Mormon History

The Idea Behind the BOM - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune June 14, 1879


Which Originated the Controlling Idea of Mormonism?

And keen thro' wordy snares to track
Suggestion to her inmost cell.   -- TENNYSON.

EDS. TRIBUNE: The periodical which produced the greatest revolution in religious thought in this country, commenced in August, 1823, at the little town of Bethany in (now) Western Virginia. It was called The Christian Baptist, and was edited by Alexander Campbell. The publication of this remarkable sheet, continued for seven years with increasing interest, and only ceased to give place to a larger and more widely-circulated monthly called The Millennial Harbinger.

Walter Scott was born in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, in 1790, and was of the same ancestry as his world-renowned namesake, Sir Walter Scott. During the existence of The Christian Baptist, Scott was a frequent contributor to its pages, and his numerous articles under the signature of "Phillip," gained him a reputation scarcely inferior to that of the editor, A. Campbell himself, who was ten years Scott's senior. This journal was issued but a short distance from Pittsburg, at which place Scott was established as teacher from 1821 until 1826. Scott was a graduate of the University of Edinburg, and some of his Pittsburg pupils afterwards ranked among the finest scholars and most useful men in that region of country. Among them were Chief Justice Lowrey and the eminent author and professor, Dr. D. D. Richardson, at whose father's house in Pittsburg Scott made his home. During the period of Sidney Rigdon's incumbancy as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pittsburg he was intimately associated with Walter Scott, who was a preacher as well as teacher, and a preacher of what were then regarded as very peculiar and even heretical views. Rigdon was neither a man of scholarly parts nor was he of an original turn of mind. His forte was in appropriating and assimilating the views, ideas and methods of others. In quickness and facility of adopting, adapting and making his own the salient peculiarities of these remarkable minds among whom he was thrown, lay Rigdon's great power. The leading "Campbellites," as they have been called, were men of unusual strength of character, of fine intellect and of unimpeachable moral tone, robust, original, incisive. He was, indeed, the black sheep in the Disciples' fold; unscrupulous, audacious, envious, intractable, vindictive, Diotrephes-like; he was always putting himself forward and seeking the pre-eminence. He was a compound of the Jew and the Jesuit -- judaic in disposition and natural bent, jesuitical in all his methods. Scout it who will, he is the real author and founder of Mormonism.

In the first number of The Christian Baptist, (August, 1823) appeared a striking and powerfully written article from the pen of Walter Scott, with the caption, "A Divinely Authorized plan of Teaching the Christian Religion," this extract from which discloses the very germ of the Mormon pretension:

Were a vision vouchsafed us for the single purpose of revealing one uniform and universal plan of teaching the Christian religion, would not every Christian admire the goodness of God in determining a matter on which scarce two calling themselves Christian teachers now agree? Would not every teacher feel himself bound in duty to abandon his own plan and to adopt the plan of God; to study it, to teach it, and, in short, to maintain its superiority and authority against all other schemes, how plausible soever in their configuration, how apparently suitable soever in their application? The writer has not been favored with any vision on this matter, moreover, as he deems it unneccessary, he of course does not expect any; and surely, if his plan be authorized by the example of God himself; by the Lord Jesus Christ; by the Holy Spirit; in his method of presenting the truth to all men in the Scriptures; if the apostle taught the truth on this plan; and if missionaries in teaching idolaters, feel themselves forced to the adoption of it, then there is no need of angel or vision."

The "vision" and the "angel" of Joseph Smith without which Mormonism would never have existed -- started in the brains of Sidney Rigdon at Pittsburg, in 1823. The formation of a new sect, however, outside of the "Campbellites," was not contemplated by Rigdon until after he had been foiled in his attempts to undermine "Campbellism" -- had found, in fact, that Alexander Campbell and his compeers were "too many" for him. If he himself could not measure arms with Campbell, "the Lord" could, through His servant Joseph, and should do it.

But the tracks have been so ingeniously and persistently covered that perhaps the "oldest inhabitant" of Mormondom will be astonished when they are fully laid bare. Truth will triumph yet, and Sidney Rigdon shall have all the credit, or discredit, he deserves.   GRANDISON.
SALT LAKE, June 12, 1879.

Note: This communication was sent to the Tribune by its own part-time journalist, James Thornton Cobb. It is revealing of Cobb's personal psychology that he chose the pen name of "Grandison" -- identifying himself with Joseph Smith's old nemesis at Kirtland, the anti-Mormon firebrand Grandison Newell. Mr. Cobb must have been well aware that, in 1836, there was a conspiracy within the Mormon Church to put an end to Newell's threatening activities through his secret assassination -- a plot which, apparently, Grandison Newell only barely escaped. In the forty years that had passed since the Mormon attempt upon Newell's life, James T. Cobb had seen both his mother and his first wife defect from their families and unconsciously immolate their chances for future happiness by entering into the harem of Brigham Young. Then, in February of 1876, James' fifteen-year-old daughter, Luella Van Cott Cobb, chose to become the fifth plural wife of middle-aged John Willard Young, a son of Brigham Young by his first wife. There is no reason to believe that all these tangled marital ties inspired in James T. Cobb any familial attachment to Brigham Young, his kinfolk, or his church. In fact, as RLDS President Joseph Smith III sagaciously remarked in 1883, the combined effect upon James' emotions was just the opposite: "Mr. James T. Cobb is the son of the woman known as Brigham Young's Boston wife... His domestic life was poisoned by the defection of his own wife; and subsequently still, his daughter... I do not blame him for not liking polygamy, or Brigham Young's memory, if it is true... that mother wife and daughter fell into its meshes... I am persuaded to believe that the many newspaper articles so lavishly scattered over the land, are in the main his work."