Question: Did William McLellin ever mention drinking in association with the Kirtland Temple?

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Question: Did William McLellin ever mention drinking in association with the Kirtland Temple?

There are, however, several instances in which McLellin mentioned drinking in association with the temple

April 1854
"Orson, you cannot have forgotten the scenes of drunkenness during the pretended enduement [sic] in Kirtland in 1836. I shall never forget them, nor the hundreds of false prophecies delivered in the Temple on that occasion.[1]
October 1871
"As to the endowment in Kirtland, I state positively, it was no endowment from God. Not only myself was not endowed but no other man of the five hundred who was present—except it was with wine![2]
July 1872
"In 1836 when they undertook to get an endowment in the Kirtland Temple. All washed and with oil anointed themselves, and appeared in the Temple at sunrise...and about five hundred ministers took their places, and solem[n]ly prayed. We remained there fasting until sunrise next morning. We however partook of some bread and wine in the evening. And some partook so freely, on their empty stomachs, that they became drunk! I took care of S[amuel] H. Smith in one of the stands so deeply intoxicated that he could not nor did sense anything. I kept him hid from the crowd in the stand, but he vomited the spit-box five times full, and his dear brother [Don] Carlos would empty it out of the window.[3]
August 1872
"In 1836 when they undertook to get an endowment in the Temple. All washed, and with oil anointed themselves, and appeared in the Temple at sun rise, then all their feet were washed, and about five hundred ministers dedicated themselves by solemn prayr [sic]. We remained there fasting until sun rise next morning. We however partook of some bread and wine in the evening. And some partook so freely, on their empty stomachs, that they became drunk! I took care of S[amuel] H. Smith, in one of the stands, so deeply intoxicated that he could not nor did not sense any thing. I kept him hid from the company but he vomited the spit-box full five times, and his dear brother [Don] Carlos would empty it out at the window. But I would prefer to draw a curtain over the awful drunken scene! Others imbibed to[o] much also. But let the curtain fall!!...But no power in Jos. Smith's dedication...If it was not transgression, what was the cause of so much disappointment?[4]
December 1878
"On the 6th of April, 1836, the ministerial authorities, about five hundred in number, entered that house at sunrise, and remained fasting until next morning, sun-rise, in order to receive an endowment, but utterly failed in their endeavor! It was more an endowment with wine than power from God.[5]
January 1879
Quotation as cited by Wyl above.[6]
Circa 1880
"The endowment was sought for in Kirtland, O. on April 6th 1836, but was not received, and was an entire failure....[the members] assembled at sunrise, and remained fasting until the next morning sunrise. Then about five hundred ministers began to wend their way home from than noble building, many of them disappointed and dispirited. The scene through which they had passed was one long to be remembered. No display of power from God was given. Al the power given was the power of man....They had a little bread, sent in by the sisters in the evening, The Twelve as servants carried round to them on servers a little bread and wine, and some of them partook of the wine so freely so as to become badly intoxicated!{[7]
Circa 1880
"The morning arrived and some five hundred ministers assembled in the Temple at sunrise....We remained until sunrise next morning fasting, excepting a little bread and wine furnished us in the evening. Some partook of the wine so freely on an empty stomach, that they actually became drunken! And a scene ensued that would be hard to describe. One thing I state candidly, I saw no one man in that assembly that was endowed with super-human power–no not one. This wonderful enduement [sic] then was only a farce—a very great failure.[8]

On April 6th, McLellin notes that the men involved had been fasting all day, and so the wine brought them to break their fast had a more dramatic effect than intended

Thus, McLellin describes an event on the 6 April. We learn the following things:

