First Meet JOSEPH SMITH?
Part 4: Traditional Views of the Reorganized LDS
From the Saints' Herald and Other RLDS Publications
C O N T E N T S:
Intro.: What is the RLDS / CoC Position?
Introduction: What is the RLDS Position?
Other than its proclaiming the Book of Mormon to be canonical scripture, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a.k.a. "Community of Christ") has avoided stating any official position regarding the literal origin of the Latter Day Saints' "Restoration Movement" and the attendant activities of the earliest Latter Day Saint (or "Mormons"). Given this extraordinary restraint on the part the RLDS in stating any official doctrine concerning Mormon origins, their implicit message is simply that the book is probably what it represents itself to be -- therefore the accounts provided by early Latter Day Saint leaders on this subject may be conditionally relied upon as being factual ones. The "condition" in this implicit understanding among the RLDS is, of course, "unless any other veritable information can be brought forth to show that those early accounts might be less than fully accurate."
The Current Status Quo among the RLDSSince about the time of the death of RLDS President Israel A. Smith, in 1958, the leaders of the Church have increasingly avoided issuing public statements in support of the Book of Mormon's self-proclaimed historicity. Along with this development of an unwritten, circumspect policy regarding the substance of the book itself, has evolved a good deal of ambiguity within the contemporary views of RLDS historians and scholars -- ambiguity over the claimed historicity of the book and ambiguity regarding the motives and activities of those who first brought forth the book as a divine revelation.
The RLDS quandary over assessing the personal relationships shared among the early Mormons is increased by the fact that many of the close relatives and religious associates of people like Presidents Joseph Smith, Jr. and Sidney Rigdon joined the "Reorganization," becoming the forebearers of today's "leading families" in the Church. For this reason the open discussion of any potentially embarrassing unwritten history of early Mormons like Joseph Smith, Jr. and Sidney Rigdon is discouraged by many influential persons within the RLDS Church. The best way for one to appraise the current RLDS position on delicate historical matters such as the relationship between Joseph Smith, Jr. and Sidney Rigdon is to sample contemporary Reorganized LDS reporting on the subject and then to formulate something like an average of the views and information thus encountered. Unfortunately, for the inquirer into this kind of early Mormon history, modern RLDS scholars haven't published or said much for anyone to inquire into.
Given all that I have said above, I assess the current "status quo" within the RLDS scholarly ranks to be one of scepticism -- even occasional cynicism -- regarding the reliability of our old biographies and histories about past top leaders like Rigdon and Smith. But, until reputable new research and reporting begins to establish some post-modern consensus viewpoint, the old histories and biographies will "have to do." In other words, the traditional understanding of the Latter Day Saints having inspired scriptures, divinely-called leaders, and truthful past history still stands as a mainstay of the Church.
So, What about Rigdon and Smith?Since contemporary RLDS writers have mostly steered clear of the earliest days of Mormonism, that leaves the investigator of the RLDS viewpoint on Rigdon and Smith mostly with old (sometimes much outdated) materials to consult. In this brief study I will purposely overlook our unpublished sources and concentrate on examining the more significant published RLDS historical materials. I might add that RLDS historical reporters do not generally have access to all the resources and suppport typically available to faithful LDS scholars and writers. Historical reporting by RLDS writers, as published in journals and books, tends to be shorter and less documented than the best of similar reporting by the LDS. In fact, the footnotes of many an RLDS writer shows a substantial dependence upon the previously compiled source materials of the "Utah Mormons." A good example of this tendency in historical reporting may be had in the comparison of RLDS biographer F. Mark McKiernan 's The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon (1971, 190 pages) to LDS biographer Richard S. VanWagoner's Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (1994, 493 pages). Sadly enough (and significantly, as well) there is no RLDS biography of Joseph Smith, Jr. worthy of comparison to the notable work done by LDS scholars Donna Hill and Richard Bushman.
The most recently published RLDS general historical book of any special merit (Richard P. Howard's The Church Through the Years, Independence: 1992) mentions Sidney Rigdon only three times in its 973 pages -- typifying the recent RLDS trend in ignoring or obscuring its problematic "Mormon" past. Strangely enough, none of those three mentions of Rigdon tells of his personal relationship with Joseph Smith, Jr. Were we to rely upon this book for an understanding of Rigdon and Smith, we might come away from our reading with the impression that the two men never even met, let alone established a controversial theocratic rule in Ohio and Missouri.
So, in order to apprehend the ellusive RLDS viewpoint on the Rigdon-Smith relationship, we are forced to start at the other end of things -- to go back to the beginning of the RLDS movement and see what was said and taught in the distant past. In performing this search we will also venture back before 1860 (when the Reorganization became a fully-developed church) and 1851 (when the Reorganization first began to emerge in the American Mid-west) to the "Parent" Latter Day Saint Church of Fayette, Kirtland, Far West and Nauvoo. To clarify things, I'll refer to the Church prior to 1851 as the "Mormon Church," from 1851 to 1860 as the "Reorganization," and after 1860 as the "RLDS Church." Those Saints who ended up with their leaders in Utah after 1847, I'll call the "Utah Mormons."
