one visit to the Harrises, when Joseph Smith was nowhere around. Now the fact that you are introduced as an inside witness speaks well for the defendant.
Howe: What do you mean, "speaks well"?
Chairman: I mean that whether or not Mrs. Harris has rightly remembered after a lapse of five years what was said in an evening of gossip, all she has to report of Smith's evil doings through all those years of family association is what she remembers of that one night's chin-fest. It is perfectly plain that the lady had never seen or even heard of Smith doing anything really bad. Her silence, taken with her willingness to tell the worst, is most eloquent in Smith's favor.
Howe: Here's something that isn't in his favor! Mrs. Harris, tell us what you heard Martin Harris say to his wife that time at your house.
A. Harris: It was in "the second month following." Mrs. Harris "observed, that she wished her husband would quit them [the Mormonites], as she believed it was all false and a delusion. To which I heard Mr. Harris reply: 'What if it is a lie; if you will let me alone I will make money out of it!' I was both an eye and an ear witness . . . and I give it to the world for the good of mankind."21
Chairman: Thank you for telling us your motive for embellishing this important report, Mrs. Harris.
A. Harris: Motive? Embellishing?
Chairman: Yes. Five years after the event you tell this story "for the good of mankind," and in doing so you slip in a damning confession by Martin Harris: "What if it is a lie." It is that remark that makes your tale what you intend it shall be—a weapon against the Mormons. But what did Mrs. Martin Harris herself report? What is your version, Mrs. Harris?
Lucy Harris: "One day, while at Peter Harris' house I told him he had better leave the company of the Smiths, as their religion was false; to which he replied if you would let me alone, I could make money by it."22
Chairman: Are you sure that is what your husband said?
L. Harris: I should know, he said it to me!
Chairman: Yet though both you and Abigail Harris swear that you are quoting the man's very words, your speeches are not the same . . .
Howe: Oh sir, a mere quibble!
Chairman: They are the same except where that all-important "What if it is a lie" comes in. That, you will notice, is underscored by Mr. Howe, yet Mr. Harris' wife failed to mention it entirely. I am sure she would be the last person in the world to overlook the outright admission by her husband that Smith was a fraud—she could have taxed him with that the rest of his days. I think it is plain enough that Mrs. Abigail Harris in her zeal "for the good of mankind" has displayed an adequate motive for adding those six little words which have been heavily exploited by anti-Mormon writers. From all accounts, Mrs. Harris, you had some terrible tiffs with your husband. Were his words on the occasion in question calm and considered?
L. Harris: What difference does it make? "It is vain for the Mormons to deny these facts; for they are all well known to most of his former neighbors."23
Chairman: Mrs. Harris, the "facts" contained in your testimony I find to consist exclusively of very private remarks exchanged between you and your husband. How could all of them be "well known" to most of the neighbors? Were the neighbors invited in?
L. Harris: It wasn't our neighbors, but Smith's neighbors—"most of his former neighbors."
Chairman: So you appeal to Smith's neighbors to confirm "these facts," namely, what passed secretly between you and your husband?
Howe: We can get a lot closer than that. Smith's own father-in-law has something to say about his character. Could you ask for more reliable evidence than that?
Chairman: To be frank, Mr. Howe, the answer is yes—I can think of more reliable character references than one's in-laws, though I realize that Mr. Hale because of his daughter is generally regarded as the star witness for the case against Joseph Smith. Mr. Isaac Hale, what can you tell us about Joseph Smith's character?
Isaac Hale: He was "very saucy and insolent to his father."24
Chairman: Indeed, that seems to be a rather common vice in young people—it hardly suggests unspeakable depravity. But Joseph Smith was always very close to his father, and you are the only person to report any signs of disrespect. Sauciness and insolence in the young are not usually regarded as criminal. You knew both Smith and his father well?
Hale: "Smith, and his father, with several other 'money-diggers' boarded at my house while they were employed in digging for a mine."25
Chairman: Was it their mine?
Hale: No, they were merely employed by others.
Chairman: Well, every mine is a speculation, and every owner hopes to make money; I hardly see how that makes out the Smiths to be money-diggers. They were digging for hire, not for gold.
Howe: So what?
Chairman: So it is evident that Mr. Hale is stretching a point to make Smith look as bad as possible. I notice that you don't accuse Smith outright of being a money-digger, gentlemen, but put the words in quotes. Your successors were not so careful. Did they stay long at your place, Mr. Hale?
Hale: No, "they soon after dispersed. This took place about the 17th of November, 1825; and one of the company gave me his note for $12.68 for his board, which is still unpaid."
Chairman: Was it one of the Smiths who did that?
Hale: No. If that was the case I would have said so. Joseph Smith came back soon after and asked to marry my daughter.
Chairman: Before we get to that, may I observe that the peevish and gratuitous little note about the deadbeat gives an unpleasant color to your account, some of which of course rubs off on Smith. It indicates a desire on your part, sir, to put Smith in the worst possible light. Why?
Hale: He ran off with my daughter.
Chairman: Why wouldn't you let him marry your daughter? Why did you refuse?
Hale: I "gave my reasons for so doing; some of which were, that he was a stranger, and followed a business I could not approve."
Chairman: Is that all?
Hale: I said those were only some of the reasons.
Chairman: And plainly the worst you could think of. But is it a crime for one to be a stranger? Many people don't approve of the mining business—but that was not Smith's business at all; he was merely in the employ of others, who paid him wages. I will admit that that is not a very promising outlook to a man with ambitions for his daughter, but I find nothing criminal about it.
Hale: But consider this. "Not long after this, he returned, and while I was absent from home, carried off my daughter, into the state of New York, where they were married without my approbation or consent."
Chairman: That must have rankled, but where is the crime? Did your daughter protest?
Hale: No. She wrote me soon after, asking for her property, which I let her have.
Chairman: How old was she at the time?
Hale: Let's see, Emma was born on 10 July 1804, and this took place in November 1825. That would make her twenty-one.
Chairman: So she was of age, and all that was required was her consent. Smith at the time was not yet twenty, incidentally, and from all accounts Emma was a very strong-minded lady. I mention this because many authors play this episode up as a shocking case of bride-stealing. It was nothing of the sort. Didn't the couple soon come back to your house?
Hale: Oh yes, they lived there a while, though I wouldn't let Smith keep the gold plates in the house. "I . . . informed him that if there was anything in my house of that description, which I could not be allowed to see, he must take it away; if he did not I was determined to see it. After that, the Plates were said to be hid in the woods."26
Chairman: So you won't let anybody stay at your place who won't let you examine his personal effects, including his mail. You seem to be a rather bossy and possessive person, sir.
Howe: Just a minute, here! It is Smith's character we are examining, not Mr. Hale's.
Chairman: Well, Mr. Hale, what about Smith's character? So far we have learned that he sassed his father, married your daughter, and worked for a mining company. Haven't you anything worse than that?
