Mormon History

Who Started Mormonism - 1879

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune September 7, 1879


Direct and ancillary there are four parties to the Mormon suit. The Mormons suit proper is likely to outlast those just now in court; for, although it may be proved that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no legal tenure of existence, wipe that out and still Mormonism will remain. Judge Sutherland is an expert fencer; but if said Church is legally a non-est Church, it might still hold out as an honest Church, but for the not uncertain issue of the graver still suit pending over it, which it must yet squarely face. Judge Sutherland is hardly to be likened to Don Quixote fighting windmills, but "so fight I not as one that beateth the air." There are no less than four claimants for the origin of Mormonism: 1. Solomon Spaulding; 2. Sidney Rigdon; 3. Joseph Smith; 4. the Disciples (Campbellism). The second and third are the direct, and the first and fourth the remote and "no-thank-you" claimants. (The name of the Deity need not appear in this connection until these four claimants all and several are non-suited.) Lacking the first and the forth, Mormonism could no more have come into being than without the second and third. The peculiar and characteristic features of early Mormonism were taken boldly from Campbellism, and Sidney Rigdon was the connecting link between the two. Says a correspondent, and a prominent Disciple:

Rigdon carried with him over into that conglomerate delusion the leading terms, statements and arguments of the Disciples; plea for the restoration of the ancient gospel; and from that day to this all in Mormonism that wins, attaches and converts are the ancient gospel terms, plans, items and arrangements which Mr. Campbell and others had been developing for years before Mormonism was heard of; all of which had to be run through a Rigdon crucible, and from this process it attained sundry additions, such as the gift of the Holy Ghost by imposition of the hands of authorized eldership, the power of miracles, the orders and ranks of priesthood, etc.

Rigdon was always erratic, fanciful, enthusiastic, full of whims and of prophetic themes. He was not thought to be an originator, but ready to adopt and both quick and fierce to advocate. With suprising facility, he could seize another's views, or plan, and so place himself in front of it as to appear its leader. In this way exactly he threw off the habits of the Baptists, and adopted the exhortational tones, terms and methods of Walter Scott. Although the teaching of the Disciples respecting conversion and initiation into the Kingdom, engrafted by Rigdon into Mormonism, have ever been the converting force of their scheme, yet the cause, by stigma or otherwise named Campbellism, was the first and most effectual bar to the progress of the Mormon system. Those principles sometimes called by us "first principles" were in the Mormon scheme turned to the attainment of an object steadily and always repudiated by the Disciples.

(By this the writer probably means that "the door of baptism" was never with the Disciples a trap-door.) The correspondent continues:

You ask about Melchisedek. The air was full of Melchisedek -- sermons. questions, discussions upon him -- who he was, his office literally and typically considered. No such theories or schemes about it as Mormonism developed and adopted were among us. The germs might have been in some fancies, no more: but Melchisedek was a popular and fruitful theme.

Then as to our revised Scriptures. The defence of the Bible, the Scriptures pure and worship alone on that foundation, and consequently pure: this was Mr. Campbell's point, plea and pleading. Hence our new translation. The imitators and copyists must also have the same angle on their edifice, but they overdo it. Theirs must be inspired.

Again, the argumentative basis. This with the Disciples was clear-cut, definite, demonstratable. The Bible alone. No creeds as terms of fellowship. March squarely and fully up to Apostolic ground, and meet the world on this issue. A clearly marked line between the human and the Divine. Just at this door came in the new religion founded on a new revolution.

And to whom, it may here be asked, is this new relation [sic] vouchsafed? Why to Sidney Rigdon. Let any person read the first revelation given to Rigdon and Smith, wherein "my servant Sidney" is informed by the Lord that he has been sent forth even as John, to prepare the way before his coming "and thou knewest it not," (quite ignoring Joe). Let any person read the revelation given to Partridge a few days later: "Thus saith the Lord God, the Mighty One of Israel. * * * I will lay my hand upon you by the hand of my servant Sidney, and you shall receive my spirit, the Holy Ghost. * * * And now this calling and commandment I give unto all men, that as many as shall come before my servants Sidney and Joseph, embracing this calling and commandment shall be ordained to preach the everlasting gospel among the nations." Bearing the important fact in mind that, although the Church had been started eight months, Smith and Rigdon had only been acquainted with each other a few days (?) and the real leader and inspiring genius of the Mormon work is not far to seek.

