Criticism of Mormonism/Books/American Massacre/Chapter 3

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 3: Nauvoo, 1840"

A FairMormon Analysis of: American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, a work by author: Sally Denton
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Response to claims made in American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, "Chapter 3: Nauvoo, 1840"

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Response to claim: 23 - "Having suffered beatings and tarrings at the hands of Mormon baiters years earlier, and having faced impending death at various junctures, Smith sensed rightly that events in Nauvoo would be the grand finale of his life"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: Having suffered beatings and tarrings at the hands of Mormon baiters years earlier, and having faced impending death at various junctures, Smith sensed rightly that events in Nauvoo would be the grand finale of his life.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author earlier characterized Joseph's persecutions as "imaginary". Now, they seem to have been real. She also seems to be able to read Joseph's mind.


Response to claim: 23 - Building a spired marble temple took precedence over everything else

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: Building a spired marble temple took precedence over everything else…

Author's sources:
No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This is another indication of sloppy research: The Nauvoo temple was made of limestone that was quarried locally, not marble which would have required importation.


Response to claim: 24 - The Council of Fifty was "a group of princes" who would rule the "Mormon empire"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The Council of Fifty was "a group of princes" who would rule the "Mormon empire."

Author's sources:
  • David L. Bigler, Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847–1896 (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1998), 24. (bias and errors) Review

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Council of Fifty included non-Mormons as members.


Question: What was the Council of Fifty?

Joseph Smith received a revelation which called for the organization of a special council

On 7 April 1842, Joseph Smith received a revelation titled "The Kingdom of God and His Laws, With the Keys and Power Thereof, and Judgment in the Hands of His Servants, Ahman Christ," which called the for the organization of a special council separate from, but parallel to, the Church. Since its inception, this organization has been generally been referred to as "the Council of Fifty" because of its approximate number of members.

The Council of Fifty was designed to serve as something of a preparatory legislature in the Kingdom of God

Latter-day Saints believe that one reason the gospel was restored was to prepare the earth for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the Church was to bring about religious changes in the world, the Council of Fifty was intended to bring a political transformation. It was therefore designed to serve as something of a preparatory legislature in the Kingdom of God. Joseph Smith ordained the council to be the governing body of the world, with himself as chairman, Prophet, Priest, and King over the Council and the world (subject to Jesus Christ, who is "King of kings"[1]).

The Council was organized on 11 March 1844, at which time it adopted rules of procedure, including those governing legislation. One rule included instructions for passing motions:

To pass, a motion must be unanimous in the affirmative. Voting is done after the ancient order: each person voting in turn from the oldest to the youngest member of the Council, commencing with the standing chairman. If any member has any objections he is under covenant to fully and freely make them known to the Council. But if he cannot be convinced of the rightness of the course pursued by the Council he must either yield or withdraw membership in the Council. Thus a man will lose his place in the Council if he refuses to act in accordance with righteous principles in the deliberations of the Council. After action is taken and a motion accepted, no fault will be found or change sought for in regard to the motion.[2]

What is interesting about this rule is that it required each council member, by covenant, to voice his objections to proposed legislation. Those council members who dissented and could not be convinced to change their minds were to withdraw from the council, however, they would suffer no repercussions by doing so. Thus, full freedom of conscience was maintained by the council — not exactly the sort of actions a despot or tyrant would allow.

The Council never rose to the stature Joseph intended

Members (which included individuals that were not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) were sent on expeditions west to explore emigration routes for the Saints, lobbied the American government, and were involved in Joseph Smith's presidential campaign. But only three months after it was established, Joseph was killed, and his death was the beginning of the Council's end. Brigham Young used it as the Saints moved west and settled in the Great Basin, and it met annually during John Taylor's administration, but since that time the Council has not played an active role among the Latter-day Saints.


Response to claim: 25 - Joseph had himself ordained "king" during the time that he was running for President

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph had himself ordained "king" during the time that he was running for President.

Author's sources:
No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Joseph was anointed "king," but not in any political sense.


Question: Was Joseph Smith anointed to be "King over the earth" by the Council of Fifty?

Joseph was never anointed King over the earth in any political sense

Some people claim that Joseph Smith had himself anointed king over the whole world, and that this shows he was some sort of megalomaniac.

The Council of Fifty, while established in preparation for a future Millennial government under Jesus Christ (who is the King of Kings) was to be governed on earth during this preparatory period by the highest presiding ecclesiastical authority, which at the time was the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph had previously been anointed a King and Priest in the Kingdom of God by religious rites associated with the fullness of the temple endowment, and was placed as a presiding authority over this body in his most exalted position within the kingdom of God (as a King and a Priest).

Joseph was anointed as the presiding authority over an organization that was to prepare for the future reign of Jesus Christ during the Millennium

The fact that Joseph's prior anointing was referenced in his position as presiding authority over this body creates the confusion that he had been anointed King of the Earth. He was in fact only anointed as the presiding authority over an organization that was to prepare for the future reign of Jesus Christ during the Millennium. The fact that Joseph had submitted his name for consideration as President of the United States during this same period adds fodder for critics seeking to malign the character of the Prophet.


Response to claim: 25 - Joseph had a "narcissistic" "theme of deceiving self and others"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph had a "narcissistic" "theme of deceiving self and others."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author is simply repeating another author's opinion.


Question: Was Joseph Smith ego-maniacal, proud, and narcissistic?

Several quotes are used by critics to portray Joseph as ego-maniacal, proud, and narcissistic

Joseph Smith is quoted as saying such things as:

  • "I am learned, and know more than all the world put together."
  • "I combat the errors of ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the Gordian knot of powers, and I solve mathematical problems of universities, with truth . . . diamond truth; and God is my ‘right hand man.’”

These quotes are used to portray Joseph as ego-maniacal, proud, and narcissistic.

Note: This wiki section was based partly on a review of G.D. Smith's Nauvoo Polygamy. As such, it focuses on that author's presentation of the data. To read the full review, follow the link. Gregory L. Smith, A review of Nauvoo Polygamy:...but we called it celestial marriage by George D. Smith. FARMS Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2. (Detailed book review)

To paraphrase G. D. Smith, small wonder, then, that this Joseph—the one revealed by the documents—decided to run for the presidency. The decision was natural since the Saints felt no candidate was worthy of their support—though they knew that a vote for Joseph could well be “throw[ing] away our votes.”[3] Joseph’s campaign was “a gesture,” though one he took seriously.[4] Experienced students of Mormon history will know this; G. D. Smith evidently counts on his audience not knowing.

See also reply to Abanes here.

Did Joseph claim to know more than all the world?

G. D. Smith writes that “in defending his theology [during the King Follett discourse], Smith proclaimed, ‘I am learned, and know more than all the world put together.’” The period ending the sentence would imply that this completed his thought—and so it appears in the History of the Church.[5] If the three published versions of the original talk are consulted,[6] however, they each demonstrate that the sentiment may have been quite different:

Now, I ask all the learned men who hear me, why the learned doctors who are preaching salvation say that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing. They account it blasphemy to contradict the idea. If you tell them that God made the world out of something, they will call you a fool. The reason is that they are unlearned but I am learned and know more than all the world put together—the Holy Ghost does, anyhow. If the Holy Ghost in me comprehends more than all the world, I will associate myself with it.[7]

In the History of the Church version, the statement about the Holy Ghost is placed in its own sentence. This allows G. D. Smith to exclude it with no ellipsis and portray Joseph as decidedly more arrogant than he was.

Daniel C. Peterson’s remark is telling: “Amusing, isn’t it, . . . that the very same people who vehemently reject the . . . History of the Church as an unreliable source when it seems to support the Latter-day Saint position clutch it to their bosoms as an unparalleled historical treasure when they think they can use it as a weapon against the alleged errors of Mormonism.”[8]:54-55

Letter taken from context

Critics fail, then, to provide the context for these remarks, some of which are taken from an exchange which Joseph had with newspaperman James Arlington Bennet.[9] For example, G.D. Smith quotes the phrases above and then editorializes: “With such a self-image, it is not surprising that he also aspired to the highest office in the land: the presidency of the United States.”[10] Here again, he serves his readers poorly. He neglects to tell us that Joseph’s remark comes from a somewhat tongue-in-cheek exchange with James Bennet, who had been baptized in the East but immediately wrote Joseph to disclaim his “glorious frolic in the clear blue ocean; for most assuredly a frolic it was, without a moment’s reflection or consideration.”[11]:71

James Bennet's original letter

Bennet went on to praise Joseph in an exaggerated, humorous style: “As you have proved yourself to be a philosophical divine . . . [it] point[s] you out as the most extraordinary man of the present age.” “But,” cautioned Bennet,

my mind is of so mathematical and philosophical a cast, that the divinity of Moses makes no impression on me, and you will not be offended when I say that I rate you higher as a legislator than I do Moses. . . . I cannot, however, say but you are both right, it being out of the power of man to prove you wrong. It is no mathematical problem, and can therefore get no mathematical solution (italics added)[11]:72

Joseph’s claim that his religious witness can “solve mathematical problems of universities” is thus a playful return shot at Bennet,[12] who has claimed a “so mathematical” mind that cannot decide about Joseph’s truth claims since they admit of “no mathematical solution.”[13] G. D. Smith may not get the joke, but he ought to at least let us know that there is one being told.

Bennet continued by suggesting that he need not have religious convictions to support Joseph, adding slyly that “you know Mahomet had his ‘right hand man.’” Joseph’s reply that God is his right-hand man is again a riposte to Bennet and follows Joseph’s half-serious gibe that “your good wishes to go ahead, coupled with Mahomet and a right hand man, are rather more vain than virtuous. Why, sir, Cæsar had his right hand Brutus, who was his left hand assassin.” Joseph here pauses, and we can almost see him grin before adding: “Not, however, applying the allusion to you.”[11]:77

Diamond hard truth

Bennet had also offered Joseph a carving of “your head on a beautiful cornelian stone, as your private seal, which will be set in gold to your order, and sent to you. It will be a gem, and just what you want. . . . The expense of this seal, set in gold, will be about $40; and [the maker] assures me that if he were not so poor a man, he would present it to you free. You can, however, accept it or not.”[11]:72

Joseph does not let this rhetorical opportunity go by, telling Bennet that “facts, like diamonds, not only cut glass, but they are the most precious jewels on earth. . . . As to the private seal you mention, if sent to me, I shall receive it with the gratitude of a servant of God, and pray that the donor may receive a reward in the resurrection of the just.”[11]:77, (emphasis added) Joseph’s concluding remark about the necessity of “truth—diamond-hard truth” plays on this same association with the proffered precious stone.

Bennet's goals

The key point of Bennet’s letter, after the sardonic preliminaries, was an invitation to use untruth for political gain—hence Joseph’s insistence on “diamond-hard truth.” Bennet closed his letter by asking to be privately relieved of his honorary commission with the Nauvoo Legion, noting that

I may yet run for a high office in your state, when you would be sure of my best services in your behalf; therefore, a known connection with you would be against our mutual interest. It can be shown that a commission in the Legion was a Herald hoax, coined for the fun of it by me, as it is not believed even now by the public. In short, I expect to be yet, through your influence, governor of the State of Illinois.[11]:72, (emphasis added)

Bennet hoped to use Joseph without embracing his religious pretensions and was bold enough to say so.[14] However, Joseph was not as cynical and malleable as the Easterner hoped, for the Prophet then insisted at length on the impropriety of using “the dignity and honor I received from heaven, to boost a man into [political] power,” since “the wicked and unprincipled . . . would seize the opportunity to [harden] the hearts of the nation against me for dabbling at a sly game in politics.”

Joseph’s fear in relation to politics is that to support the unworthy would be to corrupt the mission he has been given. “Shall I,” continued Joseph rhetorically, “. . . turn to be a Judas? Shall I, who have heard the voice of God, and communed with angels, and spake as moved by the Holy Ghost for the renewal of the everlasting covenant, and for the gathering of Israel in the last days,—shall I worm myself into a political hypocrite?” Rather, Joseph hoped that “the whole earth shall bear me witness that I, like the towering rock in the midst of the ocean, which has withstood the mighty surges of the warring waves for centuries, am impregnable, and am a faithful friend to virtue, and a fearless foe to vice.”[11]:77-78

It is at this point that he makes the statement quoted by G. D. Smith—a nice rhetorical summation of the word games he and Bennet were playing and a jovial but direct rejection of Bennet’s politically cynical offer—but hardly evidence of someone with a grandiose self-image.[15]


Response to claim: 26 - "Nauvoo, unlike Kirtland, had become the sanctuary for strange ceremonials and shrouded rites many members found increasingly alien and offensive"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: Nauvoo, unlike Kirtland, had become the sanctuary for strange ceremonials and shrouded rites many members found increasingly alien and offensive…

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author contradicts herself: She earlier stated that these things were introduced in Kirtland. On page 14, speaking of Kirtland, the author states: "He then initiated the secret rituals that would further repel their conventional Christian neighbors-anointings, endowments, proxy baptisms, visions, healings, writhing ecstasies, and, especially, the concepts of 'eternal progression' and 'celestial marriage.'"

Proxy baptisms were not introduced until Nauvoo, they were not known at Kirtland. Healings and visions were present from the Church's very beginnings. "Writhing ecstasies" were condemned by LDS scripture by 1831 (see DC 50:).