Hale: Well, a short time after, when Smith was living in another house, I dropped in and got a look at a paper which Smith and Harris "were comparing, and some of the words were 'my servant seeketh a greater witness, but no greater witness can be given him.' " There was also something said about " 'three that were to see the thing'—meaning, I supposed, the Book of Plates. . . . I enquired whose words they were, and was informed by Joseph or Emma (I rather think it was the former), that they were the words of Jesus Christ. I told them, that I considered the whole of it a delusion, and advised them to abandon it."27
Chairman: So you vaguely recall "something said" about "some of the words" on a paper, whose meaning you merely surmised—"supposed"—at the time, and were told by Joseph or Emma—you don't remember which, but "rather think" it was Joseph, that they were the words of Christ. It is too bad you were never cross-examined, sir. But even if you were clearly and correctly remembering things nine years after the event, instead of groping and guessing as you are, where is the crime in all this? Is this all you have to say about the monster?
Hale: "I conscientiously believe from the facts I have detailed . . . that the whole 'Book of Mormon' (so called) is a silly fabrication of falsehood and wickedness, got up for speculation, and with a design to dupe the credulous and unwary—and in order that its fabricators may live upon the spoils of those who swallow the deception."28
Chairman: So you don't judge the book on its own merits, but solely from the "facts you have detailed." But we have seen what those facts are, and they prove nothing except that you were a disgruntled and angry father. Your testimony, however, has been heavily exploited for one thing—your positive knowledge of the profit motive involved. But as you have so well expressed it, that is merely your conscientious opinion—an opinion of the witness and nothing more. But I assure you, sir, that anyone who reads the Book of Mormon as far as the second chapter of the first edition (chapter 6 of the standard edition) will find serious reason for doubting your profit motive. For at the beginning of that chapter we find, "Wherefore the things which are pleasing unto the world, I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto them which are not of the world." You see, the author knew he was not writing a popular book. In a society which recognized only one Word of God, the author of the new revelation invariably chose the most dangerous, the most unpopular, and the most laborious imaginable way of making money. Now to get back to the other affidavits—their remarkable unanimity disturbs me.
The open conspiracy
Howe: What do you mean, sir, "disturbs"? It is the very unanimity of the affidavits that offers their most striking confirmation.
Thomas Gregg: Exactly. "With great unanimity" all these people report that Smith was "indolent, ignorant, untruthful, and superstitious."29
Famous Editor: As the editor of the most intellectual American magazine of the mid-nineteenth century I wish to confirm Mr. Gregg's position: "There is the most satisfactory evidence—that of his enemies—to show that from an early period he [Smith] was regarded as a visionary and a fanatic."30
Chairman: So our affidavit-swearers were no friends of the Prophet?
Editor: Of course not. I said they were his enemies, didn't I?
Chairman: But Mr. Hyde's third point was that all these witnesses "had no motive to exaggerate." Mr. Hyde, if all these people were Smith's enemies, wouldn't they have a very good motive to exaggerate? And you, Mr. Gregg, have discovered a most remarkably useful principle of psychology—that while one's friends are always, as friends, biased in one's favor, one's enemies, since they are not friends, are free of bias. With equal skill and cunning you parade a specious unanimity of opinion regarding Smith: having declared it your policy to discount all testimony in the defendant's favor, you then triumphantly point to the marvelous unanimity of the testimony that is left. All the testimony admitted tells the same story for the simple reason that you will not admit any that does not. Who collected these affidavits?
Howe: Mr. Hurlburt, Mr. Bennett, and I did nearly all of the work, I believe.
Chairman: And did Joseph Smith ever have more openly avowed enemies than you three?
Howe: But we did not sign the affidavits. We merely gathered them.
Chairman: Rather, you wrote them and asked people to sign them.
Hyde: What difference does that make? The so-called three witnesses of the Book of Mormon all signed the same statement.31
Chairman: But they claimed to have been together when they witnessed the phenomena described. The claim made for your seventy-odd witnesses is that they are testifying to knowledge acquired individually and separately. The value of these affidavits lies in the claim that each testified independently and that there was absolutely no collusion among them. The fact that we find many signatures on one document shows that we are not dealing with independent testimonies at all. Instead of testifying separately, the witnesses simply say "yes" to suggestive and leading statements. Did any of the affidavit swearers ever go back on their testimony, by the way?
Clerk: When nine of them were interviewed years later, some of them spoke very well of Smith, and had nothing bad whatever to say about him.32
C. A. Shook: But can't you see that such denials, since they are not unanimous, leave Smith's reputation just about where it was before?33
Chairman: No, sir, I do not see it.
Shook: But surely in a case of a few against many . . .
Chairman: This is not a case of a few against many, but of unanimous as against far from unanimous.
Howe: Well, against the eleven witnesses to the Book of Mormon, we place the respectable host which are here offered, we claim that "no credit ought to be given to those witnesses [of the Book of Mormon]."34
Chairman: But your mighty band have nothing to testify to at all about the Book of Mormon. The eleven said they saw and felt the plates, while your "respectable host" aver that they were aware of certain indications that Smith was a rascal, in which case he cannot have been a prophet, in which case no angel would visit him, in which case there would be no plates, in which case Smith invented the story.35 We are not interested in syllogisms. No, sir, there are altogether too many witnesses. Will anyone here who has a close personal friend raise his hand—I mean a friend who is so dear and intimate as to know one's real thoughts and give a true picture of one's character? (Almost all raise their hands.) Splendid. Now think hard. How many have two such friends? Still impressive. Now think very carefully: is there anyone here who can boast twenty such intimate personal friends?
Howe: We see plainly enough what you are getting at. But these persons do not claim ever to have been Smith's friends. They only say they knew him well for a long time. You know how it is in a small town—everybody knows everybody else pretty well.
Chairman: The affidavit signers are regularly designated as "prominent residents," as if that title gave more weight to their testimonies. Wouldn't you say that everyone is prominent in a small town?
Howe: No. Not in the sense of being leading citizens.
Chairman: Then Joseph Smith was not prominent?
Howe: Of course not. He was an utterly contemptible nobody.
Chairman: Then how did all the prominent people get to know him so well? Did he seek them out, or did they seek him? If three or four or maybe even five people had said about Joseph Smith what all this cloud of witnesses swore to, their testimony might have borne some weight. But when we get up into the fifties and sixties and seventies—isn't it just possible that some of those did not really know Joseph Smith very well after all?
Howe: Well, you know how it is in a small town—everybody sees a lot of everybody else.
Chairman: Yes, and everybody talks a good deal about everybody else; and people learn to keep pretty much to themselves. Knowing people is a very different thing. I believe your American literature is full of comment on the devastating gossip of the small town—especially of the rural New England town. Now, according to many reports, the Smiths kept pretty much out of circulation—shunning and shunned by all.
Howe: Yes, indeed. "He spent his days and nights among the rugged fastnesses of the forest, went and came stealthily, wrapping his movements in a mystery. . . . Vicious and vulgar, he was shunned by the boys of his own age, while the girls fled in terror from the 'Money-Digger.' "36
Chairman: Then when and where did all this intimate contact occur?
Howe: You know what we mean. For example, when Joe was a boy he used to come once a week to the printing office to pick up the newspaper for his father.
Chairman: And how did he act on those occasions?
Howe: He was very shy, and the boys who worked in the shop used to have fun with him—you know, throw inkballs at him and things like that.37
Chairman: So you saw him in the printing shop once a week . . .
