Mormon History

Mormon Response to Spaulding Authorship - 1881

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune

March 4, 1881



Whenever the organs of Mormonism refer to the Spaulding story in connection with the Book of Mormon, their reluctance to ventilate the subject is very evident. They deign to refer to the unsavory topic only by particular request, the doubters and curious [about?] this exploded Spaulding story, even in the Mormon fold, are not yet all dead, or quite converted, it would seem. "Our apology to our readers for alluding at any length to this dead and almost forgotten issue." "All the absurd accusations and remarks which have emanated from our enemies, from the pulpit and the press, in regard to this ridiculous Spaulding matter." "No foundation except in the bowels of hell, for this stupid Spaulding story," etc. Such is the unvarying temper in which this much too [delicate] and difficult and not dangerous subject is handled by them. It is sought to be instilled into the minds of young Utah that there is nothing in it and very little to it, that the whole absurd and wicked story was promptly met and fully refuted many years ago at the time of its invention.

Now the fact of the matter is, "this stupid Spaulding story" never has been squarely met, but that it has been persistently, unscrupulously and most cunningly dodged by those who have best known its crusging and fatal force. It is said and it is commonly understood by Mormons, that Sidney Rigdon did meet, deny and utterly refute this story, or if he did not completely refute, that Parley Pratt put the final extinguisher upon it. The careful and candid investigator will find, however, that Mormons have never met the charge; that persons just named did not meet the charge and answer it, but simply succeeded in throwing dust and dirt, and in creating a diversion from it. The stupid story, the wicked story, never can be met and refuted, because it is the truth. If the Deseret News, or if any Mormon preacher or writer, whoever they are, fancy themselves in possession of papers sufficient to refute this story, they either egregiously mistake, or they are wilfully deceiving themselves and others.

Said Apostle Wilford Woodruff, 12th December, 1880, (See Deseret News 22d February, 1881):

"There has been a great deal said by our enemies since the organization of this church concerning Joseph Smith; concerning the Book of Mormon having been written by Spaulding as a novel; and of this work being a deception. * * * Let any man take the Book of Mormon and read it through from beginning to end -- read that history, etc. * * * and let them ask themselves if they suppose that Solomon Spaulding could sit down in a corner and write a novel covering these principles? No; they know better. Any reflecting mind on earth knows very well that the Book of Mormon never originated from a source of that kind, any more than they can accuse the Bible of having been brought forth by the same cause. If one originated from God, the other did.

"It is rather a wonder to the world that an illiterate boy like Joseph Smith, if he was not taught by the God of Israel and by the spirit of revelation, could possess the power to bring forth such principles as are recorded in the Book of Mormon and in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and to organize a system of government, a system of religion, upon the face of the earth, that was far beyond all the combined power of the whole Christian world. You may take all the learned men of the earth, all the doctors of divinity, with all the knowledge that they possess, put them all together, and they had not the power to oeganize such a church as has been organized by Joseph Smith. * * * There is no language I ever read in any record given to the human family, that will compare with the sublimity and power of tehse revelations, given through that boy, Joseph Smith."

Apostle Wilford Woodruff is a man of advanced years. He appears thoroughly sincere. Is it possible he has been fooled? Let us see.

The extract just made from his discourse covers, pretty well, the Mormon claim. In true Mormon fashion it darkens counsel in a haze of contraties. At first, that an illiterate youth like Joe Smith should have accomplished so much. Surely this is, as Apostle Woodruff may justly hold, "rather a wonder," were there no sequel at the heels of all this admiration -- utterly ignoring the real, though secret, founder and shaper of the Mormon scheme, the not illiterate, the "heady," self-opinionated, splemetic, envious, unscrupulous, pettifogging fanatic and master zealot concealed in the background and behind the scenes, Sidney Rigdon. But when this secret plotter is discovered -- a person exceptionally versed in the letter of the Bible -- the marvel concerning the illiterate Joe quickly melts in air. Joe was but the target and figure head. Sir Oraclke, yes; but only in name and pretense, as this was part of the programme.

De gustibus non est disputandum. That Apostle Woodruff or others sgould find unapproached sublimity and power in the Mormon revelations -- changed materially from teh way in which they were first put forth, as taste improved or exigency demanded, although the average Mormon is not aware of this interesting fact -- well, there's no accounting for tastes, as the _____ almost any Sam Wellerism may finish this sentence.

But further, as to Solomon Spaulding, a la Little Jack Horner, sitting in a corner, etc. The assertion is, and there is evidence enough to substantiate it, that Sidney Rigdon revised and to a considerable extent rewrote the "Manuscript Found" of Solomon Spaulding, expanding and converting it from a unique and harmless religio-historical romance to a blasphemous and tedious quasi Bible, to be received as of equal validity with veritable history and of equal authority with Holy Writ.

