A fascinating part of studying the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is reading accounts of the miraculous events that attended the formative years of the Church. The faith and experiences of Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and other spiritual giants are spiritually bolstering and testimony building.
This article is not particularly scholarly, nor is it apologetic in nature. It, like all accounts of miracles and revelations, is not designed to convert or prove the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ. It would, of course, fail in any such attempt. If turning water to blood could not convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave, a few miraculous events could not be enough to change anyone’s beliefs, especially the beliefs of modern-day skeptics.
Nevertheless, the plagues of Egypt bear a strong witness, even today, of Moses’ calling as a prophet. And in the same way, miracles of the early period of the Church serve as a testimony to the divine calling of Joseph Smith, and his mission to bring about a restoration of many of the sacred truths and doctrines lost from the early Christian church. This article is a collection of eighteen miraculous accounts in early Church history covering healings, prophecies, manifestations, and other inspiring events. Although they are far from all of the miracles recorded from this time period, and certainly do not represent the majority of miracles that occurred, they help us to understand how much God will do to keep His Church on the earth–never to be taken off again.
Gifts of Healing
Paul teaches to the Church at Corinth that one of the gifts of the Spirit is healing.1 According to Paul’s words, if the Holy Spirit is working among mankind, then surely some people have the ability to use a divine and holy gift given to them through the Holy Spirit–to heal. Joseph Smith was undoubtedly given such a gift:
This afternoon I [Joseph] was called, in company with President David Whitmer, to visit Angeline Works. We found her very sick, and so much deranged that she did not recognize her friends and intimate acquaintances. We prayed for her and laid hands on her in the name of Jesus Christ, and commanded her in His name to receive her senses, which were immediately restored. We also prayed that she might be restored to health; and she said she was better.2
Elder Heber C. Kimball’s wife bears record of another account. Members of the Quorum of the Twelve were called to serve a mission in England. However, Elder Kimball was in a dire condition:
A short time previous to my husband’s starting…he was prostrated on his bed from a stitch in his back, which suddenly seized him while chopping and drawing wood for his family, so that he could not stir a limb without exclaiming, from the severeness of the pain. Joseph Smith hearing of it came to see him, bringing Oliver Cowdrey and Bishop Partridge with him. They prayed for and blessed him, Joseph being mouth, beseeching God to raise him up, &c. He then took him by the right hand and said, “Brother Heber, I take you by your right hand, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and by virtue of the holy priesthood vested in me, I command you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to rise, and be thou made whole.” He arose from his bed, put on his clothes, and started with them, and went up to the temple, and felt no more the pain afterwards.3
However, the most significant event of healing can be found in an account of the sickness that prevailed in Commerce (later Nauvoo) Illinois:
In consequence of the persecution of the Saints in Missouri, and the exposures to which they were subjected, many of them were taken sick soon after their arrival at Commerce, afterwards called Nauvoo; and as there was but a small number of dwellings for them to occupy, Joseph had filled his house and tent with them, and through constantly attending to their wants, he soon fell sick himself. After being confined to his house several days, and while meditating upon his situation, he had a great desire to attend to the duties of his office. On the morning of the 22nd of July, 1839, he arose from his bed and commenced to administer to the sick in his own house and door-yard, and he commanded them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to arise and be made whole; and the sick were healed upon every side of him.
Many lay sick along the bank of the river: Joseph walked along up to the lower stone house, occupied by Sidney Rigdon, and he healed all the sick that lay in his path. Among the number was Henry G. Sherwood, who was nigh unto death. Joseph stood in the door of his tent and commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to arise and come out of his tent, and he obeyed him and was healed. Brother Benjamin Brown and his family also lay sick, the former appearing to be in a dying condition. Joseph healed them in the name of the Lord. After healing all that lay sick upon the bank of the river as far as the stone house, he called upon Elder Kimball and some others to accompany him across the river to visit the sick at Montrose. Many of the Saints were living at the old military barracks. Among the number were several of the Twelve. On his arrival the first house he visited was that occupied by Elder Brigham Young, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, who lay sick. Joseph healed him, then he arose and accompanied the Prophet on his visit to others who were in the same condition. They visited Elder Wilford Woodruff, also Elder Orson Pratt, and John Taylor, all of whom were living in Montrose. They also accompanied him.
The next place they visited was the home of Elijah Fordham, who was supposed to be about breathing his last. When the company entered the room, the Prophet of God walked up to the dying man and took hold of his right hand and spoke to him; but Brother Fordham was unable to speak, his eyes were set in his head like glass, and he seemed entirely unconscious of all around him. Joseph held his hand and looked into his eyes in silence for a length of time. A change in the countenance of Brother Fordham was soon perceptible to all present. His sight returned, and upon Joseph asked him if he knew him, he, in a low whisper, answered ‘Yes.’ Joseph asked him if he had faith to be healed. He answered, ‘I do.’ Joseph stood erect, still holding his hand in silence several moments; Then he spoke in a very loud voice, saying, ‘Brother Fordham, I command you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise from this bed and be made whole.’ His voice was like the voice of God, and not of man. It seemed as though the house shook to its very foundations. Brother Fordham arose from his bed, and was immediately made whole. His feet were bound in poultices which he kicked off; then putting on his clothes he ate a bowl of bread and milk and followed the Prophet into the street.
