Question: What did David Whitmer's associates say about his character?

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Question: What did David Whitmer's associates say about his character?

Throughout Richmond, Missouri, the non-Mormons knew David Whitmer as an honest and trustworthy citizen

Throughout Richmond, Missouri, the non-Mormons knew David Whitmer as an honest and trustworthy citizen. When one anti-Mormon lectured in David’s hometown and branded David as disreputable, the local (non-Mormon) paper responded with “a spirited front-page editorial unsympathetic with Mormonism but insistent on ‘the forty six years of private citizenship on the part of David Whitmer, in Richmond, without stain or blemish.’” [1]

...The following year the editor penned a tribute on the eightieth birthday of David Whitmer, who “with no regrets for the past” still “reiterates that he saw the glory of the angel.” This is the critical issue of the life of David Whitmer. During fifty years in non-Mormon society, he insisted with the fervor of his youth that he knew that the Book of Mormon was divinely revealed. Relatively few people in Richmond could wholly accept such testimony, but none doubted his intelligence or complete honesty. [2]

Another newspaper declared:

And no man can look at David Whitmer's face for a half-hour, while he charit[abl]y and modestly speaks of what he has seen, and then bodldly and earnestly confesses the faith that is in him, and say that he is a bigot or an enthusiast.[3]

Twenty two non-Mormon citizens signed the following statement, including, Mayor, county clerk, county treasurer, postmaster, revenue collector, county sheriff, two judges, two medical doctors, four bankers, two merchants, and two lawyers:

We the undersigned citizens of Richmond Ray CO Mo where David Whitmer Sr has resided since the year AD 1838, Certify that we have been long and intimately acquainted with him, and know him to be a man of the highest integrity, and of undoubted truth and veracity....[4]

Another said:

Mr. Whitmer is an old citizen of this town, and is known by every one here as a man of the highest honor, having resided here since the year 1838.[5]

Upon Whitmer's death, the local newspaper wrote:

He lived in Richmond about half a century, and we can say that no man ever lived here, who had among our people, more friends and fewer enemies. Honest, conscientious and upright in all his dealings, just in his estimate of men, and open, manly and frank in his treatment of all, he made lasting friends who loved him to the end.[6]

Events used to impugn David Whitmer's character

Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &C. in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; And the Evidence Given Before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, on the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Others, for High Treason and Other Crimes Against the State

Some have used other ways to try and impugn Whitmer's character and bring it into question. One such way is bringing up an 1838 petition signed by 83 Latter-day Saint men accusing David of various crimes[7]. Such incidents have been thoroughly addressed. Balanced context can be found in Latter-day Saint historian Alexander Baugh's PhD dissertation "A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri. Neither Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, nor Hyrum Smith of the First Presidency signed the petition[8] The document was written by then-apostate Sampson Avard. More information can be found on him by reading Baugh's work.

"Such characters as McLellin, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them."

Some critics have used a December 1838 quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith to impugn the character of the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. The above is the standard representation of this quote. Joseph Smith wrote to the Saints on 16 December 1838 to provide comfort to the Saints and update them on his current condition in Liberty Jail:

To the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Caldwell county, and all the Saints who are scattered abroad, who are persecuted, and made desolate, and who are afflicted in divers manners for Christ's sake and the Gospel's, by the hands of a cruel mob and the tyrannical disposition of the authorities of this state; and whose perils are greatly augmented by the wickedness and corruption of false brethren, greeting: May grace, mercy, and the peace of God be and abide with you; and notwithstanding all your sufferings, we assure you that you have our prayers and fervent desires for your welfare, day and night. We believe that that God who seeth us in this solitary place, will hear our prayers, and reward you openly.