The depth of this original Mormon conspiracy, and the height of it, will never be reached and known until Rigdon is recognized as its central figure and chief plotter. With the majority of elderly Mormons themselves, who, in many cases for half a life-time or more have been resting complacently and confidently in the [belief] that Rigdon was at most but one out of some half-dozen Mormon leaders, chiefly marked and active at the outset of the "marvelous work," and who have clung to the idea that, after the Lord, His prophet and mouth-piece was all-in-all, this claim -- this supreme claim -- for Rigdon must for a time appear not otherwise than untenable and preposterous; but it will be found, as with every half-concealed truth or fact, the more closely it is looked into the clearer and more cogent it becomes. Those whose vision is not obscured by any mist of fanaticism or prejudice can already discern this utterly revolutionary and convulsing factor in the case "with half an eye."

The correspondent from whom the above extracts have been taken thus concludes:

As complements and fillings up, pages might be filled with terms, phrases and modes of illustration allowing that not only the garment was stolen, but the very form and fit, and even the hue and coloring show the ill-disguised attempt at originality. No counterfeit ever showed more plainly a corrupted copy.

Rigdon was nothing if not "inspired;" nothing if not "legally inspired." The heavens themselves were robbed. Prometheus-like, by this man to kindle fanaticism. The authority claimed by Mormonism was stolen from on high by the audacious pretense of a direct, divine commission. The punishment of Promethus we know: the punishment of Mormonism we see.

It is likewise susceptible of demonstration that at least nine-tenths of the peculiar tenets and terminology of Mormonism were appropriated from Campbellism: notably and primarily, baptism for remission of sins which was inaugurated by the Disciples in the fall of 1827, two or three years before the Mormon Church was organized. The biography of Elder Walter Scott has a passage of significance in this connection, which I will quote:

The preacher (Scott) have a brief review of the various points of his discourse, insisting that the Word of God meant what it said, urging his lecturers to trust that Word implicitly. He rehearsed again the Jerusalem scene, and called attention to the earnest, anxious cry of the multitude, and the comforting reply of the Apostles, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." He invited any one present who believed with all his heart, to yield to the terms proposed in the words of the Apostle, and show by a willing obedience his trust in the Lord of life and glory.

Mr. Amend pressed his way through the crowd to the preacher, and made known his purpose; made a public declaration of his belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and his willingness to obey him, and, on the same day, in a beautiful clear stream, which flows on the southern border of the town, in the presence of a great multitude, he was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. This event, which forms an era in the religious history of the times, took place on the 18th of November; 1827, and William Amend was beyond all question the first person in modern times who received the ordinance of baptism in perfect accordance with Apostolic teaching and usage. His baptism occasioned no small stir in the community. No one had ever seen anything in all respects like it, and yet it seemed to correspond so perfectly with the teachings and practices of the Apostles that few could fail to see the resemblance.

Rigdon's secret affiliation with Smith from 1827 until 1830 has been stoutly and persistently denied for them; but if one or the other himself ever denied it, the present writer, in an exhaustive draining of the whole field, has not come across such denial, while, on the other hand, there are living witnesses to prove such secret affiliation.

If Rigdon ever denied that he made over the Book of Mormon from the Manuscript Found, such denial has yet to appear. During his lifetime, for thirty-odd years after the death of his prophet, he had the fullest opportunity to deny the part which current belief assigned him in the construction of the Mormon book and scheme. He was importuned continually upon the subject up to the time of his death. Did he ever deny it? If so, when and where?

