"Sidney Rigdon: Early Mormon"
(University of Chicago, 1931)
Note: Copies of Mr. Chase's dissertation exist in both pica type format and elite
type format --- the two varieties of the dissertation have different pagination. The
following transcript generally reproduces the elite type version of the text.
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
SIDNEY RIGDON -- EARLY MORMON
SUBMITTED TO THE GRADUATE FACULTY
IN CANDIDACY FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
DEPARTMENT OF CHURCH HISTORY
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I Sidney Rigdon -- The Baptist Preacher
CHAPTER II Sidney Rigdon -- The "Campbellite" Preacher
CHAPTER III Sidney Rigdon and the Origin of the Book of Mormon
CHAPTER IV Sidney Rigdon -- A Mormon Leader
(The Kirtland Period, 1831-1838)
CHAPTER V Sidney Rigdon -- The Mormon Preacher
(Missouri Period, 1838)
CHAPTER VI Sidney Rigdon -- The Postmaster
(Nauvoo Period, 1839-1844)
CHAPTER VII Sidney Rigdon -- Mormon Excommunicant
CHAPTER VIII Sidney Rigdon -- Mormon Schismatic
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Judged by the general standards of intellectual and character measurements, Sidney Rigdon was not a great man. Beyond any question of doubt he was "flighty," very emotional and mentally unstable. From the evidence at hand it appears that at various intervals he suffered temporarily from insanity. However, he was an active man, an orator of no mean ability, acquainted with the contents of the Bible, and for years he was considered a man of importance by many people.
At most every important period in Rigdon's life one is met with a mass of controversial literature which makes it difficult to determine where he stood on some of the important issues. Moreover, one is handicapped in a study of his activities by the fact that he is still considered an apostate by three different churches; and because of this the various church historians have been tempted to minimize his work while he was a member of their particular group and at the same time sharply criticise some of his actions. Rigdon was a public speaker, but he was not a writer. Thus, the greater part of the material that has been preserved concerning him has come from the pens of those who were hostile toward him or, at least, not sympathetic with his life in general.
But in spite of his humble position in American Church History, and the difficulties in obtaining the facts, Sidney Rigdon is a character worthy of attention. During his
lifetime he was a preacher in the Baptist church; later he was closely associated with the founding of three American churches, two of which are powerful bodies at the present time. He was one of Alexander Campbell's most capable lieutenants; and perhaps no single man wielded so much influence upon Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet...
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Rigdon was more than an active believer in Mormon claims of supernaturalism; he had visions, performed healongs, and interpreted tongues. In short, he was a "Prophet, Seer and Revelator" of the "Church of Jesus of Latter Day Saints." One cannot hope to understand Rigdon or any other Mormon leader, whether past or contemporary, if one ignores the multiplicity of divine claims set forth by the Mormon Church.
Like many another, Rigdon sacrificed and suffered much for the Mormon cause. I believe that in most cases he acted with sincerity, yet here and there he behaved in such a manner as to create doubt in the reader's mind.
Where I have referred to his supernatural claims or to those set forth by his colleagues, I have made no attempt to argue the point or offer a possible explanation. To Rigdon and his followers they were realities, just as they are still accepted as historical realities by the devout Mormon.
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The Rigdons of Europe have been mainly "stay-at-home-people," and the branch that found its way to America in early pre-Revolutionary days has not proved to be prolific. One seldom finds the name in a modern directory; American genealogical records throw little light upon the past activities of the family; and it is seldom one sever sees the name appear in any type or [page] of literature.
Sidney Rigdon was the youngest son of William and Nancy Rigdon. On the paternal side he was of English extraction; his maternal ancestors came from Scotland and Ireland. His father and mother followed the great tide of western migration which resulted from the distressing economic conditions after the American Revolution. They settled at Piny Fork, Peter's Creek, St. Clair Township, Alleghany County, Pennsylvania. Sidney, their third son, was born at Piny Fork, February 19, 1793. Thus, Sidney Rigdon, who was born in the "way out west" of the late Eighteenth century, was a late contemporary of America's first president, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and most of the men who assembled at the Constitutional Convention.
Rigdon lived to see America fight her second war with England, wrest an Empire from Mexico, and then go through the desperate struggle of a savage civil war. He lived on through
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[ 18 -- 21 pica version ]
After Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander withdrew from the Presbyterian Church in 1811 they formed the "Brush Run Church" which was a free lance organization until 1813 at which date they united with the Redstone Baptist Association. The Brush Run Church had not been anxious for this union, but when some of the Baptists learned that the apostate Presbyterians, under the leadership of the Campbells, had declared themselves for immersion, they urged them to join the Redstone Association in spite of the fact that both parties were not fully agreed on the purpose and efficacy of baptism and the Lord's Supper. However insistent and genuine the invitation might have been, it was not general throughout the Association.
There were Baptists who never extended to him (Campbell) the hand of fellowship. They regarded him as a religious innovator and adventurer, without responsibility or conscience, who had no other purpose than to build up a new sect upon the ruins of the Baptist denomination. Charges of inconsistency and dishonesty were freely lodged against him, for occupying what was thought to be an equivocal position, namely, maintaining outward fellowship
with the body of people with whom he was not in full agreement. Alexander Campbell's standing among Baptists had been in doubt from the moment of his union with them. He made no secret of his disagreement with many Baptist opinions and practices. He hoped to be able, however, to lead them as a people upon "higher ground," as he termed it. He did not reckon sufficently with the intensity of their convictions of the firmness of their persuasion that they were nearer right than any other people. 1
In brief, although Alexander Campbell was recognized by the Baptists as one of their most capable leaders, having been chosen by them to defend their principles in public debates against Walker (1820) and McCalla (1823), yet they saw the consequences of his liberal teaching and became determined to oust him from the Redstone Association in 1823. But it appears that Campbell was more determined to remain within the Baptist church than he had been to enter their fold at the beginning. Learning in advance that his opponents were preparing a charge of heresy against him which would be presented at the annual meeting in 1823, he immediately proposed to the Brush Run Church to give him and others letters of honourable dismissal from the Brush Run Church. This was done, and he and his friends then proceeded to form a church in Wellsburg. In the meantime the Wellsburg church applied for admission into the Mahoning Association in Ohio, and was accordingly accepted. 2
Neither Thomas Campbell nor his son desired to create another religious sect. They claimed that "all had the right to differ but not to divide. They remained within the Mahoning Association until 1830 when due to activities of the "Reformer" preachers the Association dissolved and practically its entire membership united in forming the Disciples Church.
In order to understand how Campbell could change his membership from the Redstone Association where action was under way to drop him and his associates, and go directly into the Mahoning Association where he was welcomed without his taking a new stand or recanting his past views, requires a brief explanation.
1. [Errett] Gates, [Early Relation and Separation of] Baptists and Disciples, p. 51.
2. Moore, History of the Disciples, p. 163.
Associations among the Baptists are voluntary unions of churches, for mutual encouragement, for counsel in church affairs, and for protection against heresy and impostors. Each church is entitled to three representative messengers, who bring with them a written statement of its creed. If this document is orthodox, or in harmony with its accepted standards of faith, the church is received by a plurality vote, upon which the moderator gives the right hand of fellowship to its messengers, and bids them to a seat. 1
The Mahoning Association had been formed in 1820. From the very beginning it had been far more tolerant than its ecclesiastical ancestry, the Redstone and the Wooster Associations. The Redstone Association had accepted the Philadelphia Confession among "its accepted standards of faith" which was decidedly Calvinistic in tone. There was an absence of this in the Mahoning Association, thus Campbell could say in behalf of himself and his followers when their opponents in the Baptist church asked them:
I have no faith in the Divine right of Associations; yet, to shield me from such far-off and underhand attacks... I and the church with which I am connected are in "full communion" with the Mahoning Baptist Association, Ohio; and, through them, with the whole Baptist society in the United States; and I do intend to continue in connexion with this people so long as they will permit me to say what I believe, to teach what I am assured of, and to censure what is amiss in their views or practices. I have no idea of adding to the catalogue of new sects. 2
Perhaps no other Baptist Association in America would have accepted the "statement of belief" which was presented to the Mahoning Association in 1824 by the "messengers" from the Wellsburg church. But the Mahoning Association received the messengers for the following reasons: (First) From the date of its formation in 1820 it had been very liberal. (Second) The Walker and McCalla debates had established a friendly relationship between some of the Baptists of that district and the opinions of Mr. Campbell. (Third) As a result of the Walker debate, Adamson Bentley and Sidney Rigdon, two preachers of the Association had made a journey to Mr. Campbell's home and during a long interview with him they learned his views on the "Restoration of the
1. Hayden, History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, pp. 25, 31.
2. Christian Baptist, Jan. 17, 1826; also, Gates, op. cit. p. 51.
Ancient Order of Things" and in the words of Campbell, "in the course of a single year prepared their whole Association to hear us with earnestness and candor." 1 (Fourth) Bentley and Rigdon invited Campbell to attend various "ministers' meetings." Campbell has written that "These meetings were not appreciated too highly, as the sequel developed, inasmuch as they disabused the minds of the Baptist ministry in the Mahoning Association of much prejudice, and prepared the way for a great change of views and practice all over the 3,000,000 acres of the nine counties which constitute the Western Reserve. 2
Beyond any question of doubt, Rigdon and his brother-in-law, Bentley, were the men who prepared the way for Campbell in the Mahoning Association. As we have stated in the last chapter, Rigdon was called to take charge of the First Baptist Church in Pittsburg in 1822 where he remained until his preaching was checked by the Redstone Association in 1824. At which time it seems that his little group and another small communion led by Walter Scott united and began teaching the "Ancient order of things" outside the fold of the Baptist church. This same association would have ousted Alexander Campbell and his Brush Run Church in 1823 if he had not withdrawn their membership.
Rigdon's relatives in a sworn statement have recorded that after his withdrawal from the Baptist Association in Pittsburg he "began to preach Campbellism, and he and they that joined with him got the liberty of the court house and there they held their meetings... (In) the winter of 1827-28 3 moved into the Western Reserve in Ohio and there continued to preach till the Latter Day Saints came to that part of the country." 4
1. Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, p. 45.