Response to claim: 26- A "Mormon historian" claims that celestial marriage "allowed the most ordinary backwoodsman to become a god and rule over worlds of his own creation with as many wives as his righteousness could sustain"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

A "Mormon historian," (Will Bagley) claims that celestial marriage "allowed the most ordinary backwoodsman to become a god and rule over worlds of his own creation with as many wives as his righteousness could sustain."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Bagley is not a "Mormon historian"—his account is invariably hostile to LDS leaders and truth claims.


Question: Do Mormon men believe that they will become "gods of their own planets" and rule over others?

Mormons believe in human deification, but what this doctrine means or entails is beyond human comprehension

It is claimed by some that Mormons believe that they can push themselves higher in a type of 'celestial pecking order.' This is often expressed by the claim that Latter-day Saint men wish to become "gods of their own planets." One critic even extends this to our "own universe,"

Mormons teach that by obedience to all the commandments of Mormonism, a Mormon may attain the highest degree of heaven and ultimately become a god, creating and ruling over his own universe. Do you believe that? Is this your ultimate personal goal?

Members of the Church—like early Christians—believe in human deification or theosis. They assert that this doctrine is taught in the Bible and by modern revelation. However, what this doctrine means or entails is beyond human comprehension anyway. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him," taught Paul (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Most members of the Church realize that they have enough on their plates to do and become through Christian discipleship and keeping their covenants. They do not spend much time concerned about the details of their future state. They are simply confident that they will be happy, in families, and back in the presence of God where they will continue to do His will.

Certainly we can have the end in mind, remembering the relationship of Father to child is crucial. He will always, through all eternity, be our Father and our God. Still, it would be unwise to jump the gun and assume we are practically almost there; we have plenty to do in the meantime, and an eternal and abiding need for the grace of Christ to compensate for our manifest inadequacies.

The critics' accusations along these lines are a caricature of LDS belief, and omit virtually everything of importance in their discussion of this doctrine.

The caricature: Mormons wishing to "get their own planet"

Mormons, along with many other Christian denominations, believe in deification or theosis, based on the teaching that we can become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). Little is known, though much might be speculated, about the specific details of our potential under this doctrine. Reducing it to ruling a planet caricatures a profound and complex belief. The use of the word “planet” makes Mormons seem more like sci-fi enthusiasts than devout Christians.

This isn’t just a quibble about semantics. Claims that Mormons hope for “their own planets” almost always aim to disrespect and marginalize, not to understand or clarify. The reality is that we seek eternal life, which we consider to be a life like that of our Father in Heaven. We consider our immediate task on Earth to learn to understand and obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than speculate on what life might be like if we achieve exaltation. Specifics about the creation of worlds and the ability to govern them upon achieving eternal life are not clarified in Latter-day Saint scripture. Attempts to portray these concepts as simply wanting to “get our own planet” are a mockery of Latter-day Saint beliefs.

The reality: Latter-day Saints wishing to become like their Father in Heaven

Much criticism of Joseph Smith and the Church in general stems from a teaching regarding the eternal potential of mankind.[16] The Church believes that men and women are the "offspring" of Heavenly Parents (see Acts 17:28-29) composed of the same eternal substance (see DC 93:33-35) and hence we have divine possibilities through the grace of Christ. Latter-day Saints believe that they can achieve a life like that of our Father in Heaven. This implies that one can eventually participate in similar works, among which would be the creation of worlds. In 2001, Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted,

The real life we’re preparing for is eternal life. Secular knowledge has for us eternal significance. Our conviction is that God, our Heavenly Father, wants us to live the life that He does. We learn both the spiritual things and the secular things “so we may one day create worlds [and] people and govern them” (Henry B. Eyring, quoting Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, October 2002.)

Elder's Eyring and Kimball are not the only ones to make such references. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Joseph Fielding Smith all associated becoming like our Heavenly Father with the creation of worlds, and the populating of these worlds with spirit children.

However, there are many names for (and many interpretations of) this belief in and out of the Church. There are various schools of thought on what it might mean for a person to become a "god" after this life. On this view, Brigham Young didn't teach of countless gods doing their own thing in countless universes, each out for their own concerns. According to Brigham, there will be no such separate kingdoms of personal power

...to yourself, by yourself, and for yourself, regardless of every other creature.

But the truth is, you are not going to have a separate kingdom; I am not going to have a separate kingdom; it is not our prerogative to have it on this earth. If you have a kingdom and a dominion here, it must be concentrated in the head; if we are ever prepared for an eternal exaltation, we must be concentrated in the head of the eternal Godhead...If we fancy that we have an independent interest here and in the world to come, we shall fail in getting any of it.

Your interest must be concentrated in the head on the earth, and all of our interest must center in the Godhead in eternity, and there is no durable interest in any other channel.[17]

Along these lines, consider the interesting sermon by Heber C. Kimball from 1856. In this discourse, President Kimball tangentially referred to deification, not as a glorious declaration that we will become gods or godlike, but to remind his listeners not to put the cart before the horse. We ought to consider becoming true "Saints" before focusing too much on being gods.

Heber said:

Many think that they are going right into the celestial kingdom of God, in their present ignorance, to at once receive glories and powers; that they are going to be Gods, while many of them are so ignorant, that they can see or know scarcely anything. Such people talk of becoming Gods, when they do not know anything of God, or of His works; such persons have to learn repentance, and obedience to the law of God; they have got to learn to understand angels, and to comprehend and stick to the principles of this Church.

…I bear testimony of this, and I wish you would listen to counsel and lay aside every sin that doth so easily beset you, and turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart.</ref>

Similarly, during the King Follett discourse, Joseph Smith is said to have taught:

When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel--you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.[18]

The need for divine grace

Main article: Neglecting grace?

Christ said "be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (see Matthew 5:48) and members of the Church tend to take that charge literally. The trouble is, some Saints might feel they can or even must achieve this impossible goal through their own efforts. In conversations about grace and works Mormons are quick to quote: "faith without works is dead," (see James 2:20), often in reaction to extreme conservative Protestantism's claims that one can be saved by faith alone without a concurrent change in behavior and life wrought by that faith. In this respect, the Latter-day Saints share far more with the early Christians than they do with modern conservative Protestantism.

Members must also remember, however, that works without faith is also dead, and Heber seems to be trying to express that message.

Here we see an early example of a Church leader discussing "grace," though he still maintains a perspective in which works are essential. It is for us, today, to focus on today, and retain a remission of sins relying on Christ, as the light grows brighter and brighter until the perfect day, when the rest of this doctrine can be figured out more clearly. In the meantime, our probation continues, and Heber had a few pieces of advice to impart:

We cannot become perfect, without we are assisted by our heavenly Father. We must be faithful and of one heart, and one mind, and let every man and woman take course to build up and not pull down. See that you save your grain, that you may save yourselves from the wicked of the world. Try to take care of every thing that is good to eat, for this is the work of the Lord God Almighty, and we shall have times that will test the integrity of this people, that will test who is honest and who is not.

Omitting prayer is calculated to lead the mind away from those duties which are incumbent upon us; then let us attend to our prayers and all our duties, and you will know that brother Brigham and his brethren have told you of these things...

There are trying times ahead of you, do you not begin to feel and see them? If you do not, I say you are asleep. I wish that the spirit which rests upon a few individuals could be upon you, everyone of you, it would be one of the most joyful times that brother Brigham and I ever saw with the Saints of God upon this earth.[19]


Response to claim: 26 - Joseph "plunged into new sealings to married women, sisters, and very young girls"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

"One historian" (Will Bagley) claimed that Joseph "plunged into new sealings to married women, sisters, and very young girls."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The plural marriages were unusual, to say the least; the younger ages of the brides were much less so.


Question: Why was Joseph Smith sealed to young women?

Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages to young women may seem difficult to understand or explain today, but in his own time such age differences were not typically an obstacle to marriage

Some of Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages were to young women.

  • Were these marriages to young women evidence that he was immoral, or perhaps even a pedophile?
  • One critic of the church notes, "Joseph Smith married over 30 women, some as young as 14 years old..." [20]

Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages to young women may seem difficult to understand or explain today, but in his own time such age differences were not typically an obstacle to marriage. The plural marriages were unusual, to say the least; the younger ages of the brides were much less so. Critics do not provide this perspective because they wish to shock the audience and have them judge Joseph by the standards of the modern era, rather than his own time.

The information we have on Joseph Smith's plural marriages is sketchy, simply because there were few official records kept at the time because of the fear of misunderstanding and persecution. What we do know is culled from journals and reminiscences of those who were involved.

The most conservative estimates indicate that Joseph entered into plural marriages with 29–33 women, 7 of whom were under the age of 18. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of LDS apostle Heber C. Kimball, who was 14. The rest were 16 (two) or 17 (three). One wife (Maria Winchester) about which virtually nothing is known, was either 14 or 15.

Helen Mar Kimball

Some people have concluded that Helen did have sexual relations with Joseph, which would have been proper considering that they were married with her consent and the consent of her parents. However, historian Todd Compton does not hold this view; he criticized the anti-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner for using his book to argue for sexual relations, and wrote:

The Tanners made great mileage out of Joseph Smith's marriage to his youngest wife, Helen Mar Kimball. However, they failed to mention that I wrote that there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in the marriage, and I suggest that, following later practice in Utah, there may have been no sexuality. (p. 638) All the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage. [21]

In other words, polygamous marriages often had other purposes than procreation—one such purpose was likely to tie faithful families together, and this seems to have been a purpose of Joseph's marriage to the daughter of a faithful Apostle. (See: Law of Adoption.)

Critics who assume plural marriage "is all about sex" may be basing their opinion on their own cultural biases and assumptions, rather than upon the actual motives of Church members who participated in the practice.

Evidence from the "Temple Lot" case of non-consummation of Helen Mar Kimball marriage

Hales has identified a further line of evidence which suggests that Helen's marriage was not consummated. In 1892, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS, now Community of Christ) brought suit against the Hendrickite, or "Temple Lot" break-off group. They claimed that the Independence, Missouri temple site was rightfully RLDS property, since they were the direct heirs of Joseph Smith's original religious group.

Although not embracing plural marriage themselves, the Temple Lot group was anxious to demonstrate that Joseph Smith had taught plural marriage--for, if this was so, then the RLDS (who denied that Joseph had practiced it, and certainly did not embrace the doctrine) would have difficulty proving that they were the direct successors to the church founded by Joseph.

Hales reports:

Nine of Joseph Smith's plural wives were still living when depositions started at Salt Lake City on March 14, 1892. Three were polyandrous wives (Zina Huntington Jacobs Young, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, and Patty Bartlett Sessions) and six were nonpolyandrous (Helen Mar Kimball, Martha McBride, Almera Johnson, Emily Partridge, Malissa Lott, and Lucy Walker.) Factors evidently affecting the choice of witnesses involved the health and travel distances for the women, and importantly, whether their polygamous marriages to the Prophet included conjugality. Non-sexual sealings would have been treated as spiritual marriages of little importance and would have played right into the hands of RLDS attorneys....

Among nonpolyandrous wives who were not summoned was Martha McBride who lived in Hooper, Utah (thirty-seven miles to the north). McBride's relationship with Joseph Smith is poorly documented, with no evidence of sexual relations....Also passed by was Salt Lake resident Helen Mar Kimball who had written two books defending the practice of plural marriage. Her sealing to the Prophet ocurred when she was only fourteen and the presence or absence of sexual relations in her plural marriage is debated by historians.

Throughout the length question-and-answer sessions with Malissa Lott, Emily Partridge, and Lucy Walker, the details of their polygamous marriages with Joseph Smith were paramount; the physical aspect of sexuality was a core issue. If [Helen or others] could not testify to such relations, their testimonies as the Prophet's polygamous wives could hurt the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) cause. [22]

Helen's personal account

Helen "took pen and paper in hand before she died to describe vividly her ties as a member of the Latter-day Saint Church during its first two decades of existence in a series of articles published in the Woman's Exponent" in the 1880s. [23]:ix Some of her articles dealt with plural marriage: "Her personal remembrances of those days constitute an important source that, taken together with other first-hand accounts by participants, provides a more complete view of the introduction of one of the most distinctive features of nineteenth-century Mormonism." [23]:xvHelen Mar's writings, an important source of LDS history, were published by BYU's Religious Studies Center in 1997 in a book entitled A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History. The book also includes her 1881 autobiography to her children wherein, concerning her marriage to the Prophet Joseph Smith, she wrote:

I have long since learned to leave all with [God], who knoweth better than ourselves what will make us happy. I am thankful that He has brought me through the furnace of affliction & that He has condesended to show me that the promises made to me the morning that I was sealed to the Prophet of God will not fail & I would not have the chain broken for I have had a view of the principle of eternal salvation & the perfect union which this sealing power will bring to the human family & with the help of our Heavenly Father I am determined to so live that I can claim those promises.[23]:487

Fanny Alger

One of the wives about whom we know relatively little is Fanny Alger, Joseph's first plural wife, whom he came to know in early 1833 when she stayed at the Smith home as a house-assistant of sorts to Emma (such work was common for young women at the time). There are no first-hand accounts of their relationship (from Joseph or Fanny), nor are there second-hand accounts (from Emma or Fanny's family). All that we do have is third hand accounts, most of them recorded many years after the events.

Unfortunately, this lack of reliable and extensive historical detail leaves much room for critics to claim that Joseph Smith had an affair with Fanny and then later invented plural marriage as way to justify his actions. The problem is we don't know the details of the relationship or exactly of what it consisted, and so are left to assume that Joseph acted honorably (as believers) or dishonorably (as critics).