1. The Early Reorganization's Views
Those Reorganites who came out of J. J. Strang's Voree and Beaver Island "Zions" no doubt carried with them thumb-worn copies of his The Book of the Law of the Lord, which published some deep apologetics directed against the critics of the Mormon origins stories. To those who accused Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith, Jr. of cooperating together in secret to produce the Book of Mormon, Strang thundered back: "And against the suggestion that Rigdon heard of him [Joseph Smith] at all, till the publication of the Book of Mormon, in the newspapers, is the fact that Mentor, Ohio, is two hundred and thirty miles from Palmyra or Manchester, New York, and in the twenty-two years search which has been made for some evidence of a possible collusion between Smith and Rigdon, previous to the publication of the Book of Mormon, not a witness has been produced who could show that any person residing twenty miles from Smith ever heard of him till the annunciation, through the newspapers, of the publication of that book." (pp. 273-274, 1856 edition). "Prophet" Strang's self-assured denials of there ever having been any pre-1830 collusion between Smith and Rigdon seemed to settle the question of the "Rigdon-Spalding" authorship claims for the Gold Bible -- or, at least so in the minds of the Mid-western Latter Day Saints of the 1850s.
Reorganized LDS who shunned association with Strang during the 1850s kept alive their collective fantasy that the LDS Millennial Star, mailed out from Liverpool, still remained beyond Brigham Young's restrictive grasp, proving in every issue that "truth will prevail." The Star was edited and published in a combative, cosmopolitan environment where anti-Mormon attacks needed to be met with faith-promoting saintly rhetoric. From its issues the early Reorganites could always clip and pass around a few pages defending the sanctity of their religion and the genuineness of the Joseph Smith story. The January 24, 1857 front page of the Star carried a typical headline of the times: "The 'Spaulding Story' Refuted From Itself.' The article quoted the primary testimony of the old Spalding claims witnesses, saying that Spalding's lost manuscript was a tale of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, and thus not at all the story told in the Book of Mormon. Joseph and Sidney were thus off the proverbial hook and implicitly absolved of any secretive appropriation of Spalding's prose.
By 1857, however, even the most optimistic of the Reorganized Star readers realized that the magazine had become a solid possession of the Brighamites. They might still look longingly to the pages of Mother Smith's Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith (published at the Star office in 1853 at Liverpool before Brigham tightened his grip on the editorial staff) for restorative religious reassurance, but it was becoming painfully obvious by the end of the decade that the Reorganization needed its own printing press and its own apologetic publications. The problem remaining before the RLDS of 1860, was what to say about the lost latter day sheep like Sidney Rigdon and Lyman Wight. Rigdon still maintained the thread-bare remnant of his own splinter group following in the late ante-bellum period and he has little good to say about the Reorganized Saints. Perhaps it was best then, to say as little about Rigdon as possible and to focus RLDS attention instead upon their "Beloved Martyr, Joseph the Seer." The problem there, was that the Reorganized LDS of 1860 was a voluntary regrouping of independent saintly congregations, some of whom viewed Smith as a polygamy-promoting "fallen prophet." Perhaps it was best then, to not say much about Joseph Smith, Jr. either.
2. RLDS Views on Rigdon and Smith:
The pages of the Herald during its first ten years were not a welcoming environment for speculation concerning the rumored secret relationship between Sidney Rigdon and "Joseph the Martyr." In all those early issues I have found pactically no mention of, nor direct response to, claims for a Rigdon-Smith collusion in producing the Book of Mormon.
Finally, in the May 1, 1872 issue of the T.L.D.S.H., came an RLDS acknowledgment of the fact that just about every text on Mormonism then being produced on Gentile press credited Sidney Rigdon as having been the clandestine editor of a Spalding romance-cum-scripture. The short article is worth reproducing here in full:
March 14, 1872.
I learn of late that some of the opposers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are resorting to an old story, that the Book of Mormon was manufactured from a romance of one Solomon Spaulding, and was accomplished by one Sidney Rigdon. Being somewhat acquainted with Elder Rigdon, in the early history of the Church, and have heard him interrogated both in public and in private concerning his knowledge of the Book of Mormon, and the Spaulding Romance, and at one particular time and place while preaching to a large congregation, bore his testimony with such power in the Spirit of God that scores were soon after baptized, and joined the Church; I submit the following testimony from two others and myself: --
We, the undersigned, feel it our duty, and are willing to bear our testimony concerning the Book of Mormon at any reasonable time and place, and especially concerning the following incident in rekation to Elder Rigdon.
In the spring of 1833 or 1834 at the house of Samuel Baker, near New Portage, Medina County, Ohio, we whose signatures are affixed, did hear Elder Sidney Rigdon, in the presence of a large congregation, say he had been informed that some in the neighborhood had accused him of being the instigator of the Book of Mormon. Standing in the door way, there being many standing in the door yard, he, holding up the Book of Mormon, said, "I testify in the presence of this congregation, and before God and all the Holy Angels up yonder, (pointing towards Heaven), before whom I expect to give account at the judgment day, that I never saw a sentence of the Book of Mormon, I never penend a sentence of the Book, I never knew there was such a book in existence as the Book of Mormon, until it was presented to me by Parley P. Pratt, in the form that it is now in."
MARY D. BRONSON.
Brother Hiel thinks it was in 1834, but sister Mary, his Wife and I think it was in 1833, so we have put it 1833 or 1834.