  • the men involved had been fasting all day, and so the wine brought them to break their fast had a more dramatic effect than intended. Even in McLellin's account, the drunkenness is not intentional.
  • "a little bread and wine" is provided—this is clearly not intended to be a time of excess, gorging, or over-indulgence.
  • "some" partook too "freely on an empty stomach."
  • the food and drink was provided by the women of the Church—unlikely candidates for trying to get the religious community drunk. In one account (the one cited by Wyl) McLellin says only bread was sent up, and then a "purse" collected to send for wine from a neighboring town. This is a strange deviation from the story told everywhere else—it seems calculated to make it seem as if the wine was sent for with the intent of getting drunk. It seems more likely that wine was procured for breaking the fast, and that McLellin told the story in this way to produce the worst impression possible. It is small wonder that Wyl chose to cite this version, likely for the same reasons.
  • The Twelve—including McLellin himself—helped distribute the food and wine—so, if the intention was to get everyone drunk to induce visions, McLellin participated. Yet, he was clearly horrified by those who were affected.
  • McLellin names only one person specifically as being drunk: Samuel Smith. This presumably means that other more prominent members (e.g., Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery) who reported visions that day were not inebriated, or McLellin would have named them, the better to shock his audience and prove the falsity of the Church's claims.
  • Samuel Smith is said to have been so affected that "he could not nor did sense anything." If this is so, then Samuel cannot have simultaneously been under the delusion that he was seeing celestial visions. While his state might be regrettable, it cannot explain the visions which others reported.
  • McLellin says that he tried to "hide" Samuel from the crowd—this suggests that the majority of those there were perfectly capable of noticing that Samuel was drunk. It also suggests that Samuel was an exception, rather than the rule—if all (or most) of the crowd is drunk, why would anyone notice Samuel's illness, and why would any of them care?
  • McLellin's August 1872 account says that Samuel was drunk, and then notes almost as an afterthought that "Others imbibed to[o] much too." Samuel seems the most dramatic case, and something of an exception—one wonders if the necessity of preventing Samuel's condition from making a scene and disturbing the worship service soured the experience for McLellin, leading him later to ascribe an air of drunkenness to the whole group, which is clearly unwarranted.
  • McLellin's Jan 1879 account says that he had others removed from the temple because of the problem—but, this would again seem to imply that the majority were not misbehaving, were not drunk, and were not rowdy or out of control.

In short, at most McLellin tells us that a few members were unintentionally made drunk after fasting and taking wine on an empty stomach

McLellin's account dovetails well with John Corrill's—Corrill had responded to the charge of drunkenness by saying that every man needed to answer for himself, but downplayed the idea that the Saints' behavior at Kirtland could in general be explained by drunkenness. Thus, some may have been influenced by the wine, but they would have been the exception, rather than the rule.

And, McLellin's tellings often omitted the wine altogether, and focused on the "failure" of the endowment, demonstrating that the wine was probably not his biggest concern, or the scandal which he sometimes made it out to be. McLellin goes on to insist that no one reported or experienced anything—but the record clearly contradicts him. McLellin makes his own failure to experience anything into a universal experience, when it clearly was not.

We note too that April 6th was well after the dedication of the temple; a great many visions and experiences had been reported, which predate McLellin's account of the wine. McLellin was present at these events, and says nothing of them—the April 6 meeting seems to be the only anomaly, and then only for a relatively few participants.

Of McLellin's remarks, historian D. Michael Quinn noted that:

he [McLellin] was among those responsible for having served too much wine to the fasting men, something which undoubtedly embarrassed him in retrospect....
McLellin admonished Mormon antagonist James T. Cobb as follows: 'I know a man can sit down and find crookedness in almost any thing by prying closely into it.' It was wise advise and unusually temperate. That said, [McLellin's] treatment of the drunkenness in the temple would fall into the same category of hyper-criticism.
Of course, he wanted to emphasize the more substantive issue of truthfulness or falsehood in later claims about heavenly manifestations in the temple. On this score, it is interesting that he conflated several solemn assemblies and successive days of temple dedication into one incident, leaving the reader to wonder whether he was implying that the drunkenness was representative or anomalous....[9]

Quinn discusses the many contemporaneous reports of visions and miracles from leaders and lay members of the Church, and then writes:

One may legitimately disobelieve these testimonials or dismiss them as delusional, but McLellin denied that such claims even existed....Since even the rank-and-file made contemporary notations about spiritual events in the temple at this time, it is difficult to believe that Apostle McLellin was unaware of these reports from January through the spring of 1836 [we again recall that McLellin only speaks of April 6 — ed.]. It would have been more accurate (and charitable) for McLellin to say that he saw no otherworldly manifestations himself, even though others made such claims.[10]