There is some historical evidence that Joseph Smith knew as early as 1831 that plural marriage would be restored, so it is perfectly legitimate to argue that Joseph's relationship with Fanny Alger was such a case. Mosiah Hancock (a Mormon) reported a wedding ceremony; and apostate Mormons Ann Eliza Webb Young and her father Chauncery both referred to Fanny's relationship as a "sealing." Ann Eliza also reported that Fanny's family was very proud of Fanny's relationship with Joseph, which makes little sense if it was simply a tawdry affair. Those closest to them saw the marriage as exactly that—a marriage.

Historical and cultural perspective

Plural marriage was certainly not in keeping with the values of "mainstream America" in Joseph Smith's day. However, modern readers also judge the age of the marriage partners by modern standards, rather than the standards of the nineteenth century.

Within Todd Compton's book on Joseph Smith's marriages, he also mentions the following monogamous marriages:

Wife Wife's Age Husband Husband's Age Difference in age
Lucinda Pendleton 18 William Morgan 44 26
Marinda Johnson 19 Orson Hyde 29 10
Almira McBride 17 Sylvester Stoddard 40s >23
Fanny Young 44 Roswell Murray 62 18

And, a variety of Mormon and non-Mormon historical figures had similar wide differences in age:

Husband Husband's Age Wife Wife's Age Difference
Johann Sebastian Bach 36 Anna Magdalena Wilcke 19 17
Lord Baden-Powell (Founder of Scouting) 55 Olave Soames 23 32 [24]
William Clark (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) 37 Julia Hancock 16 21 [25]
Grover Cleveland (22nd, 24th US President) 49 Frances Cleveland 21 28
Thomas A. Edison 24 Mary Stillwell 16 8
Thomas A. Edison 39 Mina Miller 20 19
Martin Harris (1808) 24 Lucy Harris (1st cousin) 15 9 [26]
Levi Ward Hancock (7 April 1803) 30 Clarissa Reed 17 13 [27]
Andrew Mellon 45 Nora Mary McMullen 20 25
John Milton (Paradise Lost) 34 Mary Powell (1st wife) 17 17
John Milton 55 Elizabeth Minshull (3rd wife) 24 31
Edgar Allen Poe 26 Virginia Clemn (his cousin) 13 13
Alexander Smith 23 Elizabeth Kendall 16 7 [28]
David Hyrum Smith 26 Clara Hartshorn 18 8 [29]
Frederick Granger Williams Smith 21 Annie Maria Jones 16 5 [30]
Joseph Smith, III 66 Ada Rachel Clark 29 37 [31]
John Tyler (US President, 1844) 56 Julia Gardiner 24 32[32]
Almonzo Wilder 28 Laura Ingalls (Little House) 18 10

Statistical information for marital ages is available from the 1850 census. [33] Using a 1% random sample of individuals, 989 men and 962 women indicated they had been married within the last year. The plot below breaks these individuals down by census age.

1850census2.jpg

Of note is that 41.7% of women married as teenagers compared to only 4.1% of men. The mean age for men was more than five years older than that for women (27.6 vs. 22.5). For young women, marriage in the early to mid teens was rare, but not unheard of as both the anecdotal and statistical evidence above show. Teenage brides married a husband that averaged 6.6 +/- 4.7 (std) years older. To put that in perspective, 13% of the time the husband was over 10 years older than his teenage wife.

The 21st century reader is likely to see marriages of young women to much older men as inappropriate, though it is still not uncommon. In the U.S. today, in most states, the "age of consent" is set by statute to be 18. This is the age at which a person can consent to sexual activity or to marriage. However, even today, the "marriageable age," the minimum age at which a person may marry with parental permission or with a judge's permission, is 16 in most states. In California, there is no minimum marriageable age; a child of any age may marry with parental consent. [34] So Joseph Smith's marriage to Helen Mar Kimball, having been done with her parents' permission, would be legal in California even today, except for the polygamous aspect of it.

But the modern age limits in most states represent only the modern attitude. The age of consent under English common law was ten. United States law did not raise the age of consent until the late nineteenth century. In Joseph Smith's day, most states still had the declared age of consent to be ten. Some had raised it to twelve, and Delaware had lowered it to seven! [35]

It is significant that none of Joseph's contemporaries complained about the age differences between polygamous or monogamous marriage partners. This was simply part of their environment and culture; it is unfair to judge nineteenth century members by twenty-first century social standards. As one non-LDS scholar of teenage life in American history noted:

Until the twentieth century, adult expectations of young people were determined not by age but by size. If a fourteen-year-old looked big and strong enough to do a man's work on a farm or in a factory or mine, most people viewed him as a man. And if a sixteen-year-old was slower to develop and couldn't perform as a man, he wasn't one. For, young women, the issue was much the same. To be marriageable was the same as being ready for motherhood, which was determined by physical development, not age....

The important thing, though, was that the maturity of each young person was judged individually. [36]

In past centuries, women would often die in childbirth, and men often remarried younger women afterwards. Women often married older men, because these were more financially established and able to support them than men their own age.


Response to claim: 27 - The founders of the Nauvoo Expositor were "men who knew too much"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The founders of the Nauvoo Expositor were "men who knew too much."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is simply hype on the part of the author.


Question: What caused William Law to apostatize from the Church and turn against Joseph Smith?

William Law in 1836: "I assure you I have found [Joseph Smith] honest and honourable in all our transactions which have been very considerable"

A Canadian, William Law joined the Church in 1836 and moved to Nauvoo in 1839. After having lived near Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, William wrote to a friend:

I have carefully watched his movements since I have been here, and I assure you I have found him honest and honourable in all our transactions which have been very considerable. I believe he is an honest upright man, and as to his follies let who ever is guiltless throw the first stone at him, I shant do it.[37]

William Law in 1844: "I cannot fellowship the abominations which I verily know are practiced by this man [Joseph]"

8 January 1844
William Law released as Second Counselor in the First Presidency; Joseph Smith noted that William “was injuring him by telling evil of him…” William considered his release to be “illegal,” since he had been called “by revelation,” but wrote “I cannot fellowship the abominations which I verily know are practiced by this man [Joseph], consequently I am glad to be free from him."[38]


One of William’s key concerns seems to have revolved around plural marriage

His non-member son, Richard, later recounted:

About the year 1842, he was present at an interview between his father and the Prophet Joseph. The topic under discussion was the doctrine of plural marriage. William Law, with his arms around the neck of the Prophet, was pleading with him to withdraw the doctrine of plural marriage, which he had at that time commenced to teach to some of the brethren, Mr. Law predicting that if Joseph would abandon the doctrine, 'Mormonism' would, in fifty or one hundred years, dominate the Christian world. Mr. Law pleaded for this with Joseph with tears streaming from his eyes. The Prophet was also in tears, but he informed the gentleman that he could not withdraw the doctrine, for God had commanded him to teach it, and condemnation would come upon him if he was not obedient to the commandment.

During the discussion, Joseph was deeply affected. Mr. Richard S. Law says the interview was a most touching one, and was riveted upon his mind in a manner that has kept it fresh and distinct in his memory, as if it had occurred but yesterday.

Mr. Law also says, that he has no doubt that Joseph believed he had received the doctrine of plural marriage from the Lord. The Prophet's manner being exceedingly earnest, so much so, that Mr. Law was convinced that the Prophet was perfectly sincere in his declaration.[39]

William Law was excommunicated

18 April 1844
William Law excommunicated. Austin Cowles of the Nauvoo high council, James Blakeslee, Charles G. Foster, and Francis M. Higbee joined him in leaving the Church, and he was supported in his opposition to Joseph by his brother Wilson.[40] They announced the formation of a ‘reform’ Church based upon Joseph’s teachings up to 1838, with William as president.

William even decided that Joseph Smith’s opposition to Missouri (and the treatment the Saints had received there) was “unChristian"!

The hostile spirit and conduct manifested by Joseph Smith, and many of his associates towards Missouri . . . are decidedly at variance with the true spirit of Christianity, and should not be encouraged by any people, much less by those professing to be the ministers of the gospel of peace.[41]

Williams had financial quarrels with Joseph

William had economic quarrels with Joseph, and was probably too fond of his own financial state, rather than helping the poor of the Church. William and his brother Wilson had bought the higher land on the outskirts of Nauvoo; the Church (through Joseph) owned the land in the river bottom. Joseph declared that new arrivals should purchase lands from the Church (this was in part an effort to help liquidate the Church’s debts), but William objected to this plan as prejudicial to his own financial interests.[42]

Hyrum presented Law and his wife with the revelation on plural marriage, which affected Law greatly

William was probably also troubled by the death of his wife and daughter even after Church leaders had prayed for them. Hyrum presented Law and his wife with the revelation on plural marriage. Long after the fact, William reported his reaction:

Hyrum gave it [the revelation] to me in his office, told me to take it home and read it, and then be careful with it, and bring it back again…[My wife Jane] and I were just turned upside down by it…We did not know what to do.[43]

Law ultimately called Joseph a "demon"

It is not clear whether Jane and William Law were ever sealed. Alexander Neibaur and Hyrum Smith both reported that Joseph told William he could not seal him to Jane because the Lord forbade it; Neibaur indicated that this was because William was “a Adulterous person.”[44] There is no evidence of this other than Neibaur's statement however.

In the clash that followed, William began “casting the first stone,” at Joseph’s supposed failings, and the man which he had once admired as honourable and without cause for complaint became, in his newspaper, a “demon,” a power-mad tyrant, a seducer, and someone who contributed to the early death of young women.


Question: Did Joseph Smith or his associates attempt to reconcile with William Law before he published the Nauvoo Expositor?

Prior to the publication of the Expositor, Hyrum Smith, Almon W. Babbitt, and Sidney Rigdon attempted to reconcile William Law to the Church

William Law announced he would reconcile only under the condition that Joseph publicly state that the practice of polygamy was "from Hell":

I told him [Sidney] that if they wanted peace they could have it on the following conditions, That Joseph Smith would acknowledge publicly that he had taught and practised the doctrine of plurality of wives, that he brought a revelation supporting the doctrine, and that he should own the whole system (revelation and all) to be from Hell.[45]

The Nauvoo Expositor declared that Joseph was "“blood thirsty and murderous...demon...in human shape”

Shortly afterward, on 7 June 1844, the first (and only) edition of the Nauvoo Expositor was published. It detailed Joseph’s practice of plural marriage, and charged him with various crimes, labeling him a “blood thirsty and murderous...demon...in human shape” and “a syncophant, whose attempt for power find no parallel in history...one of the blackest and basest scoundrels that has appeared upon the stage of human existence since the days of Nero, and Caligula.”[46]


Response to claim: 27 - "Smith ordered the Nauvoo Legion to storm the newspaper, destroy the press, and burn all extant issues"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: Smith ordered the Nauvoo Legion to storm the newspaper, destroy the press, and burn all extant issues.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Nauvoo City Council, not the Nauvoo Legion, destroyed the newspaper.


Question: How was the decision reached to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor?

Destruction of Expositor

8 June 1844
Nauvoo city council meets regarding the Expositor.
10 June 1844
The city council declares the Expositor a public nuisance and threat to the peace. This was not mere exaggeration; there were sixteen episodes of mob violence against controversial newspapers in Illinois from 1832 to 1867, and so the leaders’ fears of civil unrest were likely well-founded. The city council therefore ordered the press and the paper destroyed.[47]
This was done. The decision to suppress the Expositor, while legal for the day, worsened a tense situation (in the years following the Expositor suppression, similar tactics would be used in 1862, 1893, 1918, and 1927).[48]
Historically, presses which violated community ideas of what was proper were a genuine risk to the public peace. Elijah Lovejoy, an anti-slavery editor of The Saint Louis Observer was killed by a pro-slavery mob in 1837.[49]
Joseph and the city council might well have had memories of what happened in Missouri when some members of the Church became frustrated with the lack of legal redress for their mistreatment by Missouri citizens.
Missouri probably also set the stage for the legal decision to suppress the press. In 1833, the Evening and Morning Star, the LDS paper in Independence, was subject to being "razed to the ground" at the unanimous decision of the mob committee established to drive out the Mormons.[50] The mob's ultimatum later stipulated that the Mormons were not to publish anything before leaving.[51]
The law of the day probably gave Joseph and the council the right to destroy the offending issue; however, since they had also ordered the press and type destroyed, they violated property laws. Joseph later said he would be happy to pay for the damages.[52] Critics are inconsistent when they complain about the Nauvoo city council's decision to suppress the Expositor (an action that was legal) and yet do not also acknowledge that Mormon presses had been destroyed by mobs acting with no legal authority whatever.
Despite the fact that the Expositor's suppression was legal, the destruction of the press appeared high-handed to Church critics, and other newspapers began to call for the Mormons’ expulsion or destruction. Joseph and others were arrested on charges of “riot.”


Question: Why did the Nauvoo City Council feel it was necessary to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor?

One member recorded that Joseph told him that the destruction of the press was necessary for the Saints’ safety

It is claimed that Joseph "could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism’s earthly king." [53]

The reality was that the Joseph and the City Council were concerned that the paper would cause turmoil among the Saints.

