Mormonism and church integrity/Accusations of lying in the 19th century

Table of Contents

Accusations of lying in the 19th-century Church

Jump to Subtopic:


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." [1] 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.[2]


Question: Did Joseph Smith engage in "land speculation" in Nauvoo?

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)

Those that made this accusation against Joseph Smith had their profits harmed by Joseph's policy of giving land to the poor

The Law's claimed that Joseph Smith used Church members' donations to engage in "land speculation" in Nauvoo. However, the Laws’ profits were harmed by Joseph’s policy of giving land to the poor, and the Laws also resented his ability to influence buyers. G. D. Smith’s account is a caricature of the facts. Few citations to the relevant literature are provided.

G. D. Smith claims that “the Law brothers came into a . . . dispute with [Joseph] over his conduct as trustee-in-trust for the church. In that capacity, [Joseph] had appropriated church members’ charitable donations for real estate speculation, buying low and reselling high to those immigrants who could afford to pay” (p. 423). In fact, Joseph had signed two promissory notes of $25,000 for Nauvoo, payable to Eastern land speculators.

Yet the dispossession suffered by the Saints in Missouri made repayment difficult since many could not afford to purchase land. [3] “Joseph wanted to help,” reports Richard Bushman, “but huge debts prevented him from simply giving away land. What could poor converts do?” Joseph’s preference was “to give land to the poor, especially to widows and orphans. To finance these free gifts, he wanted others to pay generously. The high council priced Nauvoo lots from $200 to $800, leaving room for negotiation. All these judgments required patience and wisdom and exposed Joseph to criticism for gouging and unfair treatment.” [4] In addition, “in June 1840, he asked the high council to appoint someone else to attend to ‘the temporalities of the Church.’ . . . [B]ut his appeal went unheeded, . . . leaving Joseph responsible for the debts and final disposition of land.” [5]

Thus the charge that Joseph was involved in “real estate speculation” is not true. G. D. Smith’s claim that Joseph was selling high “to those . . . who could afford to pay” is a bit of verbal legerdemain—it is true, while still managing to hide the fact that the Prophet was giving away land to those who could not pay. Joseph was already in debt for the land; land sold for higher prices did not benefit Joseph but did benefit those Saints too poor to afford land at all.

On what basis, then, were the Law brothers complaining? Their motives were not so pure as G. D. Smith suggests, just as Joseph’s actions were not so venal as G. D. Smith’s version implies. The Laws invested in lots in upper Nauvoo and on the outskirts while the church held title to the lower city. As Lyndon Cook has explained,

By 1843 the fundamental economic interests of the [Laws] and the Mormon leader were in definite conflict. Brisk competition caused the Prophet to insist that the Saints purchase building lots from only the Church. Although most recognized this as a sacrifice which would assist in liquidating Church debts, to William Law it sounded too much like totalitarianism. [6]


Question: Did Joseph Smith really tell Orrin Porter Rockwell 'it was right to steal'?

The only evidence for this statement is a fourth-hand claim made by a convicted fifteen-year-old thief attempting to justify himself

The only evidence for this statement is a fourth-hand claim made by a convicted fifteen-year-old thief attempting to justify himself. Joseph's diary recorded the comment, suggesting it cannot have threatened or worried him.

Quinn's use of the source is incorrect, and his lumping of a later journal entry with it creates a false impression

Historian D. Michael Quinn's material for this claim reads:

10 Mar [1843]. Fifteen-year-old Thomas Morgan says that Orrin Porter Rockwell told him "Joseph had taught that it was right to steal…which was the means of drawing Thomas into the practice of stealing." Smith's next remark about his boyhood friend: "conversed much about Porter, wishing the boy well." [7]

Unfortunately, in this section of his book, Quinn provides no references, footnotes, or endnotes. One reviewer noted that "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." [8]

So it proves here.