If Phineas is correct in his remembering Rigdon addressing the New Portage Saints on the subject of the Rigdon-Spalding authorship claims in "1833," that would have been an extremely early response from President Rigdon, indeed. D. P. Hurlbut, the most vocal initial promoter of these allegations, was still a member of the Church (though already in disgrace) when Sidney Rigdon visited the New Postage branch in April 1833 (LDS Messenger and Advocate, I:4, Jan. 1835, p. 62). More likely Sidney Rigdon visited and preached in New Portage regarding this matter on a subsequent occasion, some time well after Hurlbut's June 1833 excommunication -- perhaps, as Hiel and Mary recall, in 1834. As for my own reaction to this hearsay, I would find it more convincing were it accompanied with something written or published by Rigdon himself. Coming as it does, nearly forty years after the fact, it is difficult for me to credit the quotation, eactly as it is given here, to Sidney Rigdon in either 1833 or 1834. And, even assuming that Phineas' report is substantially correct in its content, I would feel better assured of Rigdon's good faith in this report if it contained his specific denial of ever having met Joseph Smith, Jr. prior to having an 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon "presented to me by Parley P. Pratt" on an unspecified date at an unspecified place (apparently on Oct. 28, 1830 at Mentor, Ohio). Finally, it should perhaps be noted that all of Rigdon's reported denials here are in reference to a published book, entitled "The Book of Mormon." He says nothing about having heard of (or having seen) anything connected with the "Gold Bible" (as non-Mormons c. 1827-29 termed the volume) or "The Record" (as the earliest Mormons first termed the same volume). Given Rigdon's known and documented propensity to "lie in the name of the Lord," it occurs to me that behind this account of his denial, there remained a good deal of wiggle-room for a former Campbellite clergyman who knew a good deal about the Gold Bible prior to October 1830.
This initial toe-dipping of the Reorganized Saints into the murky waters of the Rigdon-Spalding claims in the pages of the Herald is not, strictly speaking, their very first public response to contemporary allegations of the Book of Mormon being Spaldingish pseudo-scripture with a Rigdonite redaction. On Oct. 12, 1866, the "Reorganized Church of J. C. of L.D.S." issued The Spaulding Story, Concerning the Origin of the Book of Mormon "at Plano, Ill... with other versions annexed." This obscure pamphlet was an enlarged reprint of an even more obscure tract printed by Apostle John E. Page, in Pittsburgh, in 1843. The original 1843 Page booklet replaced previous Mormon tracts on the same subject published by Elders Benjamin Winchester (in 1840) and G. J. Adams (in 1841). Both Winchester and Adams had drifted into apostasy long before the Reorganization came together, so their old productions were no doubt found unsuitable for RLDS needs in 1866 (perhaps especially so because Winchester was an early exposer of Joseph Smith. Jr's secret polygamy with women like his own sister, Nancy Maria Winchester Kimball). Besides, J. J. Strang had spoken glowingly of Page's booklet in 1856 (op. cit., pp. 265-66) and in 1866 the RLDS leaders were still largely heirs to Strang's ecclesiastical legacy.
Page spilled a good deal of the Church's ink in 1841, trying to place Sidney Rigdon far from Pittsburgh "employed on his father's farm" during the period when Spalding's much-touted writings were in or near that town -- thus apparently absolving Rigdon from any possible connection with that man's manuscript musings (p. 3, notes, cf. pp. 7-8). The fact that the Rigdon farm was within a couple hours' travel of the center of Pittsburgh in 1812-16 does little to help the case Page here attempts to build in Rigdon's defense. Page accomplishes his assumed task with somewhat better results where he reproduces on old Parley P. Pratt letter, stating: "The statement that Mr. Rigdon is one of the founders of the said religious sect [the Mormons] is also incorrect. This sect was founded in the State of New York, while Mr. Rigdon resided in Ohio, several hundred miles distant. Mr. Rigdon embraced the doctrine through my instrumentality. I first presented the Book of Mormon to him..." (p. 13).
Pratt's letter (represented as being written to the editors of the NY New Era on Nov. 27, 1839 in all published versions of the document) was first printed the following January in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons (I:3, January 3, 1840, p. 44; I cannot locate a printing of the Pratt letter in any issue of the New Era between these two dates). Pratt subsequently reprinted the letter in his 1840 tract, Plain Facts Showing the Falsehood and Folly of the Rev. C. S. Bush (pp. 11-13); the same publication in which Sidney Rigdon's own sole published rebuttal of the Rigdon-Spalding claims first saw print (pp. 14-16).
What I find strangely disturbing about Parley P. Pratt's Nov. 27, 1839 letter is that it nowhere states that Sidney Rigdon had not met Joseph Smith, Jr. prior to Rigdon's hegira to Waterloo, NY in mid-December 1830. Pratt may convey an impression to his readers that the two men had never met prior to that time, but he certainly does not state that Rigdon knew nothing of Smith, nor of the Gold Bible, before Parley gave him a Book of Mormon in Mentor at the end of October, 1830.
This then, is what the Reorganized Saints had in their libraries at the beginning of the 1870s regarding the alleged pre-1830 Rigdon-Smith collusion: the 1866 reprint of Page's pamphlet with its 1839 Pratt letter, the May 1, 1872 Herald report saying that Rigdon denied any connection with the writing of the Book of Mormon, and whatever old copies of Church publications (like Lucy Smith's biography of her son, issues of the Times and Seasons, etc.) they had manage to retain from earlier days. None of these materials specifically stated that Rigdon had not met, known, or heard of Joseph Smith and his Gold Bible prior to late 1830. With these sundry historical items in hand, the RLDS editors of the 1866 John E. Page reprint felt justified in saying (in their own appendix to the tract, p. 15): "... the author of this pamphlet, humbly hopes and trusts that the documents presented... will clearly and satisfactorily settle the matter... that the Book of Mormon did not originate... through the medium of Spaulding's romance and S. Rigdon, when in fact it is a demonstrated truth, as clear as the noonday sun, that Mr. S. Rigdon knew nothing of the Book of Mormon, nor of its origin, till after it appeared in print in the year 1830."
