Duncan. J. McMillan
Historical Sketch of Mormonism
(NYC: League for Social Service, 1900)
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... [the Book of Mormon is claimed to be a translation]
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from certain plates of brass or gold which Joseph Smith claimed to have discovered in the hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, New York, under the guidance of an angel called Moroni. The whole system rests upon the claim of Joseph Smith to have been divinely called and inspired, and his having received the plates and translated their inscriptions by divine help and inspiration.
ITS ORIGIN.Mormonism had its origin in the junction of two lines of influences under peculiar conditions. One line proceeded from the southwest. Early in the present century, the great new frontier of our country lay between the Alleghany mountains and the Mississippi river, and stretched from Canada to the Gulf. Multitudes from the older states and from other countries rushed into this eldorado with much the same spirit of adventure that marked the recent rush for the Klondyke gold fields of Alaska. There were a few godly ministers of different denominations who sought, with true missionary spirit, to preach the Gospel in the new communities which were springing up everywhere. The increasing demand for the preaching of the Gospel gave rise to the camp-meeting, where crowds gathered and dwelt in tents and booths in order that they might hear the Gospel preached for a season. Great excitement prevailed. The religious emotions of the penitents were manifested in various and unaccountable wways. The dancing exercise, uncontrollable laughter, violent jerking, shouting, and weeping became common. Some yielding to their convictions became fanatically devout, others resisting became violently irreligious. Ministers were too scarce to furnish needful instruction and pastoral care. Pious
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young men of little knowledge and less training, attempted to supply the demand. These blind leaders of the blind stumbled into many a theological ditch. Strange sects came into being. Some had but a short life and others embraced enough of truth to save them from early death, while others still became permenant and useful branches of the Christian Church. Among the young preachers who entered the ministry in this irregular way were ignorant and dangerous men of popular gifts, who went from church to church misleading the excitable and finding no certain abiding place in any sect. One of these novices was Sidney Rigdon, whose home was in western Pennsylvania. He was fond of debate, gifted with fluency of speech and pleasing address, and possessed of ambition and energy.He united with the Baptists, but, disappointed in his desire for leadership among them, he sought alliance with Alexander Campbell. But his restless disposition and cunning methods offended the honest men of that church and they soon dispensed with his services. Then he was for a time pastor of an independent church in Pittsburg, and making the book-store and publishing house of Patterson and Lambdin a place of frequent resort, became somewhat familiar with their business. Among the manuscripts was a novel written by Solomon Spaulding, and called "The Manuscript Found." He advanced the theory that the Indians in this country descended from two colonies, one of which came from the Tower of Babel, the other many centuries later from Jerusalem. Mr. Spaulding died without having his novel published. Mr. Rigdon became deeply interested in this novel and must have copied it and changed it by introducing many passages of scripture so as to make it appear to be a revelation from God. But his stay in
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Pittsburg was short. He started westward on an independent mission. He preached that the latter days were at hand, and that God was about to reveal new truth to his chosen few. He soon had a flourishing church near Mentor, Ohio.
THE OTHER LINE.The family of Joseph Smith claims to be of Scotch extraction and to have lived in New England ever since 1700. The mother of Joseph was a fortune-teller. Both parents were illiterate and superstitious. They were among the people in Vermont who, during the first decade of the present century, followed a strange delusion under the leadership of one Wingate. By the use of an instrument which they called "St. John's Rod" the followers of this impostor claimed to be able to discover gold, silver, currents of water under ground, and medicinal roots and herbs, and to cure all manner of diseases. Like the victims of all such delusions they banked with unlimited impudence upon the "Lost Tribes of Israel," and promised a gathering of the favored people of God, and a "Latter-day Glory" far exceeding the glory of former days. The whole movement proved to be a scheme of a band of swindlers. Wingate, the leader, was arrested, but escaped from justice, and the movement came to an end.