Howe: Yes, and at the store, and at the mill where he worked sometimes.
Chairman: Such were the occasions on which all these people got to know Smith so intimately. Now on these occasions in which Smith appeared in public, just what acts of "unspeakable lewdness" did the shy and awkward fellow commit?
Howe: Well, now of course you are speaking of very private affairs . . .
Chairman: On the contrary, those who report these things say Joe was notorious for them. Since all of these people claim to have been close neighbors and intimate acquaintances of Smith for years, I think we have a right to demand some specific instances of criminal behavior on his part, preferably such instances as were witnessed by more than one person. According to testimony given, Joseph Smith's misdemeanors were matters of perpetual public display. What, then, were some of the things he did in the sight of any of these good people to acquire his tremendous reputation for wickedness? As late as the year 1955 the world has been assured that "these accounts are not idle gossip or empty accusations; they are simply a matter of cold hard facts. Joseph Smith was a notoriously immoral man."38 So naturally we are exceedingly curious to be shown just one cold, hard fact, but so far none of the so-called witnesses has given us any satisfaction.
Howe: You must bear in mind, sir, that Smith was very cunning and adroit. Of course he would not let himself get caught at anything.
N. C. Lewis: Exactly. When I made my deposition I had admittedly never seen him do anything reprehensible—but why not? I will tell you: "From my standing in the Methodist Episcopal Church, I suppose he was careful how he conducted or expressed himself before me," so of course I would see nothing wrong.39
Chairman: But the fact that you saw nothing wrong did not prevent or discourage you from signing an affidavit against Smith?
N. C. Lewis: Of course not! I signed an affidavit stating that he was "an imposter, hypocrite and liar."40
Chairman: How did you know he was, since he never did anything wrong, to your observation?
Howe: A character witness need not describe overt actions. These people are all giving a uniform and unbiased account of Smith's character in the community. As Mr. Hyde put it, "they had no motive to exaggerate."
Chairman: Unbiased? Will Miss Nancy Towle please come forward? Miss Towle, your activities as a traveling evangelist took place between the years of 1818 and 1831, did they not?
Nancy Towle: That is correct.
Chairman: Did you ever visit western New York during those years?
Towle: I did indeed. I preached on the Geneva Road, near Manchester.41
Chairman: And did you ever meet with any opposition in those parts?
Towle: I most certainly did. I was vilely treated.
Chairman: And what would you say was the main source of the opposition?
Towle: Corrupt and "rotten-hearted" ministers.42
Chairman: But what motive could they possibly have had for opposing you? Didn't you preach the same religion they did?
Towle: Certainly I preached the gospel. But you, my good man, obviously do not understand the workings of the human heart—jealousy is a most powerful motive; nor do you seem to be aware how very limited are the views of "unregenerate men!!"43 In matters of religion "the world abounds with priestcraft and superstition!"44 That has made me the "butt of envy to all the combined powers of earth and hell, during my stay below."45
Chairman: Now take the case of Joseph Smith. Would you say his claims were primarily religious ones?
Towle: They were utterly abominable. They were blasphemous. When I visited Joseph Smith and his people in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831, "I viewed the whole, with the utmost indignation and disgust."46
Chairman: And just what was it that you saw and heard to fill you with indignation and disgust?
Towle: Well, as I said in my book, I was only in Kirtland one day, and while there was treated with great kindness and courtesy, and it is only fair to say that during that time "I saw nothing indecorous; nor had I, any apprehension, of any thing of the kind."47
Chairman: Then I must ask you again—whence the loathing and disgust?
Towle: Young man, don't you realize that this Smith person was misleading "so many men of skill [of whom] . . . many, had actually intended, forsaking all for Christ, [by his] 'cunningly devised fables'?" Need I say more?48
Chairman: Thank you, Miss Towle. I think Miss Towle and Mr. Lewis have given us a pretty good idea of the real charges that all these witnesses are bringing against Joseph Smith. Miss Towle has exploded the popular argument that all who were not actually supporting Smith were innocent of any bias, prejudice, or motive for exaggeration. Why was Miss Towle herself so meanly handled by the same ministers who attacked Smith? And why does she boil with indignation when she mentions Smith's name? Combine the ambition and jealousy of small souls with the sanctions of religion and you have the most powerful motivation for persecution and chicanery, however the guilty parties may protest their freedom from bias and their Christian motives.
Weak memories and weak heads
Howe: May I call the Chairman's attention to the fact that he is overlooking a good deal of the concrete evidence which he says is lacking. Here is a "seceder from the delusion" who can prove Smith a fraud. He was at a meeting once and heard him speak in tongues.
Chairman: Your name, sir?
James H. Hunt: He prefers not to tell his name. But listen to his story.
Seceder: I was present at a meeting in an upper room in Kirtland, where were assembled from fifteen to twenty elders and high priests.
Chairman: When was this?
Seceder: On a certain occasion, Joseph Smith gave a sermon and "next arose, and passing round the room, laying his hand upon each one, spoke as follows, as near as the narrator can recollect:— 'Ak man oh son oh man ah ne commene en holle goste en haben en glai hosanne hosanne en holle goste en esac milkea jeremiah, ezekiel, Nephi, Lehi, St. John,' &c., &c."49
Chairman: What does the double et cetera stand for?
Seceder: Well, it was things like that.
Chairman: And why didn't you capitalize jeremiah and ezekiel as you did Nephi and Lehi?
Hunt (indignantly): The question is absurd. The man didn't speak in capitals!
Chairman: Why did our witness capitalize the other names, then? He is the one who claims a knack for detecting when Smith spoke in capitals or lower case. You assume, sir, that if you put in an etc., etc., any reader will be able to carry on the speech at will?
Seceder: Well, you get the idea.
Chairman: And once one has the general idea, one is free to compose what one will, and attribute it to Joseph Smith as his actual words—or deeds?
Seceder: It is not as bad as that.
Chairman: Are these Smith's actual words?
Seceder: As nearly as I can remember.
Howe: This is only one of many such experiences. "This gibberish was for several months practiced almost daily" at that time in Kirtland.50
Chairman: Indeed. Could you describe some other such events?
Hunt: No! Please don't! "We will not dwell upon this part of our history. A particular recital of such scenes of fanaticism gives too much pain to the intelligent mind, and excites a contempt for our species."51
Chairman: Then the reason you people do not give specific details is that the whole business offends your sensibilities? You are afraid of exciting too much contempt?
Hunt: That is correct.
Chairman: Then why did you write your book at all, Mr. Hunt?
Hunt: "It has been our purpose to set Mormonism in such a light before those whose reason cannot perceive the truth, that they may nevertheless see its inherent grossness, and look upon it with utter contempt."52
Chairman: Yet you expect to achieve that end by avoiding unpleasant details? I think it is plain enough, sir, that you are by no means lacking in the will to publish the worst things about the Mormons, and the worse the better. I believe that the delicacy with which you avoid a recital of particulars is dictated only by the fact that you have none to recite.
Hunt: But we were just considering such particulars, sir, when you changed the subject!
Chairman: Forgive me. When did this meeting take place, by the way?
Seceder: Early in 1833.
Chairman: And when did you report it to Mr. Howe?
Seceder: In December of that year.
