Mormon History

Sidney Rigdon's Disclaimer - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune May 3, 1879


Another Page from the Spaulding Fable -- The Dead Reviving Rapidly.

Having heretofore published the statement of Mrs. Matilda Davison (widow Spaulding) with the testimonies of others, in the matter of the conversion of Spaulding's "Manuscript Found" into the Book of Mormon, it is but fair to allow Sidney to be heard in his own defense. Following is his rejoinder to the Davison statement, minus one passage, of fifteen or twenty lines, too outrageous for print.

(1839 Rigdon statement follows)


We publish in another column Sidney Rigdon's letter disavowing Solomon Spaulding's "Manuscript Found" into Joseph Smith's Gold Bible. The unspeakably bitter and revengeful animus of the production betrays the fact that the writer had been struck home. The hit bird flutters. "Lies -- lies -- lies! about thirty times repeated. Let us see what this arch-Jesuit really states in his disclaimer.

Rigdon first declares that he never heard of Spaulding until the appearance of Mrs. Davison's statement, which first appeared in print in 1839. Howe's "Mormonism Unveiled," in which Rigdon was set forth as the originator, after Spaulding, of the Book of Mormon, was published in 1834. He was not, then, "indebted to this production," but to Howe's "production," five years earlier, for his knowledge of "the creature" (Spaulding). False in one thing, false in all, is a maxim in law. Rigdon may or may not have known of Spaulding prior to 1834 -- his affirmation either way amounts to nothing -- as he has shown himself guilty of prevarication at the outset. He had evidently too much at stake for mere lies, larger or smaller, to stand in his way.

Rigdon denies that Spaulding's writings were in the hands of Mr. Patterson. His language is: "In relation to the whole story about Spaulding's writings being in the hands of Mr. Patterson, who was in Pittsburg, and who is said to have kept a printing office; and my saying that I was concerned in said office, etc., is the most base of lies." How could he tell where Mr. Spaulding's manuscript was deposited, if, as he asserts, he had no knowledge of it? Mrs. Davison says it was in the hands of Mr. Patterson, and the latter also declares that it was in his possession. Rigdon is emphatic -- strikingly and even suspiciously emphatic -- in regard to the Patterson printing office not being in existence during the time of his residence in Pittsburg. Let us see what there is in this.

In a pamphlet published by John E. Page, in 1843, entitled, "the Spaulding Story Exposed," the writer adduces the testimony of two witnesses, Carvil Rigdon and Peter Boyer, Rigdon's brother and brother-in-law, in which they distinctly affirm that Sidney "returned" to Pittsburg in 1822. Leaving out the question of his previous "residence" there, which probably is mere quibble, if Rigdon had not been in that city and lived there a longer or a shorter time previous to 1822, what propriety in saying, as they do, that he "returned" to Pittsburg in the winter in 1821-2? The reader will note how great a number of times, in one short paragraph, Rigdon rings the charges on his "residence" there.

Parley P. Pratt published the statement that "Mr. Rigdon was never connected with the said printing establishment, either directly or indirectly, and we defy the world to bring proof of any such connection." Rigdon himself does not use the word "connected." his phrase is "concerned in;" and experience in Mormon logomachy imposes upon the candid the disagreeable necessity of taking the elect strictly and literally at their word to get at the truth which their words are designed to conceal. Dissimulation is no name for it. The fact is, aside from Mrs. Davison's statement, there are no persons still living who know and have testified to Rigdon's association, in Spaulding's lufetime, with the Patterson printing office. Rigdon, it seems, was not a printer, nor does he appear to have been an actual employee of that office. But to say, as so boldly and triumphantly assetted by Parley Pratt, that "Mr. Rigdon was never connected with the said printing establishment, either directly or indirectly," is to affirm that which, at least, four persons still living know to be untrue.

Rigdon preached in the First Baptist Church of Pittsburg from February, 1822 until October, 1823, when he was excluded for heretical doctrines. He says Mr. Patterson failed before his (Rigdon's) residence there. As appears from the Pennsylvania Reports, Patterson "failed for a large amount," January 1st, 1823.