What the RLDS editors of the 1866 Page pamphlet perhaps did not know, was that Parley P. Pratt had once printed an even more specific denial of the Rigdon-Smith connection -- a document they could have made good use of in writing their appendix to Page. According to Pratt (writing in 1838), Rigdon was entirely innocent of any sort of connection with Smith prior to the end of 1830:
But that ridiculous story, (concerning Solomon Spalding's Manuscript Found, being converted, by Sidney Rigdon, into the "Book of Mormon,") published at first as a probability... has at last been published... as an established fact, beyond the possibility of a doubt. Yes, S. Spalding is like to be set down as the author of the "Book of Mormon," and S. Rigdon as the impostor who palmed S. Spalding's Novel upon the world as a "Religious Work." ... But for the sake of the honest in heart, who love the truth, I here offer my testimony on this subject; as I was a personal actor in the scenes which brought S. Rigdon into an acquaintance with the "Book of Mormon," and into connection with the Church of Latter Day Saints.
... I returned to... Ontario Co., where for the first time I saw Mr. Joseph Smith, Jr.... About the 15th of October, 1830, I took my journey, in company with Elder O. Cowdery, and Peter Whitmer, to Ohio. We called on Elder S. Ringdon, 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.... himself and wife, were baptised by elder O. Cowdery... Early in 1831, Mr. Rigdon having been ordained, under our hands, visited elder J. Smith, Jr., in the state of New-York, for the first time; and from that time forth, rumor began to circulate, that he (Rigdon) was the author of the Book of Mormon. The Spaulding story never was dreamed of until several years afterwards..."
Pratt published this interesting personal account in his 1838 tract Mormonism Unveiled: Zion's Watchman Unmasked. It has ever since been the most explicit, first-hand defense of President Rigdon's alleged innocence in the whole Book of Mormon affair, readily available to students of Mormon origins. Strangely, however, very few subsequent writers among the Saints have taken it upon themselves to investigate very closely and report back upon the words Mr. Pratt's penned in Rigdon's behalf. I will have more to say about Pratt's recollections on this matter in another part of my essay (see below).
3. RLDS Views on Rigdon and Smith:
In 1875 Disciples of Christ Minister Amos S. Hayden published a book containing a detailed history of the "Reformed Baptists" among whom Sidney Rigdon did much of his preaching before converting to Mormonism. Entitled Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve..., the book made available to the reading public a good deal of previously unavailable information on Sidney Rigdon and his closest associates, c. 1826-1836. It presented a 14 page account of "The Advent of Mormonism" on the Ohio Western Reserve at the end of 1830 -- an account devoted largely to reconstructing Rigdon's Mormon conversion and baptism at Mentor in late October of that year. Drawing upon personal memory, first-hand recollections, and a few lines from E. D. Howe's 1834 Mormonism Unvailed, Although he did not recite the Spalding authorship claims or delve into explanations for Mormon origins, Hayden presented a most unflattering account of Sidney Rigdon's coming into association with the Mormons -- an account that served to open a door to the past for subsequent writers investigating an alleged pre-1830 Rigdon-Smith connection. It is doubtful that many RLDS read Hayden's book with any degree of agreement or satisfaction.
In its issue of Oct. 15, 1876 the Herald published a short report entitled "Spaulding Story Refuted." I'll reproduce it in its entirety below:
We have received the following items from Br. William Small of Philadelphia, in relation to the "Spaulding Story" of the origin of the Book of Mormon. It was written by request of Br. Wm. W. Blair, while he was in Philadelphia this fall. Br. Small writes as follows:
"While I was living in Pittsburgh in 1841, at the time so much was said of the Book of Mormon, and in connection with the Solomon Spaulding Story. It was stated that the Spaulding manuscript was placed in Mr. Patterson's hands for publication, and that Sidney Rigdon was connected with him at the time. In connection with John E. Page I called upon General Patterson, the publisher, and asked him the following questions, and received his replies as given:
Q. -- Did Sidney Rigdon have any connection with your office at the time you had the Solomon Spaulding manuscript?
A. -- No.
Q. -- Did Sidney Rigdon obtain the Spaulding story at that office?
A. -- No.
He also stated to us that the Solomon Spaulding manuscript was brought to him by the widow of Solomon Spaulding to be published, and that she offered to give him half the profits for his pay, if he would publish it; but after it had laid there for some time, and after he had due time to consider it, he determined not to publish it. She then came and received the manuscript from his hands, and took it away. He also stated that Sidney Rigdon was not connected with the office for several years afterwards. Gen. Patterson also made affidavit to the above statement.
Your brother in Christ,
Philadelphia, Sept. 13th, 1876.
This little article is a good sample of the kinds of obscure historical gems awaiting the careful reader of old RLDS publications. Every now and then the writers and editors of those publications allowed the most problematic bits and pieces of evidence in the case for the Spalding claims to slip into their texts and out before the unwary public. Here we see evidence for several facts which most Latter Day Saint polemicists and apologists would probably just as soon see left unprinted: (1) A Mr. Patterson who was living in Pittsburgh c. 1841-42 recalled knowing Sidney Rigdon and recalled Rigdon's having some sort of connection to his "office" several years after Solomon Spalding's death. (2) This Mr. Patterson also recalled interacting with the widow of Solomon Spalding -- presumably around the time of Spalding death in 1816, or at least before the widow left the Pittsburgh region in 1817. (3) That a manuscript written by Solomon Spalding "laid there" in Pittsburgh, prior to the widow's returning to claim it before she left the area in 1817.