2. Ibid., p. 46.
3. He apparently attended the annual Mahoning Association meetings. (See p. 27).
4. Journal of History, III, No. 1, 4.
Until 1823, when the [Christian Baptist] was published, Campbell's distinctive views were not widely known. Among many of the Western Baptists he had been looked upon as their champion as a result of his Walker and McCalla debates. But, as we have seen, in the case of Bentley and Rigdon, he had friends who were well acquainted with his views which he had taught to their respective congregations as early as 1821. However, as late as 1825, there were only three churches that had accepted his "Restoration" ideas sufficiently to be looked upon as in agreement with the other liberal Baptist churches. These three were the Brush Run, Wellsburg, and Pittsburg churches. 1 Campbell had been personally responsible for the change in the first two; but his lieutenant, Sidney Rigdon, who had been called to Pittsburg in 1822 through the influence of Campbell must have been the main factor in bringing about the change in the latter place, even though Disciple historians are strangely, but uniformly silent on the subject, or else guide the reader's attention to Walter Scott, the school teacher who first met Campbell in 1821. 2 At that time Scott was but twenty-three and unmarried; Rigdon was a family man ten years his senior and had been an active preacher for several years. If Rigdon had not been the prime mover in the direction of change he would not have found himself so far out of harmony with the Association that it was necessary for him to withdraw in 1824.
It is difficult to rescue Rigdon's early work in the "Campbellite" movement and give him credit for that which he justly deserves. Before historians began to write books on the early leaders of the "Restoration," Rigdon had apostatized. Those who knew him best either ignored his contributions because of their hostility toward him or they crdited it to his early associates who "endured until the end." But when Hayden wrote his History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, a book that contains
1. Grafton, Life of of Alexander Campbell, p. 117.
2. Baxter, Life of Walter Scott, p. 64.
many short biographies of the early leaders of "The Restoration," and also numerous sketches of the beginnings of various "Campbellite" churches, it was well nigh impossible to ignore the name of Sidney Rigdon. As we have noted, Rigdon and Bentley had introduced the teachings of Campbell to the people of the Western Reserve in 1821 and actually prepared the way for his entrance into the Mahoning Association. After Rigdon returned to the Western Reserve in 1826 he was invited to preach a funeral sermon at Mentor. His eloquence so impressed the people that he was urged to become their pastor. He accepted their invitation, but as the following excerpts from Hayden's book well indicate, he did not limit his activity to that village:
P. 34 In August, 1826, the Mahoning Baptist Association was held in Canfield, then in Trumbull County... Adamson Bentley was the moderator, and Joab Gaskill, clerk. Among the ministers in attendance were A. Bentley; Thomas Campbell and Alexander Campbell, of Virginia; Walter Scott, of Pittsburgh; Sidney Rigdon, etc. P. 35 (The following day) The Congregational meeting-house... was procured for Sunday...Rigdon and Scott preached in the morning. Some having heard the eloquent preacher from Pittsburgh, left the meeting, supposing they had heard Mr. Campbell, whose name had already become famous. P. 56 Besides these accredited messengers 9for the 1827 Association meeting), the following preachers were present, who, by a resolution of the association, were invited to a seat in its counsels: Walter Scott, Samuel Holmes, William West, and Sidney Rigdon. P. 57 The preachers present composing this committee, were the following: A. Bentley... A. Campbell... Walter Scott... Sidney Rigdon, P. 92 There were three brothers, Thomas, John, and Charles, all Baptist ministers... They were cousins of the famous Sidney Rigdon. (Thomas served a term in the Ohio State Legislature)... March 4th (1820)... Sidney Rigdon was received into membership, and licensed April 1st, to preach.... after two years moved to Pittsburgh. P. 191 (the death of) Warner Goodall, (of Mentor), in June, 1826, was the occassion of calling Sidney Rigdon, then residing in Bainbridge, to preach his funeral sermon. The church called Rigdon as its pastor in the fall of that year... Sidney Rigdon was an orator of no inconsiderable abilities. P. 198 in the great religious awakening in Mentor, under Bentley and Rigdon, the amiable M. S. Clapp was the first to yield. P. 204 Rigdon coming in about that time (to Waite Hill) ... by his earnest and animating appeals, several were baptized. P. 238 Sidney Rigdon was their (the Mantua Church) stated, though not constant, minister. P. 239 Soon after this, the great Mormon defection came on us. Sidney Rigdon preached for us, (Mantua) and notwithstanding his extravagantly wild freaks, he was held in high repute by many. P. 240 In the admiration of Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Snow and his family shared very largely. P. 249 Sidney Rigdon, a preacher among the Disciples, of great eloquence and power, had joined them, and commenced preaching their doctrine P. 306 in the great reformatory movement under Bentley and Rigdon, in 1828, he (Isaac Lee) saw the great difference between Christianity as a unity, as contained in the Holy Scriptures, and an organized "branch" of the church P. 334 Late in the spring of 1828, Thomas Campbell
and Sidney Rigdon had preached a few discourses in Shalersville, taught the people the way of life, and baptized two young men. P. 346-7 The church of Christ in Perry was organized by S. Rigdon, August 7, 1829... The exclusion of Parmly hastened matters to a crisis. Rigdon soon was there, and a church was formed, bringing into it a large number of the Baptist members, etc. P. 465 Birmingham, Erie Co. -- Began in 1829, by Clapp and Rigdon, etc. P. 467 Elyria, Lorain Co. -- It began in the tour of Clapp and Rigdon in 1829. P. 468 [Hamden, Geauga Co.] -- This church originated in the labors of Rigdon and Collins. P. 163 Among the seniors were Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander, Adamson Bentley, and Sidney Rigdon with Walter Scott, to whom multitudes of the young disciples looked with the affection of children to a spiritual father. P. 191-2, Sidney Rigdon was an orator of no inconsiderable abilities. In person, he was full medium height, rotund in form; of countenance, while speaking, open and winning, with a cast of melancholy. His action was graceful, his language copious, fluent in utterance, with articulation clear and musical. Yet he was an enthusiast, and unstable. His personal influence with an audience was very great, [deleted text: but many, with talents far inferior, surpassed him in judgment and permanent power with the people.] He was just the man for an awakening. He was an early reader of the Christian Baptist, and admiring its strong and progressive teaching, he circulated the paper, and brought out its views in his sermons. Whatever may be justly said of him after he had surrendered himself a victim and a leader of the Mormon delusion, it would scarcely be just to deny sincerity and candor to him, previous to that time when his bright star became permanently eclipsed under that dark cloud. (In the following incidents the reader feels that Hayden is giving a faithful picture of Rigdon "in action"). P. 409 Soon afterwards, meeting Rigdon in Mentor, she (Mrs. Dille of Euclid) related the conversation to him. He remarked: "I will go up and take their deacons from them." In the autumn of 1829, he came, preached a few days, and baptized (nine).... Rigdon, taking Luther Dille's hand, said: "Will you not go with these young converts and take care of them?" "I will." This was his change; a happy one to him, and blessed to hundreds, etc. P. 174 The work in Bro. Scott's hands had prospered so far beyond expectation, that only one feeling prevailed on the question of re-appointing him... (after discussing the arguments pro and con he continues)... Rigdon, who had taken no part in this discussion, becoming weary of it, said: "You are consuming too much time on this question. One of the old Jerusalem preachers would start out with his hunting shirt and moccasins, and convert half the world while you are discussing and settling plans!" Upon this, Bro. Scott arose with a genial smile, and remarked: "Brethren, give me my Bible, my Head, and Bro. William Hayden, and we will go out and convert the world." Then Rigdon, "I move that we give Bro. Scott his Bible, his Head, and Bro. William Hayden." It was settled in a few moments, as Rigdon's resolution was seconded and passed unanimously. 1
It is quite evident from the above excerpts that Rigdon was active in the movement headed by Campbell. His eloquence went further than merely creating religious unrest; he organized churches and baptized many people. The Christian Baptist states that "Bishops Scott, Rigdon, and Bentley, in Ohio, within the last six months have immersed about 800 persons." 2 Joseph Smith's account of Rigdon's success during this period of his life is quite flattering:
1. The above selections from Hayden's book are very significant on view of the fact that the book betrays a severe hostility towards him in many places.