Chairman: And for a year you remembered Smith's nonsense-syllables to the letter?
Howe: As near as the narrator can recollect.
Chairman: Let us test his recollection again. The clerk has taken the words down—now would the witness mind repeating them again?
Seceder: Well, it was almost a year, and there were lots of other meetings, I can hardly be sure . . .
Chairman: Not a year, sir; three minutes! It has been barely three minutes since you recited those words.
Hunt: This is hardly fair. You are confusing the witness.
Chairman: If he is a genius with a phenomenal memory, a little thing like that should not disturb him.
Hunt: He makes no claim to be a genius.
Chairman: Very well, then, let us spare his feelings, and ask you, Mr. Hunt, or Mr. Howe, or anyone else in the room—or for that matter, let us ask the reader of this report—to repeat those words we all heard a few minutes ago without looking at them. Bear in mind that our witness, who claims to be no mnemonic wizard, heard those words just once, and yet from that one hearing he can repeat them almost a year later. Will anyone offer to repeat the thirty nonsense syllables that the witness uttered a few minutes ago?
Howe: But can't you see that the witness is only referring to the general kind of speech uttered—the sort of thing that went on?
Chairman: I see it only too clearly. Everybody knows the kind of nonsense Joe Smith would utter, so everybody can fill in that "&c., &c." And now it is plain enough that that is all the witness himself is doing. Either he is making up the speech attributed to Smith, or else he is remembering it. It is clear that he does not remember it, though he maintains that they are Smith's actual words . . .
Howe: "As near as the narrator can recollect." Please remember that!
Chairman: That is the whole point, in fact. If you are going to exploit this man's memory as a deadly weapon, you can hardly ask us to excuse him in case his memory breaks down! It was his idea to tell the story that way, and the strength of his testimony is no more nor less than the strength of his memory. Have you nothing better than this?
Howe: Here we have some sayings of Smith that are worse than nonsense syllables! Mr. McKune, tell the people here what you reported in 1834 under oath.
H. McKune: Joseph Smith said that "he was nearly equal to Jesus Christ; that he was a prophet sent by God to bring in the Jews."53
Levi Lewis: That's right. He told me that "he was as good as Jesus Christ."54
Sophia Lewis: I heard him say it another time. Once when he was having an argument with the Reverend J. B. Roach, I heard Smith call Mr. Roach "a d – – d fool. Smith also said in the same conversation that he (Smith) was as good as Jesus Christ."55
Eminent Editor: As editor of the American Whig Review, I can affirm that Joseph Smith "was often heard during his life to declare himself far superior to our Savior."56
Chairman: And when did you first affirm that, sir?
E. Editor: In 1851.
Chairman: Well, you see how these things grow. First Mr. McKune in 1834 says that Smith claimed he was "nearly equal" to Jesus; then the Lewises improved on that—each of them heard Smith say he was "as good as Jesus Christ"; finally in 1851 it is remembered that he "was often heard . . . to declare himself far superior to our Savior." In 1833 Smith's nearest neighbors remember nothing of this great blasphemy, which by 1851 is numbered among his habitual daily vices.
Howe: What do you mean, none of his neighbors remembered? We have just heard three separate and independent testimonies?
Chairman: Were they separate and independent? Mr. McKune, didn't you and the Lewises go together to make your depositions before the justice?
McKune: Yes. But you will notice that we testified to three separate experiences.
Chairman: Indeed I did notice it, and it struck me as very significant. Here the only witnesses to a thing Smith is supposed to have done many times are a husband and wife and a close friend of theirs, all testifying together. Isn't it odd that of all the witnesses, Smith told only the companions McKune and Lewis—separately—that he was as good as Christ, and that it was Mrs. Lewis who just happened to be listening when he said it to the Reverend Roach, from whom we have no report? Isn't it fairly probable that the three cooked the story up among themselves before they went to the magistrate? Any others?
Howe: Here is a man who can tell you a thing or two.
Wm. Bryant: I knew the Smiths.
Chairman: You seem rather old, sir; how long ago did you know them?
Bryant: Well, let's see. This affidavit was taken in 1880—that's more than fifty years after I saw any of them.57
Chairman: But you remember them?
Bryant: As I was saying, I knew the Smiths, but did not associate with them, for they were too low to associate with.
Chairman: You were apparently more fastidious than your respectable and prominent fellow-citizens. What was wrong with the Smiths?
Bryant: "There was no truth in them. Their aim was to get in where they could get property. They broke up homes in that way. Smith had no regular business. He had frequent revelations."58
Chairman: Though you didn't associate with those people, you seem to have known a good deal about the more intimate aspects of their activity. Whose were some of the homes they broke up? The victims must have been your neighbors, too. How does it happen that in fifty years none of them has come forward to testify? Whose homes did the Smiths break up?
Howe: I will not have my witness badgered in this way!
Mrs. William Bryant: Please cease molesting my husband, sir. "For the last few years his mind has been somewhat impaired."59
Chairman: Yet it was in that state that he made his affidavit against the Smiths.
Processed gossip: the laundry legend
Howe: If you must have particulars, here is Mrs. Eaton. She can tell you all about the Smiths.
Chairman: Can you, Mrs. Eaton?
Mrs. Dr. Horace Eaton: Indeed I can. My speech on the early life of Joseph Smith has become a classic. Let me say at the outset that "as far as Mormonism was connected with its reputed founder, Joseph Smith, always called 'Joe Smith,' it had its origin in the brain and heart of an ignorant, deceitful mother."60
Chairman: Indeed, that fact seems to have escaped the early witnesses to the crimes of the Smiths. Perhaps they were just being gallant. When did you make your report on the Smiths, Mrs. Eaton?
Eaton: My celebrated and much-quoted address was first delivered 27 May 1881, before an important religious body.
Chairman: You delivered the speech on other occasions?
Eaton: I traveled about the country giving authoritative lectures on the Mormons. I was billed as Mrs. Dr. Horace Eaton of Palmyra—the fact that I actually came from Palmyra puts my authority, you will agree, beyond question.
Chairman: Very interesting. How well did you know the Smiths?
Eaton: Well, I never knew them personally. I first moved to Palmyra in 1850.
Chairman: That was twenty years after the Smiths had departed. Where did you get your information about them?
Eaton: From talks with neighbors, who of course knew and remembered the Smiths very well.
Chairman: So your famous report was issued in 1881, that is, thirty years after you had settled in Palmyra and long after anyone who had known the Smiths as an adult was dead. Even so, you do not name a single one of your valued informants. In your report you specialize on the early period of the Smith's residence in Palmyra, that is, at least thirty years before you went there and a good sixty-four years before your report—and you were paraded and advertised as one (at last) who could give an intimate, firsthand report of the doings of the Smith family! Tell us, please, how the Smiths used to operate.
Eaton: "Mrs. Smith used to go to the houses of the village and do family washings. But if the articles were left to dry upon the lines and not secured by their owners before midnight, the washer was often the winner—and in these nocturnal depredations she was assisted by her boys, who favored in like manner poultry yards and grain bins."61
Chairman: At long last we have the Smiths charged with specific crimes. But do you think it is clever to steal clothing one has been paid to wash? How can you steal a thing which the owner knows is in your possession?