By consulting other early sources it is possible to reconstruct the fact that the Rev. Robert Patterson, Sr., an occasional Pittsburgh book-seller and publisher, DID once receive a manuscript written by Solomon Spalding -- not just on loan to him for his reading pleasure, but submitted as a work of fiction, ready for the press. However, no other known report originating with Robert Patterson, Sr. so specifically clarifies the fact that he knew that the writer's name was indeed Solomon Spalding. And no other known report of a similar nature makes it clear that Robert Patterson, Sr. knew that a Spalding manuscript "laid there" -- presumably either in his hands, in the hands of his brother, Joseph Patterson, Jr., or in the hands of their printer cousin, Mr. Silas Engles (who owned and operated a printing press immediately adjacent to the Patterson brother's own book and stationery store).
From the dearth of information relayed here, it is not possible to reconstruct whether or not Spalding's wife Matilda was acting as an agent on his behalf during one of his frequent bouts of illness, or whether her initial comtact with Patterson came after the death of her husband. At any rate, from reading this probably truthful Latter Day Saint account, we can assume that at some point prior to her removal from the area in 1817, Mrs. Spalding herself reclaimed a press-ready manuscript story written by her husband and left with one of the Patterson brothers for publication. William Small refers to the Patterson brother in question as "General Patterson." He was probably thinking of the Union General Robert Patterson who served in the recently-ended Civil War -- and, thus was likely recalling a 1842 conversation with Robert Patterson, Sr. (although William Small states in his letter that it occurred in 1841, the spring of 1842 -- after Samuel Williams' publication appeared -- seems a more likely date).
The more intriguing bombshell dropped by Brother Small in his short report is that Robert Patterson, Sr. not only recalled knowing who Sideny Rigdon was, he also recalled Rigdon's having been "connected" with some office in Pittsburgh "several years" after the Widow Spalding left the region in 1817. Patterson apparently did not admit to Sidney Rigdon having been his personal employ in one of the Pittsburgh business firms in which Patterson was previously engaged (Patterson & Hopkins, R. &. J. Patterson, or Patterson & Lambdin) -- what he admits is that Rigdon was somehow "connected" to one or more of Patterson's operations. The most likely candidate as an "office" wherein this "connection" occurred is that of Patterson & Lambdin (1818-1823) -- particularly during its latter years when Patterson himself was not much engaged in the daily operation of the firm. The "connection" admitted to here may have been any one of a number of things; but the two which are perhaps most easily envisionable are Rigdon the occasional proofreader (for his friend J. H. Lambdin) and Rigdon the occasional leather book-binding purveyor (either to the Patterson-owned Pittsburgh book-bindary or directly to Pittsburgh printer Silas Engles).
The 1843 John E. Page pamphlet was written primarily as a Mormon response to Rev. Samuel William's 1842 Momonism Exposed. On the final leaf of William's 16 page brochure he reports the results of his own interview with Robert Patterson, Sr. -- an interview in which Rev. Patterson allegedly admitted to believing that "from what he has heard of the Mormon Bible, that it is the same thing (a Spalding manuscript) he examined at that time (about 1814). Patterson also provided Williams with a signed statement saying that the manuscript left then with him was "a singular work, chiefly in the style of our English translation of the Bible..."
In compiling his rebuttal of Williams' work, Apostle Page admits having "repeatedly heard that Mr. Patterson is a gentleman of unquestionable character for truth and veracity," but he says nothing of the contents of his own interview with the Pittsburgh book-seller (apparently conducted through, or in company with, fellow Pittsburgh Mormon William Small during the spring of 1842). It seems reasonable to assume that Apostle Page discovered nothing useful for his reporting purposes in the Patterson interview -- a finding inadvertently overtuned by Brother Small 35 years later.
A year after printing William Small's informative letter, Herald editor William W. Blair undertook writing the most lengthy and comprehensive rebuttal of the Rigdon-Spalding yet presented in the pages of that official RLDS publication. Replying to a recent article printed in the Chicago Onter-Ocean newspaper, Blair titled his presentation "Reply to Chicago Inter-Ocean on the Spaulding Story and printed the piece on Feb. 18, 1877. Blair formulated his response primarily as a refutation of what he saw as errors, inconsistencies, or "knavery and crooked work" set forth anti-Mormon works such as E. D. Howe's 1834 Mormonism Unvailed, the 1842 Samuel Williams' pamphlet, and Spalding's widow's published 1839 statement. Passing over his own solicitation of William Small's recollections regarding Robert Patterson, Sr., Blair relies upon President Rigdon's scandalous 1839 disavowel of the Rigdon-Spalding claims to clear the good names of Rigdon and Smith alike.