The company next visited Brother Joseph Bates Noble, who lay very sick. He also was healed by the Prophet. By this time the wicked became alarmed and followed the company to Brother Noble’s house. After Noble was healed, all kneeled down to pray. Brother Fordham was mouth, and while praying he fell to the floor. The Prophet arose, and on looking around he saw quite a number of unbelievers in the house, whom he ordered out. When the room was cleared of the wicked, Brother Fordham came to and finished his prayer.
After healing the sick in Montrose, all the company followed Joseph to the bank of the river, where he was going to take the boat to return home. While waiting for the boat, a man from the West, who had seen that the sick and dying were healed, asked Joseph if he would not go to his house and heal two of his children who were very sick. They were twins and were three months old. Joseph told the man he could not go, but he would send some one to heal them. He told Elder Woodruff to go with the man and heal his children. At the same time he took from his pocket a silk bandanna handkerchief, and gave to Brother Woodruff, telling him to wipe the faces of the children with it, and they should be healed; and remarked at the same time: ‘As long as you keep that handkerchief it shall remain a league between you and me.’ Elder Woodruff did as he was commanded, and the children were healed, and he keeps the handkerchief to his day.
There were many sick whom Joseph could not visit, so he counseled the Twelve to go and visit and heal them, and many were healed under their hands. On the day following that upon which the above-described events took place, Joseph sent Elders George A. and Don Carlos Smith up the river to heal the sick. They went up as far as Ebenezer Robinson’s-one or two miles-and did as they were commanded, and the sick were healed.4
This powerful and touching description shows the Prophet’s ability to heal by the Holy Spirit, affirming the truthfulness of Paul’s words.
Manifestations of Angels among the Saints
The Saints have been blessed very extensively by the visitations of angels. The scriptures contain accounts about angels coming to earth and delivering messages. The ancient prophet Jacob beheld angels descending to the earth as if on a ladder,5 and Psalms 91:11 states, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”
Is it any wonder then that angels would appear to those who need their guidance or help? One such example is recorded by Wilford Woodruff. While serving a mission in England, Elder Woodruff and George A. Smith were lying down to go to sleep. They felt the presence of a “legion of devils” entering into the room in order to stop them from their work.
I began to pray the best that I could in the midst of this struggle and asked the Father in the name of Jesus Christ to spare our lives. While thus praying, three personages entered the room clothed in white and encircled with light. They walked to our bedside, laid hands upon our heads and we were instantly delivered; and from that time forth we were no more troubled with evil spirits while in the city of London. As soon as they administered unto us, they withdrew from the room, the lights withdrew with them and darkness returned.6
Angels also ministered at the dedication of the Kirtland temple. Indeed, a great many events of spiritual significance took place there. Joseph Smith recorded a small portion:
Many of my brethren who received the ordinance with me saw glorious visions also. Angels ministered unto them as well as to myself, and the power of the Highest rested upon us, the house was filled with the glory of God, and we shouted Hosanna to God and the Lamb. My scribe also received his anointing with us, and saw, in a vision, the armies of heaven protecting the Saints in their return to Zion, and many things which I saw.
The Bishop of Kirtland with his Counselors, and the Bishop of Zion with his Counselors, were present with us, and received their anointings under the hands of Father Smith [Joseph Smith Sr.], and this was confirmed by the Presidency, and the glories of heaven were unfolded to them also.7
He then continues writing of the great manifestations occurring, except that in this case those with him were the High Councilors of both Zion and Kirtland, who had moments before received their anointings.
The visions of heaven were opened to them also. Some of them saw the face of the Savior, and others were ministered unto by holy angels, and the spirit of prophecy and revelation was poured out on mighty power; and loud hosannas, and glory to God in the highest, saluted the heavens, for we communed with heavenly host.8
Joseph’s record continues still. At that time the Quorum of the Twelve received their anointings, and the heavens were opened to them. The Presidency of the Seventy also received their anointings, and the heavens were opened up to Sylvester Smith, a member of that presidency.9
More miraculous events later occurred at the Kirtland temple. Events at the close of the temple’s dedication are recorded in this manner:
Brother George A. Smith arose and began to prophecy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astounded at what was taking place. This continued until the meeting closed at eleven p.m.
The number of official members present on this occasion was four hundred and sixteen, being a greater number than ever assembled on any former occasion.10
We read finally of the occurrences on March 30. Joseph Smith sums up the culminating events calling it a “Day of Pentecost.”