One member stated,

Brother Joseph called a meeting at his own house and told us that God showed to him in an open vision in daylight [meaning that this was not something he had just conjured up in dreams of the night] that if he did not destroy that printing press that it would cause the blood of the Saints to flow in the streets and by this was that evil destroyed.[54]

Joseph foresaw his own death as a result of the turmoil that was already occurring

Given Joseph’s numerous presentiments of his own death, it may well be that he knowingly chose this course of action to spare the members’ lives at the cost of his own. Said Joseph to Elizabeth Rollins:

I must seal my testimony with my blood.[55]

And later:

Some has supposed that Br Joseph Could not die but this is a mistake it is true their has been times when I have had the promise of my life to accomplish such & such things, but having accomplish those things I have not at present any lease of my life I am as liable to die as other men.[56]


Response to claim: 27 - The author claims that "the constitutional defenders of the First Amendment" called for Joseph Smith's arrest after the destruction of the Expositor

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that "the constitutional defenders of the First Amendment" called for Joseph Smith's arrest after the destruction of the Expositor.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The First Amendment did not apply to local or state governments until after the Civil War.


Question: Was the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor legal?

The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor led directly to the murder of Joseph and Hyrum

It is claimed by one critic of the Church that Joseph "could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism’s earthly king." [57] Another claimed that "When the Laws (with others) purchased a printing press in an attempt to hold Joseph Smith accountable for his polygamy (which he was denying publicly), Joseph ordered the destruction of the printing press, which was both a violation of the 1st Amendment, and which ultimately led to Joseph’s assassination." [58]

The Expositor incident led directly to the murder of Joseph and Hyrum, but it was preceded by a long period of non-Mormon distrust of Joseph Smith, and attempts to extradite him on questionable basis.

The destruction of the Expositor issue was legal; it was not legal to have destroyed the type, but this was a civil matter, not a criminal one, and one for which Joseph was willing to pay a fine if imposed.

Joseph seems to have believed—or, his followers believed after his death—that the decision, while 'unwise' for Joseph, may have been in the Saints' interest to have Joseph killed. For a time, this diffused much of the tension and may have prevented an outbreak of generalized violence against the Saints, as occurred in Missouri.

The destruction of the first issue was legal, but it was not legal to destroy the printer's type

It is claimed that "When the Laws (with others) purchased a printing press in an attempt to hold Joseph Smith accountable for his polygamy (which he was denying publicly), Joseph ordered the destruction of the printing press, which was both a violation of the 1st Amendment, and which ultimately led to Joseph’s assassination." [59]

The destruction of the Expositor issue (i.e., the paper itself) was legal; it was not legal to have destroyed the type, but this was a civil matter, not a criminal one, and one for which Joseph was willing to pay a fine if imposed.

Joseph did not unilaterally order the action against the Expositor—it was the Nauvoo City Council (which included non-Mormons) which reached the unanimous decision. Having reached that decision, Joseph Smith then issued an order, as mayor, to carry out the Council's decision. As described in the Church's 2011 Priesthood/Relief Society manual:

On June 10, 1844, Joseph Smith, who was the mayor of Nauvoo, and the Nauvoo city council ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor and the press on which it was printed. [60]

History of the Church also describes this event [61]:

I [Joseph Smith] immediately ordered the Marshal to destroy it [the Nauvoo Expositor] without delay, and at the same time issued an order to Jonathan Dunham, acting Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion, to assist the Marshal with the Legion, if called upon so to do." [62]

The First Amendment is irrelevant to this discussion. In 1844, the First Amendment only applied to federal law; it had no application to state or local law until the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War.


Response to claim: 28 - Joseph sent orders to the Nauvoo Legion from Carthage Jail to come and free him

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Joseph sent orders to the Nauvoo Legion from Carthage Jail to come and free him.

Author's sources:
  1. No source cited, but it is probably Brodie. See Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 392. ( Index of claims ).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

This claim is false. The evidence indicates that Joseph ordered the Nauvoo Legion to stay in Nauvoo.


Question: Did Joseph order Jonathan Dunham, head of the Nauvoo legion, to rescue him?

There is little good evidence from the extant documents that Joseph attempted to have the Nauvoo Legion rescue him

Fawn Brodie claimed that Joseph Smith was panicking at Carthage Jail, and wrote an order to Jonathan Dunham (head of the Nauvoo legion), telling him to attack the jail and "save him at all costs" [63]

There is little good evidence from the extant documents that Joseph attempted to have the Nauvoo Legion rescue him. By contrast, he repeatedly ordered the militia to stay home and his followers to avoid assembling. He repeatedly expressed resignation as to his fate, and just prior to his martyrdom was seeking to add more legal help to his hearing two days distant—a strange choice if he expected to be liberated by the militia.

The entire tale sounds more like gossip or grumbling among a few who felt that the Mormons militia could have rescued Joseph if given the chance

That Dunham would receive orders from Joseph and refuse to follow them seems incredible. It would also be strange for Stout to be the only primary source to learn of such orders. Why would Dunham tell anyone that he had refused an order from the prophet? Why would he tell Stout, a fierce supporter of Joseph? Why did others not hear of this and report it? Why was Dunham not blamed by other LDS members later?

Stenhouse tells the story, and claims that the order was found discarded on the ground—again, this seems incredible. Why would Dunham dispose of such an incriminating bit of evidence so carelessly? If it was found, why did Brigham Young or other Church leaders never hear of, mention, or save it? The entire tale sounds more like gossip or grumbling among a few who felt that the Mormons militia could have rescued Joseph if given the chance.

Dunham's death was reported in William Clayton's diary as follows:

Daniel Spencer has returned from the West. He brings word that Brother Jonathan Dunham died of a fever.[64]

Thus, the attribution of Dunham's death to suicide occurs later. Even if the suicide claim is accepted, Oliver Huntington's witness says that it was because Dunham felt guilty for being unable to fortify Nauvoo adequately before Joseph went to Carthage for the last time.

The weight of evidence cannot, at present, sustain the claim that Joseph commanded the Nauvoo Legion to come rescue him.[65] Errors, miscitation of sources, and typographical problems have further clouded this issue.

The critics and their sources: There are two basic 'streams' of this theory

The first derives from Fawn Brodie (1945):

Other authors have followed Brodie. Abanes (One Nation Under Gods), for example, merely quotes Brodie as his source. Denton simply repeats the claim without acknowledging Brodie as the source.

Brodie's evidence derives from two sources:

  • Allen J. Stout, manuscript journal, 1815-89, p. 13.
  • T.B.H. Stenhouse, Rocky Mountain Saints: a full and complete history of the Mormons, from the first vision of Joseph Smith to the last courtship of Brigham Young (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1873), 164n..

Brodie says that Stout's story "is confirmed" by Stenhouse, but Stenhouse mentions no names.[66]:n.94

New wrinkle: Hofmann forgeries

The second evidential stream draws on the first, but adds a new wrinkle. This wrinkle is one of the Hofmann forgeries.[67] Mark Hofmann forged the supposed letter from Joseph to Dunham, and it was published in a collection of Joseph's personal writings before the forgery was discovered.

Despite the fact that the document is a forgery, some authors have continued to use it. For example, D. Michael Quinn used it as evidence as late as 1994, and cites the Jessee transcript of the letter (cited above):

The morning of 27 July, Smith sent an order (in his own handwriting) to Major-General Jonathan Dunham to lead the Nauvoo Legion in a military attack on Carthage "immediately" to free the prisoners. Dunham realized that such an assault by the Nauvoo Legion would result in two blood baths—one in Carthage and another when anti-Mormons (and probably the Illinois militia) retaliated by laying siege to Nauvoo for insurrection. To avoid civil war and the destruction of Nauvoo's population, Dunham refused to obey the order and did not notify Smith of his decision. One of his lieutenants, a former Danite, later complained that Dunham "did not let a single mortal know that he had received such orders."

  • Citing: "Joseph Smith to Jonathan Dunham, 27 June 1844, in Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, xxv, 616-17; History of the Church, 6:529. Volume 6 link referred to this order but neither quoted nor summarized it....Allen J. Stout journal, 13; also T. B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints...,164n, told the incident without naming Dunham."[68]:141

</blockquote>

There is no mention in History of the Church that Joseph wrote a letter to Dunham urging him to come to their rescue

We note too that the History of the Church citation is also in error; Quinn transposed two numbers; the correct citation is 6:592. Despite this claim, there is no mention in History of the Church that Joseph wrote a letter to Dunham urging him to come to their rescue. Joseph wrote several known letters to Dunham, none of which supports Quinn's claim. The History of the Church entry reads:

"Willard Richards made copies of the orders of Joseph Smith as Mayor to Marshal John P. Greene, and as Lieut.-General to Major-General Jonathan Dunham."

These are clearly the letters referred to earlier in the History of the Church (see 6:493), which say nothing about rescuing the prisoners at Carthage.

Quinn goes on to claim that:

However, another former Danite took self-inflicted retribution for the death of Joseph Smith. When Nauvoo Mormons learned that Jonathan Dunham had ignored the prophet's direct order to lead the Nauvoo Legion in a rescue at Carthage Jail, some called him a "coward and traitor." Others dismissed him as a "fool and idiot."....[68]:179

He here uses the same citation as before: the Jesse volume, with its forged Hofmann document.

Quinn's retraction and the error's perpetuation

In 1995, Quinn wrote a letter in which he acknowledged his reference to the forged document and included and explanation:

While vacationing in California during January, I received a telephone call informing me that my newly published book Mormon Hierarchy had cited a Hoffman-forged letter to Jonathan Dunham in the source notes. I'll spare you my immediate reaction, but it was stronger than "Oh hell!"....

The only parts of the Dunham letter I used were the variant date (a day later than History of the Church) and the word "immediately," but during my rushed revision of this passage I mistyped the month in my narrative. I should have caught my misstatement that Joseph Smith wrote these orders a month after his June death, but I never saw that error. Nor did I see the typographical error of transposing the page-number citation in History of the Church for the letter.[69]

Quinn continues to insist on his misreading of the History of the Church entry (see discussion above), only correcting his typographical error in the citation (6:592 instead of 6:529).

Quinn ignores that he also claimed (without evidence save from the forgery) that the writing was "in his [Joseph's] own handwriting."

Quinn went on to claim that he could only locate this information in Silitoe and Roberts' 1988 volume Salamander. While the information is available in Salamander (see pp. 110, 132, 282, 547, and plate 37), this was not the only source available. The letter's forged status was also discussed in Dialogue 21/4 (Winter 1988): 170. BYU Studies included a long list of forged documents and other material related to the Hofmann forgeries in 1989, including the Dunham letter.[70] Deseret Book and Dean Jesse had also released an errata sheet for his Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, which was available by DATE. [citation needed]

Quinn made corrections for the 1997 printing of Origins of Power. However, his publisher issued the New Mormon Studies CD-ROM in 1998, but still included Quinn's erroneous 1994 version in this digital product.

Quinn: distorting another source

Quinn tries to provide extra proof by writing that:

Later general authority Seymour B. Young (who had survived the Haun's Mill massacre) recorded a different story he learned from another former Danite. Ever since the martyrdom, Dunham "seemed to grieve over the matter" of not rescuing the prisoners at Carthage, and the anniversary of the prophet's death pushed him into despair. A month later he persuaded "a friendly Indian" (Dana) "to kill and bury him."[68]:179

For this claim, Quinn appeals again to Stenhouse (who, as noted above, mentioned no names and could have had no personal knowledge of these events), and to an Oliver B. Huntington statement, in Seymour B. Young diary, 23 May 1903, LDS archives. But, this supposed confirmation turns out to be nothing of the sort. Dean Jessee wrote, in a review of Quinn's work that

In his treatment of Joseph Smith's death, Quinn refers to the statement by Allen Stout that Joseph, in Carthage Jail, had ordered Jonathan Dunham, commander of the Nauvoo Legion, to bring the legion and rescue him; and that Dunham did not respond (p. 141). Quinn quotes Seymour Young's 1903 conversation with Oliver Huntington, reporting that Dunham "seemed to grieve over the matter" of failing to rescue Joseph; depressed, Dunham persuaded a friendly Indian to kill and bury him (pp. 179-80). But Quinn has altered the Young conversation with Huntington to support Stout's story that Joseph had sent for the Nauvoo Legion. According to Young, Huntington informed him that, in the spring of 1844, Joseph told Dunham to fortify Nauvoo so the Saints could make a stand against their enemies. Dunham's depression after the martyrdom was over his failure to complete the fortification; he felt that had he done so, the Prophet might not have had to go to Carthage in the first place.[71]:167

Jessee makes no mention of Quinn's further difficulties in using the forged Hofmann document years after its status as a fraud was revealed. Thus, the case for Joseph's order to Dunham rests only on Stout's account. Stenhouse mentions the story, but he was in England at the time. He could have had no independent confirmation.

This does not stop Quinn from later, in his timeline, acting as if his entire scenario is well-proven:

28 July. Jonathan Dunham, despondent about disobeying Smith's orders to rescue him from jail, commits suicide. Later disclosures indicate that Dunham, who was a captain of Nauvoo's police, major-general of the Nauvoo Legion, and a Council of Fifty member, accomplished the suicide by asking a native American friend (Lewis Dana, fellow member of the Fifty) to "kill and bury him."[68]:652

No references are provided, a deficiency which reviewers have noted.[72]

Joseph's orders to Dunham

June 17, 1844: Joseph issued three letters of instruction which impacted Dunham. The first was to John P. Greene, marshal of the city:

SIR.—Complaint having been made to me on oath that a mob is collecting at sundry points to make an attack on this city, you will therefore take such measures as shall be necessary to preserve the peace of said city according to the provisions of the charter and the laws of the state; and with the police and the Legion, see that no violent set is committed. General Dunham is hereby instructed to act with the Marshal in keeping the peace, according to law.