Again, instead of denying that he had any hand in manufacturing the Book of Mormon, which, strangely enough, throughout this avalanche of Billingsgate Rigdon nowhere does, he seeks to defame the character of worthy people -- men and women, friend and foe, indiscriminately. The family of Hon. Orris Clapp had been Rigdon's intimate friends, next-door neighbors and fellow Church-members for years: Matthew S. Clapp being in Mentor, Ohio, Rigdon's first convert to "the views advocated by the Disciples, and the first whom Rigdon baptised in Mentor in 1812 [sic, 1828], (Vide Hayden's History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve.) Adamson Bentley, who is characterized by Hayden as "a princely man," was closely connected with Rigdon by marriage, and was for years his chief friend and indulgent patron in Warren, Ohio. Under his roof, Rigdon had lived, sharing his generous hospitality.

Of the Howe family, against whom Rigdon says there were "scandalous immoralities of so black a character," Mr. Howe's wife and mother [sic, sister] were Mormons. He never joined the Church, but, on the contrary, in the prime of life, spent his best energies in ferreting out and exposing the abominations of the Latter-day dispensation. In penning his statements Rigdon gives way to blind and furious rage, influenced with the dread of being caught at last; and in his statement, or rebuttal, he does not hesitate to malign even those of his own household of faith. "The tale in your paper," he says, "is one hatched up by this gang before the time of their explosion." The allusion is to Mrs. Davison's statement, which bore no reference to the Howe book, the latter being a much more pointed arraignment of Rigdon. Undoubtedly as to the man Hurlburt the least said the better; he appears to have been of the same stamp as Rigdon himself.

Rigdon charges his enemies and persecutors with seeking "to destroy the character of innocent men whom they never dare meet in argument." This is cool effrontery. He squarely backed down from a contest, which himself had first challanged, with Thomas Campbell (father of Alexander Campbell) in February, 183[1], and made an almost equally significant back down from the contest with his own cousin, John Rigdon, in 1840. Those Campbellites were a good deal too many for the wily and unscrupulous Latter-day champion. Of all men else they had to be avoided, simply because they knew too much of the real origin of Mormonism.

We have remarked that throughout this whole venomous tirade, Rigdon never once denies having had a hand in manufacturing the Book of Mormon. And yet this was the very time and occasion for him to have done so, if he could; and we may rest assured he would have done so if he could. But instead of this he resorts to the Mormon's ever ready rejoinder, (which is so unfailing a weapon in the hands of our pious Grandmother,) "it's all a lie!"

We will close this brief review with the late Orson Hyde's two-sided testimony as to the worth, character and true-inwardness of Joseph Smith's theological instructor and bosom friend, written before and after Rigdon's recusancy. The following is from Page's "Spaulding Story Exposed:"

I am confident that Mr. Rigdon never had access to the manuscript of Mr. Spaulding; but even allowing that he might (which my own thoughts will not allow for a moment) have seen the manuscript, he lacked the disposition to make the use of it which his enemies accuse him of; for all people know, who know anything about Mr. Rigdon, and are willing to confess the truth, that he would conscientiously stand as far from such a base forgery "as Lot stood from Sodom in its evil day." Mr. Rigdon never writes a romance upon any subject; but if he had been in possession of the same conscience-seared, heaven-daring hardihood that the very pious Mr. Spaulding was, he might possibly have reduced sacred and eternal things to a romance to get gain, as Mr. Spaulding did, his own friends being witnesses. Forgery, deception, and romance formed no part of the principles which Mr. Rigdon taught me during the time that I was under his tuition; and I must say, that I should not have been more surprised if they accused the Lord Bishop of London of the same things which they charge against Mr. Rigdon.

I now close this letter with a warning to all whom it may concern, in the name of Jesus Christ, my Master, that whoever has published the Spaulding falsehood, either from the press or from the pulpit that they repent of their sin, and correct their error through the same medium which they have committed it, lest their garments be found spotted with the blood of souls when God shall judge the secrets of all hearts by that MAN whom he hath ordained.

With sentiments of high esteem, I have the honor to subscribe myself, your brother in Christ Jesus. Amen.     ORSON HYDE."