I left the meeting in the charge of the Twelve, and retired about nine o’clock in the evening. The brethren continued exhorting, prophesying, and speaking in tongues until five o’clock in the morning. The Savior made His appearance to some, while angels ministered to others, and it was a Pentecost and an endowment indeed, long to be remembered, for the sound shall go forth from this place into all the world, and the occurrences of this day shall be handed down upon the pages of sacred history, to all generations; as the day of Pentecost, so shall this day be numbered and celebrated as a year of jubilee, and time of rejoicing to the Saints of the Most High God.11
Many others bear testimony along with the Prophet’s record of the event, and other miraculous events occurred in the temple at that time. Other accounts come from David Whitmer, George A. Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Newel K. Whitney, Daniel Tyler, Orson Pratt, Warren Parrish, Zebedee Coltrin, Harrison Burgess, Prescindia Huntington, and Eliza R. Snow.12
The Gift of Prophecy
I have heard critics of the Church of Jesus Christ sometimes triumphantly proclaim that Joseph Smith never uttered a prophecy that was fulfilled as he spoke it. This blatant disregard of history has often left me in a perplexed state. Joseph Smith did not only prophesy, but did so numerous times with the fulfillment plain for anyone to see. However, before we delve into the accounts of a few of these prophecies, we must heed Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:22 where he states that “prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.”
Paul teaches us that prophecies are not meant to be used as a tool for conversion, nor to prove any argument. Historically we see this in the case of Simonds Ryder. Simonds was converted when he read a newspaper article about an earthquake in China. He had recalled that six weeks before, a young girl in the Church had predicted that earthquake. He was baptized, and became a member in good standing.13 We even read in D&C 52:37, where the Lord shows approval of Ryder:
In consequence of transgression, let that which was bestowed upon Heman Basset be taken from him, and placed upon the head of Simonds Ryder.
However, Ryder later apostatized from the Church. The reason is, in many ways, remarkable. Joseph Smith sent two letters to him, both of which misspelled his name. Joseph spelled Ryder’s last name as Rider. Simonds then questioned whether the Prophet was truly led by the Spirit or not. The answer that Simonds accepted was the latter.14 Simonds’ story serves as a perfect example: Prophecies serve as poor tools of conversion, but have been shown to be powerful testaments and supports to other miraculous events throughout history already accepted.
In 1844 Joseph Smith prophesied that:
Within 5 years we should be out of the power of our old enemies, whether they were apostates or of the world; and told the brethren to record it, that when it comes to pass they need not say they had forgotten the saying.15
The fulfillment of this prophecy can be seen with the westward migration, after Joseph’s death. On January 14, 1847, Brigham Young received a revelation recorded in section 136 of the Doctrine of Covenants. The opening verse to that section is a herald, “The Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West.” Furthermore, verse 34 of the same section gives us insight into the reason for the migration, which is almost exactly the reason that Joseph dictated in his prophecy, “Thy brethren have rejected you and your testimony, even the nation that has driven you out.”
Prophecies with deadlines that need fulfillment are in many ways a dangerous undertaking, especially when those deadlines are numerical. However, Joseph did not waiver in making them when the time was necessary. Joseph was correct in the one shown above, and once again in an 1831 revelation found in the Doctrine and Covenants.
I [Jesus Christ] will not that my servant Frederick G. Williams should sell his farm, for I, the Lord, will retain a strong hold in the land of Kirtland, for the space of five years, in the which I will not overthrow the wicked, that thereby I may save some.16
The important thing to gather from this verse is that the Lord would allow the wicked to remain for five years in Kirtland, after which the Lord would overthrow them. The Church was already moving its headquarters to Far West, Missouri, by 1836, and many members left the Church in the 1837 Kirtland Apostasy, when it can be said that the wicked were overthrown.17
Joseph Smith once again prophesied that the wicked in Kirtland would have their downfall in 1836:
Brethren, for some time Satan has not had power to tempt you. Some have thought there would be no more temptation. But the opposite will come; and unless you draw near to the Lord you will be overcome and apostatize.18
In the years 1837-1838, some fifty leading members of the Church (including apostles and seventies) were excommunicated as a result of an attempt to take over the temple and usurp power from Joseph, who they said was a fallen prophet. Others, for various reasons, also left the Church.19
On another occasion, Joseph Smith once again warned the wicked through prophecy. While Zion’s Camp–a large company of the Saints from Kirtland sent to relieve the persecuted members in Missouri–was traveling towards their destination, the body was faced with many difficulties, not the least of which was grumbling from some the members.
