Mormon History

Ezra Booth Letter #4 - 1831

The Ohio Star - November 4, 1831


              Nelson, Portage Co. Oct. 31, 1831.


From the time that Mormonism first made its appearance upon the stage, until the grand tour to the Missouri, an expectation universally pervaded the Church, that the time was not far distant, when the deaf, the dumb, the maimed, the blind, &c. would become the subjects of the miraculous power of God, so that every defect in their systems would be entirely removed.

This expectation originated from, and was grounded upon a variety of premises, included in a number of commandments, or verbal revelations from Smith, or, as he is styled "the head of the Church." As the 4th of June last, was appointed for the sessions of the conference, it was ascertained, that that was the time specified, when the great and mighty work was to commence, and such was the confidence of some, that knowledge superseded their faith, and they did not hesitate to declare themselves perfectly assured, that the work of miracles would commence at the ensuing conference. With such strong assurances, and with the most elevated expectations, the conference assembled at the time appointed. To give, if possible, additional energy to expectation, Smith, the day previous to the conference, professing to be filled with the spirit of Prophecy, declared, that "not three days should pass away, before some should see their Savior, face to face." Soon after the session commenced, Smith arose to harangue the conference. He reminded those present of the Prophecy, which he said "was given by the spirit yesterday." He wished them not to be overcome with surprise, when that event ushered in. He continued until by long speaking, himself and some others became much excited. He then laid his hands on the head of Elder Wite [sic], who had participated largely in the warm feeling of his leader, and ordained him to the High Priesthood. He was set apart for the service of the Indians, and was ordained to the gift of tongues, healing the sick, casting out Devils, and discerning spirits; and in like manner he ordained several others; and then called upon Wite to take the floor. Wite arose, and presented a pale countenance, a fierce look, with his arms extended, and his hands cramped backward, the whole system agitated, and a very unpleasant object to gaze upon. He exhibited himself as an instance of the great power of God, and called upon those around him, "if you wanted to see a sign, look at me." He then stept upon a bench, and declared, with a loud voice, he saw the Savior: and thereby, for the time being, rescued Smith's prophecy from merited contempt. -- It, however, procured Wite the authority to ordain the rest. So said the spirit, and so said Smith. The spirit in Smith selected those to be ordained, and the spirit in Wite ordained them. But the spirit in Wite proved an erring, and forgetful dictator; so much so, that some of the candidates felt the weight of his hands thrice, before the work was rightly done. Another Elder, who had been ordained to the same office as Wite, at the bidding of Smith stept upon the floor. Then ensued a scene, of which you can form no adequate conception; and which, I would forbear relating, did not the truth require it. This Elder moved upon the floor, his legs inclining to a bend; one shoulder elevated above the other, upon which the head seemed disposed to recline, his arms partly extended; his hands half clenched; his mouth half open, and contracted in the shape of an italic O; his eyes assumed a wild and ferocious cast, and his whole appearance presented a frightful object to the view of the beholder. "Speak, Brother Harvey" said Smith. But Harvey intimated by signs, that his power of articulation was in a state of suspense, and that he was unable to speak. Some conjectured that Harvey was possessed of the Devil, but Smith said, "The Lord binds in order to set at liberty." After different opinions had been given, and there had been much confusion, Smith learnt by the spirit, that Harvey was under a diabolical influence, and that Satan had bound him; and he commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him.

It now became clearly manifest, that "the man of sin was revealed," for the express purpose that the Elders should become acquainted with the devices of Satan; and after that they would possess knowledge sufficient to manage him. This, Smith declared to be a miracle, and his success in this case, encouraged him to work other, and different miracles. Taking the hand of one of the Elders in his own, a hand, which by accident had been rendered defective, he said, "Brother Mordock [sic], I command you in the name of Jesus Christ, to straighten your hand, -- in the mean while, endeavoring to accomplish the work by using his own hand, to open the hand of the other. The effort proved unsuccessful; but he again articulated the same commandment, in a more authoritative and louder tone of voice; and while uttering with his tongue, his hands were at work; but after all the exertion of his power, both natural and supernatural, the deficient hand returned to its former position, where it still remains. But ill success in this case, did not discourage him from undertaking another. One of the Elders, who was [decrepit] in one of his legs, was set upon the floor, and commanded, in the name of Jesus Christ, to walk. He walked a step or two, his faith failed, and he was again compelled to have recourse to his former assistant, and he has had occasion to use it ever since.

