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1840_4-MORMONS OR LATTER DAY SAINTS.
Joe Smith—Prophetic Mission-Followers Remove to Missouri-Ex
pulsion from the State, Settlement in Illinois-Obnoxious Nauvoo Charter and Ordinances-- Arrest and Acquittal of Smith-His Assassination.
In the spring of 1840, a religious sect styled Mormons or Latter Day Saints, made its advent in Illinois, and located on the east bank of the Mississippi, in the county of Hancock. This strange people had previously resided in Missouri, but having been guilty of larceny and other crimes, they sought refuge in Illinois to escape the indignation of the inhabitants and the penalties of outraged law. They purchased a considerable tract of land and commenced building a city, which they called Nauvoo, a name signifying peaceable or pleasant. Joseph Smith, the founder and pretended prophet of the religion, was born at Sharon, Windsor county, Vermont, Dec. 230, 1805. His parents being in humble circumstances, the prophet's opportunities for acquiring knowledge in early life were limited, and when to the want means is added the want of capacity, it is not strange that he lived and died a person of ordinary attainments.
In 1815 his father left Vermont, and settled on a farm near Palmyra, Wayne county, New York, where young Smith began to exhibit the traits which distinguished his subsequent life. Both be and his father became famous as water wizzards, professing to discover the presence of water in the earth from the movements of a green rod, and offering their services to point out suitable localities for the digging of wells. Many anecdotes formerly existed, respecting the vagrant habits of the son, who spent most of his time wandering in the woods, dreaming of hidden treasures, and endeavoring to find them by the use of charms. Such was the character of the young profligate when he made the acquaintance of Sidney Rigdon, a person of some intelligence and natural ability, who had conceived the design of starting a new religion. A religious romance, written by a Presbyterian clergyman of Ohio, who was then dead, falling into the hands of Rig. don, suggested this idea, and finding in Smith the requisite duplicity and cunning to reduce it to practice, it was agreed that he should act in the capacity of prophet. They then devised the story that Smith had discovered golden plates buried in the earth, near Palmyra, containing a record engraved in unknown characters, and that this romance was a translation of the inscription.
The fiction purports to be a history of the ten lost tribes of Israel, giving an account of their wanderings in Asia and subsequent emigration to America, where they flourished as a nation, and where Christ in due time appeared and established his religion as he had done among the Jews. It also contained the history of the American christians for several hundred years afterward, when in consequence of their wickedness, judgments were visited upon them and they were destroyed. According to the account several powerful nations inbabiting the continent were engaged in war, and at last a decisive battle was fought, between the Lamanites or heathen, and the Nephites, or Christian, and the latter were defeated. This mighty contest, called the battle of Cumorah, was fought at Palmyra, New York; hundreds of thousands were killed on both sides, and all the Nephites, except a few who fled to the southern part of the continent, were exterminated. Among the survivors were Mormon and his son Moroni, who were righteous men, and who were directed by God to engrave the history of these important events on plates of gold and deposit them in the earth for the benefit of future generations.
Smith pretends that when he arrived at the age of fifteen he began to reflect on the necessity of preparing for a future state of existence, but the nature of the preparation was an unsettled question in his mind. He regarded this a consideration of intinite importance, for if he did not understand the way it was impossible to walk in it, and the thought of resting his soul's salvation on uncertainties was more than he could endure. If he sought information of the different sects of religion, they all claimed to be right, but as their doctrines were in many respects in direct conflict, it is impossible for most of them to be true. The vital issue to be determined was, if any of the conflicting systems of theology prevalent in the world are correct, which one is it; and until this question was decided he could not rest content. Under these circumstances he concluded to study the scriptures, and soon be. came convinced that if he sought wisdom of God he would be enabled to judge which of the opposing creeds conformed to the teachings of Christ. He therefore retired to a grove, in the vicinity of his father's house, and kneeling down, commenced calling on the Lord. At first the powers of darkness endeavored to overcome him, but continuing in prayer the darkness fled away, and he was enabled to ask for knowledge with great faith and fervency of spirit. While thus pouring out bis soul in supplication, there appeared in the heavens above a bright and glorious light, which, as it drew near the tops of the trees increased in splendor and magnitude, the whole wilderness glowed with the most brilliant illumination. He expected to see the foliage of the trees consumed, but not perceiving any effect produced, he was encouraged to hope that he also would be able to abide its pres. ence, and quickly he was enveloped in the midst of it without sus. taining any injury. The natural objects about him soon vanished and he was caught away in a heavenly vision, in which two glorious personages appeared and informed him that his sins were forgiven, and that none of the existing eclesiastical organizations were accepted by God as his church and kingdom. After being especially informed not to go after 'them, and promised that in the fullness of time the true gospel should be made known to him, the vision disappeared.
