ORIGIN OF THE MORMON IM-POSTURE.
The following is a reliable and correct account of the origin of Mormonism, a de-lusion the extraordinary progress of which is one of the most remarkable and lamenta-ble facts of the present time.—[Rochester American.
Extracts from TURNER'S forthcoming "History of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase."
As we are now at the home of the Smith family—in sight of "Mormon Hill"—a brief pioneer history will be looked for, of the strange, and singularly successful relig-ious sect—the Mormons; and brief it must be, merely starting it in its career, and leav-ing it to their especial historians to trace them to Kirtland and Nauvoo, Beaver Is-land, and Utah or the Salt Lake.
Joseph Smith, the father of the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., was from Merrimack river, New Hampshire. He first settled in or near Palmyra village, but as early as 1819, was occupant of some new land on "Strafford street," in the town of Manches-ter, near the line of Palmyra. "Mormon Hill" is near the plank road about half-way between the villages of Palmyra and Man-chester. The elder Smith had been a Uni-versalist, and subsequently a Methodist; was a good deal of a smatterer in scriptural knowledge, but the seed of revelation was sown on weak ground; he was a great bab-bler, credulous, not especially industrious, a money digger, prone to the marvellous; and withal, a little given to difficulties with neighbors, and petty law suits. Not a very propitious account of the father of a Proph-et,—the founder of a State; but there was a "woman in the case." How ever present in matters of good and evil! In the gar-den of Eden, in the siege of Troy, on the field of Orleans, in the dawning of the Re-formation, in the Palace of St. Peters-burgh, and Kremlin of Moscow, in Eng-land's history, and Spain's proudest era;—and here upon this continent, in the persons of Ann Lee, Jemima Wilkinson, and as we are about to add, Mrs. Joseph Smith! A mother's influence in the world's history, in the history of men, how distinct is the im-press! In heroes, in statesmen, in poets, in all good or bad aspirations, or distinc-tions, that single men out from the mass, and give them notoriety; how often, almost invariably, are we led back to the influen-ces of a mother, to find the germ that has sprouted in the offspring.
The reader will excuse this interruption of the narrative, and be told that Mrs. Smith was a woman of strong, uncultivated intellect; artful and cunning; imbued with an illy regulated religious enthusiasm. The incipient hints, the first givings out that a Prophet was to spring from her humble household, came from her; and when mat-ters were maturing for denouement, she gave out that such and such ones—always fixing upon those who had money and cred-ulity—were to be instruments in some great work of new revolution. The old man was rather her faithful co-worker, or executive exponent. Their son, Alvah, was original-ly intended, or designated, by fireside con-sultations, and solemn and mysterious out-door hints, as the forthcoming Prophet.--The mother and the father said he was the chosen one, but Alvah, however spiritual he may have been, had a carnal appetite; ate too many green turnips, sickened and died. Thus the world lost a Prophet, and Mor-monism a leader; the designs impiously and wickedly attributed to Providence defeated; and all in consequence of a surfeit of raw turnips. Who will talk of the cackling geese of Rome, or any other small and in-nocent causes of mighty events, after this? The mantle of the Prophet which Mrs. and Mr. Joseph Smith and one Oliver Cowdry, had woven of themselves—every thread of it—fell upon their next oldest son, Joseph Smith, Jr.
And a most unpromising recipient of such a trust, was the same Joseph Smith, Jr., af-terwards "Jo Smith." He was idle, loung-ing, (not to say vicious,) and possessed of less than ordinary intellect. The author's own recollections of him are distinct. He used to come into the village of Palmyra with little jags of wood, from his backwoods home; sometimes patronizing a village gro-cery too freely, sometimes finding an odd job to do about the store of Seymour Sco-vell; and once a week he would stroll into the office of the old Palmyra Register, for his father's paper. How impious, in us young "dare Devils," to once in a while blacken the face of the then meddling in-quisitive lounger—but afterwards Prophet—with the old fashioned halls, when he us to put himself in the way of the working of the old fashioned Ramage press! The editor of the Cultivator at Albany, esteem-ed as he may justly consider himself, for his subsequent enterprise and usefulness, may think of it with contrition and repen-tance, that he once helped, thus to disfigure the face of a Prophet, and remotely, the founder of a State.
But Joseph had a little ambition; and some very laudable aspirations; the moth-er's intellect occasionally shone out in him feebly, especially when he used to help us to solve some portentous questions of mor-al or political ethics, in our juvenile debat-ing club, which we moved down to the old red school house on Durfee street, to get rid of the annoyance of critics that used to drop in upon us in the village; and subse-quently, after catching a spark of Metho-dism in the camp meeting, away down in the woods, on the Vienna road, he was a very plausible exhorter in evening meet-ings.