2. See Vol. 47, p. 263; quoted by Gates, p. 65.
He (Rigdon) commenced to baptize, and like John of old, there flocked to him people from all the region round about... [deleted text: persons of all ranks and standings in society -- the rich, the poor, and noble and the brave, flocked to be baptized of him. Nor was this desire confined to individuals, or families, but] whole societies threw away their creeds and articles of faith, and became obedient to the faith he promulgated... [deleted text: and he soon had large and flourishing societies throughout that whole region of country.] He [now] was a welcome visitor wherever he travelled -- his society was courted by the learned, and intelligent, and the highest encomiums were bestowed upon him for his biblical lore, and his eloquence. The work of the ministry engaged all his time and attention... [deleted text: he felt deeply for the salvation of his fellow man, and for the attainment of which, he labored with unceasing dilligence. -- During this state of unexampled success] the prospect of wealth and affluence was fairly open before him; but he looked upon it with indifference... [deleted text: and made every thing subservient to the promotion of correct principles: and having food and raiment, he learned therewith to be content. As a proof of this, his family were in no better circumstances, and made no greater appearance in the world, than when he labored at the occupation of tanning] His family consisted of his wife and six children, and lived in a very small, unfinished frame house, hardly capable of making a family comfortable... [deleted text: which affords a clear proof that his affections were not set upon things of a worldly nature, or secular aggrandizement] After he labored in that vicinity (Mentor, for) some time, and having received but little pecuniary aid, the members of the church which he had built up, held a meeting to take his circumstances into consideration... [deleted text: and provide for his wants] and place him in a situation suitable to the high and important office which he sustained in the church... [deleted text: They resolved upon erecting him a suitable residence, where he could make his family comfortable, and accommodate his numerous friends, who visited him. A committee was appointed to make a purchase of land, and to erect such buildings as were necessary] The committee soon made a purchase of a farm... [deleted text: in a beautiful situation in that township] made contracts for erecting a suitable dwelling house, stable, [barns] etc., and soon made a commencement on the house, and had a quantity of the building materials on the spot. 1
At this late date it is impossible to say how wide spread were the activities of Rigdon or how important were his contributions to the "Campbellite" cause; but at the time when the following statements were made they were very likely not far from the truth:
There was at the time of his separation from that church (at Pittsburg) a gentleman of the name of Alexander Campbell... [deleted text: who was formerly from Ireland, and who has since obtained considerable notoriety in the religious world, who was then a member of the same association, and who afterwards separated from it] There was also another gentleman, by the name of Walter Scott... [deleted text: a Scotchman by birth, who was a member of the Scandinavian [sic] Church, in that city, and] who separated from the same about that time... [deleted text: Prior to these separations, Mr. Campbell resided in Bethany, Brook county, Virginia, where he published a monthly periodical, called the "Christian Baptist." After they had separated from the different churches] these gentlemen were on terms of the greatest friendship, and frequently met together to discuss the subject of religion; being yet undetermined respecting the principles of the doctrine of Christ... [deleted text: or what course to pursue. However, from this connexion sprung up a new church in the world, known by the name of "Campbellites," they call themselve[s] "Disciples."] The reason why they were called Campbellites, was, in consequence of Mr. Campbells' publishing the periodical above mentioned (Christian Baptist), and it being the means through which they communicated their sentiments to the world; other than this, Mr. Campbell was no more the originator of that sect than Elder Rigdon. 2
Rigdon is reported as having once said, "I have done as much in this reformation as Campbell or Scott. and yet they get all the honor of it" 3
The above claims do not appear like wild exaggerations when one remembers that Rigdon, according to his opponent's statements, was "an orator of no inconsiderable abilities... sincere... and just the man for an awakening." 4 The following brief recapitulation of his activities and associations in the "Reformation" movement further his claims which are
1. Journal of History, III, No. 1, 12.
2. Ibid., No. 1, p. 8.
3. Hayden, op. cit., p. 299.
4. Ibid., p. 192.
generally ignored: (First) Rigdon and his brother-in-law, Bentley, were the first to introduce Campbell's teachings in the Mahoning Association; and by inviting him to attend the ministers' meetings, removed the prejudice which many of the Baptist preachers had against him. 1 (Second) Rigdon was on intimate terms with both Alexander Campbell and his father, Thomas Campbell. It was through Alexander Campbell's influence that Rigdon was induced to leave Ohio and accept a call, in 1822, to the First Baptist Church of Pittsburg. 2 In 1823, Rigdon made a journey of three hundred miles with A. Campbell into Kentucky where the famous debate was held with McCalla. The publication of this debate was made from the notes which had been kept by Rigdon and A. Campbell. 3 (Third) Through combining with a small group that was led by Walter Scott, Rigdon's followers in Pittsburg constituted the third church to declare itself for the "Reformation" ideas begun by Campbell. The other two were under the direct attention of Mr. Campbell, i. e., the Wellsburg and Brush Run churches. 4 (Fourth) Rigdon was a recognized leader at all the Mahoning Association meetings from the time Campbell entered the Association until he (Rigdon) joined the Mormons. 5 (Fifth) In general, Rigdon was on intimate terms with Walter Scott, Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell, and Adamson Bentley, the recognized leaders of the so-called "Reformation Movement." In training and scholarship he was at least equal to Bentley; in the type of native eloquence that was so effective among the frontier churches, he may have had no superior in the entire group.
1. Campbell, Memoirs, pp. 44-46.
2. Ibid., p. 47; Jennings, Origin and Early History of Disciples of Christ pp. 157-58.
3. Campbell, Memoirs, pp. 71, 95.
4. Grafton, op. cit., pp. 105, 117.
5. Hayden, op. cit., pp. 24, 35, 57, 163, 174, etc. Campbell, Memoirs, pp. 173-74. "Rigdon was invited as usual" to take a seat at the Association meeting.
The various articles and chapters in books and periodicals that have been written to explain Rigdon's sudden conversion to Mormonism would fill volumes. In the light of his busy life aming the "Reformers" it is preposterous to say that he was conniving with Joseph Smith during this period in the State of New York. However, a chapter will discuss the question in detail. The truth of the matter was, that in the mind of Rigdon, and many other "Reformers" Mormonism was the logical and scriptural step to take.
The people had become tired of theological arguments that revolved around the names of Calvin and Arminius. Campbell had declared himself to be against formal creeds. At an early date Thomas Campbell had said "Where the Bible speaks we speak and where the Bible is silent we are silent." Campbell and his preachers were not asking the questions, "Do you believe that salvation is free and unmerited," or "Do you believe that Christ tasted death for every man," or "Do you believe that you are totally depraved and utterly helpless to turn to God without His previous power?" They merely asked the listener, "Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ," if so "Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins." 1 Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins was a new teaching even to most Baptists. Campbell claimed that the Christian world had drifted far from the teaching of the New Testament. He stood for a "Restoration" of the Ancient "Order of things," and by using the New Testament as a guide to bring about the "Restoration" or "Reformation" he hoped to unite Christendom. Whatever his aims, he did not dissolve sectarianism, but founded another sect in 1830 which became known as the "Disciples."
The movement, as we have seen, was chiefly among the Baptists. Moreover, the "Reformation" ideas spread most rapidly among the groups which carried the heritage of the Separate Baptists. Gates has written that the "Reformers followed the line of cleavage that originally existed between
1. Gates, op. cit., 80-81.
Separates and Regulars." 1 From the earliest colonial period of the American Baptists, one can trace a strong element that was always attempting to restore the Early Apostolic Church. Roger Williams, the reputed founder of the American Baptists "Soon became disturbed as to his right to administer the ordinances of the church, conceiving that a true ministry must derive ots authority from apostolic succession and, therefore, he could not assume the office of pastor... He finally came to the conclusion that the church was so corrupt that there could be no recovery out of that apostasy rill Christ shall send forth new apostles to plant churches anew," 2 Shortly afterwards the "Six Point Baptists" arose which held for the "Laying on of Hands." During the revival of the Eighteenth century certain factions in Virginia sought to reproduce the apostolic customs of feet-washing, the holy kiss, the anointing of the sick, loce feasts, laying on of hands, and weekly communion. "They went so far as to appoint 'Apostles'... The first apostle to be chosen was Samuel Harriss. Two others were afterwards appointed, but the system was not liked by the people, and after fruitless attempts to put it in force, it was abandoned." 3
Thus it is evident, that when Campbell began pleading for a "Restoration" he was actually pleading for many things that had been dear to the hearts of the Separate Baptists, so quite naturally they flocked to his standard. Moreover, having no creed other than the New Testament, there was considerable freedom and diversity maintained by his various lieutenants and followers. It proved to be a difficult task for all to agree as to where the Bible "spoke" and where the Bible was "silent." Shortly after the
1. Gates, p. 79.
2. Sweet, The Story of Religions in America, p. 103.
3. Gates, op. cit., pp. 76-77; also, Semple, Virginia Baptists, pp. 81-82.
"Reformers broke away from the Baptist Association in Pittsburg, they began to restore the mutual exhortations of the Apostolic churches, and the Holy Kiss, which rent the church by debates and dissensions in the public meetings. At Cross Roads, Virginia, and elsewhere, the members thought it their privilege to "prophesy" in the meetings. In Kentucky the "Reformers" had trouble over the questions of the proper attitude of prayer, the hour for eating the Lord's Supper, the necessity of a loud amen to all public prayers, the number of deacons in a congregation, the holy kiss, etc. 1 In all of these extremes Campbell used tact and skill in interpreting for his followers what was "essential" and what was "non-essential" to "The Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things."
However, Campbell, and especially Scott, became convinced, shortly after hundreds began to declare themselves for the "Restoration," that the Millennium was soon to burst upon them as a natural result of united Christendom. Campbell discontinued the Christian Baptist in 1830 and began a new publication which he called The Millennial Harbinger. The items most emphatically stressed in the prospectus were the "Ancient Gospel and a Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things," and the Millennium. To epitomize his objectives he headed the prospectus with the passage of scripture that has been the best known and most quoted by Mormons: "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give the glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of water." 2
1. Gates, op. cit., p. 75; also, George Q. Cannon, Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet, pp. 391-92.
2. [Rev.] 14:6-7.
Scott never seemed to tire of talking on the subject of the Millenium, 1 yet at the same time he never neglected to stress the "First principles," namely, faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, and gift of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes he would stop children on their way from school, get them to raise their hands, and then count the five principles on their fingers, urging them to run home and repeat them to their parents and invite them to come out to the evening meeting. 2
Rigdon seems also to have been greatly interested in the subject of the Millennium. One writer says, "Rigdon, who always caught and proclaimed the last word that fell from the lips of Scott or Campbell, seized these views, and with all the wildness of his extravagant nature, heralded them everywhere." 3 Rigdon also became a champion for the restoration of Christian communism. Shortly before he joined the Mormons he had a "passage of arms with Mr. Campbell." This was "about two months previous to the fall of that star (Rigdon) from heaven... He introduced an argument to show that our pretension to follow the apostles in all their New Testament teachings, required a community of goods; that as they established this order in the model church at Jerusalem, we were bound to imitate their example." 4 I feel that Rigdon was not so much influenced by the Rappites, Shakers, or the followers of Owen at New Harmony, as he was by the idea of literally "Restoring" primitive Christianity. In this particular point he believed that the Bible spoke, and Campbell thought it was silent so far as modern Christianity was concerned.