A dead body, which had been retained above ground two or three days, under the expectation that the dead would be raised, was insensible to the voice of those who commanded it to wake into life, and is destined to sleep in the grave, till the last trump shall sound, and the power of God easily accomplish the work, which frustrated the attempts, and bid defiance to the puny efforts of the Mormonites.

Under these discouraging circumstances, the horizon of Mormonism gathered darkness; and a storm seemed to hang impending over the church. The gloom of disappointed expectation, overspread the countenances of many, while they labored to investigate the cause of this failure. To add, if possible, to their mortification, a larger assembly collected on the Sabbath, in order to hear preaching. In the midst of the meeting, the congregation was dismissed by Rigdon, and the people sent to their homes. He was directed to do this, he said, by the spirit. But it was generally believed, that he was directed solely by fear; and that he had mistaken the spirit of cowardice, for the spirit of the Lord. Several of the Elders said that they "felt the spirit to preach" to the congregation: and Rigdon felt the spirit to send the people home: such was the unity, which then prevailed among them.

You will doubtless say, can it be possible that the minds of men, and men who possess the appearance of honesty, can be so strangely infatuated, as still to adhere to a system, after it had occasioned so much agitation, and so much disappointment. One reason which can be assigned for this, is, the adherents are generally inclined to consider the system so perfect, as to admit of no suspicion; and the confusion, and disappointment, are attributed to some other cause. Another, and principal reason is, delusion always effects the mind with a species of delirium, and this delirium arises in a degree, proportionate to the magnitude of the delusion. These men, upon other subjects, will converse like other men: but when their favorite system is brought into view, its inconsistencies and contradictions, are resolved into inexplicable mystery; and this will not only apply to the delusions now under consideration, but in my view, to every delusion from the highest to the lowest; and it matters not whether it carries the stamp of popularity, or its opposite.   Yours, affectionately,



Note 1: Booth speaks knowledgeably on the phenomenon among the earliest Mormons, of their seeing the promise of great manifestations of miracles postponed time and time again. In short, the Mormon leaders and missionaries first promised the anticipated endowment from on high, as a method for conversion and faith promotion, and then gave reasons as to why the anticipated constellation of divine miracles did not occur in their midst. Probably Booth is correct in saying that the first such promise was made among them, by their leaders, while the Saints were still in New York. The promise was then postponed and the new date set to coincide with their gathering at Kirtland. When the hoped for manifestation did not appear there, the promise of such an endowment was moved to Independence, Missouri; then back to Kirtland, and finally consummated (according to some reports, at least) at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Joseph Smith, Jr. had long before mastered the situation of having some disaffected followers fall away from his group due to his failed promises. In such cases the disaffected members were marginalized, excluded, and new, fresh converts brought in to take their places. This ongoing process assured the continuation and expansion of Smith's group of followers, despite the occasional outcropping of "apostates" among the membership.

Note 2: Elder Lyman Wight's claim to have seen Christ (with his "spiritual eyes" no doubt) coincided with his being ordained as a Mormon High Priest. Presumably this both fulfilled and placed a new condition upon Smith's prediction that some of his followers would see the Messiah face to face at Kirtland. The condition thenceforth, for such a Christophany in the Mormon ranks, would be the necessary elevation of the candidate for such an miraculous experience to the office of High Priest. The somewhat comical result was that Mormonism was ever since left with a plethora of High Priests, while the ancient Israelites and their successors, the Jews, counted only one such preeminent hierophant among the national congregation at any particular time.