The second two letters addressed Dunham directly:

Complaint having been made on oath that a mob is preparing to make an attack upon this city and citizens of Nauvoo, and having directed the Marshal to keep the peace, you are hereby commanded to order the Nauvoo Legion to be in readiness to assist said Marshal in keeping the peace, and doing whatever may be necessary to preserve the dignity of the state and city....

You are hereby instructed to execute all orders of the Marshal, and perform all services with as little noise and confusion as possible, and take every precaution to prevent groups of citizens, &c., from gathering on the bank of the river, on the landing of boats or otherwise, and allay every cause and pretext of excitement as well as suspicion, and let your operations be efficient and decided.[73]:493

On June 18, 1844 Joseph declared martial law

On the 20th Joseph said, "I went with my staff and Major-General Dunham to the prairie, to view the situation of the ground, and to devise plans for the defense of the city, and select the proper locations to meet the mob, and made arrangements for provisions for the city, instructing my agent to pledge my farms for the purpose."[73]:507 On the evening of the 22nd, Dunham was instructed to have the legion cohorts use entrenching tools to prepare the city's defense.[73]:528

On June 22, 1844 Joseph instructed Dunham by letter to prepare the city for defense

Joseph wrote to Dunham,

You will proceed without delay, with the assistance of the Nauvoo Legion, to prepare the background [Eastern part] of said city for defense against an invasion by mobs, cause the Legion to be furnished with tents, and make your encampment in the vicinity of your labor.[73]:532

On June 24, 1844 Joseph instructed Dunham to comply with the governor's order for the Nauvoo Legion to return state arms

Joseph instructed Dunham to comply with the governor's order for the Nauvoo Legion to return state arms.[73]:556 The next day, Joseph and Hyrum surrendered themselves and went to Carthage.

Joseph returned to surrender himself to the Illinois governor, Thomas Ford, after being appealed to by Emma and others

Joseph was safely away in Iowa with Hyrum. He returned to surrender himself to the Illinois governor, Thomas Ford, after being appealed to by Emma and others. Emma reported that Joseph said, "I will die before I will be called a coward."[74]

Joseph also remarked that "If my life is of no value to my friends [those in Nauvoo who were urging him to return for fear of the mob] it is of none to myself....if they had let me alone there would have been no bloodshed but now I expect to be butchered. Hyrum likewise remarked that "We had better go back and die like men." And, on the way out of Nauvoo to Carthage, Joseph was reported to say, "I go like a lamb to the slaughter."[75]

Joseph's attitude in Carthage

On 25 June, Joseph wrote a letter to Emma from Carthage

Joseph wrote,

There was a little mutiny among the "Carthage Greys"; but I think the Gov. has & will succeed in enforcing the laws. I do hope the people of Nauvoo will continue placid pacific & prayerful.

N.B. Governor Ford has just concluded to send some of his malitia to Nauvoo to protect the citizens, & I wish that I they may be kindly treated. They will co-ope=rate with the police to keep the peace of the city The Governors orders will be read in hearing of the police & officers of the Legion, as I suppose.[76]

Joseph hopes Mormons will remain "placid, pacific, and prayerful." He notes that the state militia will keep peace in Nauvoo—a sure obstacle to any attempt to call out the militia.

Joseph wrote to Emma, from Carthage (8:20 am) on 27 June 1844 asked her to tell Dunham to instruct people to stay home

...I want you to tell Bro Dunham to instruct the people to stay at home and attend to their own business and let there be no groups or gathering together unless by permission of the Gov— they are called together to receive communications from the Gov— which would please our people, but let the Gov. direct. —Bro Dunham of course, will obey the orders of the Government officers, and render them the assistance they require....I am very much resigned to my lot knowing I am Justified and have done the best that could be done give my love to the children[77]

Joseph is here forbidding assembly of the people, a necessary prelude to any attempt to rescue him or Hyrum.

Joseph's last letter to was to lawyer Orville H. Browning on 27 June 1844

Joseph's last known letter was to an attorney he wished to add to his legal defense:

Myself and brother Hyrum are in Jail on [a] charge of Treason, to come up for examination on Saturday morning 29th inst. and we request your professional services at that time, on our defence without fail....P.S. There is no ground of action, for we have not been guilty of any crime; neither is there any just cause of suspicion against us when facts are shown but certain circumstances make your attendance very necessary.[78]


Response to claim: 28 - The author claims that "lore had it" that Joseph gave the Masonic distress signal "before calling out: 'Oh Lord my God. Is there no help for the widow's son?"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that "lore had it" that Joseph gave the Masonic distress signal "before calling out: 'Oh Lord my God. Is there no help for the widow's son?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This is very sloppy research. Despite citing so many sources, the author gets the history wrong. There is no record of Joseph saying more than "Oh Lord, my God." In addition, the author states that Joseph gave the Masonic distress signal before calling out this phrase. In reality, the full phrase "Oh Lord my God. Is there no help for the widow's son" is the Masonic distress signal!


Response to claim: 29 - The author claims that Joseph's death was "second in importance only to that of Jesus Christ"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Joseph's death was "second in importance only to that of Jesus Christ."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

This is nonsense.


Question: Do Mormons believe that Joseph Smith must approve whether or not they get into heaven?

The Book of Mormon confirms that no mortal's role in the judgment supersedes the role given to Jesus Christ

Critics charge that Joseph claimed, or it was claimed in his behalf, the right to "approve whether or not someone gets into heaven," and that this gives to a mortal a right properly reserved for God and Jesus Christ. Some critics have even charged that "Mormons worship Joseph Smith."

No mortal's role in the judgment supersedes the role given to Jesus, as the Book of Mormon bears witness:

...the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.(2 Nephi 9:41.)

Joseph's participation in the judgment is no more or less than the role assigned to the Lord's apostles at the Last Supper

Joseph's participation in the judgment (at the command and sufferance of Jesus) is no more or less than the role assigned to the Lord's apostles at the Last Supper. Those who condemn Joseph on these grounds must also condemn Peter and the rest of the Twelve.

Members of the Church reserve their worship for God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost. They do not worship Joseph Smith or any other mortal, save Jesus only. Joseph Smith's position in LDS thought is analogous to the role which Peter or Paul plays in traditional creedal Christianity.


Question: What is the origin of the criticism of the idea that Joseph Smith will participate in the final judgement?

The criticism originates with statements made by Brigham Young and Orson Hyde that are recorded in the Journal of Discourses

The criticism originates with statements made by Brigham Young and Orson Hyde that are recorded in the Journal of Discourses. Statements made by these early church leaders are removed from their context in order to make it appear that a belief in Joseph Smith rather than Jesus Christ is the key to salvation.

When read in context, Brigham Young's statement and intent become clear:

Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the vail in the great work of the last days...no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith.... I will now tell you something that ought to comfort every man and woman on the face of the earth. Joseph Smith, junior, will again be on this earth dictating plans and calling forth his brethren to be baptized for the very characters who wish this was not so, in order to bring them into a kingdom to enjoy...he will never cease his operations, under the directions of the Son of God, until the last ones of the children of men are saved that can be, from Adam till now.... It is his mission to see that all the children of men in this last dispensation are saved, that can be, through the redemption.[79]

Clearly, Joseph's role is to function under the "direction...of the Son of God," and the primary goal is the salvation of all who will accept any degree of Christ and Joseph's witness of Him.

Similarly, critics extract the second sentence of the following quote from Brigham Young, while ignoring the sentence preceding it (emphasis added):

I have taught for thirty years, and still teach, that he that believeth in his heart and confesseth with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith is his Prophet to this generation, is of God; and he that confesseth not that Jesus has come in the flesh and sent Joseph Smith with the fulness of the Gospel to this generation, is not of God, but is antichrist.[80]

It is not a novel idea to have mortal prophets involved in the post-mortal judgment

At the Last Supper, Jesus himself taught that:

Ye [the apostles] are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:28-30; see also Matthew 19:28.)

A similar promise to participate in the judgment of those among whom they were called to serve was given to the twelve Nephite Disciples (see 1 Nephi 12:9-10). This principle is also reiterated in modern revelation (see D&C 29:12).

Since the Latter-day Saints accept the witness that Joseph was called as an apostle and prophet (see D&C 21:1) with the same authority as that given to Peter, James, John, and others, they do not think it strange that he will likewise play a role in judgment. The witness of a prophet will always be brought against those who did not accept his witness of Christ (see Matthew 10:40; John 5:45-47).


Response to claim: 29 - Allen J. Stout's journal says that he will avenge Joseph's blood to the fourth generation

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Allen J. Stout's journal says that he will avenge Joseph's blood to the fourth generation.

Author's sources:
  1. Stout journal, June 28, 1844.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

From the cited source:

"Their dead bodies were brought to Nauvoo where I saw their beloved forms reposing in the arms of death, which gave me such feelings as I am not able to describe. But I there and then resolved in my mind that I would never let an opportunity slip unimproved of avenging their blood upon the head of the enemies of the Church of Jesus Christ. I felt as though I could not live. I knew not how to contain myself, and when I see one of the men who persuaded them to give up to be tried, I feel like cutting their throats. And I hope to live to avenge their blood, but if I do not, I will teach my children to never cease to try to avenge their blood and then their children and children's children to the fourth generation as long as there is one descendant of the murderers upon the earth." off-site

Stout vows vengeance only on "the murderers" and their kin. Despite his anger at those who had encouraged Joseph and Hyrum to surrender, he does not take action against them. The relevance of this to the Mountain Meadows Massacre is, then, not clear.


Response to claim: 29 - D. Michael Quinn said that Joseph "failed to clarify for the highest leadership of the church the precise method of succession God intended"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

D. Michael Quinn said that Joseph "failed to clarify for the highest leadership of the church the precise method of succession God intended."

Author's sources:
  1. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 143.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

There were clear indications that Brigham Young would be Joseph's successor.


Question: What indications were there that Brigham Young would be Joseph Smith's successor?

Statements indicating that Brigham would be Joseph's successor

Benjamin Franklin Johnson

“Of Brigham Young as President of the Church, I will again bear this as a faithful testimony that I do know and bear record that upon the head of Brigham Young as chief, with the Apostleship in full, was by the voice of the Prophet Joseph in my hearing, laid the full responsibility of bearing of[f] the kingdom of God to all the world . . . . [When Brigham Young first met Joseph Smith and spoke in tongues in the Adamic languaue the Prophet] at that time, made the prediction upon the head of Brigham Young that ‘at some period he would become the leader of the Church, and that there would be one danger to beset him, and that would be his love of wealth.’ These things were told to me by [Lyman R.] Sherman [i.e., Johnson’s brother-in-law] at near the time of their occurrence” (E. Dale LeBaron, Benjamin Franklin Johnson: Friend to the Prophets [Provo, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1997], 232, 233).

Brigham Young

“I can say of a truth that Joseph told me not three months before he was killed, and I did not seek the information he gave me—we were talking upon counseling, governing and controlling—that ‘if I am moved out of the way, you are the only man living on this earth who can counsel and direct the affairs of the kingdom of God on the earth’” ("Remarks by President Brigham Young at the Semi Annual Conference, Great Salt Lake City, Oct. 8, 1866," LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar modernized).

William Nelson

“I have heard the Prophet speak in public on many occasions. In one meeting I heard him say, ‘I will give you a key that will never rust. If you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray’” (Young Woman’s Journal, December 1906, 542–43).

Oliver Cowdery

“There was no salvation but in the valley and through the priesthood there.” (Letter, Phineas Young to Brigham Young, April 25, 1850, Brigham Young Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Martin Harris

"Brigham is governor" (----------).

Mosiah Hancock

"When the Prophet had his hand upon my father's head, I said to myself, 'I trust that I will be as true to young Joseph, the Prophet's son, as my father is to his father.' Afterwards at home, I told my father of my thoughts, and he said, 'No, Mosiah, for God has shown to Brother Joseph that his son, Joseph, will be the means of drawing many people away from this Church after him. Brother Joseph gave us to understand that it was our duty to follow the Twelve. The majority of this people will be right" (Amy E. Baird, Victoria H. Jackson, and Laura L. Wassell, comp., "Autobiography of Mosiah Hancock (1834-1865)," typescript copy, BYU Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah, 27-29.

Joseph Smith

“where I am not, there is no First Presidency over the Twelve” [TPJS, 106]. (ftnt. #23): Some recent historians have asserted that this statement is not found in the original minutes of the 1836 meeting. Even so, the insertion in the Joseph Smith history in the 1850s can still be accepted as valid, for the compilers of that history, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith, were contemporaries of the Prophet and “were eye and ear witnesses of nearly all the transactions recorded . . . , and, where they were not personally present, they have had access to those who were” (quoted in Dean C. Jessee, “The Writing of Joseph Smith’s History,” BYU Studies 11 (Summer 1971): 473). President Brigham Young understood this concept, as have all other Church Presidents who have authoritatively used this statement as a key principle in succession to the presidency. (Brent L. Top and Lawrence R. Flake, Ensign, August 1996)


Response to claim: 30 - Sidney Rigdon is claimed to have "recently apostatized over Smith's attempted seduction of his daughter in to a polygamous marriage"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Sidney Rigdon is claimed to have "recently apostatized over Smith's attempted seduction of his daughter in to a polygamous marriage."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Sidney had not apostatized. He remained first counselor in the First Presidency. The details regarding Joseph's interaction with Nancy Rigdon vary, depending upon the source.