On the other hand Joseph Smith declared (see Times and Seasons, Nov. 1, 1843:) "The fact is that by the power of God I translated the Book of Mormon from hieroglyphics; the knowledge of which was lost to the world: in which wonderful event I stood alone, an unlearned youth, to combat the worldly wisdom, and multiplied ignorance of eighteen centuries, with a new revelation."

If this is true, how can that be true which Mrs. M. S. McKinstry, now of Longmeadow, Mass., the daughter of Solomon Spaulding, has sent over her own signature to the writer of these lines, to wit: that she distinctly recollects seeing used in her father's manuscript, the names Mormon, Moroni, Nephites and Laminites (spelling the last word thus)? These are unique names, all of them; they could not have been on the sacred plates and in the historical fiction of Spaulding, except, one had been taken from the other. Spaulding died in 1816. Mrs. McKinstry is a witness in every respect above suspicion and irreproachable. She is between 70 and 80 years of age and in feeble health, but of clear memory, and in the enjoyment of her mental faculties. Her testimony but corroborates that of many of Spaulding's friends who heard him read his manuscript, and who afterwards read the Book of Mormon. Their testimony; unimpeached and unimpeachable, has been before the world for nearly fifty years. The "baseless" and "exploded" Spaulding story has ever been the one terror and nightmare of Mormonism. So far from being baseless, it has its base in adamantine truth; so far from Mormons having exploded it, the Spaulding story will yet effectually explode the superstition of Mormonism.

It does not appear that any attempt has ever been made by the Mormons to impeach the credibility of any of those dreadful witnesses; certain it is such an attempt, were it made, would most signally fall.

The straightforward statement of Isaac Hale, the prophet's father-in-law, taken before Charles Dimon, Justice of the Peace in Susquehanna County, Pa. will everlastingly outweigh the crooked, inconsistent and craftily gotten-up testimonies from the Smith and Whitmer families as to the divine authority of the Book of Mormon, "giving the only reliable account of its origin," which ever had been or ever can be relied upon. The first "testimony of three witnesses," is an elizir of moonbeams, and both are striking exhibitions of stupid credulity and stupefying imposture.

William Thompson and David Dimock, associate judges of the Court of Common Pleas in Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania, attested that Mr. Isaac Hale was a man of excellant moral character and of unquestioned veracity; and such is well known to have been Mr. Hale's character. (Again, the Plano Joseph, the double junior, is fortunate in one of his grandfathers. Goof, honest blood flows in his veins from the mother's side. Let him put it to usury, and let the vain and empty eclat of being the son and successor of a prophet go. That lead is pinching out very fast). The prophet did the translation of his sacred plates or a considerable part thereof, under the very nose of his father-in-law. Mr. Hale affirms:

Joseph Smith Jr. resided near me for some time after his marriage, and I had a good opportunity of becoming acquainted with him, and somewhat acquainted with his associates; and I conscientiously believe from the facts I have detailed, and from many other circumstances, which I do not deem it necessary to relate, that the whole Book of Mormon, so called, is a silly fabrication of falsehood and wickedness, got up for speculation, and with a design to dupe the credulous and unwary, and in order that its fabricators may live upon the spoils of those who swallow the deception.

Now suppose it should be demonstrated that Rigdon had in his possession in Pittsburg, in the year 1823, the Spaulding romance, from which the Book of Mormon was fabricated. Suppose it should be demonstrated that two or three years prior to 1830 Rigdon secretly foretold to one and another the coming forth of a certain marvelous book containing an account of the aborigines of this continent. Suppose it should be demonstrated that in Harmony, Penna., in 1828, after the prophet had translated a portion of his sacred plates, and after the "Father and Son" had appeared to him and twice told him to join with none of the religious sects, that they were all an abomination; suppose, I say, that he should -- not exactly join -- but try to join the Methodist Church in Harmony; that his name was held as a "probationer" on the classbook of the Methodist "leader" for six months, and that he was finally dropped for eminent and notorious unfitness. And suppose Mr. Michael B. Morse, now of Amboy, Illinois, to have been the very class leader who took Smith's name. Suppose, further, it should be demonstrated that the mysterious hieroglyphics found in Kinderhook, Illinois in 1843, and subsequently fac-similed and translated by the prophet, (vide History of Joseph Smith Millennial Star, Vol. XXI, No. 3.) were made and concealed in the earth by William Fugate and Robert Wiley, who are still alive to testify to their work; with all this evidence before them, would Mormons still feel justified before high heaven, before the world and their own consciences in still clinging to these idols of prophet and book?