Joseph's birth occurred at the time when the Wingate movement was at its height. Ten years later his parents moved to Palmyra, New York, Here Joseph grew up in a home without refinement. His parents were ignorant, indolent and intemperate. He had health and strength and an active mind and a vivid imagination. Being without school advantages he followed his own crude ideas. He was fascinated with the wild romance of Captain Kidd, and with a company of youthful followers he
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would hunt at night for buried money in the fields about his father's home. He is said to have been of a religious turn of mind, and during a revival he was excited very deeply on the subject. His imagination, his superstitions, and his religious excitement combined to create wonderful visions in his untutored mind. He was about fifteen years of age when he began to see visions and dream dreams. These experiences continued through seven years. During four years of this period Joseph was absent from his father's house seeking employment, in various capacities, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. His movements for two years cannot be definitely traced. But during his absence he was in the employ of Wm. H. Sabine, at whose house the widow of Rev. Solomon Spaulding was making her home. In the garret of the house was stowed away in an old trunk Mr. Spaulding's "Manuscript Found" referred to above, which she had received from the Pittsburg publisher after Mr. Spaulding's death. Soon after Joseph's return to his father's home he was visited by Rigdon, from Mentor, Ohio. Whether they had met during Joseph's absence, we do not know. The two doubtless became known to each other through a mutual friend, Mr. Parley P. Pratt, who was a traveling tinker and a preacher of some ability. Mr. Pratt plied his twofold vocation between Palmyra, New York, and Mentor, Ohio. He knew and admired Mr. Rigdon, -- indeed he was frequently a member of his congregation. After this visit of Mr. Rigdon's -- which was early in the summer of 1827, Joseph said that he was told in dreams and visions, that he was chosen of the Lord to be a great prophet to restore the Gospel which had been taken from the he world many centuries ago. He went so far as to declare that an angel came into his room at midnight,
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awoke him and read to him five chapters of the Bible, and afterward took him to a hill which he called Cumorah. The hill is four miles from Palmyra, and is at present the property of Admiral Sampson. There Joseph claims to have discovered the wonderful plates, and unearthed them by the help of the angel. He describes the plates as bound by rings, in the form of a book, and concealed in a stone crypt or vault where they had been hidden from this wicked world 1,400 years. The plates he says were four inches wide and eight inches long, and about the thickness of an ordinary sheet of tin, forming a book about six inches thick. Joseph Smith concealed himself behind a curtain, which was a bed-blanket stretched diagonally across one corner of his mother's kitchen, and there read what he claims was a translation of the engravings on the plates, to a scribe who sat out side the blanket and wrote what he read. Thus was the Book of Mormon produced. Eleven men testified that they saw the plates, but none of them were able to read anything that was on them, so we have only Joseph's word for what they contained. Thus was the foundation of the Mormon church laid. Immediately after the translation of the Book of Mormon the church was organized. At the first their doctrines were simple, vague, and apparently harmless. Indeed it was a matter of but little importance with them, what a man believed, so long as he became an adherent, and promised submission to the priesthood. Joseph Smith was baptized and ordained by Oliver Cowdery, then Oliver Cowdery was baptized and ordained by Joseph Smith. Thus was gospel authority, which Joseph says was taken from the earth in the early history of the Christian Church because of its wickedness,restored through this
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latter-day prophet. In October the number had increased to about seventy-five.
During this month Parley P. Pratt, with three other elders who had been admitted to the church, started on a mission to the Indians. On their war westward they visited Sidney Rigdon, who at once became an enthusiastic convert. He said it was that light which he had long expected to break forth from the divine mind. Of course the whole of Mr. Rigdon's peculiar church at Mentor was at once absorbed. Proceeding westward, these elders reached Kirtland, Ohio, where they baptised 130 in four weeks, and before the next spring the number increased to about 1,000.
When the Mormon church was organized, only five of the eleven witnesses joined it, -- Oliver Cowdery, one of these, and the one that acted a scribe part of the time, was cut off from the church a few years after, and turned over to the buffetings of Satan, for lying, theft, and living in open adultery with a servant girl. He afterwards died, a miserable drunkard. Martin Harris, another of the five who acted also as scribe part of the time was also cut off for wickedness, and Joseph Smith, the prophet, said that Harris was not fit for decent people to notice. Two others of the original five, and witnesses of the plates, were, years afterward, sent to jail for immorality and crime and then shot by a mob who broke into the jail. It is a significant fact that in New York, where the church originated, and where the Smiths lived, the church made little progress nor did it attain respectable standing, but in the region where Rigdon had been preparing the way, the progress was rapid and the growth permanent. Kirtland became the headquarters of the church, where a temple was erected at the cost of $40,000. But
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the establishment of a fraudulent bank led to their being driven fromthe community by the indignant citizens. According to Smith's own testimony he and Rigdon had to fly from justice at midnight.
Three kinds of charges followed Smith every-where and to his death: viz, immorality, to cover up which the doctrine of spiritual marriages and the practice of polygamy began to be justified under certain restrictions as early as 1836. A second charge which invariably followed him was dishonesty in the matter of money, as the Kirtland bank scandal shows. A third was theft. To justify his acts he asserted that the Mormons were God's peculiar people, to whom it was God's purpose to give the whole world and all that is therein, "for the meek shall inherit the earth," and the Mormons were the only meek people. It was not stealing, therefore, to take what belongs to one's self. Any one who associated with the Mormons as late as twenty years ago, heard this justification of theft urged again and again from the pulpit as well as in private life. In 1832; Brigham Young, from Boston, a painter and glazier, became a convert. He first met Smith in the fall of that year at Kirtland, and was the first to use the gabble called "the gift of tongues."