2. Baxter, Life of Scott, 218-19.
31 [38 pica version]
When Rigdon entered the Mormon church he did not need to discard his "Campbellite" theology. He could even retain the same phraseology and arguments that he had been accustomed to using. The Mormons were teaching faith, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. 1 The "Restoration of the Ancient Gospel" was the message of the first Mormon missionaries and has continued to be the cardinal teaching of all the thousands 2 of Mormon missionaries that have journeyed about the world since that time. By accepting Mormonism Rigdon got rid of the restraining hand of Alexander Campbell; 3 he could move about with greater freedom of speech for the Mormons did not limit their "Restoration" ideas to the New Testament as had been the case with Campbell. Rigdon was always a great admirer of the Old Testament and the ancient prophecies. 4 But the logical step which Rigdon took from "Campbellism" 5 to Mormonism, properly comes under the heading of "Rigdon's conversion to and activity in the Mormon Church." This shall be treated in chapter four.
1. The Mormons insisted on the "laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost."
2. At present the Mormons have sent out approximately 60,000 missionaries.
3. Rigdon soon found that Joseph Smith would restrain him at certain points.
4. In referring to this period of Rigdon's life, Joseph Smith has written that "Not only did the writings of thr New Testament occupy his attention, but occasionally those of the ancient prophecies, particularly those prophecies which had reference to the present and to the future, were brought up to review and treated in a manner entirely new and deeply interesting." Journal of History, III, No. 1, 11.
5. At this early period the "Back to the Bible Movement" was not known by any particular name. It was called by such titles as "The original gospel," "the primitive gospel," "the pentecostian gospel," "the Jerusalem gospel," and other titles as Campbellism" and at times "Rigdonism." Baxter, Life of Scott, p. 290.
[ 39 pica version ]
If Rigdon had anything to do with either the writing or the publication of the Book of Mormon, then one must interpret the major activities of his life from at least a year or more before the Book of Mormon was published (1830) down to the end of his life (1873) in an entirely different manner than the writer has interpreted them. Up to this point the activities of Rigdon on the Western Reserve and elsewhere have been treated by the writer as though he knew nothing about Joseph Smith and his claims of divine communication. Moreover, the chapters which follow will continue with the same premise. Therefore, this long digression to discuss the various theories
concerning the origin of the Book of Mormon is necessary; for in the main, the remaining chapters will be worthless if the writer has erred on this point by not following the majority of writers who have directed their attention to this subject in the past. If Rigdon did assist in bringing forth the book he was one of the most cunning and deceitful liars of the nineteenth century. If he did not assist in any way to bring the Book of Mormon into existence then one must admit that the major part of all that has been written concerning Rigdon's association with the Mormon Church is worthless. Furthermore, if Rigdon did not deceive his friends in this particular, then at least the greater part of all the books from non-Mormon authors are of little or no value wherein they attempt to give an account of the origin of the Mormon Church, for most of them attempt to trace its origin either directly or indirectly to Sidney Rigdon, the Campbellite preacher.
Without attempting to prove just how the Book of Mormon came into existence, let us note the three theories which the reader is certain to find as he begins to examine the books on Mormonism that are to be found in the public library:
The Mormon claim has always been that Joseph Smith translated the record from some ancient gold plates which had been buried near Palmyra, New York, about the year A. D. 421. Moroni, the last recorder of the plates and the one who buried them, appeared to Joseph Smith as a resurrected personage and directed him to the place where the record lay. This occurred on September 22, 1823. On the same occasion he was shown the
"Urim and Thummim," a sacred instrument which was to be used by Joseph Smith to translate the ancient record into the English language. 1 Four years later, to the very day (September 22, 1827), Joseph Smith was given the plates and the instrument by the aid of which he was to translate the record. By the latter part of the year 1829 the record was translated and ready for the printer. 2 The gold plates were then shown to several witnesses who recorded their testimony that Joseph Smith was in possession of such plates. 3 After the translation was finished the sacred plates were returned to the angel Moroni. The following brief excerpts is from the pen of Joseph Smith giving his account of the origin of the Book of Mormon:
On the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, (1823) after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me that I might know of my state and standing__________
1 The translation was also done with aid of a "Seer Stone," a chocolate colored stone which Joseph and Hyrum Smith found while digging a well. See Robert's New Witnesses for God, II, 107-108.
2 The book was finished sometime between June and August 1829 and was published in March 1830. During the period of translation Joseph Smith had several different persons assist him as scribes from time to time. His wife, Emma, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and members of the Whitmer family served as amanuenses. Perhaps most of the translation was done within a period of six months. Ibid., pp. 104-122; also, Riley, The Founder of Mormonism, p. 388.
3 Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith. The foregoing persons are known as the official witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Their names and written testimonies to the effect that Joseph Smith had gold plates, etc., are found in the Preface to every Book of Mormon. It is believed by Mormons that several other persons also saw the plates. See Roberts, op. cit., pp. 312-17.
before Him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one. 1 While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open so that I could see into his bosom. Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person.__________
1 Joseph Smith claimed to have had one vision prior to the one on September 21, 1823, when Moroni told him about the gold plates and showed them to him in vision. His first vision was in the spring of 1820 when he was fifteen years of age. This came in answer to his prayer in quest of which of all the churches was the true church; he claimed that on that occasion, after a struggle with the devil, he saw God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. On that occasion Jesus told him to join none of the churches "for their creeds are an abomination in My sight." (See L.D.S. Church History, I, 5-6.)
to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates, the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited, and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it. 1
A theory which has been advanced from time to time from non-Mormon sources to account for the origin of the Book of Mormon is that Joseph Smith wrote it himself without the aid of divine revelation or the assistance of any human accomplice; and then foisted it upon the uncultured and miraculous-loving people of the American frontier of 1830. 2 This theory was first advanced in vigorous and rather abusive language by Alexander Campbell shortly after Rigdon and a large number of Campbell's followers joined the Mormons. He saw in Mormonism a danger to the young church which he was just getting under way. In his official publication, The Millennial Harbinger for February 10, 1831, we find him devoting several thousand words to the subject of delusions in general and Mormonism in particular. Part of what he wrote at that time follows:
I have just examined their (The Mormons) Bible... Admitting the Bible now received to have come from God, it is impossible that the Book of Mormon came from the same Author.... Smith, its real author, as ignorant and as impudent a__________
1 From L.D.S. Church History, I, 9-13. Joseph Smith claimed that he went to the hill and unearthed the gold plates the day following the first visitation of Moroni, but he was not permitted to take them home until his fourth annual visit to the place of their concealment, i.e., not until September 22, 1827.
2 The outstanding writers who have supported this view in one way or another are: Riley, in The Founder of Mormonism; Werner, in Brigham Young; Prince, in The American Journal of Psychology, XXVIII, 373-89; and Fairchild, in Western Reserve Historical Society, III, 187-200.
knave as ever wrote a book, betrays the cloven foot in basing his whole book upon a false fact, or a pretended fact, which makes God a liar... The God of Abraham or Joseph Smith must then be a liar!!... This ignorant and impudent liar, in the next place, makes the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, violate his covenants with Israel... One of the two (St. Paul or Joseph Smith) is a false prophet. Mormonites, take your choice!... I will sum up the whole of the internal evidences which I deem worthy of remark in the following details: -- The book professes to be written at intervals and by different persons during the long period of 1020 years. 1 And yet for uniformity of style, there never was a book more evidently written by one set of fingers, nor more certainly conceived in one cranium since the first book appeared in human language; than this same book. If I could swear to any man's voice, face, or person, assuming different names, I could swear that this book was written by one man. And as Joseph Smith is a very ignorant 2 man is called the author 3 on the title page I cannot doubt for a single moment but that he is the sole author and proprietor of it... It (the Book of Mormon) has not one good sentence in it, save the profanation of those sentences quoted from the Oracles of the living God. 4 I would as soon compare a bat to the American eagle, a mouse to a mammoth, or the deformities of a spectre to the beauty of Him whom John saw in Patmos, as to contrast it with a single chapter in all the writings of the Jewish or Christian prophets. It is as certainly Smith's fabrication as Satan is the father of lies, or darkness the offspring of night... "But Smith is the wonder of the world." So was the Apocalyptic beast! "An ignorant young man." That needs no proof. Gulliver's Travels is a heroic poem in comparison of this book of Smith. "But he cannot write a page." Neither could Mahomet, who gave forth the Alcoran. "Smith's an honest looking fellow." So was Simon Magus, the sorcerer. "But he__________
1 The Book of Mormon actually claims to go back to the time of the "confusion of tongues" when the tower of Babel was built.
2 Every underscored word in this paper indicates an italicized word as it appears in the original quotation.
3 Joseph Smith never claimed authorship to the book; however, his name was used for "The Author and Proprietor" in the first edition simply as a means of following the recognized phraseology in securing a copyright.
4 Large sections of the Book of Mormon are direct reflections of the King James Version or direct quotations. It contains twenty-three complete chapters from Isaiah. Sperry, The Text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, p. 78; Linn, The Story of the Mormons, pp. 96-97, for others.
was inspired." So was Judas, by Satan. 1
In the more recent years a few psychologists have held to the theory that Joseph Smith wrote the book, but they do not agree with Campbell and the advocates of his theory in their assertion that the Mormon Prophet did it deliberately with the idea of deceiving his associates. Riley asserts that Joseph Smith was a victim of epilepsy or some disturbance closely akin to it. His mental condition varied at times from that of a person mildly suffering from some mental disorder to an extreme condition wherein he was completely deranged. Riley also suggests that Joseph Smith had, coupled with epilepsy, tremendous powers of hypnotism which he unwittingly practiced upon his associates to the degree that he persuaded them that
1 It is important to note in connection with this early declaration made by Campbell that he does not have the least suspicion that Rigdon had anything to do with the origin of the Book of Mormon; he knew Rigdon well -- his style of writing and speaking and what he had been doing for the greater part of the decade between 1820-1830.