Legends of hidden treasure had long des-ignated Mormon Hill as the depository.—Old Joseph had dug there, and young Jo-seph had not only heard his father and mother relate the marvelous tales of buried wealth, had accompanied his father in the midnight delvings, and heard the incanta-tions of the spirits that guarded it.
If a buried revelation was to be exhum-ed, how natural was it that the Smith fam-ily, with their credulity, and their assumed presentiment that a Prophet was to come from their household, should be connected with it; and that Mormon Hill was the place where it would be found.
It is believed by those who were best ac-quainted with the Smith family, and most conversant with all the Gold Bible move-ments, that there is no foundation for the statement that their original manuscript was written by a Mr. Spaulding, of Ohio. A supplement to the Gold Bible, "The Book of Commandments" in all probability was written by Rigdon, and he may have been aided by Spaulding's manuscript; but the book itself is without doubt a production of the Smith family, aided by Oliver Cowdry, who was a school teacher on Strafford st., an intimate of the Smith family, and iden-tified with the whole matter. The produc-tion, as all will conclude who have read it, or even given it a cursory review, is not that of an educated man or woman. The bungling attempt to counterfeit the style of the Scriptures; the intermixture of modern phraseology; the ignorance of chronology and geography; its utter crudeness and bald-ness as a whole, stamp its character, and clearly exhibit its vulgar origin. It is a strange medley of scripture, romance, and bad composition.
The primitive designs of Mrs. Smith, her husband, Jo and Cowdry, was money-mak-ing; blended with which, perhaps, was a desire for notoriety, to be obtained by a cheat and fraud. The idea of being the founders of a new sect, was an after tho't, in which they were aided by others.
The projectors of the humbug being des-titute of means for carrying out their plans, a victim was selected to obviate that diffi-culty. Martin Harris was a farmer of Pal-myra, the owner of a good farm, and an honest, worthy citizen; but especially given to religious enthusiasm, new creeds, the more extravagant the better; a monomani-ac, in fact. Joseph Smith, upon whom the mantle of prophecy had fallen after the sad fate of Alvah, began to make demonstra-tions. He informed Harris of the great discovery, and that it had been revealed to him, that he (Harris) was a chosen instru-ment to aid in the great work of surprising the world with a new revelation. They had hit upon the right man. He mortgaged his fine farm to pay for printing the book, assumed a grave, mysterious and unearthly deportment, and made here and there a-mong his acquaintances, solemn annuncia-tions of the great event that was transpir-ing. His version of the discovery, as com-municated to him by the Prophet Joseph himself, is well remembered by several re-spectable citizens of Palmyra, to whom he made early disclosures. It was, in sub-stance, as follows:
The Prophet Joseph was directed by an angel where to find, by excavation, at the place afterwards called Mormon Hill, the gold plates; and was compelled by the an-gel, much against his will, to be the inter-preter of the sacred records they contained, and publish it to the world. That the plates contained a record of the ancient in-habitants of this country, 'engraved by Mor-mon, the son of Nebhi.' That on the top of the box containing the plates, 'a pair of large spectacles were found, the stones or glass set in which were opaque to all but the Prophet,' that 'these belonged to Mor-mon, the engraver of the plates, and with-out them the plates could not be read.'—Harris assumed that himself and Cowdry were the chosen amanuenses, and that the Prophet Joseph, curtained from the world and them with his spectacles, read from the gold plates what they committed to paper. Harris exhibited to an informant of the au-thor, the manuscript title page. On it were drawn, rudely and bunglingly, concentric circles, between, above and below, which were characters, with little resemblance to letters; apparently a miserable imitation of hieroglyphics the writer may somewhere have seen. To guard against profane curi-osity, the Prophet had given out that no one but himself, not even his chosen co-oper-ates, must be permitted to see them, on pain of instant death. Harris had never seen the plates, but the glowing account of their massive richness, excited other than spirit-ual hopes, and he, upon one occasion, got a village silver-smith to help him estimate their value, taking as a basis, the Prophet's account of their dimensions. It was a blend-ing of the spiritual and utilitarian, that threw a shadow of doubt upon Martin's sin-cerity.
This, and some anticipations he indulged in as to the profits that would arise from the sale of the Gold Bible, made it then, as it is now, a mooted question whether he was altogether a dupe.
The wife of Harris was a rank infidel and heretic, touching the whole thing, and decidedly opposed to her husband's partici-pation in it. With sacrilegious hands she seized over an hundred of the manuscript pages of the new revelation, and burned or secreted them. It was agreed by Smith and family, Cowdry and Harris, not to trans-cribe these again, but to let so much of the new revelation drop out, as the 'evil spirit would get up a story that the second trans-lation did not agree with the first.' A very ingenious method, surely, of guarding a-gainst the possibility that Mrs. Harris had preserved the manuscript with which they might be confronted, should they attempt an imitation of their own miserable patch-work.