Sylvester Smith (no relation to the Prophet), a sharp-tongued group captain, frequently led the dissentions. He complained that the food was poor, preparations for the journey were inadequate, and Joseph’s watchdog kept him awake at night. On the evening of 17 May, Joseph was called upon to settle a dispute among some of the brethren. He said that he found a “rebellious spirit in Sylvester Smith, and to some extent the others. I told them they would meet with misfortunes, difficulties and hindrances, and said, ‘and you will know it before you leave this place,’ exhorting them to humble themselves before the lord and become united, that they might not be scourged.” The following day the prophecy was fulfilled: nearly every horse was sick or lame. The Prophet promised if they would humble themselves and overcome their discord, their animals would immediately be restored to health. By noon the horses were nimble once again, with the exception of Sylvester Smith’s mount, which soon died.20
Some prophecies can in many ways almost be predictions, as in the case of the revelation about the wicked in Kirtland being overthrown. Though the manner and timing was miraculous, it is not too hard a thing to imagine that the wicked would be punished and humbled. Some prophecies are much more miraculous and incredible, especially when read in proper context. Such is the case with the next prophecy, given at Far West, Missouri, on November 2, 1838. The prophecy is not made until the third paragraph of the quote, but the context helps us to understand the boldness with which it was made.
The city of Far West, where the Saints had set up headquarters, was under attack by militia and mobs. The battle had not yet started when General Lucas (of the anti-Mormon militia) and Colonel Hinkle (the highest-ranked officer standing as an advocate for the Saints) met together under a flag of truce to deliver up several of the Church leaders to the militia. Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Parley P. Pratt, and George W. Robinson were betrayed into the hands of General Lucas by Colonel Hinkle. Later, Hyrum Smith and Amasa Lyman were captured and placed along with the other prisoners. The next morning, Missouri militia:
…vandalized the town, plundered valuable possessions, raped some of the women, and compelled the leading elders at bayonet point to sign promises to pay the expenses of the militia. Many prominent men were arrested and taken as prisoners to Richmond. The rest of the Saints were told to leave the state.
Plans were made to take the Church leaders to Independence for public display and trial. Thinking they might yet be executed, Joseph Smith and his fellow prisoners begged to see their families one last time, and they retuned to Far West on 2 November. Joseph found his wife and children in tears because they thought he had been shot. “When I entered my house, they clung to my garments, their eyes streaming with tears, while mingled emotions of joy and sorrow were manifested in their countenances,” he wrote. He was denied the privilege of a few private moments with them, but Emma wept and his children clung to him until “they were thrust from me by the swords of the guards.” The other prisoners suffered similarly as they bade farewell to their loved ones.
…The next morning as the prisoners began their march, Joseph spoke to his companions in a low, but hopeful tone. “Be of good cheer, brethren; the word of the Lord came to me last night that our lives should be given us, and that whatever we may suffer during this captivity, not one of our lives should be taken.”
Meanwhile, General John B. Clark, the governor’s designated commanding officer for the Mormon War, arrived in Far West…. He said, “…As for your leaders, do not once think-do not imagine for a moment-do not let it enter your mind that they will be delivered, or that you will see their faces again, for their fate is fixed-their die is cast-their doom is sealed.”21
However, General Clark was wrong in this instance, and though all opposition seemed to say otherwise, Joseph was correct in stating the word of the Lord. Though adversity and opposition by mobs peaked at this point, Joseph, Hyrum, Sydney, and the others did not die.
All of these prophecies and circumstances can in some ways be categorized by another prophecy that Joseph made in the year 1842:
I had a conversation with a number of brethren in the shade of the building on the subject of our persecutions in Missouri and the constant annoyance which has followed us since we were driven from that state. I prophesied that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains, many would apostatize, others would be put to death by our persecutors or lose their lives in consequence of exposure or disease, and some of you will live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.22
Joseph’s prophecy once again has been fulfilled gloriously as a matter undeniable by a simple look at history.
One of the most sobering events in the History of the Church is the time period leading up to Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. During his last five days, Joseph communicated the word of the Lord on several occasions concerning events that were about to take place.
[Saturday, June 22, 1844] About 9 p. m. Hyrum came out of the Mansion and gave his hand to Reynolds Cahoon, at the same time saying, “A company of men are seeking to kill my brother Joseph, and the Lord has warned him to flee to the Rocky Mountains to save his life.”23
However, due to the request of several of his associates and friends, as well as a letter from his wife, Joseph paused to consider the events.
Joseph said to Rockwell, “What shall I do?” Rockwell replied, “You are the oldest and ought to know best; and as you make your bed, I will lie with you.” Joseph then turned to Hyrum who was talking to Cahoon, and said, “Brother Hyrum, you are the oldest, what shall we do?” Hyrum said, “Let us go back and give ourselves up, and see the thing out.” After studying a few moments, Joseph said, “If you go back I will go with you, but we shall be butchered.”24
While on their way back to Nauvoo, Joseph and his companions stopped at a hill:
Joseph paused when they got to the Temple, and looked with admiration first on that, and then on the city, and remarked, “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them.”25
When Joseph and his companions arrived in Nauvoo, they were met by General Dunn of the militia who asked that Joseph give consent for the relief of all guns from the Nauvoo Legion. Henry G. Sherwood went to the prophet to receive instruction.