Know assuredly, dear brethren, that it is for the testimony of Jesus that we are in bonds and in prison. But we say unto you, that we consider that our condition is better (notwithstanding our sufferings) than that of those who have persecuted us, and smitten us, and borne false witness against us; and we most assuredly believe that those who do bear false witness against us, do seem to have a great triumph over us for the present. [9]

By this time, all of the three witnesses had fallen away from the Church after severe disagreements with Joseph Smith. This is why Joseph Smith published the comment in the letter—Joseph was angry with them:

Was it for committing adultery that we were assailed? We are aware that that false slander has gone abroad, for it has been reiterated in our ears. These are falsehoods also. Renegade "Mormon" dissenters are running through the world and spreading various foul and libelous reports against us, thinking thereby to gain the friendship of the world, because they know that we are not of the world, and that the world hates us; therefore they [the world] make a tool of these fellows [the dissenters]; and by them try to do all the injury they can, and after that they hate them worse than they do us, because they find them to be base traitors and sycophants.

Such characters God hates; we cannot love them. The world hates them, and we sometimes think that the devil ought to be ashamed of them.

We have heard that it is reported by some, that some of us should have said, that we not only dedicated our property, but our families also to the Lord; and Satan, taking advantage of this, has perverted it into licentiousness, such as a community of wives, which is an abomination in the sight of God.

When we consecrate our property to the Lord it is to administer to the wants of the poor and needy, for this is the law of God; it is not for the benefit of the rich, those who have no need; and when a man consecrates or dedicates his wife and children, he does not give them to his brother, or to his neighbor, for there is no such law: for the law of God is, Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife. He that looketh upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery already in his heart. Now for a man to consecrate his property, wife and children, to the Lord, is nothing more nor less than to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the widow and fatherless, the sick and afflicted, and do all he can to administer to their relief in their afflictions, and for him and his house to serve the Lord. In order to do this, he and all his house must be virtuous, and must shun the very appearance of evil.

[Page 231]

Now if any person has represented anything otherwise than what we now write, he or she is a liar, and has represented us falsely—and this is another manner of evil which is spoken against us falsely.[10]

It is on this page that we get the quote from Joseph referencing the men specifically. Notice how he states only that they are "mean" and nothing more:

And now, brethren, we say unto you—what more can we enumerate? Is not all manner of evil of every description spoken of us falsely, yea, we say unto you falsely. We have been misrepresented and misunderstood, and belied, and the purity and integrity and uprightness of our hearts have not been known—and it is through ignorance—yea, the very depths of ignorance is the cause of it; and not only ignorance, but on the part of some, gross wickedness and hypocrisy also; for some, by a long face and sanctimonious prayers, and very pious sermons, had power to lead the minds of the ignorant and unwary, and thereby obtain such influence that when we approached their iniquities the devil gained great advantage—would bring great trouble and sorrow upon our heads; and, in fine, we have waded through an ocean of tribulation and mean abuse, practiced upon us by the ill bred and the ignorant, such as Hinkle, Corrill, Phelps, Avard, Reed Peck, Cleminson, and various others, who are so very ignorant that they cannot appear respectable in any decent and civilized society, and whose eyes are full of adultery, and cannot cease from sin. Such characters as McLellin, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them. Marsh and "another," whose hearts are full of corruption, whose cloak of hypocrisy was not sufficient to shield them or to hold them up in the hour of trouble, who after having escaped the pollution of the world through the knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, became again entangled and overcome—their latter end is worse than the first. But it has happened unto them according to the word of the Scripture: "The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."[11]

"...has no other dumb ass to ride but David Whitmer...and his ass...brays out cursings instead of blessings..."

Another quote from Joseph Smith is used to impugn Whitmer's character. This comes from History of the Church, Vol. 3, Ch 15, p. 228. It is a letter from Joseph Smith while in Liberty Jail dated 16 December 1838:

But these men, like Balaam, being greedy for reward, sold us into the hands of those who loved them, for the world loves his own. I would remember William E. McLellin, who comes up to us as one of Job's comforters. God suffered such kind of beings to afflict Job—but it never entered into their hearts that Job would get out of it all. This poor man who professes to be much of a prophet, has no other dumb ass to ride but David Whitmer, [2] to forbid his madness when he goes up to curse Israel; and this ass not being of the same kind as Balaam's, therefore, the angel notwithstanding appeared unto him, yet he could not penetrate his understanding sufficiently, but that he prays out cursings instead of blessings. Poor ass! Whoever lives to see it, will see him and his rider perish like those who perished in the gain-saying of Korah, or after the same condemnation. Now as for these and the rest of their company, we will not presume to say that the world loves them; but we presume to say they love the world, and we classify them in the error of Balaam, and in the gain-sayings of Korah, and with the company of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.[12]

