GRAND LODGE BULLETIN
GRAND LODGE OF IOWA, A. F. & A. M.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, November, 1946
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Morgan, Mormons, and Masonry
A NEW APPROACH
Tom Bentley Throckmorton, P.G.M.
(Continued from October Bulletin)
A year passed and the public ravings of the anti-Masonic multitude became less audible. It seemed, with the passing of the weeks and months, that much doubt
had arisen as to the death of William Morgan. Then one day, unexpectedly, came a break for David Cade Miller and his followers. A body was washed ashore
from the Niagara River. Although the incident occurred thirteen months after Morgan's disappearance, the finding of a body was the one thing Miller had longed for
most. He, Mrs. Morgan, and others hastened to Carlton, a small town situated on the Niagara River about 40 miles east from Fort Niagara. Here he demanded that
the authorities disinter the body for identification. The demand was granted, and the body was brought from darkness to light. It was that of a man in a highly putrid
and decomposed state, so much so that its features were beyond recognition. But a little cajoling on the part of Miller and his man Friday, Thurlow Weed, a politician
who declared that "any body was good enough until after election," caused the grieving widow to express her belief that the body was the earthly remains of her
husband. The jubilation of the anti-Masonic adherents was short-lived, however. The hand of fate entered the scene.
The voice of a woman who yearned to know the whereabouts of her husband, one Timothy Munro, was heard. He had left his home in New Castle in upper Canada
one day and had embarked in a small boat on the Niagara River. He had never returned home. Evidently, when others viewed the body, there was enough objective
evidence about the corpse to satisfy them who it was. A coroner's inquest was held, and the verdict was, "That the body is that of Timothy Munro, who was drowned
in the Niagara River on the 26th of September, 1827."
This finding, too, failed to satisfy the enemies of Masonry. They still insisted that William Morgan had been done away with by the Masons and that the adherents
to the Institution should be held responsible for his death. The issue, which in the beginning was purely local, spread throughout western New York, later engulfed
the Empire State and eventually became national in scope...
John Quincy Adams, then President, became one of Masonry's bitterest enemies. So great was the furor over the Morgan affair that it literally shook Freemasonry
to its foundation. In some localities members deserted their lodges en masse. In other places the bitterness of the anti-Masons was so
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intense that lodges had to go into hiding until the storm blew over. Seceding Masons were extremely unfaithful to their vows. They were instrumental in holding...
mock ceremonials and initiations in public. They subjected Masonry to ridicule. Figuratively speaking, they defiled, vilified, and spat on it.
Some circuit- riding parsons, who were anti-masonic, were especially vehement in their attacks on Freemasonry. Fortunately Masonry is not built on shifting sand.
Its foundations are laid on the rock eternal. Its great light is the Holy Bible. Less than that for a foundation, it never would have survived the attack. Long after the
monument raised by popular subscription by anti-Masons and erected in the cemetery at Batavia to the memory of William Morgan -- "murdered for revealing the
secrets of their Order" -- has fallen in ruins, the peoples of this earth will find still among them the living, vibrant Institution known as Freemasonry.
Truly it may be said that "truth crushed to earth will rise again." The bitterness of the anti-Masonic period well can be illustrated by an incident which occurred
to the late Rev. Charles Mitchell, one-time bishop in the Methodist Church, and which he related to me many years ago. Young Charles, having obtained his
majority, approached his father one day and queried him concerning his views on Freemasonry. The father, who was not a member of the Order, advised his son
that the reputation of the Institution was good and recommended he apply for admission. This advice the young man heeded, and in due time was notified to appear
at the lodge hall for initiation. On that day, after the evening meal was finished, candidate Mitchell hied himself to his room and put on his Sunday clothes. As he
was about to leave the house, his mother inquired as to where he was going for the evening, to which the son replied, "I am going down to the lodge hall, mother
dear. I'm joining the Masons tonight." A pained expression came over the mother's countenance as she bade her boy goodbye, but the true significance of that
look was lost on the young man at that moment.