Background: identifying the participants

The source for Quinn's source appears to be an entry made in Joseph Smith's journal. A transcript of the journal for the period in question reads:

[Entry for February 20, 1843] Last night Arthur Milikin had a quantity of books stolen and found them at 3 this P.M. in Hyrum Smith's Hayloft. Thomas Morgan and Robert Taylor (Morgan 15, Robert Taylor 13 years old next April) /both members of the Church/ were arrested on suspicion in the forenoon. On finding the books [they] immediately went to trial before the Mayor having had a brief examination about noon. Court adjourned till 10 [A.M.] tomorrow.... [9]

So, Thomas Morgan was a fifteen-year-old member of the Church brought before Joseph (in his role as a civil judge) for theft. The History of the Church notes that the next day:

Robert Taylor was again brought up for stealing, and Thomas Morgan for receiving the books, [referred to above] and each sentenced to six months imprisonment in Carthage jail. [10]

Morgan and Taylor were found guilty, and sentenced to jail. The History of the Church later says that

I [Joseph] went with Marshal Henry G. Sherwood to procure some provisions for Thomas Morgan and Robert Taylor, who, on petition of the inhabitants of the city, I had directed should work out their punishment on the highways of Nauvoo. [11]

So, far from approving theft, Joseph sentenced the young thieves to jail time, which was later converted into labor at the petition of others.

Evaluating the claim

We now come to the source (9 days later) to which Quinn likely alludes:

Friday, March 10th 1843 Clear and cold....As Thomas Morgan went out to speak with Mayor, said he had been told by several that Joseph had taught that it was right to steal viz. O. P. Rockwell, David B. Smith, and James Smith which was the means of drawing Thomas into the practice of stealing. [12]

So, it turns out that Quinn's source is a hearsay statement from a fifteen-year-old member boy found guilty of stealing, and sentenced to jail by Joseph (later commuted to road work). The young man doubtless wanted to excuse himself in the prophet's eyes, and so makes the claim that the only reason he was 'draw[n]...into the practice of stealing' is what he has heard (unnamed) others say that Joseph said to Porter Rockwell. This statement is thus at least fourth hand:

Joseph -> Rockwell -> "others" -> Thomas Morgan.

Moreover, why would Joseph's personal journal record this incident if there were any truth to it? Why would Joseph allow a record to be made of advocating theft?

Next remark: wishing the boy well?

Quinn follows his claim about what Joseph told Porter by writing:

Smith's next remark about his boyhood friend: "conversed much about Porter, wishing the boy well."

This is disingenuous at best. The entry which reads "Conversed much about Porter, wishing the boy well," comes from a diary entry on March 14, 1843—four days after the encounter with Thomas Morgan! [13] Quinn gives the impression that the very next thing that Joseph said, after hearing the tale from Morgan, were warm reminiscences regarding Porter Rockwell. Nothing could be further from the truth—this is simply the next remark about Porter in Joseph's journal, eight journal pages later. Small wonder that Joseph's thoughts turned to Rockwell, since on March 4, 1843, Rockwell was arrested for the attempted murder of former governor Boggs of Missouri. [14]


Question: Did Orson Hyde state that it was permissible to "steal & be influenced by the spirit of the Lord to do it" as long as it was against non-Mormons?

Orson Hyde's remark is relative to William "Wild Bill" Hickman

The Brigham Young office journal for 3 April 1860 states:

[April 3, 1860:] April 3, p. 70 Mayor Smoot had a conversation with the President about W[illia]m A. Hickman, observing people see him come and out the office, and that leads them to suppose he is sanctioned in all he does by the President he also observed that dogs were necessary to take care of the flock, but if the Shepherd's dogs hurt the sheep it would be time to remove them.

President observed W. A. Hickman was in the hands of the Lord and he believes he was interested in this latter day work, and he believed whether he was wounded or whether he recovered, or whether he died these events were in the hands of the Lord.[15]

Because Hickman had served Brigham Young during the Utah War, some presumed that Hickman's later activities (especially horse-thieving) were sanctioned by the Church

Yet, prior to the journal entry above, Church leaders had been railing (in public and private) against Hickman's gang and its criminal activities:

Brigham Young wrote: "December 26, 1859. About 1:00 p.m. yesterday, a disgraceful affair occurred on Main Street near the Townsend Hotel. A difficulty between Wm. A. Hickman and Lott Huntington over the division of some stolen property. Hickman and his party retired to Hickman's son-in-law, and a physician was sent for."[16]:89

Brigham clearly disapproves of Hickman's activities

This entry was made privately; this was not Brigham Young speaking publicly to provide "plausible deniability." Here he clearly disapproves of Hickman's activities. Apostle Amasa Lyman was also preaching publicly against Hickman's activities:

The spirit of thieving stalks the land--gets hold of unguarded youth, causes them to steal from neighbors. Don't let your sons be corrupted--know where they are--Many deceive, not just Bill Hickman and his gang. Sons go into the streets of the city only to hear that stealing from Gentiles is "OK," and are told that the President of the Church says so--all lies to lead the unwary from the truth.[16]:89