Joseph inquired if he was under arrest, or expected to be arrested. Sherwood answered, “No,” when Joseph directed him to return ahead of the company, gather the arms and do as well as he could in all things [return them to the state of Illinois]. Joseph then said to the company who were with him, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summers’ morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men. If they take my life I shall die an innocent man, and my blood shall cry from the ground for vengeance, and it shall be said of me ‘He was murdered in cold blood!'”26
Joseph’s actions were exactly in accordance with a prophecy given two days earlier.
[Thursday, June 20, 1844] I gave directions to Theodore Turley to commence the manufacture of artillery. He asked me if he should not rent a building, and set some men to repairing the small arms which were out of order. I told him in confidence that there would not be a gun fired on our part during this fuss.27
The record indicates what happened next:
When the fact of the order for the state arms was known in Nauvoo, many of the brethren looked upon it as another preparation for a Missouri massacre; nevertheless, as Joseph requested that it should be complied with, they very unwillingly gave up the arms.
About 6 p.m., when all the states’ arms were collected, and the company were ready to start, Captain Dunn and Quartermaster-General Buckmaster made a short speech, expressing their gratitude at the peaceable conduct of the citizens of Nauvoo, and that while they thus conducted themselves they would protect them.28
Joseph was correct–with or without his permission, none of the Saints fired on the militia, though it seemed, as it were, that another massacre was about to have taken place.
Not too long later, Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Willard Richards, and John Taylor were incarcerated. Shortly after they had been put under custody, a mob attempted to breach the room and fired bullets through the door. Joseph and Hyrum were both mortally wounded. John Taylor, also shot, survived the incident. However, Willard Richards’ escaped the incident virtually unharmed.
Dr. Richards’ escape was miraculous; he being a very large man, and in the midst of a shower of balls, yet he stood unscathed, with the exception of a ball which grazed the tip end of the lower part of his left ear. His escape fulfilled literally a prophecy which Joseph made over a year previously, that the time would come that the balls would fly around him like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment.29
The Prophecy of Stephan Douglas
Stephan Douglas is a fascinating politician, and his story is a remarkable one. Perhaps he is most famous for the “Lincoln-Douglas debates” where he and Abraham Lincoln vied to become a Senator for the state of Illinois. In 1860 Douglas again challenged Lincoln, but this time for the presidency. Although he had an incredible sway over Congress and an impressive political record, Stephan Douglas lost miserably in that election. William Clayton, who served as the Church’s official scribe for a time, recorded the following event in his journal (which took place before Stephan Douglas had even competed with Lincoln for admittance to the Senate).
Dined with Judge Stephan A. Douglas, who is presiding at court. After dinner Judge Douglas requested President Joseph to give him a history of the Missouri persecution, which he did in a very minute manner, for about three hours. He also gave a relation of his journey to Washington city, and his application in half of the Saints to Mr. Van Buren, the President of the United States, for redress and Mr. Van Buren’s pusillanimous reply, “Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you;” and the cold, unfeeling manner in which he was treated by most of the senators and representatives in relation to the subject, Clay saying “You had better go to Oregon,” and Calhaun shaking his head solemnly, saying, “It’s a nice question–a critical question, but it will not do to agitate it.”
The judge listened with the greatest attention and spoke warmly in depreciation of the conduct of Governor Boggs and the authorities of Missouri, who had taken part in the extermination, and said that any people that would do as the mobs of Missouri had done ought to be brought to judgment: they out to be punished.
President Smith, in concluding his remarks, said that if the government, which received into its coffers the money of citizens for its public lands, while its officials are rolling in luxury at the expense of its public treasury, cannot protect such citizens in their lives and property, it is an old granny anyhow; and I prophesy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left, for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and go unpunished, thereby perpetrating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic, the very thought of which would have caused the high-minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame. Judge, you will aspire to the presidency of the United States; and if ever you turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of the Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life.
He [Judge Douglas] appeared very friendly, and acknowledged the truth and propriety of President Smith’s remarks.30
The United States did, in fact, redress the wrongs committed to the Saints. Though persecution and troubles continued to follow the Saints on account of their dealings with the government, eventually they were able to find a home in Utah, and were allowed to thrive as a community. Yet, the actions of Stephan Douglas took a different turn. The fulfillment and credibility of the prophecy pronounced on Stephan Douglas is recorded by Brigham H. Roberts:
The prediction concerning Stephan A. Douglas in this chapter, is one of the most remarkable prophecies either in ancient or modern times. It was impossible for any merely human sagacity to foresee the events predicted. Stephan A. Douglas was a bright, but comparatively an unknown man, nationally, at the time of the interview, May, 1843, and but thirty years of age. It is a matter of history that Stephan A. Douglas did, however, aspire to the presidency of the United States, and was nominated for that office by the Democratic convention held in Charleston, South Carolina, on the 23rd of June, 1860.
When in the convention he was declared the regular nominee of the Democratic party, “the whole body rose to its feet, hats were waved in the air, and many tossed aloft: shouts, screams and yells, and every boisterous mode of expressing approbation and unanimity, were resorted to.”