By the end of the decade the RLDS operating the Herald were feeling not only the pleasure of seeing the entire nation turn against Mormon polygamists in Utah (thus, hopefully, providing support for the RLDS claims for ecclesiastical legitimacy), they were also demonstrating an increased confidence in assuming the role of defending Latter Day Saintism among the critical Gentiles and curious potential converts to the cause. Their increasing confidence in this inenviable task is well demonstrated in the June 18, 1879 article: "The Spaulding Story." Here the writer (Thomas W. Smith) seeks to rebut a recent anti-Mormon newspaper article by demonstrating that teh Rigdon-Spalding claims for Book of Mormon authorship are full of "absurdities." In order to counter the "oft-published statement that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon... copied and published the Book of Mormon from Rev. Solomon Spaulding's romance," the responder provides a chronology containing numerous "facts" about the career of Sidney Rigdon. He cites Parley P. Pratt's old testimony that it was only "in the latter end of the fall of 1830 with printed volumes of the Book of Mormon" finally available, that Sidney Rigdon saw "the first" promulgation "of that work in any form." Note the addition of the last three words to the paraphrasing of Pratt's original testimony. The RLDS apologists writing at the end of the 1870s were confident that President Rigdon had never before "the latter end of the fall of 1830" seen the content of the Book of Mormon "in any form" whatsoever. The RLDS writer finishes up by asserting that Rigdon was never in Pittsburgh when Spaldings writings were there and that "Mr. Patterson says he has no recollection of any such manuscript." Given all this literary-historical self-assurance (I am tempted to say "self-righteousness") on the part of the writer and the Herald editors who printed his article, it is not surprising that the Reorganized Saints of that era came away from their reading of the Church publications with the smug confidence that any hostile accusations directed against Rigdon and Smith had long ago been exploded as being fabrications of their anti-Mormon enemies. After all, were not prophets, seers, and revelators leading the Church into ever more light and truth? Surely such men of God would not allow false apologetics to see print in the beloved Herald.
But, while the complacent Saints were basking in their perceived invulnerability in defending the "latter day work," the critics of the "old story" relentlessly chipped away at the foundations of the Rigdon-Smith defense. Much of the credit (or blame!) for this swelling attack by the anti-Mormon forces might be laid at the doorsteps of newspaperman James T. Cobb of Salt Lake City and the Rev. Robert Patterson, Jr. of Pittsburgh. Between the two of them (yes, they were in communication) they stirred up a storm of words which soon incited widely-published assaults from members of the long-silent Spalding family, as well as soliciting a pile of testimony against Smith and Rigdon from the few surviving members of a generation who knew those Mormon leaders personally.
The opening fusillade fired over the bow of the Good Ship Restoration came from none other than Solomon Spalding's adopted daughter -- and, to make matters worse, it found publication in the respected Scribner's Monthly magazine issue for August, 1880. Inspired and assisted by her adopting father's energetic grand-niece, Mrs. Ellen Dickinson, the elderly heir of Solomon Spalding poured fourth a verbal tidal wave of pro-Spalding claims testimony, dated April 3, 1880. In her lengthy statement, Mrs. Matilda Spalding McKinstry identified one of her father's old stories as being practically identical to much of the Book of Mormon, including an identity of many personal names in the two texts. Relying upon her personal memory, Mrs. McKinstry placed her late father in company with one of the Patterson brothers in Pittsburgh, including the recollection that one of the brothers was supportive of having Spalding's story -- said to be "a romance written in Biblical style" -- polished up and published. In finishing up her commentary on McKinstry's statement in this 1880 "The Book of Mormon" article, Mrs. Dickinson asks "how did Smith become possessed of the "Manuscript Found?" Rigdon, who was in Patterson's office while the manuscript was lying there, had ample opportunity of copying it, and as he was afterward a prominent Mormon preacher and adviser of Smith, this is not improbable." Dickenson concluded her piece by adding an unlikely bit of family gossip saying that "Smith (Joseph, Jr? Sr?) had access to the manuscript" in later years, when it lay nearly forgotten in a house near Syracuse, NY. What ever the merit may have been in McKinstry's statement and Dickinson's speculative analysis, the results were soon spread across the country, in a multitude of newspapers and magazines that typically reprinted interesting reports from the pages of Scribner's.
4. RLDS Views on Rigdon and Smith:
In the meanwhile, the Reorganized defenders of the faith had other fish to fry. For years the anti-Mormon testimony against the Smith family had been piling up, Howe's original publication of anti-Smith statements, stories about Joseph's polygamy, the airing of dirty sintly laundry by the Rigdonites and Whitmerites -- the list went on and on. In the spring of 1881 RLDS elders Edmund L. William H. (who write that 1873 article) Kelley and took a working vacation to Palmyra, NY and made a search for old residents who might still have something nice to say about their old neighbors, the Joseph Smith, Sr. family. Relying upon William's scanty notes, their memories, and perhaps a certain amount of saintly imagination, the two elders presented their findings on the front page of the June 1, 1881 Herald, under a headline reading "The Hill Cumorah." The investigators were able to relay a number of comforting historical tidbits to their reader -- the Mormon Smith family hadn't been so bad after all. And. although James T. Cobb of Salt Lake City was busy writing writing a book confirming that Rigdon had visited the Smiths in Manchester, NY previous to 1830, his evidence looked pretty shakey. Overall message: Our past leaders may have not been perfect fellows, but, on the whole, they were good guys and didn't deceive us about where the Book of Mormon came from.
The Kelley brothers' article may have calmed the fears of the Saints for a while, but that pesky Dickinson woman's story was still being reprinted and planting weeds out among the Restoration's grass-roots. It was time to do something about all that. The inevitable response was a second article from "old reliable," Elder Thomas W. Smith. His "The Spaulding Romance and the Mormon Bible" appeared in the Sept. 15, 1881 issue of the Herald, a saintly defense directed right at the editors of Scribner's. After wasting a good deal of space explaining that the RLDS were not polygamists (this was during the anti-polygamy crusades of the 1880s, recall) Smith goes to work cutting down Dickinson's family gossip placing Joseph Smith (Sr.? Jr.?) within grabbing range of the Spalding writings once stored near Syracuse. With this straw-man safely disposed of, the writer goes on the offensive against the incipient reporting of Robert Patterson, Jr. -- raising doubts as to exactly what D. P. Hurlbut did or did not do. He raises further doubts about the reliability of Mrs. McKinstry's testimony, and then resuscitates the old Pratt mantra, saying that Rigdon was not converted to Mormonism until "October of 1830... and had never seen Joseph Smith at that time; and the Book of Mormon was published over six months before he had seen it in any shape." As had become standard RLDS practice years before, the writer takes no pains to present any supportive evidence for this final assertion. Perhaps he felt he did not need to: it is a thankless task, trying to prove a negative tenet of "the faith" -- it is so much easier to just "tell the story" instead.
