Burlington Daily Times July 4, 1930

Open  Forum


Editor Burlington Times:

When a Mormon elder, replying to my last article, said "it is not our purpose to entire a controversy over religion," etc., he was for all that, entering into controversy for a double purpose. The first was, to get his account of the Book of Mormon before the people of Burlington, and the second was to discourage the editor from publishing any more "attacks" on Mormonism. Permit me to add to my former statements --

1. That I have not said that the Book of Mormon was copied closely from the work of Spaulding. It may have been a shrewd imitation -- a translation, not from the "Reformed Egyptian," as claimed by Smith, but from the plain English of Spaulding into the awkward counterfeit scriptures of Joseph Smith, Jr. For such an imitation the literary gifts of Rigdon and the prolific imagination of Smith were, jointly and severally, quite sufficient. As to the writing referred to by President Fairchild as being in the Oberlin library in 1885, we have a statement made that same year by Rev. W. H. Rice, of Addison, N. Y., in regard to the same Ms., which was once owned by his father, long resident in Honolulu, to the effect that while "similar in style," it was not "identical" with the Book of Mormon in any part. Absolute identity between the Mormon classic and any writing of Spaulding has never been claimed. But there is ample evidence that Spaulding left several other Mss. besides the one referred to so triumphantly by Mr. Merrill. Nor was that Ms. the one which Hurlbut confessed he had obtained from Spaulding's widow, and did not return to her as he had promised. He is on record as confessing that he was at the time of his mission to Spaulding's widow, a Mormon; that he was sent by them to get the Ms. of "The Lost Manuscript Found, or the Lost Tribes;" and that he believed that Spaulding did write a story from which the Book of Mormon was composed. In addition to that of of sundry other witnesses, we have on record the testimony of John Spaulding, brother of Solomon, who was familiar with his brother's romance. He and a number of others, and among them Solomon's daughter, noticed especially the proper names, "Mormon, Moroni, Lamenite and Nephi," etc., which his brother had invented, and which reappeared in the Mormon "Golden Bible." He "burst into tears" when lamenting that his brother's historical romance had been made the basis of a religious imposture. Spaulding's grand-neice also relates that he uncle once "laughingly remarked to Nathan Howard, a neighbor, that probably a century from that time his account of the early inhabitants of America would be accepted as veritable history." It is mow -- by a deluded sect.

2. That Mr. Merrill's argument confirms my statement as to the fact that the Book of Mormon, like the "Lost Manuscript Found," undertakes to account for the origin of the American Indians. This is significant: the two books were at least in part somewhat on the same line. Again, the priority of the Spaulding work is admitted by everybody. These corroborate the contention of the Spaulding family and their neighbors of a century gone.

As to the extent of the alleged imitation, Mormon prophets have never been accused of lacking natural shrewdness. A sensible man, even if wicked, will not allow his plagiarism to be too patent. Such wisdom accords with that shown by Joseph Smith, Jr., and by his successor, Brigham Young, in the matter of performing miracles. They were commendably prudent. Smith wisely declined to raise John Morse, an old "Saint," from the dead. "I will let him rest," he said: "he is old, and if I raise him from the dead, he will soon die again." So also Brigham Young was shrewd when requested by a one-legged man to restore his lost leg. "I will," said Brigham in effect, "provided you are willing to take the consequences. If I give you a new leg, then at the resurrection, that, together with the one you lost, will be raised and be attached to your body, and so you will have three legs to all eternity." But, of course, the elders stoutly deny all these stories, as also everything that conflicts with the Mormon claim that they and they alone will possess the earth in the latter days.

3. Sidney Rigdon was not the author of the Book of Mormon; Joseph Smith, Jr., with Sidney's approval being witness. Smith published himself as author in the first edition, to which I have referred. It is in evidence that Rigdon had an opportunity to copy Spaulding's work: that he did possess, long before the appearance of the Book of Mormon, a Ms., which he declared "would be a great thing some day;" that he is known to have prepared the way for Smith at Kirtland, by first weakly opposing the new gospel, and then suddenly accepting it and leading his whole flock into the Mormon fold. He was finally expelled from the Mormon church but he remembered the warning of Brigham Young, and took care not to betray their secrets. There were "Danites" even then, which may also account for the steadfastness of some witnesses. However, when Joseph Smith was murdered, he died heroically, but he did not rise from the dead. Jesus did, and "showed himself alive after his passion" to hundreds of witnesses. His gospel suffices us.

4. We are told that "from lack of information" Mr. McCorkle "ridicules the Book of Mormon because the name of Joseph Smith appears on the title page" of the first edition as "author and proprietor," and this, it is said, "was necessary because of the laws of New York required that the publisher's name should be given." Possibly, but no law of New York ever required a man to announce himself as the "author and proprietor" of a book when his claim was simply that he was the discoverer and translator, or even publisher of it. But in fact no publisher is named as such on that title page. At the bottom we read, "Palmyra: Printed for the author by E. B. Grandin, 1830." We may say that Smith published it, but many books are printed by publishers in the same way. The formula means simply that the publishers take no risk in the matter. It was a native [sic - naive?] confession of truth when Smith put his name as "author" on that title page, rather than as translator. It is also plain that the publication was a financial speculation on the part of Smith. Hence his pains to put his name on that page as "proprietor." It did, indeed mark a favorable turning-point in the fortunes of the Smiths, but it spelt disaster for Martin Harris, the ignorant dupe who mortgaged his farm and separated from his wife in order to furnish the funds for the printing bill. The loss of that farm to its owner, and his separation from his wife, were the first fruits of Mormonism.

Flattering appeal is made by my ctitic to the poverty and ignorance of our plain people, and a plea for silence on the part of evangelical Christians as to the false claims of Mormonism. What a compliment he, like Mother Eddy, pays to those who are so ready to accept a new gospel. He makes them specially good subjects to work on. Undoubtedly this is true. But while poverty does not make a man gullible, ignorance always does. If ignorance be a man's best preparation for accepting a new creed, the reason must lie in the inherant improbability of its claims or doctrines.... We do not believe that Mormons and they alone shall reign with Christ at last, and that all who refuse to obey their gospel shall be damned. In view of such pretensions we decline to be silent. This especially as Mormonism, though cruelly persecuted at first, has so amply revenged itself, and does not now come to use with clean hands.

Wm. P. McCorkle.        

Note: LDS Elder Merrill's first reply, as alluded to above by Rev McCortle, presumably appeared in the Daily Times of June 30, 1830. No copy of his letter has yet been located for transcription.