When Mr. Douglas aspired to the presidency, no man in the history of American politics had more reason to hope for success. The political party of which he was the recognized leader, in the preceding presidential election had polled one hundred and seventy-four electoral votes as against one hundred and twenty-two east for the other two parties which opposed it: and a popular vote of 1,838,169 as against 1,215,789 votes for the two parties opposing. It is a matter of history, however, that the Democratic party in the election of 1860 was badly divided; and factions of it put candidates into the field with the following results: Mr. Abraham Lincoln, candidate for the Republican party, was triumphantly elected. He received 72 electoral votes; Mr. Bell 39; and Mr. Douglass 12. “By a plurality count of the popular vote, Mr. Lincoln carried 18 states; Mr. Brechinridge 11; Mr. Bell 3: and Mr. Douglas but one!” Twenty days less than one year after his nomination by the Charleston, while yet in the prime of manhood–forty-eight years of age–Mr. Douglas died at his home in Chicago, a disappointed, not to say heart-broken man.
Let us now search out the cause of his failure. Fourteen years after the interview containing the prophecy recorded in this chapter, and about one year after the prophecy had been published in the Deseret News, Mr. Douglas was called upon to deliver a speech in Springfield, the capital of Illinois. His speech was delivered on the 12th of June, 1857, and published in the Missouri Republican of June 18, 1857. It was a time of excitement throughout the country concerning the Mormon Church in Utah. Falsehoods upon the posting winds seemed to have filled the air with the most outrageous calumny. Crimes, the most repulsive-murders, robberies, rebellion and high treason-were falsely charged against its leaders. It was well known that Mr. Douglas had been on terms of intimate friendship with the Prophet Joseph Smith; and was well acquainted with the other Church leaders. He was therefore looked upon as one competent to speak upon the “Mormon question,” and was invited to do so in the speech to which reference is here made. Mr. Douglas responded to the request. He grouped the charges against the Mormons, then passing current, in the following manner:
“First, that nine-tenths of the inhabitants are aliens by birth who have refused to become naturalized, or to take the oath of allegiance, or do any other act recognizing the government of the United States as the paramount authority in the territory [Utah];
“Second, that the inhabitants, whether native or alien born, known as Mormons (and they constitute the whole people of the territory) are bound by horrible oaths and terrible penalties, to recognize and maintain the authority of Brigham Young, and the government of which he is head, as paramount to that of the United States, in civil as well as religious affairs; and they will in due time, and under the direction of their leaders, use all the means in their power to subvert the government of the United States, and resist its authority.
“Third, that the Mormon government, with Brigham Young at its head, is now forming alliance with Indian tribes in Utah and adjoining territories-stimulating the Indians to acts of hostility-and organizing bands of his own followers under the name of Danites or destroying angels, to prosecute a system of robbery and murders upon American citizens who support the authority of the United States, and denounce the infamous and disgusting practices and institutions of the Mormon government.”
Mr. Douglas based his remarks upon these rumors against the Saints, in the course of which he said:
“Let us have these facts in an official shape before the president and Congress, and the country will learn that in the performance of the high and solemn duty devolving upon the executive and Congress, there will be no vacillating or hesitating policy. It will be as prompt as the peal that follows that flash — as stern and unyielding as death. Should such a state of things actually exist as we are led to infer from the reports — and such information comes in an official shape — the knife must be applied to this pestiferous, disgusting cancer which is gnawing into the very vitals of the body politic. It must be cut out by the roots, and seared over by the red hot iron of stern, unflinching law. * * * Should all efforts fail to bring them (the Mormons) to a sense of their duty, there is but one remedy left. Repeal the organic law of the territory, on the ground that they are alien enemies and outlaws, unfit to be citizens of a territory, much less ever to become citizens of one of the free and independent states of this confederacy. To protect them further in their treasonable, disgusting and bestial practices would be a disgrace to the spirit of the age. Blot it out of the organized territories of the United States. What then? It will be regulated by the law of 1790, which has exclusive and sole jurisdiction over all the territory not incorporated under any organic or special law. By provisions of this law, all crimes and misdemeanors, committed on its soil can be tried before the legal authorities of any state of territories, prior to their organization as territories, and hanged for their crimes. The law of 1790 has sole and exclusive jurisdiction where no other law of a local character exists, and by repealing the organic law of Utah, you give to the general government of the United Sates the whole and sole jurisdiction over the territory.”
The speech of Mr. Douglas was of great interest and importance to the people of Utah at that juncture. Mr. Douglas had it in his power to do them great good. Because of his personal acquaintance with Joseph Smith and the great body of the Mormon people then in Utah, as well as their leaders (for he had known both leaders and people in Illinois, and those whom he had known in Illinois constituted the great bulk of the people of Utah, when he delivered the Springfield speech), he knew that the reports carried to the East by vicious and corrupt men were not true. He knew that these reports in the main were but a rehash of the old exploded charges made against Joseph Smith and his followers in Missouri; and he knew them to be false by many evidences furnished him by Joseph Smith in the interview of the 18th of May, 1843, and by the Mormon people at sundry times during his association with them at Nauvoo. He had an opportunity to befriend the innocent, to refute the calumny cast upon a virtuous community; to speak a word in behalf of the oppressed; but the demagogue triumphed over the statesman, the politician, over the humanitarian; and to avoid the popular censure which he feared befriending the Mormon people would bring to him, he turned his hand against them with the result that he did not destroy them but sealed his own doom — in fulfillment of the words of the prophet, he felt the weight of the hand of the Almighty upon him.