Long past the hour when most of the village lamps had been extinguished, Charles Mitchell wended his footsteps homeward. He had experienced something
foreign to his past life. Thus musing, he came up the walk to his father's home, where he noticed a light in the window. Entering the house, he observed his mother
sitting beside the table on which a lamp rested. She was rocking gently to and fro as she gazed on the open Bible on her lap. The house was quiet, save for the
deep breathing of the father, who peacefully slept in an adjoining room. He was not worried about his son that night. Only the mother awaited the return of the
prodigal. Slowly raising her head, she fastened her gaze on the son standing before her and in withering and sarcastic tones exclaimed, "Now, Charles, I suppose
you found out who killed Morgan."
The Rise of Mormonism
Having covered briefly the high points of the Morgan episode, let us now turn our attention to the consideration of its influence on the creation of Mormonism.
At first glance one might see no connection between the two. Morganism was purely anti- Masonic; Mormonism is purely religious. Yet I feel it is wholly
unlikely that Mormonism would have come into existence had it not been for events which undoubtedly affected its
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originator, Joseph Smith, Jr., and sprang out of the environment of anti-Masonic hatred to influence his life, his character, and his conduct.
Our first knowledge of the Smith family comes from New England. Here Joseph Smith, Sr., resided in Sharon, Vermont. As a Christmas gift to her husband,
the good wife, emulating the Virgin Mary, presented a baby boy to him. The arrival of the little one occurred December 23, 1805. The child was christened
Joseph Smith, Jr. He was the fourth offspring of what later became a family of ten children. I am sure that the Smiths, as they gazed on their newborn that
Christmas time, never dreamed of the role that Joseph and his older brother, Hyrum, were destined to play in the affairs of state and nation. Nor could they
envision the part they were to play, indirectly, in Masonic affairs, especially at the time of the formation of the Grand Lodge of Iowa almost 40 years later.
In the course of time the Smith family drifted to western New York and settled in Manchester, Ontario County. This village was near Batavia, in Genesee
County, the site of the anti-Masonic uprising. Here Joseph grew up as a child and young man. Here he undoubtedly knew something of William Morgan,
the stone mason, and David Cade Miller, the publisher of the local paper in Batavia. It requires no stretch of my imagination to believe that both Joseph and
Hyrum Smith were interested, as young men, in the beginnings of the anti-Masonic movement in their neighboring town. It is only reasonable to assume they
were interested spectators at the indignation meetings which were held by irate citizens and disloyal Masons. They certainly would be present when mock
trials and ceremonials were held in public to impress upon the minds of those present the wickedness of the Masonic Order and the sinfulness of its members.
It will be recalled that the printing of "Morgan's Illustrations of Masonry" began in July, 1826, and the abduction and subsequent disappearance of William
Morgan took place a month later. Undoubtedly the following 12 months of that period were fraught with much hard feeling and animosity toward the local
Masons and their friends. It was in this hotbed of anti-Masonic environment that the impressionable young man, Joseph Smith, Jr., received an insight into
mass hatred and mass psychology.
It long has been my observation that people are most gullible in affairs which concern religion and health. P. T. Barnum, the greatest showman of this time,
was right when he said, "The public likes to be fooled." The most vulnerable spot in man, psychologically speaking, is his reaction to things emotional. Of
these reactions the principal ones are church matters and concern for health. To become a leader of any great movement or cult requires of the individual
that he possess a nervous mechanism that is not of the common "garden variety" type or "mine run" quality. It requires a mechanism capable of engendering
in its owner the qualities of shrewdness, cunning, discernment, ability to force opinions -- no matter how untenable -- upon others who swallow them hook,
line, and sinker and to sway the emotions and thoughts of the masses to his own purpose. Whether Joseph Smith, Jr., possessed such nerve protoplasm I
have no personal knowledge. That he possessed the above mentioned characteristics is demonstrated by is life and actions.
It is well to note also that the early growth of Mormonism
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occurred during the revivalist, reformist days of the 1830's. In retrospect, one can discern that it stemmed not so much from a new theology,
which was a mixture of the new world religious thought, but from the personality of its founder, Joseph Smith, Jr. He accredited to himself the power of
divine revelation, which was his ultimate authority in all things, an unanswerable instrument, and which he used to create and maintain his theocratic
Anyone who reads the historical setting of the origin of the Book of Mormon cannot help but be impressed that it was an "inside job." The time, the place, and
the man were in readiness. The people of western New York were in a receptive mood for anything out of the ordinary. The alleged murder of William Morgan by
Freemasons made them so.