After reprinting a letter wrutten by Spalding's old friend. Joseph Miller, athe beginning of 1882, the Saints' Herald (the "True" part of the old title long since done away with) took a vacation from defending Smith and Rigdon for a few months. Perhaps the RLDS leaders and writers found Robert Patterson, Jr.'s 1882 Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? uninspirational reading; along with Palmyra resident Mrs. Horace Eaton's "Origin of Mormonism," published that same year. Both works fingered Sidney Rigdon as the probable culprit responsible originating a good deal of Mormonism. The knee-jerk response from the Plano "headquarters" was the 1882 "Tract No. 30" -- Origin of the Book of Mormon. The anonymous author plods through seven pages of uninspired polemics, attempting to combat all the "journalists, writers for the magazines, editors and publishers of country newspapers, and clergymen" who were then jumping upon the Spalding authorship claims band-wagon. After delivering up a generic refutation of some of the growing list of Spalding claims (reminiscent of Thomas W. Smith's 1881 article) the author at last presents the 1838 Pratt testimony from Mormonism Unveiled: Zion's Watchman Unmasked. It appears that somebody in Plano was finally digging into the old files, attempting to find "fresh" antiquated responses to attacks upon the reputations of Smith and Rigdon. At least the writer refrained from smug counter-attacks upon the critics -- the tract evidences a refreshing, disinterested alooftness, rare among the RLDS apolgetics of the 1880s.
Tract #30 must have not gained much ground for the Saints, for it was followed early in 1883 by Tract #36: The Spaulding Story Re-Examined. This intelligent piece of work was penned by none other than RLDS President Joseph Smith III. At last the barbarians at the gates had attracted the attention of the philospher king in his ivory castle! Joseph's 16 page booklet (published March 17, 1883 in the Herald) was written in response to an unsolicited personal critique mailed to him by Robert Patterson, Jr. According to the Patterson letter reproduced on page one of the tract, the offspring of Spalding's would-be Pittsburgh publisher had sent the son of Joseph the Martyr a nice, fresh copy of his Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? Smith responds to Patterson's "I pray God to open your mind to the entrance of the truth, and to give you courage to avow it." with his typical, disarming genteelness: "Believe me I do not refer to it [Patterson's sentence] to resent it, or to refuse to acknowledge the force of the admonition, or to ignore the good influence with which God endows the mind to examine and receive the truth."
Having extended this verbal peace-offering, "Young Joseph" then proceeds to use his lawyer's skills to destroy Patterson's case against Smith and Rigdon. By simply stating that E. D. Howe's 1834 reporting is unreliable evidence (to Joseph's mind, at least) the RLDS President fells the Spalding claims in a single blow, leaving only "the question confined to Sidney Rigdon and his possible connection" with whatever is alleged to have been the basis for the Book of Mormon. Barely a dozen lines into the second page of his pamphlet, Joseph III is already dissecting the surviving fragments of Patterson's case, finding every remaining morsel "untenable" or "doubtful." In the end, President Smith concludes that Patterson has not presented sufficient evidence to prove his case in a court of literary source-criticism, beyond a reasonable doubt -- therefore, case dismissed. To his credit it must be said that Smith appears dispassionate and logical throughout his response. He is no wild-eyed Mormon fanatic, relying upon a testimony and a prayer to get him through to the end.
In fact, at one point in his response to Patterson, Smith openly admits: "If the religious teachings and principles that the book [of Mormon] contains are true, and comport with the New Testament Scriptures, I am interested in maintaining them and the book because of them. If those principles are false, I am interested in abandoning them and inducing others to do so too." Without attempting to second guess the President's estimation of the Book of Mormon's historicity, he appears to be saying here that he has a greater interest in the book's religious content than in its claims to be a veritable history of the ancient Americans. This is an attitude that has seen rebirth among the more recent top RLDS leaders. Perhaps the only problem involved in assuming such a stance in regard to the book is that, while much of its content may indeed "comport with the New Testament Scriptures," such overlap may prove insufficient grounds to preserve its canonicity in the coming years.
Smith delivers his deathblow of compassion to Patterson on page 11 -- where he cites his mother, Emma Smith, as saying "no acquaintance was formed between Sidney Rigdon and the Smith family till after the Church was organized in 1830." While Young Joseph may have not borne a testimony of the literal truth of the Book of Mormon, there was no questioning his reliance upon Emma's pronouncements in such matters. If Emma said her husband was no polygamist -- he was no polygamist. If Emma said her husband did not know Rigdon prior to 1830 -- he did not know him. Case closed, sealed, and filed away permanently.
Smith's tract shows evidence of his sincere attempts to conduct significant primary research, cite his sources, and present a reasonable counter-argument to the Rigdon-Spalding claims. In doing so he set a standard of objectivity and scholarship for students of the subject in the coming century. Unfortunately many of the RLDS whose chose to deal with the matter subsequently also chose to disregard Smith's example.
