Volume 7 Chapter 4 | BYU Studies

Volume 7 Chapter 4

Part 2.

Extension of Quotations from Ford's History of Illinois

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Explanation.

The former Historians of the Church, George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff (see Millennial Star, Vol. 24, p. 584, 1862) end their quotation from Ford's History of Illinois at p. 354, and in the middle of an unfinished sentence. There are other matters however in the book that should be preserved to history, which deal with subsequent events of Mormon affairs in Hancock county, and as it is not likely that Ford's History of Illinois will ever be published again, and inasmuch also as his treatise upon Mormon affairs is the most important part of the book, we shall do a service both to the History of the Church and to the History of Illinois by publishing further excerpts. These quotations will make up chapters 4 and 5.

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Chapter 4

Governor Ford's Comments on the Character of Joseph Smith and His Followers—His Conjectures on the Future of Mormonism

It is necessary to repeat the part of the sentence with which the last chapter closed:

Governor Ford's Estimate of the Prophet's Character.

"Thus fell Joe Smith, the most successful impostor in modern times; a man who though ignorant and coarse, had some great natural parts, which fitted him for temporary success, but which were so obscured and counteracted by the inherent corruption and vices of his nature that he never could succeed in establishing a system of policy which looked to permanent success in the future. 1 His lusts, his love of money and power, always set him to studying present gratification and convenience, rather than the remote consequences of his plans. It seems that no power of intellect can save a corrupt man from this error. The strong cravings of the animal nature will never give fair play to a fine understanding, the judgment is never allowed to choose that good which is far away, in preference to enticing evil near at hand. And this may be considered a wise ordinance of Providence, by which the counsels of talented but corrupt men, are defeated in the very act which promised success.

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Characterization of Joseph Smith.

It must not be supposed that the pretended Prophet practiced the tricks of a common impostor; that he was a dark and gloomy person, with a long beard, a grave and severe aspect, and a reserved and saintly carriage of his person; on the contrary, he was full of levity, even to boyish romping; dressed like a dandy, and at times drank like a sailor and swore like a pirate. He could, as occasion required, be exceedingly meek in his deportment; and then again rough and boisterous as a highway robber; being always able to satisfy his followers of the propriety of his conduct. He always quailed before power, and was arrogant to weakness. At times he could put on the air of a penitent, as if feeling the deepest humiliation for his sins, and suffering unutterable anguish, and indulging in the most gloomy forebodings of eternal woe. At such times he would call for the prayers of the brethren in his behalf, with a wild and fearful energy and earnestness. He was full six feet high, strongly built, and uncommonly well muscled. No doubt he was as much indebted for his influence over an ignorant people, to the superiority of his physical vigor, as to his greater cunning and intellect.

Character of the Followers of Joseph Smith.

His followers were divided into the leaders and the led; the first division embraced a numerous class of broken-down, unprincipled men of talents, to be found in every country, who, bankrupt in character and fortune, had nothing to lose by deserting the known religions, and carving out a new one of their own. They were mostly infidels, who holding all religions in derision, believed that they had as good a right as Christ or Mahomet, or any of the founders of former systems, to create one for themselves: and if they could impose it upon mankind, to live upon the labor of their dupes. Those of the second division, were the credulous wondering part of men, whose easy belief and admiring natures, are always the victims of novelty, in whatever shape it may come, who have a capacity to believe any strange and wonderful matter, if it only be new, whilst the wonders of former ages command neither faith nor reverence; they were men of feeble purposes, readily subjected to the will of the strong, giving themselves up entirely to the direction of their leaders; and this accounts for the very great influence of those leaders in controlling them. In other respects some of the Mormons were abandoned rogues, who had taken shelter in Nauvoo, as a convenient place for the headquarters of their villainy; and others were good, honest, industrious people, who were the sincere victims of an artful delusion. Such as these were more the proper objects of pity than persecution. With them, their religious belief was a kind of insanity; and certainly no greater calamity can befall a human being, than to have a mind so constituted as to be made the sincere dupe of a religious impostor. * * *

World's Conjecture of the Mormon Religion.

* * * The world now indulged in various conjectures as to the further progress of the Mormon religion. By some persons it was believed that it would perish and die away with its founder. But upon the principle that 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church', there was now really more cause than ever to predict its success. The murder of the Smiths, instead of putting an end to the delusion of the Mormons and dispersing them, as many believed it would, only bound them together closer than ever, gave them new confidence in their faith and an increased fanaticism.

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Settlement of the Question of Church Leadership.