Hence, it is easy to understand, from a psychological viewpoint, how an impressionable youth, with a mind aflame from things seen and heard at anti-Masonic
gatherings and with imagination running wild, could readily conjure up the vision of the Angel Moroni, who awakened him from his slumbers one night -- almost a
year to the day when William Morgan disappeared -- guided him to the Hill of Cumorah near his home, and there pointed out the place where the golden plates
were hidden. Only a gullible person would believe such a tale. But Joseph Smith, Jr., did not stop here in his story. With embellishment he portrayed how he had
digged into the earth -- he didn't mention what tool he used -- and discovered the golden plates, together with the Urim and Thummin [sic]. The latter, he explained,
were essential to translating the characters on the plates, which were in the style of "Reformed Egyptian." The Urim was a pair of spectacles made of stone.
The Thummin was a breast plate, fashioned after those worn by the High Priests as mentioned in the Old Testament. These instruments, when properly worn,
were to enable the wearer to translate the hieroglyphics on the golden plates.
The work of translation, however, did not begin for some months following the mysterious discovery of the golden plates. One would naturally think that
Joseph long before would have been agog to begin his labors, but such was not the case. Is it not strange that he began the work of translation in the home
of his father-in-law, Isaac Hale, in Harmony, Pennsylvania, rather than in his own home at Manchester? Even more strange is the manner in which the
translating was carried on.
The room in which the work was done was divided by a curtain. On one side of it sat Joseph Smith, Jr., with plates and paraphernalia. On its other side sat
Martin Harris, friend and neighbor, whom the Prophet had inveigled to accompany him and to act as his secretary. It was under these surroundings that
the work of translation began. It was a slow and laborious task. In time 116 pages of manuscript were finished. By that time Secretary Harris was becoming
a little wearied in well-doing, and perhaps homesick besides. He requested "time out" for a trip home. To this Joseph agreed, but the translator demurred
when Harris requested that he be allowed to take the manuscript with him to show his wife the beginning of a new Bible. But Harris was adamant, and rather
than to lose his favor Smith acquiesced in his request.
Perhaps Martin Harris wanted something tangible to convince his spouse that his time during his absence from home had been fully occupied and free from
worldly thoughts and errors of the flesh.
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Three weeks passed and no word came to Harmony from the Harris home at Palmyra, New York. As the days dragged on their more recent ones greatly
disturbed Joseph Smith, for his secretary should have returned ere then. Sensing that all was not well back home, Smith returned to Manchester. Here he
lost no time in seeking out his old friend, Martin Harris. To his dismay he learned from him that the manuscript had disappeared after he had allowed his
wife to see the fruit of their labors. After perusing the writing, Mrs. Harris had misplaced it and was unable to find it. It was for this reason that Secretary
Harris had been afraid to return to Harmony empty-handed.
The loss of the manuscript certainly put Smith, the Prophet-to-be, on the spot. If he were sure
that the writing was destroyed, the solution of the problem would be simple. But he had no such assurance. To retranslate the golden plates would be no
hard task. But to do so and then be confronted with the original translation, which might be off the beam and far from the magnetic pole of
Mormon, would be disastrous. But Smith was a resourceful man, and whenever he got into a tight place he always took his problem to the Lord. And
mirable dictu, the Lord never failed him. So it came to pass that the Lord revealed unto His servant, Joseph Smith, that he was not to retranslate from
the plates of Lehi that which had been stolen but to confound the evil designing persons and devil by beginning the work of translation from the plates of
Nephi. Hence the Book of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon, is forever lost to the world.
When the Prophet resumed his labor of translation, he dismissed Martin Harris and in his place secured the services of Oliver Cowdery, one of the faithful.
Apparently Oliver had the necessary prerequisites for the job. By vocation he was a blacksmith and a school teacher; his avocation was opposing the
Masons. It is important to bear in mind that the translation of the golden plates and the work of compiling the manuscript of the Book of Mormon was
accomplished during those trying years of anti-Masonic juror, 1827-1829. The book was made ready for the press and a copyright secured by Joseph Smith,
Jr., author and proprietor, in June, 1829. It was printed for the author by E. B. Grandin, of Palmyra, in 1830. It is stated that during the printing of the book
only a few pages of the manuscript were allowed to go to the printer at any time. Evidently Joseph had profited by the Harris experience and had no desire
to take a similar trouble to the Lord again in case the manuscript was stolen.
(To be continued)