2 Western Reserve Historical Society, III, 187-200. In my opinion this is the best refutation of the Rigdon-Spaulding theory that has ever been given by a non-Mormon.
they saw heavenly visions, handled gold plates, and heard celestial voices. As I have suggested, the psychologists who have advanced the above theory are inclined to think that Joseph Smith was not always conscious of the fact when he created hypnotic hallucinations in the minds of his co-religionists; in fact, at times he was the victim of self-induced hypnosis. 1
However interesting or convincing the above theories may appear, neither is the one which the reader on Mormonism will most frequently meet. The Rigdon-Spaulding 2 theory is the most widespread and most generally accepted theory outside Mormon circles. The champions of this theory, and their name is legion, maintain that the Book of Mormon is simply the combination of a historical romance which was written by a Reverend Solomon Spaulding, and the King James Version of the Bible. It is claimed that Sidney Rigdon either stole, or read
1 Riley, op. cit., p. 195 - "His (J. Smith) self-induced states of hypnosis were synchronous with his youthful ill health;... his suggestive influence over others began soon after his quasi-epileptic seizures ceased." Prince, op. cit., p. 374 - "He (J. S.) was the sole author... the edifice of whose imagination echoed to reminiscences which he was far from recognizing." Riley, op. cit., pp. 69-70 - "The visionary seizures (of J. Smith) were not consequent on dementia, nor were they feigned. There is a truer and at the same time more charitable explanation, -- it is, in a word, that Joseph Smith, Junior, was an epileptic." Riley, op. cit., p. 84, in speaking of a short transcript of a portion of the Book of Mormon made by J. Smith says: "Young Smith doubtless believed in the supernatural origin of his transcript;... it was written under more or less unconscious conditions." Ibid., p. 86 - "As is elsewhere shown, Joseph's condition under the influence of his "Urim and Thummim" was semi-hypnotic."
2 In some of the books on Mormonism the name is spelled "Spalding."
the romance and remembered its contents, and then passed it on to Joseph Smith who, working in collusion with Rigdon and others, foisted it upon the public as a divine revelation. 1
The foundation of the Rigdon-Spaulding theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon was first presented to the public in 1834 in an anti-Mormon book called Mormonism Unvailed. This book was chiefly the work of a "Doctor Philastus Hurlbut;" but its authorship was credited to E. D. Howe, an anti-Mormon editor of the Painesville Telegraph. 2 Hurlbut was excommunicated from the Mormon Church in June 1833, for "unchristian conduct with women, while on a mission to the east." 3 Hurlbut became so enraged that he openly threatened the life of Joseph Smith. On April 9, 1834 he was "bound over, under two hundred dollar bonds, to keep the peace for six months, and pay the cost, which amounted to nearly three hundred dollars." The court order also included "That he be of good behavior to all the citizens of the state of Ohio generally, and to the said Joseph Smith, Jr., in particular." 4
Very likely all books are written with some definite purpose in view. In the case of Mormonism Unvailed, one does not have to go beyond the lengthy title page to determine
1 Some writers maintain Rigdon was merely the thief in the case, while others have suggested that the original manuscript was worked over by Rigdon before he gave it to J. Smith, thus explaining the great amount of religious matter in the Book of Mormon.
2 Pancoast, Mormons at Kirtland, p. 12.
3 Werner, op. cit., p. 59, bluntly puts it. "for adultery and attempted murder of the Prophet Joseph Smith."
4 L. D. S. Church History. I. 352-55.
what its authors had in mind. 1 Too frequently the writers on Mormonism in their eagerness to use "source materials" have overlooked the evident purpose in view by Howe and Hurlbut when they wrote their book; and unwittingly these later writers have incorporated into their books a large amount of material that properly comes under the caption of "Early Anti-Mormon Propaganda."
It is recorded in Mormonism Unvailed that when the early Mormon missionaries came through Northern Ohio preaching their strange message, the people in the neighborhood of Conneaut recognized the Book of Mormon to be none other than the revised story of a late Reverend Solomon Spaulding 2 who had
1 The full title is: Mormonism Unvailed: or A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion from Its Rise to the Present Time. With Sketches of The Characters of Its Propagators, and a Full Detail of the Manner in Which the Famous GOLDEN BIBLE was Brought Before the World, To Which Are Added, Inquiries into the Probability that the Historical Part of the Said Bible Was Written by One Solomon Spaulding, More Than Twenty Years Ago, And By Him Intended to Have Been Published as a Romance. By E. D. Howe, Painesville: Printed and Published by the Author, 1834.
2 Solomon Spaulding was born in Connecticut in 1761, graduated at Dartmouth College in 1785, was ordained to the ministry, and preached in New England a few years, taught an academy for a time in Cherry Valley, New York, or carried on mercantile business there and failed, and in 1809 removed to New Salem, now Conneaut, in Ohio, where in company with one Henry Lake he established an iron foundry. His business not prospering, he removed to Pittsburg, or its vicinity, in 1812, and a year or two later to Amity, Pennsylvania, where he died in 1816 at the age of fifty-five years. Spaulding had a literary tendency, and while living at Conneaut, he entertained himself with writing a story which purported to be an account of the original inhabitants of the country, their habits, customs and civilization, their migrations and their conflicts. From time to time, as his work went on, he would call in his neighbors and read to them portions of his manuscript, so that they became familiar with his understanding. He talked with some of them about publishing his book, in the hope of retrieving his fortunes financially; and this appears to have been his purpose when he removed to Pittsburg. There is evidence that he conferred with a printer at Pittsburg, by the name of Patterson, in reference to the publication, but the book never appeared. Fairchild, Manuscript of Solomon Spaulding and the Book of Mormon, p. 188.
written a historical romance about twenty years before that time, In his quest for anti-Mormon propaganda Hurlbut had little difficulty in getting eight persons 1 to sign their names to separate testimonials that they recognized the Book of Mormon to be the work of some plagiarist who had taken it from the Spaulding romance. However, five of the eight testimonials were careful to state that only the "historical" part of the Book of Mormon was identical with the old story written by Spaulding. Although the Spaulding romance, known to them as "The Manuscript Found" had never been printed, the people in the vicinity of Conneaut claimed to be well acquainted with its contents due to the fact that Spaulding had been in the habit of reading it to them from time to time.
Armed with the eight testimonials Hurlbut and his associate, Howe, felt certain that they had a strong case against the Book of Mormon. All that was now required to complete their case was to show how Joseph Smith came into possession of the unpublished romance of Solomon Spaulding, or, if possible, locate the manuscript and publish it. Howe followed one of the clues in the testimonials and went to Pittsburg, and interviewed Mr. Patterson, the printer, who was thought to have received the old romance from Spaulding, but for some reason or other had refused to publish it. Patterson could not recall anything pertaining to such a manuscript
1 John Spaulding (a brother of Solomon); Martha (his widow [sic, sister-in-law]); Henry Lake; John M. [sic, N] Miller; Aaron Wright; Oliver Smith; Nahum Howard; and Artemas Cunningham.
as the one described by Howe. 1
At the same time Hurlbut went to Monson, Massachusetts and interviewed Mrs. Matilda Davison, the widow of the late Solomon Spaulding. From her it was learned that "Spaulding had a great variety of manuscripts, and that was entitled the 'Manuscript Found,' but of its contents she had no distinct knowledge. While they lived in Pittsburg, she thought it was once taken to the printing office of Patterson and Lambdin; but whether it was ever brought back to the house again, she was quite uncertain: If it was, however, it was then with his other writings, in a trunk which she had left in Otsego County, New York." 2 Hurlbut received permission from Mrs. Davison to examine the trunk which was then at her cousin's home in Hartwick, New York, and if the much coveted manuscript was still there he was to take it on to Mr. Howe for publication. Hurlbut found a manuscript in the trunk and returned with it to Howe, but unfortunately for their purpose it did not supply the necessary material to couple it with the contents of the Book of Mormon. When Mormonism Unvailed was published, Howe gave a brief but inaccurate account of the manuscript which Hurlbut brought to his office; and suggests that Spaulding must have written two historical romances or revised the one
1 Eight years later Patterson signed a statement that "a gentleman had put into his hands of his foreman a manuscript of a singular work, chiefly in the style of our English Bible. That he (Patterson) had read only a few pages of it but did print it because the author did not furnish the means." (Western Reserve Historical Society, III, 192.)
2 Five years later she claims to be very familiar with the manuscript. Ibid., 192-93.
that Hurlbut had received from Mrs. Davison and that the manuscript referred to in the eight testimonials must be lost. 1
Even though their efforts were not rewarded with a manuscript that would parallel the Book of Mormon, the authors of Mormonism Unvailed felt that they had sufficient evidence in their eight testimonials to establish their case and they closed the subject saying that, "We have fully shown that the Book of Mormon is the joint production of Solomon Spaulding and some other designing knave, etc." Thus the Rigdon-Spaulding theory begins. Mormonism Unvailed does not show the connecting link necessary to prove that Rigdon or Smith was the "designing knave" who stole the dead preacher's romance and changed the title from "The Manuscript Found" to the Book of Mormon; and replaced the mundane name of Solomon Spaulding with the names of a whole group of angelic personages who had been prophetic recorders during their earthly sojourn. However Mormonism Unvailed states that, "We may here stop to remark that an opinion has prevailed, to a considerable extent, that Rigdon has been the Iago, the prime mover, of the whole conspiracy. Of this, however, we have no positive proof; but many circumstances have carried a suspicious appearance; and further developments may establish the fact." 2 Furthermore, whenever referring to the conversion of Rigdon to the Mormon faith the book would have the recorder believe that Rigdon's early objections
1 Mormonism Unvailed, p. 288; and Western Reserve Historical Society, III, 192-193.
2 Mormonism Unvailed, p. 100.
advanced against Pratt and the other Mormon missionaries who first visited him, were just so much stage play to deceive the people into believing that he was actually converted from Campbellism to the new faith. Thus making it easier for him to lead them into the new church after he had joined. Moreover, Mormonism Unvailed with its eight witnesses to the similarity between Spaulding's old romance and the Book of Mormon declares that the genuine manuscript in question had been taken to a publisher in Pittsburg. Rigdon was the only Mormon of any importance at that early date who had ever lived in Pittsburg. The natural result was that writers who followed Howe and Hurlbut attempted to prove that Rigdon procured the manuscript from the Pittsburg printer and secretly communicated with Joseph Smith until the time of his conversion.