There is, and can be no question about the prophecy preceding the event. The prophecy was first published in the Deseret News of September 24, 1856. It was afterwards published in England in the Millennial Star, February, 1859. The publication in the Deseret News preceding Douglas’ Springfield speech, mentioned above, (June, 1857) by about one year, and about four years before Douglass was nominated for the presidency by the Charleston Democratic convention.
Moreover, lengthy review of Mr. Douglas’ speech was published in the editorial columns of the Deseret News in the issue of that paper for September 2nd, 1857, of which the following is the closing paragraph addressed directly to Mr. Douglas:
“In your last paragraph [of the Springfield speech] you say, ‘I have thus presented to you plainly and fairly my views of the Utah question;’ with at least equal plainness and with far more fairness have your views now been commented upon. And inasmuch as you were well acquainted with Joseph Smith, and this people, also with the character of our maligners, and did know their allegations were false, but must bark with the dogs who were snapping to your heels, to let them know that you were a dog with them; and also that you may have a testimony of the truth of the assertion that you did know Joseph and his people and the character of their enemies (and neither class have changed, only as the Saints have grown better and their enemies words); and also that you may thoroughly understand that you have voluntarily, knowingly and of choice sealed your damnation, and by your own chosen counsel of Joseph which you formerly sought, and prospered by following, and that you in common with us, may testify to all the world that Joseph was a true prophet, the following extract from the History of Joseph Smith is again printed for your benefit, and is kindly recommended to your careful perusal and most candid consideration”
Then follows the interview between Joseph Smith and Mr. Douglas as recorded in the journal of William Clayton, as published in the News a year before Mr. Douglas’ Springfield speech, and as now given in this chapter of the History of the Church.
This News editorial boldly accepted the challenge of Mr. Douglas. He raised his hand against the followers of Joseph Smith, despite the warning of the prophet; and they in the chief organ of the Church, reproduced the prophecy and told Mr. Douglas that he had “sealed his damnation and closed his chance for the presidential chair” through disobeying the counsel of the prophet. The presidential election of 1860, and the death of Mr. Douglas in the prime of life, the year following tells the rest.31
Other Marvelous Events
Some miracles cannot be categorized in general groupings. However, the great messages they provide us with, and the testimonies that they bear, should not be overlooked.
While imprisoned in Richmond, Missouri (prior to being transferred to Liberty Jail), Joseph Smith and his companions faced terrible hardships. They were treated with vile contempt for two weeks by the prison guards who watched over them. We then read the following account:
One November night the brethren listened for several hours to “obscene jests, the horrid oaths, the dreadful blasphemies and filthy language” as the guards rehearsed the atrocities they had inflicted on the Saints. Parley P. Pratt lay next to the Prophet and listened until he could scarcely refrain from speaking out. Suddenly Joseph Smith rose to his feet shackled and unarmed and spoke in a voice of thunder: “‘Silence, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and bear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!‘
“He ceased to speak. He stood erect in terrible majesty. Chained and without a weapon; calm, unruffled and dignified as an angel, he looked upon the quailing guards, whose weapons were lowered or dropped to the ground; whose knees smote together, and who, shrinking into a corner, or crouching at his feet, begged his pardon, and remained quiet till a change of guards.”32
With equal power in testimony is the remarkable experience of Elisa Rigdon, Sydney Rigdon’s daughter. Elisa Rigdon had just passed away:
The doctor told him that she was gone; when, after a considerable length of time, she rose up in the bed and spoke in a very powerful tone to the following effect, in a supernatural manner: She said to the family that she was going to leave them (being impressed with the idea herself that she had only come back to deliver her message, and then depart again), saying the Lord had said to her the very words she should relate; and so particular was she in her relation, that she would not suffer any person to leave out a word or add one. She called the family around her, and bade them all farewell, still impressed with the idea that she was to go back.
Up to the time of her death, she expressed a great unwillingness to die; but, after her return, she expressed equally as strong a desire to go back. She said to her elder sister, Nancy, “It is in your heart to deny this work; and if you do, the Lord says it will be the damnation of your soul.” In speaking to her sister Sarah, she said, “Sarah, we have but once to die, and I would rather die now, than wait for another time.” She said to her sisters that the Lord had great blessings in store for them, if they continued in the faith; and after delivering her message, she swooned, but recovered again.