The Prophet did not get his lesson well upon the start, or the household of the im-postors were at fault. After he had told his story, in his absence, the rest of the fam-ily made a new version of it to one of their neighbors. They showed him such a peb-ble as may any day be picked up on the shore of Lake Ontario—the common horn blend—carefully wrapped in cotton, and kept in a mysterious box. They said it was by looking at this stone, in a hat, the light excluded, that Joseph discovered the plates. This, it will be observed, differs materially from Joseph's story of the angel. It was the same stone the Smiths had used in mo-ney digging, and in some pretended discov-eries of stolen property.
Long before the Gold Bible demonstra-tion, the Smith family had, with some sin-ister object in view, whispered another fraud in the ears of the credulous. They pretended that in digging for money at Mor-mon Hill, they came across 'a chest, three by two feet in size, covered with a dark colored stone. In the centre of the stone was a white spot about the size of a six-pence. Enlarging, the spot increased to the size of a twenty-four pound shot, and then exploded with a terrible noise. The chest vanished and all was utter darkness.
It may be safely presumed that in no oth-er instance have Prophets and the chosen and designated of angels, been quite as cal-culating and worldly, as were those of Strafford street, Mormon Hill and Palmyra. The only business contract—veritable in-strument in writing—that was ever execu-ted by spiritual agents, has been preserved, and should be among the archives of the new State of Utah. It is signed by the Prophet himself, and witnessed by Oliver Cowdry, and secures to Martin Harris one-half of the proceeds of the sale of the Gold Bible, until he was fully reimbursed in the sum of $2,500, the cost of printing.
The after thought has been alluded to—the enlarging of original intentions—was at the suggestion of Sidney Rigdon, of Ohio, who made his appearance, and blend-ed himself with the poorly devised scheme of imposture, about the time the book was issued from the press. He unworthily bore the title of a Baptist elder, but had, by some previous freak, if the author is rightly in-formed, lost his standing in that respectable religious denomination. Designing, ambi-tious and dishonest, under the semblance of sanctity and assumed spirituality, he was just the man for the use of the Smith house-hold and their half dupe and half designing abettors; and they were just the fit instru-ments he desired. He became at once the Hamlet, or more appropriately perhaps, the Mawworm of the play. Like the veiled Prophet Mokanna, he may be supposed thus to have soliloquised:
"Ye too, believers of incredible creeds,
Whose faith enshrines the monsters which it breeds;
Who bolder, even than Nimrod, think to rise
By nonsense heap'd on nonsense to the skies;
Ye shall have miracles, aye, sound ones too,
Seen, heard, attested, everything but true.
Your preaching zealots, too, inspired to seek
One grace of meaning for the things they speak;
Your martyrs ready to shed out their blood
For truths too heavenly to be understood."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"They shall have mysteries—aye, precious stuff,
For knaves to thrive by—mysterious enough;
Dark, tangled doctrines, dark as fraud can weave,
While craftier feign belief, till they believe."
Under the auspices of Rigdon, a new sect, the Mormons was projected. Proph-ecies fell thick and fast from the lips of Jo-seph; old Mrs. Smith assumed all the airs of a mother of a Prophet; that particular family of Smiths were singled out and be-came exalted above all their legion of name-sakes. The bold, clumsy cheat, found here and there an enthusiast, a monomaniac or knave, in and around its primitive locality, to help it upon its start; and soon, like another scheme of imposture, (that had a little of dignity and plausibility in it,) it had its Hegira, or flight, to Kirtland, then to Nauvoo; then to a short resting place in Missouri—and then on over the Rocky Mountains, to Utah or to the Salt Lake.—Banks, printing offices, temples, cities and finally a State, have arisen under its auspi-ces. Converts have multiplied to tens of thousands. In several of the countries of Europe, there are preachers and organized sects of Mormons; believers in the divine mission of Joseph Smith & Co.
And here the subject must be dismissed. If it has been treated lightly—with a seem-ing levity—it is because it will admit of no other treatment. There is no dignity about the whole thing; nothing to entitle it to a mild treatment. It deserves none of the charity extended to ordinary religious fa-natacism, for knavery and fraud has been with it incipiently and progressively. It has not the poor merit of ingenuity. Its success is a slur upon the age. Fanaticism promoted it at first; then ill-advised perse-cution; then the designs of demagogues who wished to command the suffrages of its followers; until finally an American Con-gress has abetted the fraud and imposition by its acts, and we are to have a State of our proud Union—in this boasted era of light and knowledge—the very name of which will sanction and dignify the fraud and falsehood of Mormon Hill, the gold plates and the spurious revelation. This much, at least, might have been omitted out of decent respect to the moral and religious sense of the people of the old States.
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