Mormon History

Examining the BOM Witnesses - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune May 13, 1879


The foundation stone of this Latter-day dispensation is the Book of Mormon. If the founder of this religious system was not chosen by the Almighty for His sacred work, was not visitd by angels as he claims, and did not discover the plates by divine instruction, the theological fabric he has reared has no support, and it falls to the ground as rank imposture. To determine the truth of the testimony borne in favor if the Gold Bible and its translator, we have to look at the character of the man who assumes to have been appointed by the Lord as His prophet, and also what credibility attaches to the witnesses who certify to the genuineness of the work. The name of Joseph Smith has come down to us as the founder of a new religion, who held constant communication with celestial intelligences, and who gave up his life to seal his testament. Uninquiring faith seizes hold of such a man as a divine instrument, and a halo suffuses his life which misleads the judgment and disarms criticism. But if we go back to the neighborhood where he spent his early years, and take the statements of the men who saw him in his ordinary pursuits, this spell vanishes, and Joseph Smith, the prophet, becomes less than an average mortal. Elder John Hyde, in his History of Mormonism, has taken pains to collect the sworn testimony of scores of Joseph Smith's neighbors, and as a man is best known by the reputation he has at home, we will show the standing held by this holy man among those persons who best knew him. Eleven residents of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, make affidavit, Nov. 3d, 1833, as follows:

We, the undersigned, being personally acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, sen., with whom the Gold Bible, so-called, originated, state that they are not only a lazy, indolent set of men, but also intemperate, and their word not to be depended upon, and that we are heartily glad to dispense with their society.
      (Here follow the signatures)

The following month, (dec. 4th) fifty-one other men, (reported to be of good standing and reputation,) made the following affidavit.

We, the undersigned, have been acquainted with the Smith family for a number of years, while they resided near this place, and we have no hesitation in saying that we consider them destitute of that moral character which ought to entitle them to the confidence of any community. They were particularly famous for visionary projects; spent much of their time in digging for money, which they pretended was hid in the earth * * * Joseph Smith, sen., and his son Joseph, in particular, were considered entirely destitute of moral character and addicted to vicious habits

Willard Chase made affidavit before a local justice (Judge Smith) as follows:

I have regarded Joseph Smith, jr. from the time I first became acquainted with him, as a man whose word could not be depended on. * * * After they became Mormons, their conduct was more disgraceful than before. * * * Although they left this part of the country without paying their just debts, yet their creditors were glad to have them do so, rather than to have them stay.

Joseph Capron testified that "the object of the Smith family appeared to be to live without work. While digging for money they were constantly harrassed by creditors, who are still unpaid." Barton Stafford, on oath before Judge Baldwin, desposed and said,

Joseph Smith, sen, was a noted drunkard, most of his family followed his example, especially Joseph Smith, jr., the prophet, who was much addicted to intemperance. He got drunk in my father's field, and when drunk would talk about his religion.

Levi Lewis testifies to somewhat similar effect. This witness says he knows Smith to be a liar; that he saw him intoxicated three different times while pretending to translate the Book of Mormon; and he has heard him say adultery was no crime.

The above is enough to establish the reputation of the founder of the Mormon religion; now let us see what is said of the "three witnesses" who attest the sacred character of his work. The following is their voucher for the genuineness of the Book of Mormon: ... [witnesses' statement follows]

Elder John Hyde calls attention to the fact that neither date nor place is given to this "record." The signers do not make three separate affidavits corroboraating each other without collusion; but one testimony is given signed by the three men. And whose pen produced the rigmarole? If we compare the style with a number of Smith's revelations, it will be seen that the author of these divine commandments is also the writer of this testimony. Now let us see what the character and credibility of these men who were favored with the visitation of an angel to attest the truth unto all kindreds, tongues and people.

The first signer is Oliver Cowdery. This devout Saint was a school teacher, and becomming smitten with his prophet's doctrines, he enrolled himself among Smith's followers. Martin Harris having grown tired of his work as an amanuensis, Cowdery was selected to succeed him. But he also felt a lack of faith, and required stronger evidence in support of his master's pretensions. Whereupon Joseph received several revelations for his scribe's especial benefit, which for awhile seem to have answered the required purpose. But matters did not go along harmoniously. Shortly after the organization of the Church in 1830, we find Hiram Smith charging Oliver Cowdery with going to his house while he (Hiram) was in prison, ransacking his goods and carrying off some valuables. He also complains of Cowdery compelling his aged father (Smith senior) to deed over to him, by threatening to bring a mob to his aid, 160 acres of land in payment of a note for $160, which Cowdery said he received from Hiram, but which the latter pronounces a forgery. The testimony of a man guilty of theft and forgery cannot be very convincing to the inquiring mind.