During this time, she was as cold as she will be when laid in the grave, and all the appearance of life was the power of speech. She thus continued till the following evening, for the space of thirty-six hours, when she called her father unto her bed, and said to him that the Lord had said to her, if he would cease weeping for his sick daughter, and dry up his tears, that he should have all the desires of his heart; and that if he would go to bed and rest, he should be comforted over his sick daughter, for in the morning she should be getting better, and should get well: that the Lord had said unto her, because that her father had dedicated her to God, and prayed to Him for her, that He would restore her back to him again.
This ceremony of dedicating and praying took place when she was struggling in death, and continued to the very moment of her departure; and she says the Lord told her that it was because of this that she must go back to her father again, though she herself desired to stay.
She said concerning George W. Robinson, as he had denied the faith, the Lord had taken away one of his eye-teeth, and unless he repented he would take away another; and concerning Dr. Bennett that he was a wicked man and that the Lord would tread him under his feet. Such is a small portion of what she related.33
On another occasion, the Twelve Apostles were on their way to their missions in England. Their trip would have halted, or at least been considerably longer had they not been under divine providence:
Elders Young and Kimball were joined en route by George A. Smith. As they traveled Brigham reached into his trunk and always found just enough money for the next stage coach fare. He thought Heber was replenishing the fund, but later discovered that he had not. The brethren had started their trip with $13.50 in donations, yet they spent more than $87 on coach fares. They had no idea how the additional money had gotten into the trunk “except by some unseen agent from the Heavenly world to forward the promulgation of the Gospel.”34
At least one of the reasons for this miracle is evident in Wilford Woodruff’s experience.
Wilford was inspired to go further south to Herefordshire, accompanied by one of his converts, William Benbow. They contacted William’s brother and sister-in-law, Jon and Jane Benbow and a group of six hundred people who had formed their own religious society called the United Brethren. Eventually the leader of the group, Thomas Kington, and all but one of the six hundred accepted the restored gospel and were baptized. Hundreds of others in the vicinity also joined the Church.35
Perhaps there was no miracle involved, but a display of true devotion to the gospel was shown in one instance by Charles Allen and Edward Partridge. Some of the citizens of Jackson County, Missouri, created a secret constitution to “legalize” the expulsion of the Saints from the area. Mobs raged and drove the Saints out while destroying their property as an incentive to get them to leave. After attacking the printing office and the Gilbert and Whitney Store, they decided to search out leading elders of the Church:
Men, women and children ran in all directions. The mob took Bishop Edward Partridge from his home and dragged him to the public square. Charles Allen, a twenty-seven-year-old convert from Pennsylvania, was also taken to the public square. The mob demanded that they renounce the Book of Mormon or leave the county. The two men refused to do either, so the mob prepared tar and feathers. Bishop Partridge calmly declared that he was willing to suffer for the sake of Christ as the Saints in former ages had done. The two bore the cruel indignation of tarring and feathering with so much resignation and meekness, that the crowd, which had been shouting vile oaths, dispersed in silence.36
As in the case of Elijah and the priests of Baal, miracles cannot provide a solid foundation on which to base a testimony of the Kingdom of God. However, they do serve the purpose of helping us understand God’s love for us. And without miracles, the Church surely would not have grown to what it is today.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I consider myself truly blessed to have such an amazing history to reflect upon. It makes me smile sometimes when an occasional anti-Mormon says, “How could you possibly believe that?” And silently, to myself, I always respond, “How could you not?”
1 1 Corinthians 12:4, 9.
2 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978), 328.
3 Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland Eyewitness Accounts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1996), 82.
4 Smith, History of the Church, 4:3-5.
5 Genesis 28:12.
6 Wilford Woodruff, Leaves From My Journal by Wilford Woodruff (Grantsville: Archive Publishers, 1881), 152.
7 Smith, History of the Church, 2:381-382.
8 Ibid., 382.
9 Ibid., 382-383.
10 Ibid., 428.
11 Ibid., 432-433.
12 The accounts of these people (David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and George A. Smith) can be found in Church History in the Fulness of Times (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1993), 167. The rest can be found in Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland Eyewitness Accounts, 169-171, 175-177.
13 Smith, History of the Church, 1:158.
14 Ibid., 206.
15 Smith, History of the Church, 6:225.
16 D&C 64:21.
17 Church History in the Fulness of Times, 181.
18 Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland Eyewitness Accounts, 209.
19 Church History in the Fulness of Times, 177.
20 Ibid., 145-146.
21 Church History in the Fulness of Times, 206.
22 Smith, History of the Church, 5:85.
23 Smith, History of the Church, 6:547.
24 Ibid., 549-550.
25 Ibid., 554.
26 Ibid., 555.
27 Ibid., 520.
28 Ibid., 557.
29 Ibid., 619.
30 Smith, History of the Church, 5:393-394.
31 Ibid., 394-398.
32 Church History in the Fulness of Times, 207-208.
33 Smith, History of the Church, 5:121-122.
34 Church History in the Fulness of Times, 228.
35 Ibid., 230.
36 Ibid., 133.