Other accounts

Benjamin Winchester

Another account comes from Benjamin Winchester, who was a friend of Joseph Smith’s, an LDS leader in the early 1840s. In 1889, he wrote that the Kirtland temple dedication “ended in a drunken frolic.”[11] Winchester left the Church during the Nauvoo era in the 1840s, but the temple dedication occurred in March of 1836. Winchester had thus remained a member even after the supposed events in Kirtland that he later condemned. Why? Why didn’t he leave earlier if he knew that such things were serving as the surrogate for spirituality five years earlier?

John L. Traughber

Traughber, a member of the RLDS Church, carried on a correspondence with McLellin, and would later acquire the McLellin collection with the intention of writing a book about Mormonism. Despite creating a manuscript of over three hundred pages, he never successfully completed his book.[12]

In May 1884, Traughber cited some of McLellin's material, and then claimed that in April 1881 he visited McLellin:

I talked with Dr. McLellan and his wife about the endowment at the Kirtland temple, 1836. They stated that before Samuel H. Smith became dead drunk, he staggered up on the stand of the First Presidency and delivered a prophecy. Mrs. McLellan remarked that the Latter Day Saints seemed to think that it was all right for Samuel to be drunk, and spoke of it as almost a miracle that he could deliver a prophecy when he was so drunk he could hardly stand.[13]

This version seems an exaggeration or fabrication. McLellin's numerous accounts never mention Samuel giving a prophecy or speech. Furthermore, McLellin twice indicated that he tried to keep Samuel's condition a secret from the rest of the congregation—hardly necessary or possible if Samuel had been seen to be "so drunk he could hardly stand," and if the Saints had regarded this as "all right" and "a miracle." If this was so, why was McLellin trying to keep Samuel's state a secret? Why did McLellin expel others who had taken too much wine on an empty stomach? Why did he never tell this even more damning version of events in his multiple accounts?

The story is dubious, and the fault of fabrication likely lies with either Mrs. McLellin, or with Traughber himself.

The story spreads

In 1890, the Reverend Theodore Schroeder went to Salt Lake City, and stayed for ten years digging through libraries and collections for ammunition with which to attack the Church. He returned to Wisconsin in 1900 and donated all his books and papers to the Wisconsin State Historical Society Library, in Madison, Wisconsin. He also wrote several anti-Mormon articles for publication, and used Wyl's material frequently. In 1901, Traughber offered to sell the McLellin collection to Schroeder, but the latter declined.


  1. McLellin to Orson Pratt, 29 April 1854, p. 2; cited in McLellin Papers, 436.
  2. McLellin to Mark H. Forscutt, 1 October 1871; cited in McLellin Papers, 476.
  3. McLellin to Joseph Smith III, July 1872; cited in McLellin Papers, 493–494.
  4. McLellin to Dear Mary, 3- August 1872; cited in McLellin Papers, 498.
  5. McLellin to John L. Traughber, 14 December 1878, in McLellin Papers, 512.
  6. McLellin to John L. Traughber, 5 January 1879, in McLellin Papers, 517. See previous section for Wyl's citation.
  7. McLellin, "Reasons Why I am Not A Mormon, ca. 1880 (italics in original); cited in McLellin Papers, 396.
  8. McLellin, "Reasons Why I am Not A Mormon, ca. 1880; cited in McLellin Papers, 421-422.
  9. D. Michael Quinn, "'My Eyes Were Holden in Those Days': A Study of Selective Memory," in McLellin Papers, 73–74.
  10. D. Michael Quinn, "'My Eyes Were Holden in Those Days': A Study of Selective Memory," in McLellin Papers, 74–75.
  11. Benjamin Winchester, "Primitive Mormonism," Salt Lake Tribune (22 September 1889): 2.
  12. See "The John L. Traughber Papers," Marriot Library, Special Collections, University of Utah(Pages accessed 5 June 2009).
  13. Traughber cited in McLellin Papers, 518 note.