Mormon History

Interview with Joe Smith - 1841

Daily Missouri Republican November 25, 1841


We are indebted to a pious and intelligent gentleman of this city, for the following description of Mormonism, as it is to be found at Nauvoo, and of Jo Smith, its leader. The intelligent reader will scarcely believe that such humbuggery could be successfully practiced, at this day, upon the most credulous or ignorant of the community, yet it is so in this instance.


                                                           NAUVOO, Nov. 4, 1841.
DEAR SIR: -- We were yesterday enjoying the hospitality of Joseph Smith, the leading Prophet of the Latter Day Saints, the Mormons. We are, this morning, on the declivity of Zion's Hill, taking a last look at their city. We stand among heaps of limestone rock, that are fast rising into a temple -- a fac simile of that Temple which was built by Solomon, and trod by the Savior. The devoted Mormons are hammering busily at the work, and giving to it each the tenth of his time; and from thus up, the half, or even the whole, both of time and property. Before us, is the beginning of a great city -- a noble bottom land, already half covered with cabins. Higher up, also, the bluffs and timber are thickly scattered with them, extending back a couple of miles or more. Crowds of people, from England, many of them poor, are pouring in. How they are to support themselves, or be supported, Heaven only knows. It seems as if they must be driven, by sheer necessity, to "spoil the Egyptians;" (i. e. all who are not Mormons about them;) and it is not surprising that their name is in bad odor with their neighbors. The notion that there is a community of property among them, is altogether false; and many must and do suffer. Some few I have met at St. Louis, hastening back to England, "while their money holds out."

The Mormon gathering is a singularly interesting phase of our times. They are, too, say what you will, a singularly interesting people. As a people, I am ready to believe all good of them. Would that there were among them as much of Christian intelligence as of the Christian spirit.

Of their leaders, or rather their chief leader, Joseph Smith, I say nothing by way of private opinion. At your request, however, I give through you, somewhat reluctantly, I confess, an account of my interview with him. As he promptly discovered and revealed to me that I was worthy of no man's confidence, I can certainly betray no confidence in this case, try as I may. The facts, as they lie fresh in my memory, are simply these: Yesterday afternoon, in company with a friend, I entered the house of this strange man, intending to trespass but a few minutes on his hospitalities. I expected to have seen a person of some dignity and reserve, and with at least, an outside of austere piety. The Prophet was asleep, in his rocking chair, when we entered. His wife and children were busy about the room, ironing, &c., and one or two Mormon preachers, lately returned from England, were sitting by the large log fire. After having been introduced, the following talk ensued.

A. "You have the beginning of a great city here, Mr. Smith."

(Here came in the more prominent objects of the city. The expense of the temple, Mr. Smith thought, would be $200,000 or $300,000. The temple is 127 feet side, by 88 feet front; and by its plan, which was kindly shown us, will fall short of some of our public buildings. As yet, only the foundations are laid. Mr. Smith then spoke of the "false" reports current about himself, and "supposed we had heard enough of them?")

A. "You know, sir, persecution sometimes drives "the wise man mad."

Mr. S. (laughing,) "Ah, sir, you must not put me among the wise men; my place is not there. I make no pretensions to piety, either. If you give me credit for any thing, let it be for being a good manager. A good manager I do claim to be."

A. "You have great influence here, Mr. Smith."

Mr. S. "Yes, I have. I bought 900 acres here, a few years ago, and they all have their lands of me. My influence, however, is ecclesiastical only; in civil affairs, I am but a common citizen. To be sure, I am a member of the City Council, and Lieutenant General of the Nauvoo Legion. I can command a thousand men to the field, at any moment, to support the laws. I had hard work to make them turn out and form the 'Legion,' until I shouldered my musket, and entered the ranks myself. Now, they have nearly all provided themselves with a good uniform, poor as they are. By the way, we had a regular 'set to' up here, a day or two since. The City Council ordered a liquor seller to leave the place, when his time was up; and, as he still remained, they directed that his house should be pulled down about his ears. They gave me a hand in the scrape; and I had occasion to knock a man down more than once. They mustered so strong an opposition, that it was either 'knock down,' or 'be knocked down.' We beat him off, at last; and are determined to have no grog shops in or about our grounds."

(The conversation flowed on pleasantly, until my friend, to fill a pause that occurred, referred to my calling as a preacher.)

Mr. S. "Well, I suppose (turning from me) he is one of the craft trained to his creed."

A. "My creed, sir, is the New Testament."

Mr. S. "Then, sir, we shall see truth just alike," for the scripture says, 'They shall see, eye to eye.' All who are true men, must read the bible alike, must they not?"

A. "True, Mr. Smith; and yet I doubt if they will see it precisely alike. If no two blades of grass are precisely alike, for a higher reason, it seems that no two intellects are,"

Mr. S. (getting warm) "There -- I told you so. You don't come here to seek truth. You begin with taking the place of opposition. Now, say what I may, you have but to answer, 'No two men can see alike.'"

A. "Mr. Smith, I said that not that no two men could see alike; but that no two could see, on the whole, precisely alike."

Mr. S. "Does not the scripture say, 'They shall see, eye to eye?'"

A. "Granted, sir; but be good enough to take a case; The words 'all' and 'all things' were brought up as meaning, at one time, universal creation. And again: 'One believeth that he may eat all things,' i. e. any thing, or, as we say, every thing."

Mr. S. "You may explain away the bible, sir, as much as you please. I ask you, have you ever been baptized?"

A. "Yes, sir; I think I have."

Mr. S. "Can you prophesy?"

A. "Well, sir, that depends on the meaning you give the word. I grant that it generally means to foretell; but I believe that it often means, to preach the gospel. In this sense, sir, I can prophesy.

Mr. S. "You lie, sir, and you know it."

A. "It is as easy for me to impugn your motives, Mr. Smith, as for you to impugn mine."

Mr. S. "I tell you, you don't seek to know the truth. You are a hypocrite: I saw it when you first began to speak."

A. "It is plain, Mr. Smith, that we differ in opinion. Now, one man's opinion is as good as another's, until some third party comes in to strike a balance between them."

Mr. S. "I want no third party, sir. You are a fool, sir, to talk as you do. Have I not seen twice the years that you have? (Joseph Smith is 36 years old; the speaker, A., was 10 years younger.) I say, sir, you are no gentleman. I would'nt trust you with my purse across the street."

(Here my friend interposed, saying, "I don't believe, Mr. Smith, that this gentleman came to your house to insult you. He had heard all sorts of accounts of your people, and came simply to see with his own eyes.")

Mr. S. "I have no ill feelings towards the gentleman. He is welcome in my house; but what I see to be the truth, I must speak out; I flatter no man. I tell you, sir, that man is a hypocrite. You'll find him out, if you're long enough with him. I tell you, I would'nt trust him as far as I could see him. What right has he to speak so to me? Am I not the leader of a great people? He, himself, will not blame me for speaking the truth plainly.

(Here kind expressions passed on both sides, and we were rising to go.)

Mr. S. "Don't be going gentlemen. Do take bread and salt with us; our tea is on the table."

We staid, accordingly, and made up around his smoking and well piled table.

I have been carefully, especially towards the close of this talk, to give the words that were used, omitting nothing but conversational by-play, and some of the filling up. The skeleton is complete. So much for this man at his own fireside.       D.