In Times and Seasons, (Dec. 15th, 1844,) the fervent apostle tells a different story. Here is the record:

I have just learned that Mr. Rigdon's wish and counsel to his followers, was that they should arm themselves with deadly weapons, and go upon the meeting ground and prevent our holding a meeting at the time he was to be tried and cut off from the church. But his principal counsellor opposed him so strongly that the measure did not carry, but fell through. O, Mr. Rigdon, were you not cut off from the church without trial? Poor man, your fiendish schemes have entirely failed, the bubble has burst, and you must be consumed by the sparks of your own kindling, and welter under the infamy created by your own nefarious designs. Let Mr. Rigdon deny this if he will, then my proof shall be forth coming.

ORSON HYDE.        

The candid reader will see from the analysis we have above given, that Rigdon's rejoinder, instead of helping his case any, furnishes very strong corroborative evidence on the other side. Let the ever vigilant Church organ read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, and then further illuminate the world with its rejoinder.

Note 1: As with several other articles printed by the Tribune in its 1879 series on Rigdon and Spalding, this piece carries the marks of James T. Cobb's craftsmanship. The Tribune writer anticipates the later reporting of William H. Whitsitt in saying, "throughout this... tirade, Rigdon never once denies having had a hand in manufacturing the Book of Mormon... this was the very time and occasion for him to have done so, if he could; and we may rest assured he would have done so if he could." Speaking of this same 1839 Rigdon rebuttal to the claims of Spalding's widow, Whitsitt says: "these damaging revelations appeared under his [Rigdon's] very nose... followed by complete silence on the part of Rigdon until the year 1839; he was only enabled at that time to break the force of them by reason of the blundering paper of Mrs. Spaulding, But even in his reply to her he sedulously avoids the main points at issue..." Perhaps the Davison-Storrs statement of April 1, 1839 was not quite so "blundering" as Whitsitt liked to think, but it did put into the public press several misstatements which Sidney Rigdon was able to vent his anger upon, without necessarily ever exposing exactly what the true facts of the case may have been. Rigdon's constantly resorting to calling people "liars" shows that he had no better verbal ammunition with which to defend himself, once he had exhausted his response to the several "blunders" of the 1839 Davison-Storrs statement. Rigdon's "lawyerese" and calculated ambiguity is perhaps best evidenced in his admission: "If I were to say that I ever heard of the Rev. Solomon Spalding, and his hopeful wife, until Dr. P. Hurlburt wrote his lie about me, I should be a liar like unto themselves." Does Rigdon here carefully conceal a double-message, so as to be technically truthful behind the scenes and totally misleading up front? For, if he were to admit that he had heard of Solomon Spalding, Spalding's wife, or Spaldings writings before D. P. Hurlbut wrote something to that effect, the Rigdon would be acknowledging that he had told lies about the Spalding authorship of the Book of Mormon in the past. The Spalding claims were well aired in the Kirtland area nearly a year before E. D. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed appeared at the end of November 1834. Even assuming that D. P. Hurlbut (rather than Ezak Rosa and E. D. Howe) "wrote" much of that book, such writing would have still postdated Hurlbut's verbal spreading of the Spalding claims in Ohio at the end of 1833. It would be preposterous to assert that Sidney Rigdon never heard of Solomon Spalding before the appearance of the widow's 1839 statement and it would be almost as absurd to believe that Rigdon had not heard of these menacing charges against him and the Mormon Church before 1834.

Note 2: Rigdon's 1839 statement was harshly criticized ere the ink in the columns of the Quincy Whig had even dried. A man who claims to have "a personal knowledge" of the matter says: "I saw in your last number an article signed S. Rigdon... [by] his writing, it seems that all who are opposed to Mormonism are "liars," and their sayings "lies."... With all of his precaution to keep back the date of his residence at Pittsburgh... he betrays himself and tells a palpable falsehood... He says "for if her [the Widow's] testimony is to be credited, her pious husband in his life time, wrote a bundle of lies for the righteous purpose of getting money." Now hear "her testimony"   his "sole object in writing this historical romance was to amuse himself and his neighbors." Gentlemen, what does such a perversion of the truth show? Does it show him to be dishonest?"

Note 3: It is an extraordinary fact that neither of the Mormon Church's original top two leaders (Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon) ever said anywhere in print that they had not met prior to 1830 or that they had not conspired to create the Book of Mormon text. In fact, other than a few slight allusions to Howe and Hurlbut, both of these leaders managed to go down to their graves without ever denying the major points of the Spalding authorship claims -- save for this one strange 1839 attempt by Rigdon to seemingly deny a select few of those points.