Eaton: You can say it has been stolen.
Chairman: Do you have to go out after midnight with your boys and steal them? Can't you say they were stolen—that they simply aren't there—without having to go through the motions of stealing them yourself? What could Mrs. Smith do with the clothes she stole? The owners would recognize them if anybody wore them. Can you make more selling old clothes than washing them? And what would happen to the laundry business if customers regularly failed to get back their clothes?
Chairman: Yes. You said that Mrs. Smith "used to" do this, and that she was "often the winner." She must have made a regular practice of hanging up clothes by day and stealing the same clothes by night. Isn't the woman who washes the clothes expected to be responsible for them and to take them off the line personally when they are dry? Apparently everyone was on to Mrs. Smith and her trick, but went on contributing steadily to her growing collection of used clothing; while she continued to wash and wash without getting paid for it.
Howe: Oh, your honor, now you are deliberately attempting to make my client look ridiculous.
Chairman: Not at all. It is, I admit, a monstrously ridiculous situation; but that which she herself has depicted as such furnishes proof of malicious slander.
Rev. J. E. Mahaffey: I think I can clear up this business. What happened was this: "Mrs. Smith did washing by the day, but her employers soon learned that it was not safe for the clothes to remain out after dark. Young Joseph assisted generally and soon had a reputation of being adept at robbing henroosts and orchards. Indeed the reputation of the Smith family is said to have been of the worst kind. 'They avoided honest labor, were intemperate, untruthful and suspected of sheep-stealing and other nefarious practices.' From all accounts they were the terror and torment of the neighborhood."62
Chairman: From your language, sir, it is obvious either that you have borrowed from Mrs. Eaton (directly or indirectly) or she has borrowed from you. When did you make this declaration?
Mahaffey: In 1902, and naturally I used Mrs. Eaton's material.
Chairman: And you have made changes in it. Who authorized you, for example, to change "poultry yards and grain bins" to "hen-roosts and orchards," and to read "she was assisted by her boys" as meaning "young Joseph assisted generally?"
Mahaffey: No fundamental changes: If the first statements are true the others must be.
Chairman: And so you take the liberty to improve on your source. You say her employers soon learned of Mrs. Smith's tricks, where Mrs. Eaton says "the washer was often the winner." Mrs. Eaton puts midnight as the deadline for getting in the clothes, but you, with better logic, say they could not remain out after dark.
Mahaffey: Thank you for the compliment. I have made a few rational emendations—to make the thing more plausible, you know.
Chairman: In other words, you feel free to correct the obvious inconsistencies and absurdities that prove Mrs. Eaton's story a piece of vicious gossip, so that it can pass muster as reliable testimony. That, I may observe here, is an extremely common practice among the biographers of Joseph Smith. Yet even when you get through, what do you tell us, Mr. Mahaffey? That Smith "had a reputation of being adept at robbing hen-roosts," that the reputation of the Smiths was of the worst kind, that they were suspected of sheep-stealing. Now, I will not ask you to prove that there were any grounds for such a reputation and such suspicions—Mr. Tucker can tell us about that—but I would like to know whether you have discovered a scrap of evidence to show that the Smiths had such a reputation before they were Mormons. I know that the affidavits claim to refer to that earlier period, but they were all given in retrospect. If the Smiths really had been "the terror and torment of the neighborhood" for many years before the Book of Mormon, there should certainly be some evidence of it. How well known were the Smiths before 1830?
Tricks with the calendar
Hunt: I can answer that! "The Smith family . . . emigrated from . . . Vermont, about the year 1820, when the Prophet was, as is supposed, about sixteen years of age. From their peculiar habits of life . . . they became known to a vast number of persons in that portion of the country, and without a single exception, as I am informed, every person knowing them united in representing the general character of the family as unprincipled, idle, ignorant, and superstitious."63
Chairman: Thank you, sir. So "a vast number of persons" knew the Smiths so well before 1830 that they could later swear oaths as to their character—though apparently they did not get close enough to Joseph to distinguish a ten-year-old from a sixteen-year-old. But where is the earlier evidence?
T. B. H. Stenhouse: I think I can answer that. "After Joseph's announcement of his prophetic mission, the neighbors of his parents who were opposed to his claims remembered, with wonderful facility, that the Smith family had always been 'dreamers and visionary persons,' and applied these terms in their most offensive meaning."64
Chairman: If I recall, the same sort of thing happened when the Spaulding story came out. During the years before, no one ever so much as mentioned a hint of the Rigdon-Spaulding-Pratt-Cowdery-Harris-Smith, etc., plot; but as soon as the Spaulding theory was proposed, everybody suddenly remembered strange visits by mysterious strangers, and, as Mrs. Fawn M. Brodie so nicely puts it, "Through the years the 'Spaulding theory' collected supporting affidavits as a ship does barnacles."65 That stirs familiar echoes. One noted affidavit-collector of antiquity was Celsus, who ran down some scandalous stories about Jesus' family. Will Celsus please come forward?
Celsus: I must say I am here under protest. This is not my show—I belong in the second century.
Chairman: And we are not asking you to leave that century. Tell us where you got your affidavits about the scandalous youth of Jesus.
Celsus: The Jewish doctors sent people out to the village to gather them.
Chairman: Years after the death of Christ.
Celsus: What difference does that make? The neighbors all remembered the clever, ambitious boy who was ashamed of his low parentage and overawed the yokels with the magic tricks he had picked up in Egypt, and how he gave out those wild reports about being the son of God and the rest.
Chairman: And did they remember anything about his disciples?
Celsus: Of course. "He gathered some ten or eleven notorious men about him, publicans and sailors of the most vicious type, and with these he tramped up and down the country, eking out a miserable existence by questionable means."66
Chairman: Such as raiding hen-coops? Note the parallels, ladies and gentlemen: Our informant is not even sure of the number of the apostles—where facts are concerned all is characteristically vague—but the charges are the very same as those against Smith. But what I want you particularly to note is that our authority insists that the apostles were notorious for their wicked ways before Jesus ever chose them. This is the old trick of building up a case in retrospect. Do you remember what happened after Tom Sawyer found the treasure? "Wherever Tom and Huck appeared they were courted, admired, stared at. The boys were not able to remember that their remarks had possessed weight before; but now their sayings were treasured and repeated; everything they did seemed somehow to be regarded as remarkable. . . . Moreover, their past history was raked up and discovered to bear marks of conspicuous originality. The village paper published biographical sketches of the boys."67 You see, it works both ways, gentlemen, and Joseph Smith's case is perhaps unique, since from being as obscure a person as ever lived he became in a matter of months one of the most talked-about men in the world. Then, of course "a vast number of persons" suddenly remembered everything the Smiths ever did—though how they could get away with crimes like theirs for a week, let alone for decades, no one has bothered to explain.
Howe: It is all very well to talk of inventing evidence in retrospect, but we have positive proof that Joseph Smith was a public menace before he ever claimed to have had a vision.
Chairman: That is just the sort of thing we are looking for. By all means, sir, produce this evidence.
Howe: You must have it here. It is the invaluable Bainbridge Court Record of 26 March 1826.
Chairman: Will the clerk please read that record?