Nancy Rigdon and Plural Marriage

Summary: Even more complex than the Sarah Pratt episode, Sidney Rigdon's daughter Nancy was approached by Joseph Smith regarding plural marriage.

Jump to Subtopic:


Response to claim: 31 - Sidney Rigdon, "Knowing he could not compete with Smith as a seer..."

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: Knowing he could not compete with Smith as a seer...

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Stenhouse (the author's source) did not become a member of the Church until after Joseph's death, and he joined the Church in England. He was in no position at all to know Sidney's thoughts or capabilities in the matter. Sidney's later post-Mormon religious activities show him to be quite convinced that he can deliver oracles from God as Joseph did.


Response to claim: 32 - The temple is claimed to have "placed under the most sacred obligations to avenge the blood of the Prophet, whenever an opportunity offered, and to teach their children to do the same"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The temple is claimed to have "placed under the most sacred obligations to avenge the blood of the Prophet, whenever an opportunity offered, and to teach their children to do the same."

Author's sources:
  1. John D. Lee in Henrie, 147.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

John D. Lee's biography was edited and published after his death by his lawyer, and it suspect.


Question: Was there an oath in a former version of the temple endowment that required vengeance upon the government of the United States?

It is likely that there was an oath that asked members to pray that God would avenge the blood of the prophets

Until 1927 the temple endowment very likely contained such an oath. The exact wording is not entirely clear, but it appears that it did not call on the Saints themselves to take vengeance on the United States, but that they would continue to pray that God himself might avenge the blood of the prophets.

Although the Oath of Vengeance contains no curses like those in the imprecatory psalms, like the psalmists, the Saints apparently had the wisdom to take directly to God their strong feelings in response to the injustices they had been dealt. By doing so, they turned over to Him the responsibility for both justice and healing.

In nearly every anti-Mormon discussion of the temple, critics raise the issue of the "oath of vengeance" that existed during the 19th century and very early 20th century. These critics often misstate the nature of the oath and try to use its presence in the early temple endowment as evidence that the LDS temple ceremonies are ungodly, violent, and immoral.

The leaders of the Church have modified the endowment from time to time. Prior to changes made in 1927, there was an oath to pray for the Lord's vengeance on those who murdered the prophets. In their sworn testimonies and temple exposes, apostates gave conflicting accounts on who was to do the actual avenging: the Lord or the Saints themselves.[81] Surveying Mormon history for teachings about of vengeance can add perspective and help evaluate which possibility is more likely.

During the Missouri conflict, the Saints were instructed through revelation to petition for governmental redress for the outrages they suffered

In 1833, the Mormons were driven out of Jackson County, Missouri, in part due to anti-slavery sentiments that differed from the more established settlers. Through revelation, the Saints were instructed to petition for governmental redress for the outrages they suffered. The Saints were expected to be pacifists, but only up to a point. D&C 98:23-31:

Now, I speak unto you concerning your families—if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded; But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you. And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundredfold. And again, if he shall smite you the third time, and ye bear it patiently, your reward shall be doubled unto you four-fold; And these three testimonies shall stand against your enemy if he repent not, and shall not be blotted out. And now, verily I say unto you, if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye warn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family, even your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation. And then, if he shall come upon you or your children, or your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation, I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands; And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation. Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified; if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified.

The use of violence was condoned only in cases of self-defense or after the Lord had delivered up a previously warned enemy in the Saints hands

Even then mercy towards enemies was encouraged and indications are that the Lord can fight his own battles (see v. 37) to extract his vengeance on the wicked. Note the repeated references to third and fourth generations of children that is added for rhetorical effect despite the impracticality of a single enemy being a menace for the encompassing time span.

The earliest known oath of vengeance in a Mormon temple appears to have been introduced by Joseph Smith in Kirtland

The earliest known oath of vengeance in a Mormon temple appears to have been introduced by Joseph Smith spontaneously at the Kirtland dedication on March 30, 1836:[82]

The seventies are at liberty to go to Zion if they please or go wheresoever they will and preach the gospel and let the redemption of Zion be our object, and strive to affect it by sending up all the strength of the Lords house whereever we find them, and I want to enter into the following covenant, that if any more of our brethren are slain or driven from their lands in Missouri by the mob that we will give ourselves no rest until we are avenged of our enimies to the uttermost, this covenant was sealed unanimously by a hosanna and Amen.

The Mormons used military force to defend themselves in Missouri, but eventually they were driven out after an exterminating order was issued against them by governor Boggs. Further petitions for redress in Missouri were met with rejection. Martin van Buren remarked "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you." Enemies in Missouri, including the next governor, conspired to kidnap Joseph in Illinois and bring him to Missouri to face trumped up charges.

Nauvoo Developments: Wilford Woodruff later situated the temple instruction in praying for the Lord's biblical vengeance of blood of the prophets

Perhaps anticipating his death, Joseph met often with apostles and other close associates to restore the temple endowment prior to the completion of the Nauvoo temple. Wilford Woodruff, later situated the temple instruction in praying for the Lord's biblical vengeance of blood of the prophets as follows:[83]

I have already said that there is nothing [antagonistic to the government in the Mormon endowments] of that kind in any part or phase of Mormonism. I ought to know about that as I am one of the oldest members of the church. A good deal is being made of a form of prayer based upon two verses in the sixth chapter of the revelations of St. John as contained in the New Testament. It relates to praying that God might avenge the blood of the prophets. An attempt has, I see, been made to connect this with avenging the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and to have reference to this nation. It can have no such application as the endowments were given long before the death of Joseph and Hyrum and have not been changed. This nation and government has never been charged by the Mormon people with the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. As it is well known the murder was the act of the local mob disguised.

Recent generations of Latter-day Saints, who haven't experienced mob violence, may be surprised at or uncomfortable with such oaths

Recent generations of Latter-day Saints, who haven't experienced mob violence, kidnapping attempts, and death threats, may be surprised at or uncomfortable with the feelings of many earlier saints who were praying for justice instead of praying for their enemies. But we live in kinder, gentler times; and nineteenth-century Mormons—especially those who came out of Nauvoo—saw the hand of God whenever their persecutors suffered misfortune, a feeling common to most powerless, persecuted minority groups.

After Joseph Smith's death, his closest friends continued to meet after his death.[84] This group met to test revelation ("try all things"), pray for the healing of sick members, pray for the success of church projects, and pray for deliverance from their enemies. Heber C. Kimball recalled that after Joseph's death the prayer circle met and prayed for God's vengeance.[85]

Summarizing Willard Richards' activities immediately after the martyrdom, historian Claire Noall wrote:

True, in this [1850] speech Richards finally denounced the actual murderers; but when notifying the Church of Joseph Smith's death at Carthage jail, he wrote to Nauvoo that the people of Carthage expected the Mormons to rise, but he had "promised them no." The next day from the steps of the Prophet's home, he reminded his people that he had pledged his word and his honor for their peaceful conduct. And when writing the news of Smith's death to Brigham Young then near Boston, Willard Richards said the blood of martyrs does not cry from the ground for vengeance; vengeance is the Lord's.[86]

Temple work in general and, more specifically, prayers that God, rather than Mormon members, would avenge Joseph Smith is what was the salvation of the church in Nauvoo. Instead of giving vent to passionate desires for revenge using the impressively-sized Nauvoo Legion, the brethren were able to get members to channel their frustration and anger into petitions to the Almighty for justice. Their actual energy was concentrated on the things of heaven through temple building and service. Temple prayer became a way of ritually memorializing Joseph Smith's martyrdom.

Conflict in Utah: To pray the Father to avenge the blood of the prophets and righteous men that has been shed

After the exodus to Utah, ordinances usually reserved for the temple were performed in the Endowment House, while temple construction was in progress. In a late recollection, David H. Cannon described the instruction at the Endowment House in regards to vengeance:

To pray the Father to avenge the blood of the prophets and righteous men that has been shed, etc. In the endowment house this was given but as persons went there only once, it was not so strongly impressed upon their minds, but in the setting in order [of] the endowments for the dead it was given as it is written in 9 Chapter of Revelations [sic] and in that language we importune our Father, not that we may, but that He, our Father, will avenge the blood of martyrs shed for the testimony of Jesus.[87]

Although the religious stress was on letting God perform the actual vengeance, individuals sometimes imagined they might be called upon to take a more active role. This phenomenon reached a low point after the rhetorical hyperbole of Mormon Reformation[88] and the war time hysteria created by President James Buchanan sending troops against Utah. From the pulpit, many Church leaders held the United States as a nation responsible for letting mobocracy get out of control. As tensions mounted, vengeance motifs surfaced in the apocalyptic language of some patriarchal blessings. The Saints were prepared to fight in a just war.

While the Utah War was nearly a bloodless conflict, tragedy struck some caught in the crossfire. A recent work has examined the way conspiring, local Mormon leaders manipulated others to become complicit in the Mountain Meadows Massacre in part by exploiting their desires for vengeance.[89] However, in their approach to explain how basically good people could commit such an atrocity, the authors found elements in common with vigilantism and mass killings perpetrated everywhere. They agree that these southern Utah Mormons were acting against the principles of their religion.[90] Their oaths of taught them to channel their righteous indignation into petitioning God for justice while they worked constructively to build and defend Zion.

The Reed Smoot Hearings brought to light that the Saints were covenanting to ask God to avenge the blood of Joseph Smith on the nation

Most accounts of the temple oath of vengeance stressed that God, rather than man, would do the actual punishing. For example, August Lundstrom, an apostate Mormon, testified at the Reed Smoot hearings in December 1904:

Mr. [Robert W.] Tayler [counsel for the protestants]: Can you give us the obligation of retribution?
Mr. Lundstrom: I can.
Mr. Tayler: You may give that.
Mr. Lundstrom: "We and each of us solemnly covenant and promise that we shall ask God to avenge the blood of Joseph Smith upon this nation." There is something more added, but that is all I can remember verbatim. That is the essential part.
Mr. Tayler: What was there left of it? What else?
Mr. Lundstrom: It was in regard to teaching our children and children's children to the last generation to the same effect.[91]

One could object that Lundstrom, as an apostate, fabricated the existence of such an oath or, intentionally or unintentionally, distorted its wording. However, others who spoke publicly (such as David H. Cannon above) had similar recollections.

Biblical Perspective: justice is a responsibility reserved for God

The Oath of Vengeance is a vivid reminder that the Saints understood the writings of the Apostle Paul -- that justice is a responsibility reserved for God.

Romans 12:19

19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.


Response to claim: 32 - The "entire Mormon people" became "sworn and avowed enemies of the American nation"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

It is claimed that the "entire Mormon people [became] sworn and avowed enemies of the American nation."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Despite this claim, we soon learn that the Mormons volunteered for U.S. military service (see p. 47 below).


Response to claim: 36 - The author claims that Brigham "disposed of his rivals." Stanley P. Hirshson is quoted as claiming that Nauvoo became a "police state"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Brigham "disposed of his rivals." Stanley P. Hirshson is quoted as claiming that Nauvoo became a "police state."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

From the cited source:

Engulfed by dissension from within and without, Young established in Nauvoo a police state. When he returned to the town after Smith's death and was served with several writs, he strapped on a pair of six-shooters and vowed he would kill any man who handed him another summons or grabbed hold of him. Until he left Nauvoo, he wore those guns. (pp 61-62)

  • Note the following from the Journal of Discourses:

"When the mantle of Joseph Smith fell upon Brigham Young, the enemies of God and His kingdom sought to inaugurate a similar career for President Young; but he took his revolver from his pocket at the public stand in Nauvoo, and declared that upon the first attempt of an officer to read a writ to him in a State that had violated its plighted faith in the murder of the Prophet and Patriarch while under arrest, he should serve the contents of this writ (holding his loaded revolver in his hand) first; to this the vast congregation assembled said, Amen. He was never arrested." (George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 13:110.)


Question: Did the Nauvoo police commit "many murders, vicious beatings, and intimidating assaults" against people that they thought to be enemies of the Church?

Nothing in the cited sources provide evidence for these claims

The critical work One Nation Under Gods claims that Nauvoo police committed murders and inflicted beating on those that they thought were enemies of the Church. [92] The citations supporting this claim are listed as:

Nothing in the cited sources provide evidence for these claims. A best, the expressed desire for vengeance upon Joseph Smith's murderers provides motive for violent acts against those complicit in his assassination. But, no proof of this has been here presented. One Nation Under Gods claims much more than the sources report.

The author's remark about "perceived enemies of the Church" is likewise disingenuous. Surely anyone who participated in Joseph Smith's murder would be a definite enemy of the Church he founded. The author wants to create a portrait of arbitrary and capricious violence—but he has here presented no evidence to sustain that charge.

Examining the source: Quinn

  • Nothing on Quinn, 151 supports this claim: it speaks only of
    • Orrin Porter Rockwell's desire (not carried out) to kill apostate Robert D. Foster
    • Allen Stout's report that he would not let Joseph and Hyrum's murders go unavenged
    • Stephen Markham's desire to avenge Joseph's murders
  • Quinn, 643 discusses the period from 8 Mar to 18 April 1844, while Joseph Smith was alive. There is no mention of violence of any sort.

Examining the source: Allen Stout

Allen Stout's journal is cited by Quinn. It thus adds nothing.

