Mormon History

The Founders of Mormonism - 1882

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune

June 3, 1882


If a pack of rogues were to combine together to palm off a great fraud upon the world, if they were of low character and were ignorant persons; if their imposture succeeded beyond their dreams, so that the profit and credit of the origin were worth contending for, we should naturally expect that these rogues would fall by the ears and denounce each other for all that is vile, expose each other in their robberies and other crimes and struggle like brutes each to oust the other and save to himself the profit of the swindle. We should expect, moreover, that in general all through their quarrels and strife none would absolutely denounce and expose the original swindle as long as there was any hope that he himself might yet succeed in reaping a harvest from it. Nothing could be more natural than that all should come about in just that way. If to an ordinary swindle the element of religious feeling and zeal were added, we should naturally expect all these contentions to assume added bitterness, and the divisions to be intensified by sectarian bigotry. Let us see how closely the [genesis] of Mormonism corresponds to this general outline.

Joseph Smith stands for the originator of the business. Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris were his witnesses. Sidney Rigdon was soon added, and he gave the whole business its shape and impetus. Let us see how these five got along together. Martin Harris was undoubtedly a lunatic after he had gone into the business, though his wife made affidavit that he first took part with an idea of making money. In September 1832, he "prophesied" that "within four years of the date [thereof] every sectarian and religious denomination in the United States will be broken down, and every Christian will be gathered unto the Mormonites, and the rest of the human family shall perish. If these things do not come to pass, I will hereby consent to have my hand separated from my body." His subsequent recantation of the imposture, and whimsical reflections in regard thereto, brought him into great disrepute with the Mormons, and he was visited with their extremest condemnation. A religion whose principal use is to denounce the witnesses upon which it relies to establish its truth is of frail tenure indeed. It was not long before Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were under a cloud. They openly accused Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon of various and sundry of the crimes they had committed, and made the issue with them in public assembly at Kirtland. They continued the same course in Missouri, and finally became so troublesome that Rigdon wrote a letter to them in the most approved style of vigilante literature, ordering them to leave Caldwell county within three days or take the consequences. In this letter he accuses them of being thieves, forgers, counterfeiters and liars. Their assaults had been directed equally against Rigdon and Joseph Smith, who then had complete control of the Mormon community. So Cowdery and Whitmer, having had experiences in Mormon ways to know what was good for them, lost no time in getting away. It is instructive to note the vigor and directness of the charges made by Rigdon against the two Mormon witnesses. All the crimes were recited with time and circumstance, so there was no doubt of their guilt on all the charges. They were clearly shown to be the worst of knaves and the most despicable of men. So Rigdon said to them, "Out of the county you shall go, and no power shall save you; and you shall have three days after you receive our communication to you, including twenty four hours in each day, for you to depart with your families, peaceably; which you may do, undisturbed by any person; but, in that time, if you do not depart, we will use the means in our power to cause you to depart, for go you shall; we will have no more promises to reform, as you have already done, and in every instance violated your promise."

After all that one would naturally think the belief in their testimony as to the truth of the Book of Mormon wpuld be waekened, for surely the testimony of men known to be thieves, forgers, counterfeiters and liars could not have any weight, especially in heavenly things. But it was not so. In the same letter Rigdon tells them he still believed their testimony as to the Book of Mormon, "as much as before you had so scandalously disgraced it." Why he should so believe is wholly inexplicable on any other ground then that he was so much interested in maintaing the fraud that he had no choice but to maintain its truth through thick and thin. So much for the three witnesses; they fell by the way side, condemned even more heartily by their own dupes and confederates than by anybody else. As to Rigdon, it is well known that he was turned over to the buffetings of Satan as a fraud and a rogue, by the official action of the head of the Mormon system. There remains but Smith, and there is nothing his own witnesses, Cowdery and Whitmer, failed to charge upon him; they said he was guilty, among other things, of every form of swindling, practiced on his dupes, of gross deception, of treason, murder, licentiousness, and the most contemptible cowardice. That is how the sponsors of the Mormon system got along between themselves. We submit that it exactly corresponds to the definition of what we should expect to see in case a gross and stupid imposture were attempted to be put upon the world by ignorant and unscrupulous persons. There is no doubt at all but that is exactly what Mormonism and its founders amount to. That there has not been since its settlement in Utah a renewal of the old quarrels and schisms is explainable by the simple fact that every attempt of that kind has been put down by the ruling powers in blood. The Morrisite schism was the strongest outbreak here, and the way it was broken up served as a warning to others that that sort of thing wouldn't do any more. Brigham Young [---------- -----] sooner than be troubled by "Apostates" as they had been in the past, he would "unsheath his bowie-knife and conquer or die." He kept his word.