The foregoing theory that was advanced by Howe and Hurlbut relative to the origin of the Book of Mormon has proved to be a popular one. The possibility of Joseph Smith having connived with Rigdon in stealing an unpublished romance of a deceased minister 1 made an interesting story, required little effort beyond copying portions of Mormonism Unvailed, and at the same time it was certain to please the reading public, which in the main has generally been anti-Mormon in its sympathies.
1 It is interesting to note that in a note written by Spaulding and discovered in 1885 he reveals clearly that he has no faith in the Christian religion. On the other hand the Book of Mormon is a very religious book and abounds in claims of the divinity of Jesus. Western Reserve Historical Society, III, 195-196; Book of Mormon, Testimony of the Three Witnesses in the Preface and pp. 393-455 in late editions.
With a little additional material beyond that presented in Mormonism Unvailed, and in spite of the unexpected discovery in 1885 1 of the old Spaulding manuscript which Hurlbut got from the hair trunk in 1834 [sic, 1833], writers have continued from the latter date (1834) on to the present time (1930) to accept the Rigdon-Spaulding theory as an established fact.
Attention has already been called to the "enlargement of memory" which occurred with both the widow of Spaulding and the printer, Mr. Patterson, within a few years after Howe published Mormonism Unvailed. 2 A few more citations will show how this shadowy tradition became quite generally accepted by non-Mormon writers as definite history: Although the widow of Spaulding knew very little concerning the manuscript in 1834, by 1839 she permitted her name to be attached to an article that was published in the Boston Recorder in which she describes the manuscript very fully. The article also stated that when the Book of Mormon was first read in the old neighborhood
1 "The manuscript, lost sight of since the date of Howe's book, came to light at Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands, a year ago last August (in 1855 [sic]) in the possession of Mr. L. L. Rice, formerly State printer at Columbus, Ohio. I (Pres. Jas. H. Fairchild) had asked Mr. Rice, who was an anti-slavery editor in Ohio many years ago, to examine his old pamphlets and papers and see what contributions he could make to the anti-slavery literature of the Oberlin college library. After a few days he brought out an old manuscript with the following certificate on a blank page: 'The writings of Solomon Spaulding, proved by Aaron Wright, Oliver Smith, John N. Miller and others. The testimonies of the above gentlemen are now in my possession. D. P. Hurlbut.' The three men named are of the eight witnesses brought forward by Howe... The manuscript proves its own antiquity. It is soiled and worn and discolored with age, etc." From Western Reserve Historical Society, III, 193, by Pres. James H. Fairchild of Oberlin College.
2 See page 50, notes 1 and 2.
of Conneaut, John Spaulding, a brother of her deceased husband, and one of the eight to write a testimonial for Hurlbut,
Recognized perfectly the work of his brother. He was amazed and afflicted, that it should have been perverted to so wicked a purpose. His grief found vent in a flood of tears, and he arose on the spot, and expressed to the meeting his deep sorrow and regret, that the writings of his sainted brother 1 should be used for a purpose so vile and shocking. The excitement in New Salem (Conneaut) became so great, that the inhabitants had a meeting and deputed Dr. Philastus Hurlbut, one of their number to repair to this place and to obtain from me the original manuscript of Mr. Spaulding, for the purpose of comparing it with the Mormon Bible, to satisfy their own minds, and to prevent their friends from embracing an error so delusive. 2
In the same article it is stated that Sidney Rigdon had lived in Pittsburg at the time Spaulding was attempting to get Patterson to publish his romance and that Rigdon got the contents of the story from the printer's office.
It would be a comparatively task to cite a score or more books that show evidence of either eagerness or carelessness in using the Rigdon-Spaulding theory either in toto or with slight variations, 3 as set forth by Hurlbut and Howe and the purported statement of Mrs. Davison to the Boston Recorder.
As late as 1884 authors were still collecting "testimonials."
1 The "Reverend" S. Spaulding perhaps died a non-Christian. See note 1, page 52.
2 Quoted in Gleanings by the Way, p. 252, it became so well established that Mrs. Davison did not write this article that the writer of this book admits the fact even though quoting the article! It was written by a minister who had interviewed Mrs. Davison hoping to get some information to combat the activities of Mormon missionaries in his parish. See Fairchild, op. cit., p. 193, and Times and Seasons, I, 45.
3 See Linn, Story of the Mormons, pp. 74-77 for his fanciful account of "The Everlasting Gospel" and S. Rigdon's use of it.
In that year James Jefferies testified on January 20, that
Forty years ago I was in business in St. Louis... I knew Sidney Rigdon. He told me several times that there was in the printing office with which he was connected, in Ohio, a manuscript of the Reverend Spaulding, tracing the origin of the Indians from the lost tribes of Israel. This manuscript was in the office several years. He was familiar with it. Spaulding had wanted it published, but had not the means to pay for the printing. He (Rigdon) and Joe Smith used to look over the manuscript and read it on Sundays. Rigdon said Smith took the manuscript and said: 'I'll print it,' and went off to Palmyra, New York. 1
One who is unacquainted with the extremes to which anti-Mormon authors have gone at times might marvel that the foregoing obviously worthless "testimonial" could find its way into sober print. However, the excerpt from The Latter Day Saints, A Study of the Mormons, by Kauffman and Kauffman, (1912, p. 30) which follows is as far from the evidence at hand as the foregoing "testimonial" by Jefferies, and to one reader who is unacquainted with Mormon history it would be more likely to convince him of the Rigdon-Spaulding theory. It states that
The book (The Manuscript Found) was painstakingly completed in 1812, fifteen years before Smith's discovery, and a copy then given for publication to a printer or bookseller in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, a man named Patterson. Here the story created no favorable impression, but was allowed to gather dust for several years. The author died without seeing his romance in print, and Patterson, on an occasion, lent the manuscript to a compositor in his employ, Sidney Rigdon, who__________
1 Mormon Portraits, by Dr. W. Wyl, 1886, p. 241. Spaulding wrote his story in 1811-1812. Rigdon never saw Joseph Smith until the latter part of 1830; none of the anti-Mormon writers claimed the manuscript was left in an Ohio printing office; Rigdon was not a printer in Ohio, neither did he ever live in St. Louis!
was also a preacher of chameleon faith. Then, in 1825, Patterson died. Rigdon came into view as the right hand man of Joseph Smith at the start of the Mormon Church. In 1839 the widow of Spaulding published a statement in a Boston, Massachusetts, newspaper, which led to a public meeting. At this meeting the manuscripts of The Manuscript Found and the Book of Mormon were compared, and it was established beyond question that the similarity of the two could not be disregarded. The names of the different characters were exactly the same, and whole pages were word for word alike. Moreover, since Spaulding had not been an educated man, traces of illiteracy were observable in his work, and these errors, were repeated in the Book of Mormon. The only rebuttal offered at the time was that issued by Rigdon, whose reply was not worthy of the name of argument, and whose coarseness did small good to the Mormon cause.
The above paragraph with all its interesting details does not reassure the reader by giving him a single corroborative reference. In short, not a single sentence of the entire paragraph is correct. 1 We will stop with this quotation from Kauffman and Kaufman in our demonstration of how a shadowy tradition, created in 1834 and reinforced by eight testimonials that were valid only in the case that some neighbors of Solomon Spaulding could remember his romance which he had read them over twenty years before, became accepted as sober history as time went on in spite of the abundant evidence to the contrary. And without attempting to lengthen the list to all the more important items of evidence which make the Rigdon-Spaulding theory
1 The manuscript, not a "copy" of it was supposedly offered to the printers. Rigdon never was employed by Patterson. Patterson was still alive in 1842. (See Western Reserve Historical Society, III, 192.) The Mormon Church had been organized and started on its way before "Rigdon became the right hand man." Mrs. Spaulding did not publish the article in question in the Boston paper (see page 54, note 2). Mrs. Spaulding never saw the manuscript after Hurlbut took it to Howe; she never had an opportunity of seeing a Book of Mormon manuscript in her entire life. The names in the two manuscripts are not alike in a single instance, (see page 61), Spaulding was an educated man -- a graduate of Dartmouth (see page 48, note 2 etc.)
untenable, I submit the following:
1) No one has ever presented a single sentence of direct evidence that Rigdon ever saw Joseph Smith until after the publication of the Book of Mormon. 1
2) There is considerable evidence that Sidney Rigdon did not live in Pittsburg before 1822, and that at no time in his entire life did he have anything to do with the Patterson and Lambdin printing company. Up to this time he had been a farmer, a tanner and a lay preacher. 2
3) In view of the fact that the missionaries who converted Rigdon did not stop at Kirtland after he had been baptized; but went on their way "to convert the Lamanites (Indians)," travelling over one thousand miles westward beyond Kirtland and enduring hardships 3 and disappointments even greater than was the common lot of all Christian missionaries who attempted to take their message to the savages west of the Mississippi -- all this makes it preposterous to believe that when they left Joseph Smith to begin their missionary work they had Sidney Rigdon in mind and knew that he would join their cause, having been secretly one of its chief founders. Their experiences at Kirtland have all the ear marks of genuiness and not that of a cheap bit of stage play to deceive Rigdon's congregation. In this connection one must also remember that Rigdon
1 The late "testimonials" of Rigdon's absence from home, etc., quoted by Patterson and Dickinson have long since been exploded. Likewise the "mysterious stranger" myth. See pro statements in New Light on Mormonism, p. 252.
2 Journal of History, III No. 1, pp. 6-13.
3 See Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, chapters 6-8.
was successful with the people around Kirtland and the Campbellite movement appeared to have a bright future before it while at the same time the Mormon group had but a handful of people and its future success did not appear very promising. 1
4) During the seven years interval in which Joseph Smith told his neighbors and family about the Book of Mormon (1823-1830), Sidney Rigdon was a successful lay preacher in Pittsburg, and later, on the Western Reserve. During the greater part of this time he was several hundred miles away from the home of Joseph Smith. The fact that he was a man of moderate means, busily engaged in the work of the ministry and the more commonplace activities of supporting his family; and at the same time attempting to advance the cause headed by Alexander Campbell, presents a strong case against the theory that he was secretly conniving with the young man, Joseph Smith, who was a farmer several hundred miles away. 2
5) There are good reasons for believing that Spaulding wrote only one manuscript and that it is the one which Hurlbut received from Mrs. Matilda Davison and which later came to light in Honolulu in 1885.