Examining the source: Hosea Stout

Hosea Stout's journal for 22 February 1844 reads only:

February 22, Saturday. In the morning went to Brother J. P. Harmon's there met Bishop [George] Miller, when we three went to the [Nauvoo] temple while consulting on matters pertaining to our safety and also the manner to pursue to rid ourselves of traitors who are in our midst seeking our lives.

Stout only worries about keeping the Saints safe, and keeping out traitors seeking to cause the death of the Saints. Stout's 13 March 1847 journal reads:

At dark I went to a meeting of the seventies at the Council house. Here J.P. Packer was up before them for a charge of stealing a brace of six shooters by getting them with a forged order. Some was for cutting him off. Some for keeping him on trial for awhile and so on. I spoke quite lengthy on the subject and was for keeping him in fellowship as I could fellowship any man that could be suffered to live amongst us and when we could not stand it any longer to cut him off –behind the ears- according to the law of God in such cases. I came home about twelve o’clock at night.

Stout here advocates mercy for a member guilty of stealing weapons through fraud. Stout does argue that there are crimes for which people may be killed ("cut...off-behind the ears") under divine law. Examples could include murder: Genesis 9:6, Alma 42:19, D&C 42:19.) There is nothing about this citation which supports the book's claim that the leaders or members of the Church generally advocated killing those who were the church's "enemies." The criminal in this case is guilty of theft—a civil crime. And even then, Stout does not advocate excommunication, much less judicial murder. As his previous entry shows, those "seeking our lives" might be subject to more severe justice. Such an attitude toward plotted or attempted murder is not at all out of place on the 19th-century American frontier, as two frontier legal scholars noted:

Under English common law...a person who was assailed and in fear of death or great bodily injury was required, if at all possible, to flee the scene and thus avoid a confrontation....

But American pioneers had no use for that kind of thinking...."A man is not born to run away." Those were the words used by U.S. Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to explain the rationale of his 1921 Supreme Court opinion in Brown v. United States, which rejected the English common law doctrine of 'duty to retreat' in favor of a rule more in tune with the combative spirit of the American frontier—the 'stand your ground' rule. In the Brown opinion, Holmes went on to explain that "detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife."[93]


Response to claim: 36 - The author claims that John D. Lee was "an integral component in the new power structure" after Joseph's death

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that John D. Lee was "an integral component in the new power structure" after Joseph's death.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The author must provide evidence for this assertion. Even if Lee was part of the LDS lay leadership, this does nothing to prove that his actions were sanctioned by his superiors.


Response to claim: 37 - The author claims that Emma and other Smith relatives returned to Far West and founded the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Emma and other Smith relatives returned to Far West and founded the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The RLDS church was organized in Amboy, Illinois. Emma Smith lived in Nauvoo, Illinois until her death. Emma did not encourage or organize the RLDS church; when her son, Joseph Smith III, agreed to take its leadership, she traveled to the inaugural meeting to support him.


Response to claim: 37 - The author claims that Joseph wanted people to receive their endowments for the "Mormon road to heaven"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Joseph wanted people to receive their endowments for the "Mormon road to heaven."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The cited source says nothing about Joseph Smith at all. It is an anti-Mormon expose of the endowment ceremonies. The cited source is notoriously unreliable. Even the anti-Mormon Fanny Stenhouse wrote that the book "so mixed up fiction with what was true, that it was difficult to determine where one ended and the other began," and a good example of how "the autobiographies of supposed Mormon women were [as] unreliable" as other Gentile accounts, given her tendency to "mingl[e] facts and fiction" "in a startling and sensational manner." [94] The authors' poor grasp of LDS historiography, and poor historical judgment is again manifest.


Response to claim: 37 - LDS missionaries to England "capitalized on the intolerable social and economic conditions" in order to gain converts

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

LDS missionaries to England "capitalized on the intolerable social and economic conditions" in order to gain converts.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Fawn Brodie's claim oversimplifies a great deal. Charles Dickens described LDS immigrants as "the pick and flower of England." Immigration was also not a matter of instant financial benefits.


Question: Did early Mormon missionaries to England take advantage of "intolerable social and economic conditions" in order to gain converts?

Significant financial hardships were required even to immigrate: Immigration was also not a matter of instant financial benefits

This claim was originally made by critic Fawn Brodie in her book No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith . Brodie's claim oversimplifies a great deal. Charles Dickens described LDS immigrants as "the pick and flower of England." Immigration was also not a matter of instant financial benefits.

Some immigrants doubtless were attracted by opportunities in America. But, significant financial hardships were required even to immigrate. Some Latter-day Saints (e.g., John Benbow) left considerable property and very comfortable circumstances in England. As is typical, Brodie oversimplifies a complex issue, and it is not surprising that the effect is to make church missionaries look exploitative. She apparently wishes to down play the spiritual attraction of the message preached by LDS missionaries.

For example, on the ship Amazon which sailed in 1863

"of prime importance in determining when a family would emigrate was the matter of finances. In spite of great faith, many would-be emigrants found it difficult to save enough money to pay for their passage and other expenses. Charles and Eliza West joined the Church in 1849 and began in 1853 to put money into the individual emigrating accounts kept by local Church leaders. But the expenses of a growing family made saving difficult....Half the married adults aboard the Amazon had been Latter-day Saints for thirteen years or more. Even those with a larger income found it difficult to save for emigration. But single adults, without the expense of a family, generally emigrated three to four years sooner after baptism than married adults. Though some of the Amazon passengers were recent converts, eighty-five percent of the adults had been members more than five years before they emigrated....Some husbands and fathers of Amazon passengers had emigrated earlier, hoping to establish a home in Utah and earn enough to pay for their families’ emigration. This was not an uncommon practice among emigrants. On the other hand, some wives—even expectant mothers—and children aboard the Amazon were leaving their husbands and fathers behind; these breadwinners hoped to join their families the next year after earning the rest of the emigration money and closing out their financial affairs." [95]


Response to claim: 38 - Quoting D. Michael Quinn, the author notes that Brigham said that women "have no right to meddle in the affairs of the Kingdom of God"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

Quoting D. Michael Quinn, the author notes that Brigham said that women "have no right to meddle in the affairs of the Kingdom of God."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Quinn provides a more extensive citation which the author omits.


Question: Why did Brigham Young say that women "have no right to meddle in the affairs of the Kingdom of God"?

Brigham's intent has been distorted

Brigham Young said women "have no right to meddle in the affairs of the Kingdom of God". This is used to portray Brigham as authoritarian and sexist. However, Brigham's intent has been distorted, and those who cite this have used presentism to bias the reader against him.

Sally Denton uses this quote, and uses D. Michael Quinn, as her source. Unfortunately, Denton omits the context which Quinn's volume provides:

[women] have no right to meddle in the affairs of the Kingdom of God[—]outside the pale of this they have a right to meddle because many of them are more sagacious & shrewd & more competent [than men] to attend to things of financial affairs. they never can hold the keys of the Priesthood apart from their husbands. [96]

Brigham then continued, "When I want Sisters or the Wives of the members of the church to get up Relief Society I will summon them to my aid but until that time let them stay at home & if you see females huddling together veto the concern." [97]

Brigham's statement about "meddling," then, in no way reflects on women's competence or skills—he insists that many know better than men. Brigham's point is that women have no right to priesthood government. This statement was probably precipitated by Emma Smith's use of her role as head of the Relief Society to resist Joseph's teachings, especially plural marriage. [98] Brigham is signaling that those without priesthood power may not dictate to ordained priesthood leaders about priesthood matters.

The author relies on presentism, since Brigham and virtually all of his contemporaries (men and women) likely had attitudes about women's roles which would strike us as "sexist"

Though the quote seems offensive and exclusionary, we need to remember the context of the time. Attitudes toward women during that time, and even 100 years later, were far from our current attitudes. It is unreasonable to expect people living in a different time to fit 21st century perspectives. Brigham was, however, quite liberal for his day—he encouraged women to get an education: for example, he even assigned several to travel to the eastern United States to get training as physicians.


Response to claim: 38 - The author claims that Brigham "commended his police for nearly beating to death an apostate within the walls of the temple"

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that Brigham "commended his police for nearly beating to death an apostate within the walls of the temple."

Author's sources:
  1. No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Although the author provides no source for the claim, it is likely that this refers to the flogging of three men by Nauvoo Police. The source is likely One Nation Under Gods, which misrepresents the sources that author cites. In addition, there is nothing mentioned about beating someone "within the walls of the temple."


Question: Did Hosea Stout have three men flogged because they "were not in good fellowship"?

The Nauvoo police did not threaten others because they were "not in good fellowship"

Stout's journal entry begins:

[September] 14, Sunday. Went with my wife to meeting at the Stand. H. [Heber] C. Kimball and Brigham Young preached about the mob burning houses and gave the Saints advice what to do under the present trying circumstances; at intermission I met the Eleventh Quorum near the Stand, and then in the afternoon attended meeting.[99]

The problems begin at the afternoon meeting:

It was a business meeting and all who were not in good fellowship were not allowed to be present and the police in keeping them away had to flog three who were determined to stay.[100]

Thus, the Nauvoo police did not threaten others because they were "not in good fellowship." There was no problem with these men being in town, or attending the morning preaching.

The men who were flogged were refusing to leave a private meeting to which they were not invited and not entitled to attend

However, the afternoon meeting was "a business meeting." The Saints did not have an indoor assembly hall large enough to accommodate them, so meetings were held out of doors. The men "out of fellowship" who were flogged were refusing to leave a private meeting to which they were not invited and not entitled to attend.

The conclusion of Stout's diary entry probably illustrates why the Saints were so determined that their enemies not be present at their business meeting, during which plans for defense of the city and citizens were probably a topic:

After police meeting I went with Colonel [John] Scott to see [General] Rich; after some consultation with them we concluded that it was best to post a guard below the city to prevent any person from going in or out to correspond with the mob, as some were trying to make a difficulty in the name of the Mormons.[101]

These floggings did not occur in a peaceful, tranquil, 21st century city

This was a nineteenth-century frontier town, surrounded by hostile enemies who were burning out-lying Mormon homes and who would again drive the Saints from Illinois in winter weather. The Saints had to make plans to maintain the peace of their city—plans which could be compromised if apostates or dissidents were aware of them. Those "out of fellowship" might also use what they learned at the business meeting to perform acts for which the Mormons could be "framed," giving their enemies a justification for further attacks and military action.

Violence only occurred after the three dissidents refused to leave a meeting to which they were not invited

The author often relies on Quinn, though he here does not cite him. Quinn writes,

In the fall of 1845, Mormon enforcers became openly violent in their approach toward dissenters. On 14 September Hosea Stout recorded that Nauvoo's police "had to flog" three men "who were not in good fellowship" but had tried to attend an open air "business meeting" of the church....These incidents were occurring at public meetings of the church during daylight hours.[102]

Like the author, Quinn's treatment is inadequate. He fails to note that Stout did nothing to prevent those out of fellowship from attending public preaching meetings, and says nothing about the security situation in which the Church members found themselves. He tells us nothing about the fact that violence only occurred after the three dissidents refused to leave a meeting to which they were not invited.

The partial use of sources can sometimes lead to an inaccurate view of the complete picture.


Response to claim: 38-39 - The author mentions "the pending indictment of two leaders of the Church on counterfeiting charges..."

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author mentions "the pending indictment of two leaders of the Church on counterfeiting charges..."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Although the author provides no source for the claim, it is likely that this refers to a critical claim that Brigham Young, Willard Richards, Parley Pratt, and Orson Hyde were involved in making counterfeit coins.


Question: Are there government records that prove that the apostles were involved in counterfeiting in Nauvoo?

There are no "government records" which prove that the apostles "were involved in making counterfeit coins"

The book One Nation Under Gods claims that government records indicate that Brigham Young, Willard Richards, Parley Pratt, and Orson Hyde were involved in making counterfeit coins, and that this may have "started under Joseph's leadership." [103] The author cites the following sources to support his claim:

  • Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Mormon Kingdom, vol. 2, 51-64.
  • D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 127, 650-651.
  • Warsaw Signal, June 5, 1844.
  • St Louis American, December 2, 1845.

There are no "government records" which prove that the apostles "were involved in making counterfeit coins" At best, there is an indictment from a local grand jury, but an indictment is not proof—and, it is unlikely that indictment was anything but a ploy to make sure the Mormons left.

Of three men accused, two are non-Mormons, and the third was criticized by Hyrum Smith for this practice after his eventual apostasy

On page 127, Quinn mentions three men who either passed counterfeit money or who were accused of counterfeiting—yet, two are non-Mormons, and the third was criticized by Hyrum Smith for this practice after his eventual apostasy.

On pages 650-651, Quinn mentions two items that relate to counterfeiting:

  • 24 Mar. [1845] A disaffected Mormon writes that Theodore Turley, of the Council of Fifty, has prepared a press in Nauvoo for counterfeiting, and that Turley gave the man a counterfeit $5.00 bill. [650]
  • 4 June. [1845] Young and Kimball learn that Warren Snow and Dominicus Carter have been jailed in Quincy, Illinois, for passing counterfeit money. Bishop Joseph L. Heywood confirms that they are guilty. In Utah Snow would become a bishop and Carter a member of a stake presidency. [651]

None of this associates Joseph Smith (or any of the named apostles) with approving or conducting counterfeiting in any way

That Snow and Carter later held church leadership positions says nothing about official sanction for their actions in Nauvoo—repentance is a firm tenet of the Church.