The footnote marked with a [2] in this quote reads thus:

In order to appreciate the allusions here made to David Whitmer it will be necessary to remember that William E. M'Lellin claimed that President Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet and himself sought to bring into existence a re-organized church with David Whitmer as the president thereof. See foot note in this volume at pages 31, 32.

That footnote on pages 31 and 32 reads:

It will be observed that the text is silent in relation to what action was taken respecting William E. McLellin, and the Far West Record is silent upon the subject also. In fact the minutes of the trial before the Bishop are not written in that record at all. It is known, however, from other sources that William E. McLellin was finally excommunicated from the Church at Far West. Thence forward he took an active part in the persecution of the Saints in Missouri, and at one time expressed the desire to do violence to the person of Joseph Smith, while the latter was confined in Liberty prison. Subsequently he attempted what he called a reorganization of the Church, and called upon David Whitmer to take the presidency thereof, claiming that he was ordained by Joseph Smith on the 8th of July, 1834, as his (the Prophet Joseph's) successor. The Prophet himself, according to the minutes of the High Council held in Far West, on the 15th of March, 1838, referred to his ordaining of David Whitmer in July, 1834, and this is the account of what he said:

"President Joseph Smith, Jun., gave a history of the ordination of David Whitmer which (ordination) was on conditions that he (Joseph Smith, Jun.,) did not live to God himself. President Joseph Smith, Jun., approved of the proceedings of the High Council after hearing the minutes of the former councils."—Far West Record, page 108.

The minutes of the councils here referred to, and which the Prophet approved, gave account of deposing David Whitmer from the local Presidency of the Church in Missouri.[13]

The context for Joseph's comments is clear. This quote begs the same questions as before:

  1. Why would Joseph risk angering these men further if he knew that they could expose him?
  2. Why didn't they expose him and instead go to their deathbeds (and in the case of Harris and Whitmer never returning to the Church) testifying that the work was true?

Pledging Loyalty to a Seeress who used a Black Seer Stone?

One critic claims that "During the summer of 1837, while in Kirtland, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver pledged their new loyalty to a prophetess who used a black seer stone and danced herself into 'trances.'[14]"

The author's source is "Biographical Sketches, Lucy Mack Smith, p. 211-213". Following the source we read this:

At this time a certain young woman, who was living at David Whitmer’s, uttered a prophecy, which she said was given her, by looking through a black stone that she had found. This prophecy gave some altogether a new idea of things.
She said, the reason why one-third of the Church would turn away from Joseph, was because that he was in transgression himself; that he would fall from his office on account of the same; that David Whitmer, or Martin Harris would fill Joseph’s place; and that the one who did not succeed him, would be the Counsellor to the one that did.
This girl soon became an object of great attention among those who were disaffected. Dr. Williams, the ex-justice of the peace,became her scribe, and wrote her revelations for her.
Jared Carter, who lived in the same house with David Whitmer, soon imbibed the same spirit, and I was informed, that he said in one of their meetings, that he had power to raise “Joe Smith” to the highest heavens, or sink him down to the lowest hell.
Shortly after this, Jared came to our house, and I questioned him relative to what he had said concerning Joseph. Not having mentioned the matter to my husband, he did not understand what I meant at first; but after a little explanation, he warned Jared to repent of the injudicious course that he was taking, and speedily confess his sins to the Church, or the judgments of God would overtake him. Jared received this admonition, and acknowledging his fault, agreed to confess to the brethren, the first opportunity.
The next morning he was seized with a violent pain in his eyes, and continued in great distress for two days. On the evening of the second day, he arose from his bed, and, kneeling down, besought the Lord to heal him, covenanting to make a full confession to the Church at meeting the next Sunday.
Accordingly, the next Sabbath he arose and stated to the brethren that he had done wrong; and, asking their forgiveness, begged to be received again into their confidence. He did not, however, state what he had done that was wrong; nevertheless his confession was received, and he was forgiven.
But the rest of his party continued obstinate. They still held their secret meetings at David Whitmer’s, and when the young woman, who was their instructress, was through giving what revelations she intended for the evening, she would jump out of her chair and dance over the floor, boasting of her power, until she was perfectly exhausted. Her proselytes would also, in the most vehement manner, proclaim their purity and holiness, and the mighty power which they were going to have.
They made a standing appointment for meetings to be held every Thursday, by the pure Church in the house of the Lord.
They also circulated a paper, in order to ascertain how many would follow them, and it was found, that a great proportion of the Church were decidedly in favour of the new party.
In this spirit they went to Missouri, and contaminated the minds of many of the brethren against Joseph, in order to destroy his influence.
This made it more necessary than ever, to keep a strict guard at the houses of those who were the chief objects of their vengeance.