(A) Five of the eight testimonials which Hurlbut got from the old neighbors of Spaulding, were careful to state that the Book of Mormon was like the old romance which
1 See statement of Campbell in Millennial Harbinger, 1835, p. 44, "Perhaps we were too sanguine when we thought that the fable (Mormonism) was so barefaced that it could not stand upon its legs, etc."
2 Journal of History, III No. 1, pp. 8-15; also Reorganized L.D.S. History, I, 146-55.
had been read to them "except for its religious part." 1
(B) It is a bit doubtful that Spaulding would have written two separate manuscripts on the same subject. The eight witnesses for Hurlbut testified that the manuscript which was found was one that Spaulding had written. However, it so obviously did not agree with the details of the Book of Mormon that they were forced to admit that it was not the manuscript that they had already testified had been read to them twenty years before. 2
(C) Very likely the eight witnesses who gave their testimonials to Hurlbut could not remember the old romance which Spaulding had read to them except in its general outline, and in this respect the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding story which came to light in Honolulu agree. Both claim to have been taken out of the ground. The manuscript of Spaulding reads:
Near the west bank of the Conneaught river there are the remains of an ancient fort. As I was walking and forming various conjectures respecting the character, situation and numbers of those people, who far exceed the present race of Indians in works of art and inginuity, 3 I happened to tread on a flat stone. This was at a small distance from the fort, and it lay on the top of a small mound of earth exactly horizontal. The face of it had a singular appearance. I discovered a number__________
1 The Book of Mormon deals with what might properly be called "religious" material on every page. Many followers of the Rigdon-Spaulding theory claimed that Rigdon, who was a preacher mixed the Biblical quotations and theme found in the Book with the old romance written by Spaulding and then gave it to Joseph Smith.
2 It is important to note in this connection that they had already given their "testimonials" before the manuscript was obtained from Mrs. Davison by Hurlbut.
3 The manuscript is full of misspelled words, etc., which has caused some to question that Spaulding, who was a graduate of Dartmouth, was the actual author.
of characters, which appeared to me to be letters, but so much effaced by the ravages of time, that I could not read the inscription. With the assistance of a lever I raised the stone; but you may easily conjecture my astonishment when I discovered that its ends and sides rested on stones, and that it was designed as a cover to an artificial cave.... Within this cavity I found an earthen box, with a cover which shut it perfectly tight. The box was two feet in length, one and half in breadth, and one and three inches in diameter. My mind, filled with awful sensations which crowded fast upon me, would hardly permit my hands to remove this venerable deposit; but curiosity soon gained the ascendancy; the box was taken and raised to open. When I had removed the cover I found that it contained twenty-eight... of parchment; and that when ... appeared to be manuscripts written in an elegant hand, with Roman letters the Latin Language They were written on a variety of subjects, but the roll which principally attracted my attention contained a history of the author's life and that part of America which extends along the Great Lakes and the waters of the Mississippy. 1
One of the earliest written accounts by the Mormon Church regarding the discovery of the Book of Mormon plates follows and very likely, in the main, it was the story told by the first missionaries who began preaching Mormonism in the neighborhood of Conneaut and brought to the minds of Spaulding's friends the story he once read to them:
I left the field and went to the place where the messenger had told me the plates were deposited;... On the west side of this hill not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates deposited in a stone box: this stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all round was covered with earth. Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raisedit up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates. 2__________
1 Western Reserve Historical Society, III, 194-95. I have quoted from this source rather than from some reprint of the entire manuscript, because it is more available. However, the Reorganized L.D.S. Church have had the manuscript printed and through their missionary system many copies have been distributed. As the quotation indicates, portions of the manuscripts were torn, thus omitting a few words.
2 L.D.S. Church History, I, 15-16.
The witnesses to the Book of Mormon said that they handled the plates; "And we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient workmanship." 1 In both cases the records were translated from a foreign language into the English language.
(D) It was very likely the above general similarities between the old romance and the Book of Mormon, that the neighbors remembered. In this connection it is also to be noted that both are dealing with people who were pre-Columbian and both contain names that are peculiar to each book -- and are not found elsewhere in literature; and, finally, they both claim to be translations from older writings which were dug out of the ground. But at this point the similarities between the two books cease. The Book of Mormon is a religious book, every page containing religious and Scriptural ideas. 2 Spaulding, although he was nominally a minister, did not believe in the Christian religion. His story is nothing more than a clumsy bit of fiction that no sane printer would have taken the financial responsibility of placing before the public. The Spaulding romance is only one-sixth the size of the Book of Mormon; and "there is not a name or an incident common to the two. It is not written in the solemn Scriptural style... The names of persons are entirely original, quite as remarkable as those in the Book of Mormon, but never the same -- such as
1 Found in Preface of each Book of Mormon
2 See Western Reserve Historical Society, III, 194.
Bombal, Kadocam, Lobaska, Hamboon, Ulipoon, Lamesa, etc." 1
6) As one might expect, Mormon writers have stoutly denied the Rigdon-Spaulding theory from the very beginning. Moreover, many of the most careful non-Mormon writers agree with them on this point. Riley in his The Founder of Mormonism, 2 after giving considerable attention to the Rigdon-Spaulding theory says:
In fine, Rigdon is a doubtful connecting link; the presumption of collusion is only negative... Judging from the characteristics of the book, the proof of authenticity is decisive. In form 3 it has no resemblance to the Honolulu manuscript; in matter it needs neither Rigdon's personality nor Spaulding's romances to account for itself.
Then after going into details contrasting Rigdon's style of speaking and writing with the style of the Book of Mormon, he concludes: "To sum up: These marks of the book are not the marks of the man Rigdon."
(B) Bays has written that "The Spaulding story is a failure. Do not attempt to rely upon it -- it will let you down... The entire theory connecting Sidney Rigdon and the Spaulding romance with Joseph Smith in originating the Book of Mormon must be abandoned We have something better." 4
(C) Werner has written that,
There are many flaws in this (Rigdon-Spaulding) theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon. There is absolutely no evidence worthy of consideration that Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith ever met before more than a year after the publication__________
1 Ibid., p. 194. These statements from President Fairchild.
2 Published in 1902. See pp. 387-94.
3 I have already shown that they do agree in their general features.
4 The Doctrines and Dogmas of Mormonism, Examined and Refuted, 1897, pp. 24-25.
of the Book of Mormon; 1 It has also been impossible to establish definitely, in spite of desperate efforts, that Sidney Rigdon ever worked for the printing firm of Patterson and Lambdin... The Spaulding story is an attempt on the part of the first ardent anti-Mormons to discredit the divine origin of the Book of Mormon... The whole Spaulding story is an instance of the feverish efforts of anti-Mormons to prove that Joseph Smith was incapable of writing the Book of Mormon without the aid of God, and they refused to admit for a moment that he did so with the aid of God. It is my conviction that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon without the aid of God, and that the book itself shows evidence of being a product of Smith's environment. 2
(D) Prince has written that
Prolonged analysis and comparison (by himself) make it incredible that Spaulding had any connection with the book, doubtful that Rigdon was implicated, certain that Joseph Smith's hand is perceptible in every part, and probable that he was the sole author, the edifice of whose imagination echoed to reminiscences which he was far from recognizing. 3 If there were no knowledge of Smith it would yet be most probable that the author lived in western New York... Smith did, but Spaulding and Rigdon did not.
Several other non-Mormon authors 4 could be quoted to show that the Rigdon-Spaulding theory does not stand the test of careful investigation. Perhaps of the entire group of non-Mormon writers to reject this theory President Fairchild of Oberlin College was the most effective. 5
7) Another important item of evidence which has been generally overlooked by both Mormon and non-Mormon writers is the fact that Alexander Campbell knew Sidney Rigdon well; he
1 The Book of Mormon was published March, 1830; Rigdon met J. Smith Dec. 1830.
2 Life of Brigham Young, 1925, pp. 58-60.
3 American Journal of Psychology, XXVIII, (1917), pp. 373-89.
4 Bancroft, History of Utah, p. 189; Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints [p. 208] These writers are all non-Mormons and in some cases decidedly "anti" in sympathy.
5 I refer to his paper read before the Northern Ohio and Western Reserve Historical Society, March 13, 1886, after he came into possession of the old Spaulding romance. It is quite evident that I have quoted liberally from his paper throughout this chapter.
knew his style of preaching and writing; he knew what Rigdon had been doing during the decade of 1820-1830. In connection with these facts one must remember that Campbell was one of the first men to read the Book of Mormon and attempt to give a written analysis of its contents. At that time he said that, "If I could swear to any man's voice, face, or person, assuming different names, I could swear that this book (The Book of Mormon) was written by one man... I cannot doubt for a single moment but that he (J. Smith) is the sole author and proprietor of it." 1 Campbell would have been the most likely man to have discovered any contribution that might have been offered by Sidney Rigdon to the Book of Mormon; and, moreover, his anger was so aroused because of Rigdon's apostasy from "Campbellism" and his having taken [m]any disciples with him into the Mormon fold, he would not have hesitated to use anything that would discredit the Mormon claims to divinity and at the same time humiliate his former lieutenant, Sidney Rigdon.