Leaving aside the war to prove or disprove Smith and Rigdon's secret complicity in bringing forth Restoration Scriptures, it may be interesting to make mention of a brief piece in the June 15, 1882 issue of the Herald. Consulting the journal kept by Elder Lyman Wight, his grandson determines that Sidney Rigdon was baptized in Ohio on Nov. 14, 1830. Sadly, this journal of Wight's was destroyed in a fire a generation later and only a few excerpts remain for study today. Rigdon's actual baptismal date was Nov. 8, 1830 (VanWagoner, Sidney Rigdon p. 66, n. 61).
The May 24, 1884 issue of the Herald contains another of those rare nuggets of information dear to the hearts of critical historical investigtors. The front page carries a reprint of an article that first appeared in the Baltimore Presbyterian Observer during the spring of 1884. That original report was edited for inclusion in the Keokuk Gate Gity, and then reproduced in the RLDS paper. The article read:
AUTHORSHIP OF THE BOOK OF MORMON.The Presbyterian Observer throws a new new light on the authorship of the Book of Mormon. The book, it says, has commonly been credited to Rev. Solomon Spaulding, a Presbyterian minister -- a romance purporting to give the origin and history of the American Indians. He sought to find a purchaser for this story in Pittsburg, but was unsuccessful. The author died a few years later. The manuscript of this story most unaccountably disappeared, though it was generally believed that one Sidney Rigdon, a printer, afterwards a Mormon Bishop, got possession of the same, altered and added to it, and thus altered and amended, it was sent forth to the world as the Mormon Bible. This point is explained by the following letter from Mr. James Jeffries, of Hartford county, Md., whose boyhood was spent a few miles from Pittsburg. He says: "I know more about the Mormons than any man east of the Alleghenies, although I have given the matter no attention for twenty-five years. I did not know I was in possession of any information concerning the Book of Mormon unknown to others. I supposed that as Rigdon was so open with me, he had told others the same things. Forty years ago I was in business in St. Louis. The Mormons then had their temple in Nauvoo, Illinois. I had business transactions with them. Sidney Rigdon I knew very well. He was general manager of the affairs of the Mormons. Rigdon, in hours of conversation, told me a number of times there was in the printing office with which he was connected in Ohio, a manuscript of Rev. Spaulding, tracing the origin of the Indian race from the lost tribes of Israel; that this manuscript was in the office for several years; that he was familiar with it; that Spaulding had wanted it printed, but had not had the money to pay for the printing; that he (Rigdon) and Joe Smith used to look over the manuscript and read it over Sundays. Rigdon and Smith took the manuscript and said: "I'll print it," and went off to Palmyra, N. Y. I never knew this information was of any importance. It will not injure Mormonism. That is an "ism," and chimes in with the wishes of certain classes of people. Nothing will put it down but the strong arm of the law."
The RLDS reviewer, writing in the Herald, takes Mr. Jeffries to task for having presented numerous "peculiarities" which render his account "incompetent and inadmissible." Despite there being some truth in this criticism, the fact remains that James Jefferies was indeed a wholesale merchant living in St. Louis in 1844, when the excommunicated Rigdon fled there from Nauvoo. As Nauvoo Postmaster and probable receiver of goods at the steamboat landing in front of his house on the Mississippi, Rigdon quite likely was at least a purchasing and handling agent for some Nauvoo Saints -- if not exactly the "general manager of the affairs of the Mormons" in that city. Thus, although Jefferies may have the content of garbled Rigdon's private conversations with him, it is not impossible that the disgruntled and distraught former First Counselor in the LDS Presidency shared a few churchly secrets with friends like Jefferies in St. Louis -- at least the official Mormon newspapers of that time accuse him of just such treachery. If ever there was a time when Sidney Rigdon may have felt a need to divulge his thoughts concerning the origin of the Book of Mormon, it was probably during his well-documented St.Louis stop-over in mid-September 1844.
The editors at the Herald appear to have kept an eye on the Pittsburgh newspapers during the early 1880s. It was from that city that Robert Patterson, Jr. now and then issued progress reports on his investigation of Book of Mormon origins, published either in his own Presbyterian Banner, or papers like the Pittsburgh Leader. The following article was reprinted from the Leader in theJune 7, 1884 issue of the Herald:
WHAT SIDNEY RIGDON'S DAUGHTER, NOW A RESIDENT OF PITTSBURGH, SAYS OF THE MORMON BIBLE.It will be remembered by our readers that just previous to the commencement of the debate with Rev. Kelley on the Mormon question, Rev. W. R. Coovert stated to a Leader reporter that Sidney Rigdon, a former resident of Pittsburg, had stolen the manuscript of Mormon bible, which had been written by Doctor Spaulding, of Ohio, as a romance and which the latter had left with a publisher named Patterson, father of the editor of the Presbyterian Banner; that after stealing it he submitted it to Joseph Smith, of Palmyra, N. Y., who, in connection with Rigdon, published it and palmed it off as a revelation from God.
Learning that a daughter of Rigdon was living in Pittsburg a reporter called on her yesterday, and at first she declined to say anything at all on the subject, but finally, on the scribe promising mot to use her name -- she is married -- she said: "I have never had the honor of seeing this so-called Rev Coovert, who of late has been so free in his use of dead men's names, but I understand he parts his hair in the middle of his head, a fact which, from what I have heard and read of him, is no surprise to me. Now, while I most emphatically decline to be drawn into any controversy over that story of Coovert, which, if there was any foundation for it, I can not, for the life of me, see why it was allowed to remain
5. RLDS Views on Rigdon and Smith:
Some Analysis and Comments on this Topic