The "government documents" to which the author refers (via the Tanners) date from 1846 and appear to be a ploy to provide incentive for the Saints to leave Nauvoo

The grand jury of the United States district court of Springfield, Illinois, in January 1846, issued twelve indictments against prominent Church leaders for counterfeiting United States coin. [Niles' National Register, January 3, 1846.] This action was generally thought to be a ploy on the part of the government to make certain that the Saints would keep their promise to leave Nauvoo in the spring. Church leaders issued a circular in which they denied the charge of counterfeiting. They reiterated that they expected the migration to begin early in March. [Missouri Reporter, February 5, 1846.] They then went into hiding and refused to give themselves up for trial.[104]


Response to claim: 39 - The author claims that "thousands of armed Mormons and Gentiles faced off" in Nauvoo

The author(s) of American Massacre make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that "thousands of armed Mormons and Gentiles faced off" in Nauvoo.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Everyone on the frontier in 19th century America was armed—this was necessary for hunting and protection. That being said, there was never an armed "face-off" in Nauvoo. The Latter-day Saints were driven out of Nauvoo by the threat of military force.


Notes

  1. See 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16
  2. Andrew F. Ehat, "'It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth': Joseph Smith and the Constitution of the Kingdom of God," Brigham Young University Studies 20 no. 3 (1980), 260-61.
  3. "Who Shall Be Our Next President," Times and Seasons 5 no. 4 (15 February 1844), 441. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  4. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005).
  5. George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: "...but we called it celestial marriage" (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2008), 226. ( Index of claims , (Detailed book review))
  6. Joseph Smith in The Essential Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1995), 238. Joseph Smith, "Conference Minutes," Times and Seasons 15 no. 5 (15 August 1844), 614–15. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) Stan Larson, ed., "The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text," Brigham Young University Studies 18 no. 2 (Winter 1978), 193–208..
  7. Larson, “Newly Amalgamated Text,” 203. The italic type (added by Larson) indicates material found only in Wilford Woodruff’s account.
  8. Daniel C. Peterson, "Review of Decker's Complete Handbook on Mormonism by Ed Decker," FARMS Review of Books 7/2 (1995): 38–105. off-site
  9. Bennet’s name is also sometimes spelled Bennett.
  10. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy, 225.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957). Volume 6 link
  12. Charles Mackay, though mistaking this Bennet for John C. Bennett, nevertheless realized what was going on: “‘Joseph’s reply to this singular and too candid epistle was quite as singular and infinitely more amusing. Joseph was too cunning a man to accept, in plain terms, the rude but serviceable offer; and he rebuked the vanity and presumption of Mr Bennett, while dexterously retaining him for future use.” See Charles Mackay, ed., The Mormons, or Latter-day Saints; with memoirs of the Life and Death of Joseph Smith, the American Mahomet, 4th ed. (London, 1856); cited in Hubert Howe Bancroft and Alfred Bates, History of Utah, 1540–1886 (San Francisco: The History Co., 1889), 151 n. 112. Concludes Bancroft: “More has been made of this correspondence than it deserves,” though G. D. Smith has seen fit to continue the error.
  13. Joseph pursued Bennet’s mathematical analogy for several paragraphs; see History of the Church, 6:75–77. Volume 6 link. Bennet was fond of the metaphor; in 1855 he was to privately publish A New Revelation to Mankind, drawn from Axioms, or self-evident truths in Nature, Mathematically demonstrated. See Richard D. Poll, "Joseph Smith and the Presidency, 1844," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 no. 3 (Autumn 1968), 19 n. 19.
  14. Lyndon W. Cook, "James Arlington Bennet and the Mormons," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 2 (Winter 1979), 247–49.
  15. When Joseph’s personal letters are compared with this letter, one suspects a large contribution by scribe and newspaperman W. W. Phelps.
  16. This article was based on a blog post, Blair Hodges, "Becoming Saints before gods," lifeongoldplates.com (8 February 2008), last accessed (28 December 2008) off-site (used with permission). Due to the nature of a wiki project, the text may have been subsequently modified.
  17. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:26-28.
  18. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:306–307. Volume 6 link
  19. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 4:1-7.
  20. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  21. Todd M. Compton, Response to Tanners, post to LDS Bookshelf mailing list, no date. It should be mentioned that many reviewers of Compton's work do not agree with all of his conclusions, even though he has collected much useful data; see the reviews of In Sacred Loneliness, linked under "Printed material," below.
  22. Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith's Polygamy Volume 1: History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 404–405.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, eds., A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History (Provo: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1997).
  24. "...such an age difference was not uncommon at the time." Baden-Powell, en.wikipedia.org (accessed 21 January 2006) off-site
  25. "...Clark also met and married Julia Hancock, several years his junior, whom he met when she was 12 years old, and he decided he would marry her on her fifteenth birthday." Biography of William Clark, virginia.edu (accessed 31 May 2006) off-site
  26. Susan Easton Black and Larry C. Porter, "For the Sum of Three Thousand Dollars," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 4–11. off-site wiki
  27. Susan Easton Black (editor), Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, 114; Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 32.
  28. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 360, footnote 27.
  29. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 287.
  30. Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd edition, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 274.
  31. Roger D. Launius, Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 333–335. ISBN 0252065158. ISBN 978-0252065156.
  32. "Julia Gardiner," Wikipedia (accessed 2 May 2015).
  33. Steven Ruggles, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander, Catherine A. Fitch, Ronald Goeken, Patricia Kelly Hall, Miriam King, and Chad Ronnander, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor] (2004), accessed 14 July 2007. off-site
  34. "Marriage Laws of the Fifty States, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico," a Cornell Law School web site. off-site
  35. See Melina McTigue, "Statutory Rape Law Reform in Nineteenth Century Maryland: An Analysis of Theory and Practical Change," (2002), accessed 5 Feb 2005. off-site
  36. Thomas Hine, The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager: A New History of the American Adolescent Experience (HarperCollins, 1999), 16.
  37. William Law to Isaac Russell, 29 November 1840, Archives Division, Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), 11; cited by Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1997), 173.
  38. William Law, "Record of Doings at Nauvoo in 1844" (William Law's Nauvoo diary), as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), 46; cited by Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1997), 176.
  39. Joseph W. McMurrin, "An Interesting Testimony / Mr. Law’s Testimony," Improvement Era (May 1903), 507–510.
  40. Wilson may or may not have been a member. He was not a member when he came to Nauvoo, but is later mentioned as having been “excommunicated.” We have no record of his baptism.
  41. Nauvoo Expositor, “Resolution 4”, (7 June 1844): 2; cited in Lyndon W. Cook, "William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter," Brigham Young University Studies 22 no. 1 (Fall 1982), 47–72.
  42. Cook, "Nauvoo Dissenter."
  43. Dr. W. Wyl interview with William Law in Shullsburg, Wisconsin, 30 March 1887, published in The Salt Lake Daily Tribune, 31 July 1887, 6; cited by Cook, "Nauvoo Dissenter"
  44. See Cook, "Nauvoo Dissenter."
  45. William Law, "Record of Doings at Nauvoo in 1844," 13 May 1844; cited by Cook, "Nauvoo Dissenter"
  46. Francis M. Higbee, “Citizens of Hancock County,” Nauvoo Expositor (7 June 1844).
  47. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor,” Utah Law Review 9 (1965):874.  (Key source)
  48. Oaks, 897–898.
  49. "Today in History, November 7," United States Library of Congress. off-site
  50. Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1922), 134. See also Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:390–395. Volume 1 link; Anonymous, "A History, of the Persecution, of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints in Missouri," Times and Seasons 1 no. 2 (December 1839), 18. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  51. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:338–339. Volume 1 link
  52. James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2nd edition revised and enlarged, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1992[1976]), 208. ISBN 087579565X. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  53. Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, (New York:HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), 16. ( Index of claims )
  54. Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), 114; citing Diary of George Laub, BYU Special Collections, 18.
  55. Journal of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, BYU Special Collections, 7; cited by Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), 103.
  56. Joseph Smith, Discourse of 9 April 1842, Wilford Woodruff Diary; cited in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 112.
  57. Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, (New York:HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), 16. ( Index of claims )
  58. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  59. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  60. "Chapter 46: The Martyrdom: The Prophet Seals His Testimony with His Blood," Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (2011), 528–40.
  61. It should be noted that History of the Church was begun after Joseph's death, and was written in the "first person," as if Joseph himself had written it. For further information on this, see Question: Who is the author of ''History of the Church''?
  62. History of the Church, 6:432. Volume 6 link
  63. Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 392.
  64. William Clayton and George D. Smith (editor), An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1995), xxx (entry dated [citation needed]).
  65. Note that Bushman ignores the claim about a private letter to Dunham: Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 548.
  66. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), {{{pages}}}.
  67. Allen D. Roberts, "'The Truth is the Most Important Thing': The New Mormon History According to Mark Hofmann," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20 no. 4 (Winter 1987), 92. See also second edition of Jessee's Personal Writings where he lists the five forged documents that have been removed (p. xix).
  68. 68.0 68.1 68.2 68.3 D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), {{{pages}}}.
  69. "D. Michael Quinn's Responses To Questions About Use of Sources in the 1994 Publication of Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power," (9 February 1995). off-site
  70. Anonymous, "The Mark Hofmann Case: A Bibliographical Guide," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 1 (Winter 1989), 104–124. off-site
  71. Dean C. Jessee, "review of The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power," Journal of Mormon History 22:2 (Fall 1996): {{{start}}}.
  72. "In a work where source notes are taken as seriously as they are in this book, it is unfortunate that they were not included in appendices 6 (Biographical Sketches) and 7 (Selected Chronology). The careful student needs to be able to weigh the evidence for the extensive and sometimes sensational information that is given here." - Jessee, review of Mormon Hierarchy, 167–168.
  73. 73.0 73.1 73.2 73.3 73.4 History of the Church. Volume 6 link
  74. Elder Edmund C. Briggs, "A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856," Journal of History [Reorganized] 9 (October 1916): 453-54; cited by Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, the Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1979), 27 n. 65. ISBN 025200762X.
  75. Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, the Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1979), 17. ISBN 025200762X. Sources cited are: (a) History of the Church, 6:549. Volume 6 link (b) "Journal of Wandle Mace," 144 (c) Editor, "Editorial," Times and Seasons 5 (15 July 1844), 585. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  76. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 603-604.
  77. Jessee, Personal Writings, 611.
  78. Jessee, Personal Writings, 612.
  79. Brigham Young, "Intelligence, etc.," (9 October 1859) Journal of Discourses 7:289-289.
  80. Brigham Young, "The Kingdom of God," (13 July 1862) Journal of Discourses 9:312.
  81. Van Hale, "The Alleged Oath of Vengeance," recorded 1 July 2007 during the Mormon Miscellaneous Worldwide Talk Show, off-site
  82. See 30 March 1836 Jesse Hitchcock record in "MS Joseph Smith Journal, 1835-36," 193 pp., Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Church Archives cited in Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002).
  83. Wilford Woodruff interview, Deseret News 22 November 1889
  84. For a history of prayer circles, see D. Michael Quinn, "Latter-day Saint Prayer Circles," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 1 (Fall 1978), 79–105. PDF link
  85. See his 21 December 1845 diary entry in The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845–1846: A Documentary History, Richard Van Wagoner, Devery Scott Anderson, and Gary James Bergera, eds. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005).
  86. Claire Noall, "The Plains of Warsaw," Utah Historical Quarterly 25/1 (January 1957): 47–51.
  87. David John Buerger, "The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 34 no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2001), 103.
  88. Paul H. Peterson, "The Mormon Reformation of 1856–1857: The Rhetoric and the Reality," Journal of Mormon History 15/1 (1989): 59–88.
  89. Richard Turley, Ron Walker and Glen Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Oxford University Press, 2008), 13–14,92,135,181,286n48.
  90. Turley, Walker and Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, xiii–xiv.
  91. Testimony of August W. Lundstrom, Proceedings before the Committee on Privileges and Elections of the United States Senate in the Matter of the Protests Against the Right of Hon. Reed Smoot, a Senator from the State of Utah, to Hold His Seat (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), 2:153. PDF link
  92. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, Endnote 31-34, page 551 (hardback); page 549 (paperback).
  93. Bill Neal and Morris Bakken, Getting Away with Murder on the Texas Frontier: Notorious Killings & Celebrated Trials (Texas Tech University Press, 2006), 14–15.
  94. Stenhouse, "Tell It All", x-xii, 618, the footnote on the latter page confirms the identity of the author as Ettie V. Smith, whose account supposedly formed the basis for Green's work.
  95. Richard L. Jensen and Gordon Irving, "The Voyage of the Amazon: A Close View of One Immigrant Company," Ensign (Mar 1980), 16. off-site
  96. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 650.
  97. Seventies Record, 9 March 1845, holograph, LDS Church Archives (cited in Beecher, see below).
  98. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, "Women in Winter Quarters," Sunstone no. (Issue #8:4/15) (July 1983), note 37. off-site
  99. Diary of Hosea Stout (14 September 1845); available in Juanita Brooks, ed., On the Mormon Frontier: The Diary of Hosea Stout, 1844-1861 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1964).
  100. Stout diary, 14 Sept 1845.
  101. Stout diary, 14 Sept 1845.
  102. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 180, quoting Hosea Stout diary, 14 Sept. 1845, Brooks, On The Mormon Frontier 1:63.
  103. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, Endnote 62-65, page 552 (hardback); page 550 (paperback).
  104. Kenneth W. Godfrey, “Causes of Mormon Non-Mormon Conflict in Hancock County, Illinois, 1839–1846” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1967), [citation needed].