8) When the purported letter of Mrs. Spaulding-Davison appeared in the Boston Recorder, in 1839, definitely stating that Rigdon had lived in Pittsburg and had been connected with the printing company of Patterson and Lambdin, Rigdon immediately wrote a flat denial which he continued to affirm until his death even though he was excommunicated from the Mormon Church about twenty-nine years before his death, and non-Mormons on several occasions attempted to persuade him to admit that the Book of Mormon was founded on the Spaulding manuscript
1 Millennial Harbinger 1831, p. 95.
The following sentences are taken from his letter to the Boston paper after Mrs. Spaulding's letter appeared:
It is only necessary to say, in relation to the whole story about Spaulding's writings being in the hands of Mr. Patterson, who was in Pittsburg, and who is said to have kept a printing office, etc. etc., is the most base of lies, without even the shadow of truth... If I were to say that I ever heard of the Rev. Solomon Spaulding and his hopeful wife until D. P. Hurlburt wrote his lie about me, I should be a liar like unto themselves. 1
Rigdon's son. John, visited Salt Lake City in 1865 on his way to California. While there he visited some of the Mormons who had been his boyhood friends in Nauvoo, which awakened his interest in Mormonism. Years later he joined the Mormon Church and has written that his conversion was due to a conversation which he had with his father (S. Rigdon) after he returned East. After going over the orthodox explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon the conversation is reported to have proceeded as follows: (John Speaking)
Is this (i. e., Mormon story of the Book of Mormon) true? If so, all right; if it is not, you owe it to me and to your family to tell it. You (Sidney) are an old man and you will soon pass away, and I wish to know if Joseph Smith, in your intimacy with him for fourteen years, has not said something to you that led you to believe he obtained that book in some other way than what he had told you. Give me (John) all you know about it, that I may know the truth. My father, after I had finished saying what I have repeated above, looked at me a moment, raised his hand above his head and slowly said, with tears glistening in his eyes: 'My son, I can swear before high heaven that what I have told you about the origin of that book is true. Your mother and sister, Mrs. Athalia Robinson, were present when that book was handed to me in Mentor, Ohio, and all I ever knew about the origin of that book was what Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith and the witnesses who claimed they saw the plates have told me, and in all of my intimacy with Joseph Smith he never told me but one story, and that was that he found it engraved upon__________
1 Complete letter is found in the Appendix.
gold plates in a hill near Palmyra, New York, and that an angel had appeared to him and directed him where to find it; and I have never, to you or to any one else, told but the one story, and that I now repeat to you.' 1
From the evidence that has been available since 1885, one can readily see that the Rigdon-Spaulding theory might have taken the following steps in its development from a shadowy tradition to its wide acceptance as sober history: After "Doctor" Philastus Hurlbut was excommunicated from the Mormon Church, because of his immorality, and later forced to pay about three hundred dollars in court fees, etc., for threatening to murder Joseph Smith, he occupied his time for a while giving anti-Mormon lectures. 2 While in Conneaut, a district where he had once resided, he heard rumor that the story of the Book of Mormon reminded some of the people of an old romance that the late Solomon Spaulding had read to them twenty years before. They were reminded of the Spaulding story because the Mormon Elders, in their public discourses, told how Joseph Smith got the
1 Cited by Roberts' A Comprehensive History of the Church, I, 234-35. P. P. Pratt writes that he first introduced Rigdon to Mormonism: "About the 15th of October, 1830, I (P. P. Pratt) took my journey, in company with Elder O. Cowdery, and Peter Whitmer, to Ohio. We called on Elder S. Rigdon, and then for the first time, his eyes beheld the Book of Mormon. I myself had the happiness, to present it to him in person. (!) He was much surprised, and it was with much persuasion and argument, that he was prevailed on to read it... Now I (P. P. Pratt) testify that the forgers of the Spalding lie (concerning S. Rigdon and others) are of the same description as those who forged the lie against the disciples of old, accusing them of stealing the body of Jesus. And those who love this lie, are no better; and except they repent they will have their part with drunkards, whoremongers, sorcerers, thieves, murderers, etc., for being guilty of loving and making a lie." Kidder, Mormonism and Mormons, pp. 68-69.
2 See Werner's Brigham Young, p. 59.
records from a stone box; and that it was a history of the early inhabitants of America, and that it had been translated into the English language from an ancient one. The introduction to the old Spaulding romance, in a broad general way, claimed to be a similar record; and it also saw the light of modern times in the above fashion, i. e., purported to have been found in a stone box, contained information of a group of people who came to America in pre-Columbian times and was translated by Spaulding into the English language. Upon hearing these rumors, Hurlbut, in collaboration with E. D. Howe, the anti-Mormon editor of the Painesvile Telegraph determined to prove that Spaulding was actually the author of the Book of Mormon. Hurlbut began to question the neighbors of Spaulding who had heard him read his manuscript twenty years before; and the very questions he asked would suggest the answers for which he hoped. With little difficulty he obtained the written testimony of eight witnesses that the Book of Mormon was, in the main, identical with the old Spaulding romance. Some testified that they could well remember such Book of Mormon names as "Nephi," "Lehi," and "Moroni," etc., as having been in Spaulding's romance.
In order to fully clinch their "proof," Howe and Hurlbut then attempted to locate the old unpublished manuscript. The widow of Spaulding (now Mrs. Davison) then living in Monson, Massachusetts, directed them to the writings of her former husband. The old romance was found and taken to Howe's printing office in Painesville, Ohio. Upon examination they discovered that the manuscript showed no resemblance to the
Book of Mormon other than in its most general characteristics. To have published it would have been damaging to their plans.
They were then compelled to either abandon their theory and leave unpublished their book which was almost ready for the press, or shift the evidence. They did the latter; they briefly, but somewhat inaccurately, described the manuscript which they had received from Mrs. Davison and admitted that it did not agree with the Book of Mormon. They then advanced the theory that Spaulding re-wrote his manuscript and that it was the re-written one which had been read to his neighbors, and unfortunately the second draft was lost. In their book, Mormonism Unvailed, they published the eight testimonials and hinted that Sidney Rigdon had known of Mormonism before the publication of the Book of Mormon.
Mormonism Unvailed became quite popular. Its long list of testimonials against the Smith family in general and Joseph Smith in particular, and the eight testimonials that Spaulding was the real author of the Book of Mormon, has made it the classic of anti-Mormon literature. Five years after Hurlbut and Howe had published their book, a Rev. D. R. Austin of Monson, Massachusetts, 1 needed some arguments against the Mormon missionaries who were successfully proselyting in his vicinity. He interviewed Mrs. Davison and then wrote a long
1 Fairchild connects Austin with the deception; Pratt (a Mormon) says that it was written by "Priest Storrs (meaning a protestant minister) who had lost his deacon and several members of his church." -- See Times and Seasons, I, 45-46. In Gleanings by the Way (non-Mormon) we find both Storrs and Austin mentioned, p. 76 [sic].
anti-Mormon article which was published in the Boston Recorder under her name. The article was quickly utilized by anti-Mormon writers who followed, because it definitely stated that Spaulding had taken his romance to Patterson and Lambdin, Pittsburg printers, and that Sidney Rigdon had stolen the story from that place. Rigdon immediately denied the statements and it was later proved that Mrs. Spaulding was not the author of the article, but the theory was too convenient and, at times, too attractive to be abandoned.
In a remarkably short time after the publication of Mormonism Unvailed it is observable that both Mrs. Davison and the printer, Mr. Patterson, have an enlargement of memory which continued with their descendants and relatives, 1 Mrs. Ellen E. Dickinson, a grandniece of Mrs. Solomon Spaulding, in her New Light on Mormonism found it easy to put imaginings in the place of facts in her statements in reference to Rigdon as follows:
At an early age he was a printer by trade, and is known to have been in Conneaut, Ohio, at the time Spaulding read his Manuscript Found to his neighbors... and it is easy to believe the report that he followed or preceded Spaulding to Pittsburg, knowing his plans, in order to obtain his manuscript, or to copy it while it was in Patterson's printing-house -- an easy thing to do, as the fact of the manuscript being left carelessly in the office for months is not questionable. 2
From the publication of Mormonism Unvailed down to 1885 when the old Spaulding manuscript was unexpectedly discovered
1 See Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?, by R. Patterson, a son of the early printer; and New Light on Mormonism, by Ellen E. Dickinson, a grandniece of Mrs. Spaulding.
2 Page 47 of book quoted; and Western Reserve Historical Society, III, 199.
in Honolulu, the advocates of the Rigdon-Spaulding theory did little more than rehash the old arguments set forth by Howe and Hurlbut so far as evidence is concerned. But after 1885 there has been an inclination on the part of non-Mormon writers to abandon the old theory due to the fact that the discovered manuscript fits the early description of the old romance, and at the same time, it does not agree with the contents of the Book of Mormon.
Writers like Kauffman and Kauffman in their book, The Latter Day Saints, reveal the fact that they are unacquainted with the facts in the case and have done little more than read some second or third handed re-hash of the old story as told in Mormonism Unvailed, and the letter of 1839 in the Boston Recorder that was falsely written under the name of Mrs. Davison. Moreover, in the last mentioned book, one finds that the authors did not limit themselves to the general tradition but permitted their imaginations the freest rein possible. Before returning to the more interesting subject of Rigdon's activities in the Mormon Church after his conversion let us close this chapter with a short reiteration from the anti-Mormon Bays: "The Spaulding story is a failure. Do not attempt to rely upon it -- it will let you down... The entire theory connecting Sidney Rigdon and the Spaulding romance with Joseph Smith in originating the Book of Mormon must be abandoned We have something better."
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In the fall of 1830, a few months after Rigdon had clashed with Campbell ay Austintown over the subject of including early Christian Communism in the "Restored" faith, four young Mormon preachers called at his home. 1 Among the group was Parley Parker Pratt, an erstwhile lay preacher of "Campbellism," who had been converted by Rigdon a few months past. Doubtless Rigdon was surprised to find his friend preaching a new gospel, but whatever his feelings, he did not hesitate to offer him hospitality. When Pratt and his associates handed Rigdon a copy of the Book of Mormon, which had been printed but a few months, he expressed "considerable doubts" to the supernatural claims that were made for the book, and when the young enthusiasts attempted to argue the subject with him he said, "No, young gentlemen, you must not argue with me on this subject; but I will read the book, and see what claims it has upon my faith, and will endeavor to ascertain whether it be a revelation from God or not." 2
Without waiting to hear his final decision on the subject, the four missionaries began to go from house to house
1 P. P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer.
2 Journal of History, III, No. 1, 13.
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Daryl Chase's 1931 Sidney Rigdon Thesis