Whitmer had already become disgruntled with Church leadership at the time Kirtland Safety Society. It is not surprising that he would be interested in prophecies from someone predicting the downfall of the Church and his replacement in leadership. But there is no mention of him "pledging loyalty" to this supposed prophetess, there is no mention of her "dancing in trances", and, most interestingly, no mention of Martin Harris or Oliver Cowdery being in company of Whitmer. Thus the claim distorts the information greatly by trying to portray the three witnesses in a superstitious light. Yet two weren't there, there wasn't some sort of "magical" event going on besides the use of the black seer stone, and there is a plausible reason why Whitmer would be interested in this prophetess. This context yet again begs the same questions:

Conclusion

All of these incidences beg questions:

  1. Why would Joseph risk angering these men further if he knew that they could expose him?
  2. Why didn't they expose him and instead go to their deathbeds (and in the case of Harris and Whitmer never returning to the Church) testifying that the work was true?
  3. Why did they always hold firm to their testimony to the Book of Mormon even when harassed by members of the Church and Joseph Smith himself after leaving it?

These are all, in the end, testaments to the strength and integrity of the witnesses in general and their integrity as witnesses to truth. They held true to their testimony even in the face of great temptation. That—in and of itself—is testimony to their reliability.


Notes

  1. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  2. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 74. ISBN 0877478465.
  3. David Whitmer, interview with Chicago Times (August 1875); cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:23.
  4. David Whitmer, Proclamation, 19 March 1881; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:69.
  5. David Whitmer, Interview with Chicago Tribune, 23 January 1888, printed in "An Old Mormon's Closing Hours," Chicago Tribune (24 January 1888); cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:209.
  6. David Whitmer, Interview, "The Last Witness Dead! David Whitmer, the aged Patria[r]ch, Gone to His Rest. His Parting Injunction to His Family and Friends. He Departs in Peace," Richmond (MO) Democrat (26 January 1888); cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:211.
  7. Jeremy Runnells "Debunking FAIR's Debunking (Debunking FairMormon) July 2014 Revision; The omnibus title of the document in question is "Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &C. in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; And the Evidence Given Before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, on the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Others, for High Treason and Other Crimes Against the State" (Fayette, MO: Boon’s Lick Democrat, 1841), 103–7
  8. For a discussion of these documents, see Stanley B. Kimball, “Missouri Mormon Manuscripts: Sources in Selected Societies,” BYU Studies 14, no. 4 (Summer 1974): 458–87.
  9. Joseph Smith "The Prophet's Letter to the Church" 16 December 1838 in History of the Church Vol 3: Ch 15: P 226 (ed.) Brigham H. Roberts off-site
  10. Ibid, 230-31
  11. Ibid, 231
  12. Joseph Smith, "The Prophet's Letter to the Church" 16 December 1838. Brigham H. Roberts ed., History of the Church, 3:15:228 off-site
  13. Ibid. 3:3:31-2
  14. Jeremy Runnells, Debunking FairMormon under "Witnesses"