Clerk (after much searching and fumbling among his papers): I'm sorry, sir, we don't seem to have such a document.
Howe: What do you mean, you don't have it? Why man, that is the most important if not the only existing piece of evidence to Joseph Smith's early character and activities. You must have it!
Clerk (after much searching): This is all we have, your honor. This is not a court record but a printed article from a religious encyclopedia. The item is reprinted in that encyclopedia in 1889 and 1891, but in subsequent editions thereafter it does not appear.68
Howe: But Mrs. Brodie specifically says that the document was "first unearthed in southern New York by Daniel S. Tuttle."69
John Quincy Adams: Mrs. who said it? That's what I wrote in 1916!
Eminent Critic: You must be mistaken, sir. Mrs. Brodie's work is the last word in "primary scholarship,"70 and this is one of her finest discoveries.
Chairman: Let me see what Mrs. Brodie and Mr. Adams have written, clerk. This is what Adams said in 1916:
An interesting record of one of these visits was unearthed a few years ago by Bishop Daniel S. Tuttle in the records of a justice's court in Bainbridge, Chenango County. The story is told and documents quoted in the article on Mormonism in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.71
And this is how Mrs. Brodie announces her great discovery in 1947 and after:
The earliest and most important account of Joseph Smith's money-digging is the following court record, first unearthed in southern New York by Daniel S. Tuttle, Episcopal Bishop of Salt Lake City, and published in the article on "Mormonism" in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. The trial was before a justice of the peace in Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York.72
I find these two statements substantially the same. Does Mrs. Brodie anywhere mention the Adams book in her writing?
Clerk: Adams is nowhere mentioned. His book is not even listed in Mrs. Brodie's extensive bibliography.
Chairman: In view of the obvious resemblance between the two passages, that may be significant. Of course, the later one is not a literal quotation, but it seems to bear just those marks of retouching which one would expect in case of borrowing; it is to be noted that while nothing essential has been added to the later text, neither has anything essential been omitted. And then there are hints, like that interesting word "unearthed," a little bit unusual, vague, yet colorful—a clue, I would say. That would seem to me to be a link between the two writings. But let us get back to the court record. It was stated that the vital document was actually found "in the records of the justice's court." In that case, it should be easy to produce today. Where is it?
Clerk: If it please the court, a communication just received from the present clerk of the court in question informs us that no court records were ever kept in Chenango County before the year 1850, and that there is no knowledge of the destruction of any records of that court.73
Chairman: Well, that seems to settle it. The 1826 record was somebody's invention.74 We shall look further into this matter. But first, is there anyone else who can give personal testimony?
The total oaf
Peter Cartwright: I can. I was personally acquainted with Joe Smith.
Chairman: Your name?
Cartwright: I am Peter Cartwright, the Frontier Preacher. "On a certain occasion I fell in with Joe Smith, and was formally and officially introduced to him in Springfield, then our county town. We soon fell into a free conversation on the subject of religion, and Mormonism in particular. I found him a very illiterate and impudent desperado in morals, but, at the same time, he had a vast fund of low cunning."75
Chairman: How's that again—"a vast fund of low cunning"?
Cartwright: That's what I said.
Chairman: Are you trying to tell the investigators that a man who displayed a vast cunning also revealed himself as an impudent desperado in the course of a formal conversation carried on with a total stranger in the presence of witnesses at a county seat? What kind of clowning could he have done to advertise his utter moral depravity to the world? And how could such abandoned behavior possibly be accompanied by the smallest iota of sense, let alone "vast cunning"? It seems that Smith was determined at any price to wreck his chances in Springfield. Did he go up to you and start talking wildly?
Cartwright: No, it was a civilized enough conversation, formal and official, as I said.
Chairman: Yet in the course of that conversation, carried on in an atmosphere of formality, Smith demonstrated in your presence that he "was an impudent desperado in morals." How?
Cartwright: He didn't say very much. I did nearly all the talking. He tried to flatter me, and "upon the whole, he did pretty well for clumsy Joe."76
Chairman: Cunning but clumsy. In a few words he contrived to make it clear to you that he was an impudent desperado in morals. And you call that doing pretty well. He must have staged quite a pantomime. Since you have given the whole conversation at length, why don't you report any of the things Smith said or did to advertise his depravity?
Cartwright: Now you are being facetious, sir. I had other dealings with Smith's people. One old Mormon woman wanted to speak at one of my meetings, but I gave her a sermon, believe me. Her husband tried to interfere.
Chairman: How did he interfere?
Cartwright: He said I could not speak to his wife that way, but we threw them out. My actual words were, "Now start, and don't show your face here again, nor one of the Mormons. If you do, you will get Lynch's Law."77
Chairman: Isn't lynching rather harsh treatment for people whose only offense is that they wanted to speak at your meeting? I believe it was common practice at religious revivals to allow many persons to speak.
Cartwright: With Mormons it's different. "They should be considered and treated as outlaws in every country and clime."78
Chairman: I am afraid the American Constitution would not allow that here.
Cartwright: No law applies to them: "Any man or set of men that would be mean enough to stoop so low as to connive at the abominations of these reckless Mormons, surely ought to be considered unworthy of public office, honor, or confidence."79
Chairman: So you would disfranchise not only the Mormons but any who tolerate them?
Cartwright: That's it.
Chairman: Yet we search your book in vain for any account of what might be by any stretch of the imagination called an abomination; and you are supposed to have lived close to Joseph Smith and the Mormons. Have we any other witnesses?
J. Hendrix: I knew Joseph Smith. "Everyone knew him as Joe Smith. He was the most ragged, lazy fellow in the place, and that is saying a good deal."80
Chairman: What do you mean, "saying a good deal"?
Hendrix: I mean of course, that to be the most ragged and lazy fellow in that place was an achievement!
Chairman: Then lots of fellows were ragged and lazy?
Howe (caustically): Our esteemed chairman begins to get the idea.
Chairman: But do you? In a community where the ragged and lazy abound it can hardly be a crime for a boy to be ragged and lazy. Yet by far the commonest charge against Joseph Smith is that he was lazy and slovenly—a common charge against Jesus Christ also, by the way. Now what is so bad about being lazy?
Hendrix: Isn't that a foolish question?
Chairman: Not at all. Have you practiced your oboe today?
Hendrix: What do you mean, practiced my oboe? I have no oboe.
Chairman: Then you are lazy. You have never learned to play the oboe. You have never even tried! Lots of times, perhaps even today, you have done little or nothing at all, while you could have been practicing the oboe.
Hendrix: I have plenty of other things to do besides practicing an oboe, sir.
Chairman: So the fact that you do not play the oboe does not prove that you are lazy?
Hendrix: Of course not. You judge a man's industry not by what he doesn't do but by what he does. There are millions of things that you don't do, for that matter!