Woodruff's appeal to "any reflecting mind on earth" is not happy. The Book of Mormon is one of those dreadful books that must be read and inwardly digested, if at all, as a religious duty or as a critical study -- a very desert of Sahara of a book, the oases of relief and satisfaction few and far between. "Young Utah" can only take the voluminious bosh in broken doses, and then only as sugared and spiced for them in the columns of the Juvenile Instructor. But Spaulding should have the credit for whatever of interest is to be found in the book -- for the oases, though not for the pitfalls. Spaulding was not the man to blasphemously represent the Savior and "His ministrations upon the land." Pratt and Woodruff, and their fellow defenders of the divine authenticity of this Mormon Bible (justly called so) may give either Rigdon or Joe Smith, or their special and specious Mormon deity full credit for this piece of blasphemous pretense, so they do exonerate the dacetious but truth loving and God respecting Spaulding. And it is just at this point that the Book of Mormon reaches its climax.

It has never been held that the Book of Mormon and the Manuscript Found of Spaulding were identical in every detail the one with the other. It is maintained, and can be controverted, that many of the principal names and leading incidents, as well as a great amount of the subject matter being identical, offered conclusive evidence, to any unbiased mind, of the plagerism, and this substantial identity between the two works is far too well and solidly authenticated to be "whistled down the mind" by persistently dwelling upon the differences or minor points, or by any amount of "testimony of the spirit" (the Mormon strong hold in this as in all other matters of their faith) that the utterly preposterous claims of the pseudo-Bible can impress any reasonable, sensible mind.

Spaulding was not (from all accounts) a man to make a corner on the religious sentiments of his time, however erroneous he may have [calculated] them. Nor did he get up his work, save by compulsion, in a corner at all. But this whole iniquitous scheme of Mormonism was done in a corner -- is always operating in a corner -- binding down the souls and bodies of foolish men and women in a corner, and this is indeed its chief and patent condemnation, arousing at the very first blush, the suspicions and hostile thoughts of any reflecting mind. Secrecy is the great bane of the body politic, of family and neighborly life -- of every human breast. Christ's Gospel is open -- is free.   VINDEX.

Note 1: See also the "Vindex" letter to the editor in the Tribune's issue of Apr. 7, 1881

Note 2: The writer of the above article seems to have made little effort to study the various Mormon responses to proponents of the Solomon Spalding claims for Book of Mormon authorship. Elder Benjamin Winchester's 1840 tract offers a substantial, if not especially convincing, LDS refutation of at least a portion of those claims -- as does that pamphlet's successors of 1841 and 1843. Similar, but less extensive, LDS responses were published through the course of many years, culminating in post-1881 contributions by Edmund Kelley, Joseph Smith III, George Reynolds, Joseph F. Smith and B. H. Roberts. When early Mormon "organs" spoke of the Spalding claims as having been "exploded," they were, of course, speaking of these sorts of in-house publications intended for the Mormon audience. Not until the final years of the nineteenth century did Mormon writers seriously believe that various published refutations had truly "exploded" the Spalding claims in the opinion of non-Mormons.

Note 3: While it is generally conceded that it is a very difficult thing to "prove a negative," it is nevertheless a striking fact that none of the early, topmost Mormon leaders ever attempted to prove the Spalding claims false. Sidney Rigdon penned a limited and generally ineffectual response to a small portion of those claims in 1839. His small contribution was followed by some media manipulations by Parley P. Pratt and other Mormon leaders, culminating in the 1840 publication of Winchester's pamphlet. But none of this -- not even all of this put together -- constituted a reasonable and methodical Latter Day Saint response to (or explosion of) the threatening alternative authorship claims. In 1840, Joseph Smith, Jr. visited in the Washington, D. C., and his personal physician later stated that Smith then pronounced an effective curse upon the life of a prominent local minister who was advocating the Spalding authorship claims (saying that the Book of Mormon "was nothing but an irreligious romance, and that Smith had obtained it from the widow of one Spaulding"). If this story is a true one, it relates the only known response from Smith in the matter -- though Parley P. Pratt gave a fictional Lucifer and a fictional Joseph Smith scripted lines regarding such "silly fabrications as the Spaulding Story" in Pratt's equally silly 1845 fabrication, entitled "A Dialogue Between Joe Smith & the Devil!" Sidney Rigdon, through the Mormon "organ" in Pittsburgh, promised to refute the "error relative to the origin of the Book of Mormon as being but the product of one 'Solomon Spaulding'" in June of 1844. Unfortunately, other pressing business interferred with Rigdon's scheduled refutation and the world was left unblest by his hopeful explanations. In 1901, the soon-to-be President of the Mormon Church seemingly put the issue beyond all disputation, when he pronounced the Spalding authorship claims to be "the deep-laid schemes of wicked men, inspired by the great enemy of all truth, in their vain attempts to overthrow the work of God." These "wicked men" (the earliest proponents of and witnesses for the Spalding claims) used "slanderous and villainous methods of compassing their pernicious ends." So, according to this ordained latter day prophet, seer, revelator and translator (not to mention nephew of the very founder of the LDS Church), there were "downright falsehoods" in the "affidavits" given by the Spalding claims witnesses -- those "determined enemies of the Book of Mormon," who were ever ready "to bolster up their pet theories and deep-laid schemes to deceive the world" with any change or development that those alternative authorship claims might ever seem to require. Well then -- if the Spalding claims witnesses were such, "wicked men" and minions of the Devil himself (knowingly or unknowingly), it makes perfect sense that the supreme leaders of the LDS Church never endeavored to interview them, investigate their testimony, or publish to the world the results of any such impartial investigation in an objective report of their own.