Question: Why is the statement of William Clayton regarding the Kinderhook Plates in ''History of the Church'' written as if Joseph Smith himself said it?

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Question: Why is the statement of William Clayton regarding the Kinderhook Plates in History of the Church written as if Joseph Smith himself said it?

History of the Church was written in the "first person" after Joseph's death

It should be noted that the critical "mormoninfographic" includes a portion of a quote from History of the Church that is written as if it came from Joseph Smith.

Mormoninfographic.kinderhook.clayton.jpg

The graphic is correct, but it is useful to know the actual source of the quote used by History of the Church.:

I insert fac-similes of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook, in Pike county, Illinois, on April 23, by Mr. Robert Wiley and others, while excavating a large mound. They found a skeleton about six feet from the surface of the earth, which must have stood nine feet high. The plates were found on the breast of the skeleton and were covered on both sides with ancient characters. I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the Ruler of heaven and earth.

The quote in question was written in William Clayton's journal. It was rewritten in the first person (as if Joseph Smith had said it himself) when it was included in History of the Church. Clayton's journal is the primary source, which was used in History of the Church (a secondary source).

The quote by William Clayton is indeed accurate: Joseph Smith did attempt to translate a portion of the Kinderhook Plates. This is explained in the following section.

The following is from Stanley B. Kimball, "Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to Be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax," Ensign, August 1981 off-site

These two oblique references to a “translation” were followed thirteen years later by a more direct published statement that until recently was wrongly thought to have been written by Joseph Smith himself. On September 3 and 10, 1856, the following paragraphs appeared in the Deseret News as part of the serialized “History of Joseph Smith”:

“[May 1, 1843:] I insert fac similes of the six brass plates found near Kinderhook, in Pike county, Illinois, on April 23, by Mr. R. Wiley and others, while excavating a large mound. They found a skeleton about six feet from the surface of the earth, which must have stood nine feet high. The plates were found on the breast of the skeleton, and were covered on both sides with ancient characters.

“I have translated a portion of them, and find they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.” (Then followed a reprint of material from the Times and Seasons article.)

Although this account appears to be the writing of Joseph Smith, it is actually an excerpt from a journal of William Clayton. It has been well known that the serialized “History of Joseph Smith” consists largely of items from other persons’ personal journals and other sources, collected during Joseph Smith’s lifetime and continued after the Saints were in Utah, then edited and pieced together to form a history of the Prophet’s life “in his own words.” It was not uncommon in the nineteenth century for biographers to put the narrative in the first person when compiling a biographical work, even though the subject of the biography did not actually say or write all the words attributed to him; thus the narrative would represent a faithful report of what others felt would be helpful to print. The Clayton journal excerpt was one item used in this way. For example, the words “I have translated a portion” originally read “President J. has translated a portion. …”

Notes