Chairman: At last you see my point. Everybody says Joseph Smith was lazy because of the things he didn't do, but what about the things he did do? What good does it do to say that you, with your tiny routine of daily busywork, think another man is lazy if that man happens to accomplish more than ten ordinary men in a short lifetime? Joseph Smith's activities are a matter of record and they are phenomenal. You might as well claim that Horowitz doesn't know how to play the piano to a man who owns a library of Horowitz recordings, or that Van Gogh couldn't paint to the owner of an original Van Gogh, or that Dempsey couldn't fight to a man who had fought him, as to maintain that Joseph Smith was a lazy loafer to the historian who gets dizzy merely trying to follow him through a few short years of his tremendous activity. I think this constantly reiterated unfailing charge that Joseph Smith was a raggle-taggle, down-at-the-heels, sloppy, lazy, good-for-nothing supplies the best possible test for the honesty and reliability of his critics. Some of them reach almost awesome heights of mendacity and effrontery when, like Mrs. Brodie, they solemnly inform us that Joseph Smith, the laziest man on earth, produced in a short time, by his own efforts, the colossally complex and difficult Book of Mormon.
Howe: But you can't just brush public opinion aside.
A quick check-up
Chairman: Which is just what you do when you discount all but one segment of that opinion. Did anyone, by the way, ever check up on all this public opinion about Smith?
An Editor: When I was working for a St. Louis newspaper I attempted to test public opinion about the Mormons.
Chairman: Sort of a Gallup poll?
Editor: The nearest we could get to it in those days. "What do you think of the Mormons? I asked. I had scarcely spoken before my ears were saluted from all quarters, from high and low, rich and poor. . . . They would rob and plunder, . . . [and] after they had stripped the poor stranger of his all, they confined him in a kind of dungeon, underneath the Temple, where he was fed on bread and water, until death put a period to his sufferings."81
Howe: There's public opinion, for you! Unanimous—no "segment" about it!
Chairman: Could all, or any, of those people have had firsthand experience of what they declared so emphatically?
Editor: It was obvious that they had not, but I was not satisfied with mere rumors—I went to Nauvoo to see for myself.
Chairman: Excellent. And what did you find?
Editor: I can only repeat what I wrote at the time: "Joseph Smith the Mormon prophet, is a singular character; he lives at the 'Nauvoo House' which is, I understand, intended to become a home for the stranger and traveler; and I think, from my own personal observation, that it will be deserving of the name. The Prophet is a kind, cheerful sociable companion. I believe he has the good-will of the community at large, and that he is ever ready to stand by and defend them in any extremity."82
J. C. O'Hanlon: I can confirm that report.
Howe: Who are you, sir?
O'Hanlon: I was a Roman Catholic priest and missionary in Missouri. Though I came west after Smith's time, I was soon "made aware of the fact . . . that during the lifetime of their prophet Joe Smith, Catholic bishops and priests were courteously received and hospitably entertained by him, whenever they had occasion to visit his growing city of Nauvoo; and they often spoke in praise of his personal kindness and generosity."83
Lily Dougall: That reminds me. When I was gathering material for my writings about Joseph Smith in and around Kirtland—
Howe: May we ask this lady to identify herself before she proceeds?
Dougall: I am Lily Dougall, sir, and if you suspect that I am prejudiced I'll have you know that my stories about Joseph Smith are as scandalous as anything you ever wrote! But as I was saying, "I visited a sweet-faced old lady—not, however, of the Mormon persuasion—who as a child had climbed on the prophet's knee. 'My mother always said,' she told us, 'that if she had to die and leave young children, she would rather have left them to Joseph Smith than to anyone else in the world: he was always kind.' "84
Howe: Then how could you write such scandalous things about Smith, madam?
Dougall: My stuff was fiction—and it sold well.
Howe: I can give you an editor who tells a very different story. Here, Mr. Editor, tell us about Joe Smith.
Editor No. 2: "It was asserted that he inculcated the legality of perjury and other crimes. . . . It was reported that an establishment existed in Nauvoo for the manufacture of counterfeit money, and that a set of outlaws was maintained for the purpose of putting it in circulation. Statements were circulated to the effect that a reward was offered for the destruction of the Warsaw Signal . . . and that the Mormons . . . threatened all persons who offered to assist the constable in the execution of the law, with the destruction of their property and the murder of their families. There were rumors that an alliance had been made with the Western Indians, that in case of war—"85
Chairman: I think we have heard enough: "It was asserted . . . it was reported . . . statements were circulated . . . there were rumors . . . " What is the date of this man's report?
Chairman: Haven't we something more contemporary?
Mr. Flagg: Way back in 1838 I made an inquiry something like that of the first editor, but without results. Everybody had strong feelings about the Mormons, but when it came to facts that was a different story: "no one with whom I met could, for the life of him, give a subsequent expose of Mormonism, though often requested."86
Chairman: Did anyone else follow the example of our first editor and visit Nauvoo?
The Man from Quincy: Yes. I was one of a party from Quincy, Illinois, that went to look into matters there. "We had supposed from the stories and statements we had read of 'Jo Smith,' (as he was termed in the papers) to find him a very illiterate, uncouth sort of man; but from a conversation, we acknowledge an agreeable disappointment. In conversation he appeared intelligent and candid, and divested of all malicious thought and feeling towards his relentless persecutors."87
Chairman: This is interesting. Public opinion had prepared you, as you describe it, to find one sort of Joseph Smith, while the real Joseph Smith gave you quite a surprise. There was no such surprise in store for Mr. Cartwright. I think we have here irrefutable proof of extreme prejudice.
Howe: Yet the same Quincy newspaper that gave this favorable report some years later charged the Mormons with a specific crime, the shooting of Boggs!
Chairman: What does the newspaper report say? Will the clerk please read it?
Clerk (reads): "A man was suspected, and is probably arrested before this. There are several rumors in circulation in regard to the horrid affair. One of which throws the crime upon the Mormons."88
Howe: There you have it. Many books charge this crime to the Mormons.
Chairman: On such flimsy evidence? That was but one of many rumors—an inevitable one, I might add. What crimes were they not charged with?
Howe: But there is more to it than that. Read on, clerk!
Clerk (reads): "Smith . . . , the Mormon Prophet, as we understand, prophesied a year or so ago, his death by violent means. Hence, there is plenty of foundation for rumor."89
Chairman: So instead of proving him a true prophet, the prophecy made him a tactless assassin. That little sophism was often used against the Christians in ancient times: since they prophesied evil, whenever evil came—in fulfillment of the prophecy—they, of course, were to blame for it. "Plenty of foundation," indeed! Before we recess let us hear the reports of any others who have tried to get to the bottom of all the mere talk and rumor about Smith. Let's hear from these three who have raised their hands. Don't I know you, sir?
John Greenleaf Whittier: Yes, we have met elsewhere. I am John Greenleaf Whittier, once considered something of a poet. I was visited by some Mormon missionaries in the 1840s and made something of a study of Joseph Smith and his background. My conclusion was that "the reports circulated against them [the Mormons, that is] by their unprincipled enemies in the west are in the main destitute of foundation."90
Chairman: Thank you. And the next gentleman?
Editor: I was the editor of the American Whig Review when we undertook a rather ambitious investigation into the early life of Smith. Our finding was that "the knowledge of his early life which has been given to the world is limited; for all that seems to have been desired by those who made researches or gave testimony concerning him, was either to establish the bad character of the Smith family, or to show the real origin of the Book of Mormon."91
Chairman: And after all these years that still holds true of the critics today. Our next witness seems rather reluctant. Come on up, sir. What have you to report?