In its issue of Tuesday last the Deseret News thinks "It is amusing to see the shifts and twistings to which men resort in an endeavor to account for the Book of Mormon, when they reject the truth in relation to its origin." But this is in no way so "amusing" as to note not merely the "shifts and twistings" of those who seek to stifle the truth in relation to the origin of the Mormon Book, and the cold-blooded, calculating deceit practiced by those pious souls. Such life-long duplicity is something appalling to contemplate.

Note 1: This is another chapter taken from the lost book of James T. Cobb, but fortunately preserved as a Tribune article. Cobb's "prominent Disciple" correspondent was almost certainly Dr. Amos Hayden (1813-1880) and his quotation from that correspondent may well have been the very one he sent to RLDS President Joseph Smith III for his inspection. In his letter of Feb 14, 1879, President Smith says: "Thank you for the reading of A. S. Hayden's letter. I reenclose it to you. The [idea of Smith and Rigdon allegedly having been] co-plotters in a bold work of deception -- bothers him and you..." The eye-witness recollection is an important one and should be read in tandem with the passages on Rigdon recorded in Hayden's 1875 book. Unfortunately Dr. Hayden died not long after Cobb's quotation from his letter was printed in the Tribune and further intelligence from this eye-witness to Rigdon's early years was forever lost.

Note 2: Cobb's placement of Matilda Spalding McKinstry (1805-1891) in "Longmeadow, Mass" in late 1879 may be a bit of a mistake. Rev. David R. Austin wrote to Cobb on Apr. 4, 1879, saying that "Mrs. McKinstry has removed from Monson & now resides with a son, a physician... in Mass." But, supplementing, this information, her son John wrote to Cobb on June 2, 1879, saying: "I... delayed answering till I could hear from my mother in answer to the questions you propounded." It appears that by mid-1879 Matilda Spalding McKinstry had gone to reside with her daughter and son-on-law (Frances W. McKinstry Seaton and Charles W. Seaton) in Washington, D. C.

Note 3: In his letter of June 2, 1879, Dr. John A. McKinstry tells James T. Cobb that he is enclosing "over her signature" the "answer" to some of Cobb's questions to the elderly lady. The original of that 1879 statement by Solomon Spalding's adopted daughter has disappeared, but the Tribune article provides the jist of her short statement -- what John spoke of as being "not as elaborate as I could have wished." Mrs. McKinstry's letter of Aug. 21, 1880, addressed to Cobb ( when her statement for the Aug. 1880 Scribners' Monthly had already gone to press), probably reproduces essentially the content of the earlier, lost letter and agrees with what is quoted by the Tribune.

Note 4: Cobb's reference to Messrs. William Fugate and Robert Wiley, as being able to testify to the facts of the Kinderhook Plates' hoax, is based upon information supplied him in correspondence dating back to early 1878. Cobb was still researching this obscure incident in Mormon history as late as Nov. 1879 and it is supposed the story would have ended up as a chapter in his intended book.

Note 5: Cobb's reference to Michael B. Morse comes out of information he solicited from residents of Amboy, Illinois, including relatives of Emma Hale Smith. The story of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s attempt to join the Methodists, as well as other early accounts of his stay in the Susquehanna region, are related in various issues of the Amboy Journal, beginning with an article published there on Apr. 23, 1879.