Notwithstanding tliis glorious announcement, he afterward became entangled in the vanities of the world, but seeing the error of his way, and truly repenting, it pleased God to again hear his prayers. On the 21st of Sept., 1823, he retired to rest as usual, when his soul was filled witli a desire to commune with some messenger who could make known the principles of the true church and his acceptance with God as promised in the former vision. While in this state of mind, suddenly a splendor, purer and more glorious than the light of day, burst into the room and the entire building was illuminated as if filled with a consuming fire. The unexpected appearance of a light so brilliant, caused in his whole system a shock which was soon followed by peace of mind and overwhelming raptures of joy. In the midst of this bappiness a personage stood before him, whose stature was above the ordinary height of man, whose garments were perfectly white and without seam. Notwithstanding the glare which filled the room, the glory which accompanied him enhanced its brightness, and though his countenance was as lightning, the benignity of its expression banished all fear. This glorious being informed him that he was an angel sent from God to declare the joyful tidings that the covenant which had been made with ancient Israel concerning their posterity, was about to be fulfilled, and that the second coming of the Messiah was at hand, when the Gospel would be preached in its purity and a people prepared for the millennial reign of universal peace and joy. He was also informed that the American Indians were a remnantof the ancient Hebrews, who had come to the country; that for several hundred years after their arrival they enjoyed a knowledge of the true God, and that their sacred writings contain an account of the principal events that transpired among them during this interval. When, however, they neglected the religion of their fathers most of them perished. in battle, but at the command of God, their sacred oracles were entrusted to a surviving prophet who buried them in the earth to prevent their falling into the hands of the wicked, who sought to destroy them. He was then told if he continued faithful he would be the highly favored instrument of bringing these important documents to light, but it must be done for the glory of God and none could be entrusted with them who would use them for selfish purposes. After giving him many instructions concerning the past and future, the heavenly messenger disappeared and the glory of God withdrew, leaving the mind of the prophet in perfect peace. Not many days thereafter, the vision was renewed and the angel appearing, pointed out the place where the records were deposited, and directed him to go immediately and view them.
According to the Mormon account they were deposited in a stone box, buried in the side of a hill, 3 miles from the village of Manchester, New York. When Smith first visited the depository, September 22d, 1823, the crowning stone was visible above the surface and a slight effort brought the contents to view. The words were beautifully engraved in Egyptian characters, on both sides of plates, eight inches long and seven inches wide, having the thickness of tin and the appearance of gold. Three rings passing through the edges of the plates united them in the form
of a book about six inches in thickness. Besides the plates the box contained two transparent stones, clear as crystal, the Urim aud Thummim of ancient seers, by which they obtained revelations of things past and future.
While contemplating the sacred treasure the heavens were opened, the glory of God shone about him, and he was filled with the Holy Ghost. The heavenly messenger who had visited him on previous occasions, again stood in his presence and said, look; and as he spake he beheld the power of darkness with an immense retinue of associates flee away. The angel instructing him declared that it was then impossible to possess the records, that they could only be obtained by prayer and faithfulness in serving God who had preserved them, not for the temporal but the spiritual welfare of the world. In them is contained the Gospel of Christ as it was delivered to bis people of this land, and when brought forth by the power of God it shall be preached to the nations; the Gentiles receiving will be saved and Israel obeying it will be brought into the fold of the Redeemer. After it is known that the Lord has shown you these things the wicked will endeavor by falsehoods to destroy your reputation; nay, they will even attempt your life, but you observe the commandments, and in due time you shall bring them forth. When interpreted the Lord will appoint a holy priesthood, who will proclaim the Gospel, baptize with water, and have power to confer the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. In due time the ten tribes of Israel shall be revealed in the north country, where they for a long time have resided. The knowledge of the Lord shall be greatly extended, and your name shall be known among the nations by the works which shall be wrought by your hand.