E. B. Greene: Not very much. We of the Illinois State Historical Society set out to solve the riddle of Joseph Smith, but the documents wouldn't take us through. We found that after 1865 "the life of the prophet . . . has furnished material for a flood of literature, which has failed to a great extent in establishing the truth or falsity of the story as told by Smith and his followers."92
Chairman: So it seems that our cloud of witnesses have not succeeded in their purpose.
Howe: We are not through yet. Far from it. Since our really powerful testimony is to come, I move we take a recess before hearing from the next witness.
*The Myth Makers was originally published in Salt Lake City by Bookcraft in 1961.
1. John S. C. Abbott, The History of the State of Ohio (Detroit: New World, 1875), 180.
2. John C. Bennett, The History of the Saints; Or, An Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism (Boston: Leland and Whiting, 1842), 79-80.
3. Lu B. Cake, Peepstone Joe and the Peck Manuscript (New York: Cake, 1899), 20.
4. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed; Or, a Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion (Painesville, OH: the author, 1834), 261-62.
5. Ibid., 262.
6. Ibid., 248.
7. John Hyde, Mormonism, Its Leaders and Designs (New York: Fetridge, 1857), 246.
8. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 250-51.
9. Robert Richards, The California Crusoe (London: Parker, 1854), 84.
10. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 247.
11. Ibid., 251.
12. D. H. C. Bartlett, The Mormons or Latter-day Saints, Whence Came They? (Liverpool: Thompson, 1911), 5-6.
13. Ibid., 6.
14. Cake, Peepstone Joe and the Peck Manuscript, 9.
15. Hyde, Mormonism, Its Leaders and Designs, 246.
16. Cake, Peepstone Joe and the Peck Manuscript, 20 (emphasis added).
17. Hyde, Mormonism, Its Leaders and Designs, 243, 247.
18. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 251.
19. Bartlett, Mormons or Latter-day Saints, 6.
20. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 253-54.
21. Ibid., 254; Bennett, History of the Saints, 75.
22. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 256.
23. Ibid.; Bennett, History of the Saints, 76.
24. Ibid., 263.
26. Ibid., 264.
27. Ibid., 265.
28. Ibid., 265-66.
29. Thomas Gregg, The Prophet of Palmyra (New York: Alden, 1890), 9.
30. "Mormons," Knowledge, A Weekly Magazine 1/9 (2 August 1890): 175-76.
31. Hyde, Mormonism, Its Leaders and Designs, 250.
32. Charles A. Shook, The True Origin of Mormon Polygamy (Mendota, IL: W.A.C.P. Association, 1910), 28-40.
34. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 95-98.
35. Ibid., 231.
36. Orvilla S. Belisle, Mormonism Unveiled: A History of Mormonism from Its Rise to the Present Time (London: Clark, 1855), 18.
37. Ruth Kauffman and Reginald W. Kauffman, The Latter-Day Saints: A Study of the Mormons in the Light of Economic Conditions (London: Williams and Norgate, 1912), 23.
38. Walter R. Martin, The Rise of the Cults (An Introductory Guide to the Non-Christian Cults) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1955), 50.
39. Bennett, History of the Saints, 83; Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 266.
40. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 267; Bennett, History of the Saints, 83.
41. Nancy Towle, Vicissitudes Illustrated, in the Experience of Nancy Towle, in Europe and America (Charleston: Burges, 1832), 164.
42. Ibid., 185.
43. Ibid., 229.
44. Ibid., 16.
45. Ibid., 17; cf. 33, 57, 170-71, 185, 212, etc.
46. Towle, Vicissitudes Illustrated, 142.
48. Ibid., 143.
49. James H. Hunt, Mormonism (St. Louis: Ustick and Davies, 1844), 125.
50. Ibid., 121-25.
51. Ibid., 125.
52. Ibid., iv.
53. Bennett, History of the Saints, 84; Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 268.
54. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 268.
55. Ibid., 269.
56. "The Yankee Mahomet," American Whig Review 7 (June 1851): 559 (emphasis added).
57. Shook, True Origin of Mormon Polygamy, 25.
59. Shook, True Origin of Mormon Polygamy, 29.
60. Ibid., 23; Mrs. Dr. Horace Eaton, "Speech Delivered May 27, 1881," in Handbook of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Handbook, 1882), 1.
61. Shook, True Origin of Mormon Polygamy, 23-24; Eaton, "Speech," in Handbook on Mormonism, 1.
62. J. E. Mahaffey, Found at Last! 'Positive Proof' That Mormonism Is a Fraud and the Book of Mormon a Fable (Augusta, GA: Chronicle Job Office, 1902), 6.
63. Hunt, Mormonism, 5.
64. T. B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons (New York: Appleton, 1873), 14.
65. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History (New York: Knopf, 1947), 68.
66. Origen, Contra Celsum I, 1, 7, in PG 11:652, 668; cf. Hugh W. Nibley, "Early Accounts of Jesus' Childhood," Instructor 100 (January 1965): 35-37; reprinted in CWHN 4:1-9.
67. Samuel L. Clemens, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (New York: Saalfield, 1931), 305.
68. Francis Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America: The Book of Mormon, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Utah Printing, 1951), 1:386; 2:480.
69. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 427.
70. Dale L. Morgan, "The 'Peculiar People,' " Saturday Review 40 (28 December 1957): 9.
71. John Quincy Adams, The Birth of Mormonism (Boston: Gorham, 1916), 17-18.
72. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 427.
73. Kirkham, A New Witness for Christ in America, 1:389; 2:482.
74. [Useful research on the 1826 trial includes Marvin S. Hill, "Joseph Smith and the 1826 Trial: New Evidence and New Difficulties," BYU Studies 12 (Winter 1972): 223-33; and Gordon A. Madsen, "Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting," BYU Studies 30 (Spring 1990): 91-108.]
75. W. P. Strickland, The Autobiography of Peter Cartwright: The Backwoods Preacher (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1856), 341-42.
76. Ibid., 342.
77. Ibid., 345.
78. Ibid., 346.
80. Bartlett, Mormons or Latter-day Saints, 5.
81. Charles McKay, The Mormons; Or, Latter-Day Saints, with Memoirs of the Life and Death of Joseph Smith, the "American Mahomet" (London: Office of the National Illustrated Library, 1852), 127.
82. Ibid., 129.
83. J. C. O'Hanlon, Life and Scenery in Missouri (Dublin: Duffy, 1890), 122.
84. Lily Dougall, The Mormon Prophet (London: Richards, 1899), viii-ix.
85. History of Tazewell County, Illinois (Chicago: Chapman, 1879), 107.
86. Edmund Flagg, The Far West, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1838), 2:84.
87. Missouri Republican, 3 May 1839
88. See subheading, "Assassination of Ex Governor Boggs of Missouri," Quincy Whig, 21 May 1842.
90. William and Mary Howitt, eds., Howitt's Journal (London: Lovett, 1847), 158.
91. "Yankee Mahomet," 556.
92. Evarts B. Greene and Charles M. Thompson, eds., Illinois State Historical Society Publications Governors' Letter-books, 1840-1853, 2 vols. (Springfield, IL: Illinois State Historical Library, 1911), lxxviii.