The Mormon Church had been organized with a First Presidency, composed of Joe and Hyrum Smith and Sidney Rigdon, and Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. The Twelve Apostles were now absent, and until they could be called together the minds of the 'saints' were unsettled, as to the future government of the church. Revelations were published that the Prophet, in imitation of the Savior, was to rise again from the dead. Many were looking in gaping wonderment for the fulfillment of this revelation, and some reported that they had already seen him, attended by a celestial army coursing the air on a great white horse. 2 Rigdon, as the only remaining member of the First Presidency, claimed the government of the church, as being successor to the Prophet. When the Twelve Apostles returned from foreign parts, a fierce struggle for power ensued between them and Rigdon. Rigdon fortified his pretensions by alleging the will of the Prophet in his favor, and pretending to have several new revelations from heaven, amongst which was one of a very impolitic nature. This was to the effect, that all the wealthy Mormons were to break up their residence at Nauvoo, and follow him to Pittsburgh. This revelation put both the rich and the poor against him. The rich, because they did not want to leave their property; and the poor, because they would not be deserted by the wealthy. This was fatal to the ambition of Rigdon; and the Mormons, tired of the despotism of a one-man government, were now willing to decide in favor of the Apostles. Rigdon was expelled from the church as being a false prophet, and left the field with a few followers, to establish a little delusion of his own, near Pittsburgh; leaving the government of the main church in the hands of the Apostles, with Brigham Young, a cunning but vulgar man, at their head, occupying the place of Peter in the Christian hierarchy.

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Launching of Missionary Activities.

Missionaries were dispatched to all parts to preach in the name of the 'martyred Joseph'; and the Mormon religion thrived more than ever. For a while it was doubtful whether the reign of the military saints in Nauvoo would not in course of time supplant the meek and lowly system of Christ. There were many things to favor their success. The different Christian sects had lost much of the fiery energy by which at first they were animated. They had attained to a more subdued, sober, learned, and intellectual religion. But there is at all times a large class of mankind who will never be satisfied with anything in devotion, short of a heated and wild fanaticism. The Mormons were the greatest zealots, the most confident in their faith, and filled with a wilder, fiercer, and more enterprising enthusiasm, than any sect on the continent of America; their religion gave promise of more temporal and spiritual advantages for less labor, and with less personal sacrifice of passion, lust, prejudice, malice, hatred, and ill will, than any other perhaps in the whole world. Their missionaries abroad, to the number of two or three thousand, 3 were most earnest and indefatigable in their efforts to make converts; compassing sea and land to make one proselyte. When abroad, they first preached doctrines somewhat like those of the Campbellites; Sidney Rigdon, the inventor of the system, having once been a Campbellite preacher: and when they had made a favorable impression, they began in far-off allusions to open up their mysteries, and to reveal to their disciples that a perfect 'fullness of the gospel' must be expected. This 'fulness of the gospel' was looked for by the dreamy and wondering disciple, as an indefinite something not yet to be comprehended, but which was essential to complete happiness and salvation. He was then told that God required him to remove to the place of gathering, where alone this sublime 'fulness of the gospel' could be fully revealed, and completely enjoyed. When he arrived at the place of gathering, he was fortified in the new faith by being withdrawn from all other influences; and by seeing and hearing nothing but Mormons and Mormonism; and by association with those only who never doubted any of the Mormon dogmas. Now the 'fulness of the gospel' could be safely made known. If it required him to submit to the most intolerable despotism; if it tolerated and encouraged the lusts of the flesh and a plurality of wives; if it claimed all the world for the saints; universal dominion for the Mormon leaders; if it sanctioned murder, robbery, perjury, and larceny, at the command of their priests, no one could now doubt but that this was the 'fulness of the gospel', the liberty of the saints, with which Christ had made them free.

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Possible Future of Mormonism.

The Christian world, which has hitherto regarded Mormonism with silent contempt, unhappily may yet have cause to fear its rapid increase. Modern society is full of material for such a religion. At the death of the Prophet, fourteen years after the first Mormon Church was organized, the Mormons in all the world numbered about two hundred thousand souls (one-half million according to their statistics); a number equal, perhaps, to the number of Christians, when the Christian Church was of the same age. 4 It is to be feared that in course of a century, some gifted man like Paul, some splendid orator, who will be able by his eloquence to attract crowds of the thousands who are ever ready to hear, and be carried away by, the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal of sparkling oratory, may command a hearing, may succeed in breathing a new life into this modern Mahometanism, and make the name of the martyred Joseph ring as loud, and stir the souls of men as much, as the mighty name of Christ itself. Sharon, Palmyra, Manchester, Kirtland, Far West, Adamon Diahmon [Adam-ondi-Ahman], Ramus, Nauvoo, and the Carthage Jail, may become holy and venerable names, places of classic interest, in another age; like Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives, and Mount Calvary to the Christian, and Mecca and Medina to the Turk. And in that event, the author of this History feels degraded by the reflection, that the humble governor of an obscure state, who would otherwise be forgotten in a few years, stands a fair chance, like Pilate and Herod, by their official connection with the true religion, of being dragged down to posterity with an immortal name, hitched on to the memory of a miserable impostor. There may be those whose ambition would lead them to desire an immortal name in history, even in those humbling terms. I am not one of that number.