On the 22d of September, 1827, after a probation of four years, during which he was frequently counseled by the angel, the records were delivered into his hands. When it was known among the inhabitants of the surrounding country that the prophet had seen visions and discovered the records, he was not only ridiculed and slandered but waylaid and assaulted, for the pur. pose of destroying the plates. These persecutions increased to such an extent that the house in which he lived was frequently beset by mobs, and finding his life thus exposed to constant dan. ger he concluded to leave the place and go to Pennsylvania. During the journey thither he was twice overtaken by officers with search-warrants for the plates, but they failed in the accomplishment of their designs. After arriving in the northern part of Pennsylvania, where his father-in-law resided, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim, he made the translation of the plates known as the book of Mormon. This translation is from an abridgment composed by Mormon from the sacred writings of his forefathers, with additions subsequently made by his son Maroni, who survived him. The latter, in his continuation of the narrative, informs us that the Lamonites destroyed all the Nephites who escaped the battle of Curmorah, except such as forsook their religion, and that he, for the preservation of his own life, was compelled to hide himself.
This story, in its pretended miracles, visions and prophecies, is like other forgeries of the kind, which at different times have been imposed on the credulity of mankind. As dishonesty and igno
rance will always exist, it may yet flourish and exert upon the future of the race an ivfluence as controling as that of other systems which have preceded it in the past. While the holiest affections of the heart cluster about the religious element of man's nature, there is also a weakness connected with it which in all ages of the world has subjected him to the grossest impositions. In his social aud political relations he exbibits a sagacity which, if it does not always protect him against abuse, is at least divested of the superstition which beclouds his religious aspirations and so frequently makes him the dupe of falsehood. He insists in bis secular investigations upon the most rigid inductions, theories are subjected to the most searching analysis, and no doctrine can obtain credence unless sustained by indubitable facts; but in theol. ogy vague conjecture is substituted for positive knowledge, and errors which outrage the character of Deity and imbruit the intellect of man are accepted without even questioning their authenticity. To this infirmity of human nature, and the cupidity of designing men, Mormonism and other similar delusions owe their origin. If the parties who originate and manage them are intelligent they give them plausibility, but this is not important, for no system can be devised so absurd that fools will not believe it, and that knaves will not be found to profit by their ignorance.
According to the statements of the saints, after the book of Mormon was translated, the Lord raised up witnesses to testify to its truth. Oliver Cowdry, Daniel Whitmore and Martin Harris thus affirm: “We certify that we have seen the plates which contain the records ; that they were translated by the gift and power of God, for bis voice hath declared it unto us, wherefore we know that the work is true, and declare with words of soberness that an angel of God came down from heaven and laid the plates before our eyes, and we saw the engravings on them.” Eight other witnesses also declare : “Joseph Smith, the translator of this work, hath shown us the plates herein spoken of, which have the appearance of gold, and as many of the leaves as the said Smith bath translated we have handled with our hands, and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which bad the appearance of ancient and curious workmanship.” The parties connected with these certificates were no doubt accomplices in the fraud, for if humanity could furnish a spawn base enough to originate the deception, plenty of men could be found sufficiently degraded to assist in its promulgation.
Another statement is given respecting the plates, by those in the confidence of the prophet, wbich does not coincide with the above certificates. It is said that the early followers of the prophet were desirous of seeing the plates, and importuning him for the privilege, he told them that they could not be seen by the carnal eye, that they must obtain a lively faith by fasting and prayer if they would have their holy curiosity gratified. Acting upon his suggestion, they engaged in continuous supplications that the hidden things of God might be made manifest, and when finally becoming impatient, Smith produced the box containing the treasure and opened it in their midst. Not seeing anything in it, they said, “Brother Joseph, we do not see the plates.” The prophet answering said "Oh ye of little faith, how long will God bear with a wicked and perverse generation ? Down