Next David Whitmer receives a setting up at the hands of his friends. In Independence, in the year 1838, Sidney Rigdon charged Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer with being connected with a gang of counterfeiters, theives, liars and blacklegs of the deepest dye, the object of this choice fraternity being to deceive and defraud the Saints. Joseph Smith, in Times and Seasons, charged this choice pair with being "busy in stirring up strife among the brethren in Missouri," and that "they were studiously engaged in circulating false and slanderous reports against the Saints." And he asks upon this showing, "Are they not murderers at heart? Are not their consciences seared with a hot iron? They were cut off from the Church, being too deeply implicated to deny the testimony, and too thoroughly defamed beforehand for such a denial to have any weight."

The third witness is Martin Harris. This strange genius was a farmer in affluent circumstances, and he was forever in quest of some new road to heaven. His acquaintance with the Prophet Joseph began through the latter accosting him on a chance meeting with, "I have been commanded from God to ask the first man I meet to give me fifty dollars to help me do the Lord's work in translating the Gold Bible." Joseph had studied his man before he approached him, and chose just the rightmeans to win his confidence. Martin shelled out the cash. Previous to his turning Saint, he had been Quaker, Universalist, Restorationist, Baptist, Presbyterian. But his frequent conversions never succeeded in uprooting the old Adam from within, for he was a man of violent and quarrelsome temper, and treated his wife most brutally. Richard Ford and G. W. Stoddard made sworn statements to his frequently putting her out of doors. The poor woman herself tells of her shoulders being left black and blue after her husband's gentle administrations, and once, she says, "he struck me over the head several times with the butt end of a whip three or four feet long." The acquaintance opened as above, the pair soon became intimate, and Martin was employed as scribe. But his faith fading him, he wanted to see the plates. Smith put his dsiciple off, and sent him to Professor Anthon with what he professed to be characters copied from the plates. The professor's opinion of the hieroglyphics was by no means reassuring, and he came back more dissatisfied than ever, Joseph treated his patient's disease with his unfailing specific, revelation.

Harris then stole 118 pages of the translation, hoping to expose Smith by a second copy. But the prophet was too cute to be caught that way. He obtained a revelation commanding him to not to retranslate. The book as finished at last, and testimony gotten up to establish its divine authenticity. Harris' signature was appended as a witness, but it had to be extorted from him, and was given last when it should have been first.

"Harris' testimony," says John Hyde, "has convinced thousands but not himself, nor did it deter him from desiring to commit murder and adultery." We find the prophet rebuking his wayward follower, and getting a revelation commanding him to repent and not to covet his neighbor's wife, nor to seek his neighbor's life; also to impart freely of his means to pay for printing the Book of Mormon. In 1837 [sic - 1838?], the man of God got after the bucolic Saint in the following lively manner,

There are negroes who have white skins as well as black ones. Granny Parrish had a few others who acted as lackeys, such as Martin Harris. But they are so far beneath my contempt that to notice any of them would be too great a sacrifice for any gentleman to make.

IN addition to the three witnesses there are eight others; four of the Whitmer family, three Smiths and a Hiram Page -- the last a relative of Cowdery. This little syndicate testify that the translator has exhibited the plates to them, "which have the appearance of gold," that they handled them with their hands, saw the engraving thereon, and "know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken." The author and translator was evidently hard run when he was reduced to this expedient. So sacred had these plates been held hitherto that Joseph divided his translating room with a blanket, he sitting on one side and the scribe on the other, and before the three could be indulged with a sight of them, we have frequent revelations, many warnings, three years' delay, and the use of endless subterfuge, mystery and magical paraphrenalia. It will be seen there is no date or place given to this latter testimonial. It is not an affidavit, and it also bears the marks of Joseph's handiwork. It is a snug little family arrangement. Three of the signers are relatives of the prophet, four are related to David Whitmer, who signed the first voucher, and the eighth signer, as we remarked above, is a kinsman of Oliver Cowdery. These to help the prophet out of a scrape, were willing to put their hands to a document prepared for them, but when we see how fraudulent was the character of the man who is connected with the whole business, the mere attest of half a score of persons embarked in the scheme with him will never give authenticity to what has been showen to be a transparent swindle.