Hickman wrote to Brigham insisting that when "my Bro[ther] told me what you said, [it] made the cold sweat run off me and I almost sank under it." The prophet and Hickman exchanged further letters, with Hickman insisting that he didn't drink that much whiskey, that he had never been seen drunk in public, that he could quit anytime he wanted to if Brigham felt it best, that he knew he used profane language but hardly ever the Lord's name in vain, and that he supported the Church and Brigham Young.[16]:89-92

At this time, Hickman was suffering from a bullet wound, which would plague him for the rest of his life. Doctors despaired of his life. Thus, it is in this context that Brigham's journal notes that whether he lives or dies is in God's hands.

Hickman was disfellowshipped

Hickman's bishop disfellowshipped him only ten days after being shot, after speaking "forcibly on the workers of iniquity," and assuring them that he "would do his duty in those things."[16]:95

Hickman's neighbor, John Bennion did not feel this was an adequate punishment, and urged excommunication. Bennion's journal is the source for the Orson Hyde quote cited by the author. Bennion recorded that

[August 26, 1860] Bishop Gardner said there was much prejudice against W. A. Hickman and that he knew nothing against him, as nothing had been reported to him officially. He intimated that W. A. Hickman was apologetic and that he would stand by him or any other Brother until he knew of their guilt. Hickman being called upon confessed to his weaknesses and foibles like other men, but strongly denied his guilt as to things commonly reported on him, stealing etc. Bishop Gardner requested any who knew anything against Hickman to report to him and to stop running to Bishop Hunter or he would be after them with a sharpstick [check spelling].

Thus, Bishop Gardner had disfellowshipped Hickman based on his confession of some wrongs, but had no evidence (save rumor) of the more serious charges.

Saturday, October 13, 1860: Went to the city met Bishop Gardner, had a talk with him about W. A. Hickman's wicked course for sometime past. He said that up until now he had been bound and could not act, I told him I was not bound, neither was I afraid to oppose the wickedness of any man, that it was my duty to expose. We got home about sundown. In the evening I met with the Bishop and his counselors and parties concerned with trying George Hickman for stealing mules. When about to commence the trial, Elder [Orson] Hyde came in and by Bishop Gardner's solicitation he preached and the trial was postponed.

After meeting the Bishop, the counsel, and Elder Hyde had a long talk in my house. Bro. Hyde said, speaking of stealing that a man may steal and be influenced by the spirit of the Lord to do it, that Hickman had done it in years past. Said that he never would institute a trial against a brother for stealing from the Gentiles, but stealing from his brother, he was down on it. He laid down much teaching on the subject.[16]:95-96

Orson Hyde defended Hickman since he had saved his life in 1849

Wrote Hickman's biographer:

Orson Hyde, a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles, was an important Hickman defender. Hickman had saved his life in 1849, and he could not bring himself to condemn Hickman yet. Even as late as 1872, Hickman would use Hyde's line of reasoning in his own defence: he could not understand why people chastised him when all he did was to steal from the Gentiles.

Bennion attended yet another meeting on the matter of Hickman's church status the next day: "Sunday October 14, 1860: Went to meeting at the mill to hear Bro. Hyde . . . he gave much good instruction, spoke on last night's intention to try Hickman--give it as the word of the Lord to set him free for the past, bid him go and sin no more."[16]:95-96

Hyde didn't say that the Spirit of the Lord inspired Hickman to steal, but that it was a sin from which he should refrain

Hyde's stance had, therefore, shifted—rather than arguing that the Spirit of the Lord had inspired Hickman to steal, he was willing to grant that the action was a "sin" from which he should henceforth refrain.

Thus, the position argued by Elder Hyde and Hickman does not represent the Church's doctrine and teaching at the time. Hyde even altered his stance—perhaps his zeal to spare Hickman suffering led to an intemperate remark, which he later amended the next day. Bennion, who clearly wanted Hickman punished, seemed content with Hyde's preaching the next day, while he had not been the night before.

