Question: What was John C. Bennett's role in the events leading up to the death of Joseph Smith?

Table of Contents

Question: What was John C. Bennett's role in the events leading up to the death of Joseph Smith?

The apostasy of John C. Bennett

May 1842
John C. Bennett is tried before a Church court. He confessed to “wicked and licentious conduct toward certain females in Nauvoo,”[1] and of past acts of exploiting of women he had attended as a doctor. He may also have performed abortions.[2] He had also frequented, and perhaps operated, a brothel.[3] (Bennett was not alone in this; with his encouragement Chauncy and Francis Higbee—who would write attacks on Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo Expositor—also participated in immoral acts and were disciplined for it.)

Bennett claimed that the doctrines he was using to seduce women in Nauvoo were the same as those taught privately by Joseph Smith with regard to plural marriage

Bennett’s apostasy caused particular problems because he claimed that the doctrines he was using to seduce women in Nauvoo were the same as those taught privately by Joseph Smith with regard to plural marriage. Thus, Joseph and the Church spent a great deal of time denying Bennett’s charges, while trying to keep plural marriage from becoming common knowledge for fear of the Church’s enemies.

Bennett left the Church and Nauvoo, and spoke widely about the “evils” of the Church and its leaders to non-member audiences. He also wrote a book and made a good deal of money telling stories against the Mormons; he was later to be associated with Sidney Rigdon’s splinter group and the “Strangite” break-off group, but he soon left them as well.

Orson F. Whitney said this about Bennett:

In May, 1842, the treachery and rascality of a man whom the Mormon leader had befriended and loaded with honors, became known to his benefactor. That man was Dr. John C. Bennett, Mayor of Nauvoo, Chancellor of its University, and Major-General of its legion. He had become associated with the Saints soon after their exodus from Missouri. Though a great egotist, he was a man of education, address and ability. That he had little or no principle was not immediately apparent. Considerable of a diplomat and possessing some influence in political circles, he rendered valuable aid in securing the passage by the Illinois Legislature of the act incorporating the city of Nauvoo. Hence the honors bestowed upon him by the Mormon people. Prior to that, and subsequently, he was Quartermaster-General of Illinois. Bennett professed great sympathy for the Saints. He joined the Church and apparently was a sincere convert to the faith.

Governor Thomas Ford, in his history of Illinois, styles Bennett "probably the greatest scamp in the western country." But this was not until long after the Mormons, thrice victimized, had become aware of his villainy.[4]

Notes

  1. 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), 5:18–19. Volume 5 link
  2. Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1997), 14; see also Zeruiah N. Goddard, affidavit, August 28, 1842 in Affidavits and Certificates, Disproving the Statements and Affidavits Contained in John C. Bennett's Letters (Nauvoo, no publisher, 31 August 1842); cited by Danel W. Bachman, “A Study of the Mormon Practice of Polygamy Before the Death of Joseph Smith,” (1975) (unpublished M.A. thesis, Purdue University), 225.
  3. Bachman, “Polygamy Before the Death of Joseph Smith,” 225; citing L.D. Wasson to Joseph Smith, 29 July 1842 in Times and Seasons 5:891-892.
  4. Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, 4 volumes, (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons Co., 1892-1904), 1:193–194; cited in Roy W. Doxy, Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants, Volume 4, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 255–257.