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About one year after the Apostles were installed into power, they abandoned for the present the project of converting the world to the new religion. All the missionaries and members abroad were ordered home; it was announced that the world had rejected the gospel by the murder of the Prophet and Patriarch, and was to be left to perish in its sins. In the meantime, both before and after this, the elders at Nauvoo quit preaching about religion. The Mormons came from every part, pouring into the city; the congregations were regularly called together for worship, but instead of expounding the new gospel, the zealous and infuriated preachers now indulged only in curses and strains of abuse of the Gentiles, and it seemed to be their design to fill their followers with the greatest amount of hatred to all mankind excepting the 'saints'. A sermon was no more than an inflammatory stump speech, relating to their quarrels with their enemies, and ornamented with an abundance of profanity. From my own personal knowledge of this people, I can say with truth, that I have never known much of any of their leaders who was not addicted to profane swearing. No other kind of discourses than these were heard in the city. Curses upon their enemies, upon the country, upon government, upon all public officers, were now the lessons taught by the elders, to inflame their people with the highest degree of spite and malice against all who were not of the Mormon Church, or its obsequious tools. The reader can readily imagine how a city of fifteen thousand inhabitants could be wrought up and kept in a continual rage by the inflammatory harangues of its leaders. 5

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Demand and Counter-Demand.
Reflections of Governor Ford.

In the meantime, the anti-Mormons were not idle; they were more than ever determined to expel the Mormons; and being passionately inflamed against them, they made many applications for executive assistance. On the other hand, the Mormons invoked the assistance of government to take vengeance upon the murderers of the Smiths. The anti-Mormons asked the governor to violate the Constitution, which he was sworn to support, by erecting himself into a military despot and exiling the Mormons. The Mormons, on their part, in their newspapers, invited the governor to assume absolute power, by taking a summary vengeance upon their enemies, by shooting fifty or a hundred of them, without judge or jury. Both parties were thoroughly disgusted with constitutional provisions restraining them from the summary attainment of their wishes for vengeance; each was ready to submit to arbitrary power, to the fiat of a dictator, to make me a king for the time being, or at least that I might exercise the power of a king, to abolish both the forms and spirit of free government, if the despotism to be erected upon its ruins could only be wielded for its benefit, and to take vengeance on its enemies. It seems that, notwithstanding all our strong professions of attachment to liberty, there is all the time an unconquerable leaning to the principles of monarch and despotism, whenever the forms, the delays, and the restraints of republican government fail to correct great evils. When the forms of government in the United States were first invented, the public liberty was thought to be the great object of governmental protection. Our ancestors studied to prevent government from doing harm, by depriving it of power. They would not trust the power of exiling a citizen upon any terms; or of taking his life, without a fair and impartial trial in the courts, even to the people themselves, much less to their government. But so infatuated were these parties, so deep did they feel their grievances, that both of them were enraged in their turn, because the governor firmly adhered to his oath of office; refusing to be a party to their revolutionary proceedings; to set aside the government of the country, and execute summary vengeance upon one or the other of them."

Chapter 4.

1. In the light of the signal success which has attended upon the church which Joseph Smith under God founded, after one hundred years of existence, his followers may smile now at this pronouncement of his enemy, Governor Thomas Ford: as also they may quote without fear of creating disparagement for the Prophet the unfavorable estimate of his character. Joseph Smith belongs now to the ages; and nothing that Governor Ford said, or that any of his enemies have said could stay his triumphant march to an honorable place in the world's history, or prevent the church he founded from winning a permanent place in the world that is the astonishment of the thoughtful. "Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain."

"The man who established a religion in this age of free debate, who was and is today accepted by hundreds of thousands [three quarters of a million now living, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of faithful disciples who have died in the faith within the first century of the existence of the church founded by him] as a direct emissary of the Most High—such a rare human being is not to be disposed of by pelting his memory with unsavory epithets" (Figures of the Past, "Joseph Smith at Nauvoo", Josiah Quincy, p. 376, Ed. 1901). B. H. R.

2. No such revelation is extant: and I know of no other writing where it is to be found. B. H. R.

3. If this means at one time, it is a gross exaggeration. B. H. R.

4. Needless to say, these numbers are great exaggerations. B. H. R.

5. Reference to Part V of this volume where much of the preaching of the Apostles is given both in synopses of discourses and verbatim reports will prove how utterly untrue the above statements of Governor Ford are. B. H. R.