The next effort at permanent settlement was made at Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, which Joseph Smith said was "the centre of the earth," the site of the ancient " Garden of Eden." This was then our national frontier. But there were sturdy settlers in advance of the saints, who had acquired rights which they were not ready to surrender, even at the command of the Mormon prophet. Trouble followed, there was war which resulted in the defeat of the Mormons. Eastward they went and settled on the bank of the Mississippi [in great]
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numbers. Their missionaries abroad, setting up the cry of persecution, were meeting with great success in winning converts. Intoxicated with prosperity and popularity the prophet became reckless. With utter disregard of the rights of others, he appropriated property and wives, "for spiritual purposes," right and left. Evil reports and quarrels followed. The prophet was arrested again and again, but since the hope of the church was centred in him and his reputation, the saints were compelled to obtain his release and justification at any cost. The prophet was evidently near- ing the end of his mad career. In 1844, Dr. R. D. Foster and Wm. Law, editors of a paper in Nauvoo, openly charged Smith with having taken Mrs. Foster as a spiritual wife. The city authorities being under Joseph Smith's power, punished these gentlemen and destroyed their press and type. A warrant was issued for Smith's arrest, but he resisted the officers. Governor Ford persuaded him and his council to yield their arms and place themselves under the protection of the militia. The prophet and his three associates were conducted to the jail at Carthage for safety. Here 5000 Mormons were in arms, and their safety seemed assured. But three days after, a company of Missourians numbering two hundred, armed and masked, assaulted the jail and killed the prophet, and his brother Hyrum Smith, and wounded John Taylor. The blood of these so-called martyrs proved indeed the seed of the church. The system had been fast falling to pieces until this event. Sympathy for the saints who claimed to be persecuted because they were holy and good, won them friends everywhere, in this country and in Europe. The success of Mormonism ...
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was then assured. Joseph, the prophet, died just at the right time. He had run his course. The church had outgrown him. He had alienated the wisest counsellors, and the saints were losing heart. Sidney Rigdon then wanted to be a prophet, -- but Brigham Young assumed the reins of government by right of his forceful and superior personality. He told the saints that God had called him to the throne, and that, together, with his strong will, settled the succession. Rigdon, disappointed in his ambition of leadership, left the church forever. The conflict between the saints and their gentile and apostate neighbors was irrepressible. Brigham had not the courage to face it. Accordingly the long journey to the Rocky Mountains was undertaken, which ended at Salt Lake in July, 1847. Here they were within the boundaries of Mexico, safe from the pestering power of the "Babylonish" government of the United States. But, much to their chagrin, the fortunes of the Mexican War brought them again under the dominion of the much hated government. However, they were beyond the probable reach of civilization, and undisturbed, they have been for fifty years defiantly entrenched in those mountain fastnesses. Here the prophet had things his own way with none to molest or make afraid. To justify the peculiar habits of the priesthood a pretended revelation making polygamy a condition of exaltation in the next world, was conveniently received. To give it sacredness and added force it was dated back to 1843 and ascribed to Joseph Smith the Martyr-prophet. But the trans-continental travel was increasing, and the isolation of the saints threatened. Gentiles must be kept out and apostasy prevented. So the fertile brain of that master of men, Brigham Young, devised the doctrine
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of "Blood-Atonement." This means that the only way to save the soul of a gentile or apostate is to shed his blood. The "Reformation" set in. The Mountain Meadow massacre occured in Southern Utah in 1857 when at least 120 gentile emigrants were massacred, and their horses, wagons, cattle, clothes and money were confiscated, enriching the church by many thousands of dollars. The massacre in the valley of the Rio Virgin, the murder of the Morrisites, the outrage committed upon the Brassfield boys, and the assassination of the Parishes, all show how the doctrine was practically applied to destroy outsiders. The laying of the foundation of the Temple at Salt Lake City, the establishment of the perpetual emigration fund, the hand-cart expedition across the plains, in which hundreds of enthusiastic but misguided emigrants perished, the "Order of Enoch" devised by the prophet, which required them to have all things in common, by which the innocent saints were victimized, and the priests enriched, mark this period of Mormon history. But a better order of things was established under the military arm of the government of the United States. A new era began to dawn. Under governmental protection gentile miners began to develop the great resources of that country. In due time the Union Pacific railroad reached Utah and outside capital and enterprise came in. The hills and the valleys began to smile with awakening life. Salt Lake City was changing. Civilization came into contact with Mormonism at every point. The day was dawning, and the common people rejoiced. While Utah was a territory the strong hand of the Nation was felt. The executive and judicial officers were appointed by the President of the United States, and the acts of the territorial legislature...
Rev. D. J. McMillan
"Historical Sketch of Mormonism"