Heber C. Kimball contradicted Elder Hyde's remark soon afterward

Furthermore, Heber C. Kimball, a member of the First Presidency, would soon contradict Elder Hyde: Certain ones say that we justify stealing from unbelievers but we do not and they who say so shall be cursed, they shall be poor and vagabounds [sic] on the earth, and all the people said, `Amen.'[16]:96-97[17]

Orson Hyde wished to pass lightly over Hickman's sins because of the services which Hickman had rendered during Utah's settlement, the Utah War, and the personal debt he owed him. However, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and other church members and leaders were not of the same view, and denounced it. Even Hyde would, within twenty-four hours, amend his stance.


Question: Did Brigham say "We shall pull the wool over the eyes of the American people"?

As far as we can determine, this quotation is a complete fabrication

It is rumored that Brigham Young made the following statement:

We shall pull the wool over the eyes of the American people and make them swallow Mormonism, polygamy and all."

Critics say this shows the fundamental dishonesty of LDS leaders. [18]

As far as we can determine, this quotation is a complete fabrication. We cannot locate it in any LDS source, and those non-LDS sources who provide a reference are in error.

If any reader has further information, please contact us. At present, however, the best assumption seems to be that the quote is a fabrication.

FairMormon has been unable to find a legitimate source for this purported quotation from Brigham Young. It was quoted at the Reed Smoot hearing report, but the source is only given as E.A. Folk, editor of the Baptist and Reflector, a Nashville, Tennessee paper published by the Tennessee Baptist association.[19]

A citation generally given for Brigham Young's remarks is from the Church's English publication: "The Manifesto," Millennial Star 52 (24 Nov. 1890): 744.

However, an examination of this reference shows no sign of the quote in question—see PDF scan of the original here.

Later authors have continued to repeat the "quotation" from Brigham

Later authors have continued to repeat the "quotation" from Brigham, and provide the citation to the E.A. Folk's The Story of Mormonism, or the Millenial Star in their footnotes. However, these authors do not seem to have verified the original. They are likely simply repeating the claim from previous authors without checking:

Since the Smoot Committee hearings "quotation" of Brigham came from an apostate Mormon, it's possible that this witness provided false testimony (either unwittingly or intentionally)

Since the Smoot Committee hearings "quotation" of Brigham came from an apostate Mormon, it's possible that this witness provided false testimony (either unwittingly or intentionally). The prestige of a U.S. Congressional document has led subsequent writers to trust this witnesses' account without verifying the source for themselves.


Question: Why is History of the Church written in first-person, as if Joseph Smith himself wrote it?
  1. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods, Endnote 62-65, page 552 (hardback); page 550 (paperback).
  2. Kenneth W. Godfrey, “Causes of Mormon Non-Mormon Conflict in Hancock County, Illinois, 1839–1846” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1967), [citation needed].
  3. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 430.
  4. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 414, 417.
  5. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 417.
  6. Lyndon W. Cook, “William Law: Nauvoo Dissenter,” BYU Studies 22/1 (Fall 1982): 62.
  7. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 637.
  8. Dean C. Jessee, "review of The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power," Journal of Mormon History 22:2 (Fall 1996): 167–168.
  9. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 307.
  10. History of the Church, 5:283, for date 20-21 Feb 1843. for date 20-21 Feb 1843 Volume 5 link
  11. History of the Church, 5:292, for date 1 March 1843. for date 1 March 1843 Volume 5 link
  12. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 329.
  13. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 334.
  14. History of the Church, 5:295. Volume 5 link
  15. From "Office Journals of Brigham Young--Excerpts, 1853-62," New Mormon Studies CD-ROM (Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates).
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 Cited in Hope A. Hilton, "Wild Bill" Hickman and the Mormon Frontier (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1988)
  17. Compare with Heber C. Kimball, (23 August 1857) Journal of Discourses 5:171.
  18. Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), 281 ( Index of claims ). (Source Proceedings Before The Committee...); Ambrose B. Carlton, The Wonderlands of the Wild West, with Sketches of the Mormons (N.p.: n.p., 1891), 321.; Dan Erickson, "As a Thief in the Night": The Mormon Quest for Millennial Deliverance (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1998), chapter 8, footnote 118.; E.A. Folk (editor of the Baptist and Reflector), Story of Mormonism citing discourse of 12 July 1875 in Salt Lake Tabernacle.; Brigham Young, quoted in 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 Utah, To Hold His Seat, 4 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), 1:15; citing as source E.A. Folk as above.
  19. See "Baptist and Reflector," rootsweb.com (accessed 15 December 2007). The Smoot Hearing report cites this author with his editorial title in volume 1, page 15.