Mormon History

Evidence for Solomon Spaulding Authorship - 1872

The Chicago Tribune February 4, 1872


To the Editor of the Detroit Tribune:
Noticing in your yesterday's edition, a paragraph referring to a Mr. Spaulding, the originator of the Mormon Bible, or the Book of Mormon, I have thought a few facts relating to the early history of the "Church of Latter Day Saints" might be interesting to your readers. The paragraph referred to states that Mr. Spaulding, at his leisure, and simply for amusement, wrote the fictitious narrative, which, after having been shown to a "Mr. Redon," was ultimately altered and changed into the book of faith, under which teaching the Mormon Church was founded. The writer of this was present, and attended the celebrated discussion on Mormonism in the city of New York, in 1836 or 1837, between Origen Bachelor and Parley P. Pratt, then one of the Elders of the Mormon Church. In that discussion, which excited much interest, Mr. Bachelor proved the following facts:

First -- That a Mr. Solomon Spaulding, an unsuccessful; merchant, but a man of refinement and literary abilities, with the view of retrieving his losses in trade, conceived the idea of writing a historical novel, and entitled the same the "Aborigines of America, or the Lost Manuscript Found." It was also shown that Mr. Spaulding had taken much interest in reading and investigating the discoveries made by Stephens and others in Central America, and that the remains of ancient cities there discovered, led him to select the subject of the ancient inhabitants of America as the foundation of his novel.

Secondly -- The fact was established, beyond a doubt, in the minds of all rational hearers, that Mr. Spaulding, being poor, and unable to publish his novel when finished, applied to one Sydney Rigdon (afterwards a prominent elder in the church), who was a friend of Spaulding's and a printer in Pennsylvania, to assist him in the publication of his work. Rigdon examined the manuscript and consented, having discovered in it great literary merit and an interesting theme calculated to make the copyright, in which he was to share, very valuable.

Thirdly -- Just at this period Spaulding died, and Rigdon, who was a friend and acquaintance of Joseph Smith, the juggler, and a "Micawber" who was "waiting for something to turn up," showed it to Smith. Smith being an unscrupulous genius, having read the manuscript, declared it to be the greatest production of the age, and immediately communicated to Rigdon the idea of converting Spaulding's novel into a bible or book of faith for a new church. Both being of an adventurous turn of mind, Rigdon consented, and immediately the two commenced the preparation of the stone plates, which were buried and afterward discovered and disinterred at Mt. Moriah, in the State of New York, by Joseph Smith. Before the discovery of said plates Smith began to claim certain mysterious powers of prophecy, that he had been directed in a vision to Mt. Moriah, where the plates were deposited, and which, when discovered, were to be shed upon the world, a new light, and bring man to a true knowledge of the past and his future destiny.

Fourthly -- That on a certain day appointed, as in his vision directed, Smith, accompanied by certain witnesses, proceeded to Mt. Moriah, and disinterred the plates; but according to his story, just as he was about to raise them from the ground, Satan appeared, and violently hurled Smith from the spot. Undaunted, however, he returned, and brought them to the light. When this was done, the witnesses were astonished at beholding mysterious and unknown characters engraven upon the plates. The mysterious record, Smith declared he had been told in a vision how to reveal to them; that he had been directed to a neighboring brook, where he would find an all-seeing stone, through which, if he looked, the mysterious characters upon the plates would appear as plain and as easily understood as the letters of the alphabet.

This curious stone, having been discovered by Smith, he declared that the book was to be revealed to him by chapters, and that Sidney Rigdon had been designated as his scribe. Smith then, under directions in his vision, retired for stated periods, and when he had committed the first chapter of Spaulding's novel (which had been altered to suit his purpose) to memory, he looked through the stone in the presence of witnesses, and interpreted the first chapter, while Rigdon wrote the same down.

This process was continued until the book of Mormon and the book of Moroni were completed. These facts, by much labor and investigation, Mr. Bachelor established, and he also showed that, when the Mormon Bible appeared and was shown to Mrs. Spaulding, the wife of the author, she immediately recognized in its pages the novel of her husband, which he had submitted to her while composing, and to prove the identity Mr. Bachelor established the fact, in a pamphlet published by him at the time, (and which I cannot now find, though I kept it for many years), that Mrs. Spaulding, in the presence of witnesses, had repeated from memory whole chapters of the Mormon Bible without looking upon its pages.

Mr. Bachelor also referred to the fact that Professor Anthon, of Columbia College, to whom the Mormon plates were submitted for an opinion as to the characters thereon, had declared the same to be composed of Greek, Hebrew, Persian, and other characters, engraved upside down, and so interwoven with each other as to mean nothing, and to convey no intelligible thought, evidently having been so arranged and engraved for the purpose of deception and confusion. To these various facts and charges, poor Parley P. Pratt made a feeble reply, and utterly failed to controvert the proofs produced by Mr. Bachelor; to which facts the witnesses were then nearly all living.

Note: See the original publication of this letter, in the Feb. 1, 1872 issue of the Detroit Tribune, for further information and comments.