Skip to main content
  1. Life
  2. Religion & Spirituality
  3. General Religion

“Mormonism and Masonry” by Samuel H. Goodwin, chap 3

See also

Within this series, we will reproduce the text of Mormonism and Masonry by Samuel H. Goodwin (1862-1951 AD) which was published in 1920 AD and is public domain. It was written to and for Masons/Freemasons.

Portions read like meeting minutes as it covers the inner workings of Masonic administration. Other portions deal with, as the book’s subtitled puts it, the “Origins, Connections and Coincidences Between Mason and Mormon Temple/Templar Rituals.”

CHAPTER III

Beginning of the practice of polygamy; Brigham Young’s statement to Schuyler Colfax; knowledge and practice of the principle extends; denials and explanation of the same; Bennett’s disaffection.

BUT, while the machinations of self-seeking, sycophantic politicians, and the venom and ill-feelings engendered in an extraneous squabble over the location of a county seat were each influential in the affairs of Nauvoo and its Masonry, neither was as baleful in its effects or as portentous of evil for all concerned as were certain events which even then were taking place within the community itself.

Exactly one month before the visit of Judge Douglas to Nauvoo, when he appointed John C. Bennett Master in Chancery, that is, April 5th, 1841, Joseph Smith took his first plural wife [1]. Although this, so far as available records show, was the first instance of the practice of polygamy, or the “great and glorious principle of plural marriage,” the doctrine had been taught by Smith, or strongly hinted at, to certain of his followers fully ten years earlier than this [2].

It was first impressed upon his mind in 1831 and immediately made known to a few of his close, personal friends, who in turn passed it on to others. But, beginning with the prophet’s marriage to Louisa Beaman in April, 1841, as noted above, the evidence is conclusive that plural marriage was abundantly practiced in Nauvoo during the two years immediately preceding the date at which the revelation was committed to writing, July 12, 1843. At the time when this revelation was given permanent form, as it appears in Doctrine and Covenants, the prophet had no less than twelve plural wives, and other leaders of the church had followed him quite extensively in this practice. However, it was not officially proclaimed as a doctrine of the church until some years subsequent to the settlement of the Saints in Utah [3].

The fact is worthy of noting here that on one occasion, at least, Brigham Young gave the impression that he was responsible for the revelation on plural marriage. He may not have been careful in the choice of his words, but certainly his language seems to convey that meaning [4].

Although, as stated elsewhere in these pages, Joseph Smith began teaching this principle, actively, within a year after settling at Nauvoo [5], he proceeded with the utmost caution. At first he confided it only to those in whom he had absolute confidence, and not to them until after he had exacted from them the most solemn assurances that they would keep the secret inviolable, for it was not yet lawful to proclaim it within hearing of the multitude. And secrecy was enjoined for the further reason that not only would this doctrine run counter to the traditions and prejudices of many of the Saints, but its proclamation would place a powerful weapon in the hands of their enemies [6]. However, the prophet did venture to test the feelings of the people concerning this doctrine, some time prior to the return of the apostles from Europe, namely, before July 1, 1841. On the occasion named he preached a sermon on the “Restoration of All Things,” in which he strongly hinted that the “patriarchal, or plural order of marriage, as practiced by the ancients, would again be established.” We learn that this statement created great excitement and consternation among those who heard the discourse, delivered at a morning service, so much so, in fact, that the prophet “deemed it wisdom, in the afternoon, to modify his statements by saying that possibly the Spirit had made the time seem nearer than it really was, when such things would be restored” [7].

But, though the prophet taught this doctrine in secret, and so far as possible guarded against a general knowledge of the same, he did not hesitate to bring pressure to bear to secure converts to its practice among those who were high in church esteem and authority. Three times he ordered his staunch friend and comrade Heber C. Kimball-“to go and take a certain woman as his wife” (plural) and finally, “Heber was told by Joseph that if he did not do this he would lose his apostleship and be dammed” [8].

From the evidence in hand the facts appear to be that, although at this time, that is, during the first half of the year 1841, a knowledge and an acceptance of the doctrine of a plurality of wives were confined to the leaders and principal men in the church, and that not all of them had been enlightened in this respect, within two years information on the subject had been quite generally disseminated among the people [9].

To believe that such a revolutionary practice could be taught and indulged in for any considerable length of time, and restrict a knowledge of that fact to those for whom it was intended; would place too great a tax upon our credulity, and would flatly contradict the teaching of experience concerning human nature. Besides, the presence of “apostates” in the community, and in adjoining settlements, some of whom had stood high in the councils of the church, would preclude the possibility of maintaining secrecy. Gradually, knowledge of what was going on in respect to plurality of wives percolated throughout the community, and was taken up and given trumpet-voice by the enemies of the church.

The “enforced secrecy which a reasonable prudence demanded,” with reference to the promulgation and practice of the doctrine of plural marriage, bore fruit in another perplexing and troublesome situation for the prophet and his followers, for it gave color to the charge of bad faith and double-dealing. The fact that the leaders of the church, and others prominent in its affairs, were practicing polygamy was a matter of common belief, if not of general knowledge. Yet, those same leaders did not hesitate to deny, directly and by implication, that such was the case, and to do this in such terms as to leave no room for any other construction. This conflict between the public utterances and the practices of Joseph Smith and others was used with telling effect by those who, for one reason or other, had entered the lists against the Mormons. A present-day historian and member of the church when considering the particular facts under review, regretfully admits that “wicked men took advantage of the situation and brought sorrow to the hearts of the innocent and reproach upon the church” [10].

An incident that occurred a few months before the prophet’s death illustrates the lengths to which the leaders would go in the matter of denials of this doctrine as having any place in the faith or practice of the Latter Day Saints, and may not unfairly be characterized as involving duplicity. It appears that an elder of the church, who had been taught this principle, was sent up into Lapeer County, Michigan, as a missionary. Whatever may have been the character of the instructions he was given, with reference to teaching this principle, his zeal outran his discretion. His preaching of the new evangel created such a stir in that region that the prophet was constrained to take official notice of the situation. This he did by publishing the following “Notice” in the church paper:

“As we have lately been credibly informed, that an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by the name of Hiram Brown, has been preaching Polygamy, and other false and corrupt doctrines, in the county of Lapeer, state of Michigan.

“This is to notify him and the church in general, that he has been cut off from the Church, for his iniquity; and he is further notified to appear at the Special Conference on the 6th of April next, to answer to these charges.

JOSEPH SMITH

HYRUM SMITH

Presidents of Said Church” [11].

When that “Notice” appeared in the Times and Seasons, both of the men whose names were attached to it were teaching and practicing polygamy, and Joseph Smith was the husband of not less than twenty wives [12].

In effect, that would seem to be a fairly plain denial of polygamy, as having any part or place in the church system of precept or practice. Other examples of denials, quite as pointed as the one given, and if anything, even more emphatic, are to be found in the literature of the church, some years after the prophet’s death. It appears, however, that such statements, and even the paragraphs in Doctrine and Covenants which deal with monogamy, are not to be considered as denials of the principle by church leaders, but rather, as “an evasion to satisfy popular clamour” [13].

Undoubtedly the disaffection of Dr. John C. Bennett, which occurred early in May, 1842, did more to focus attention upon the practice of polygamy by Joseph Smith and others in Nauvoo than any other event. The estimate one shall place on the character of this man, or how he shall be regarded, in the light of the strangely contradictory testimony concerning him, is not material to the purpose in view. He appears to have been a very devil incarnate, or a gentleman and a scholar, according to the point of view, or end to be served [14]. This much appears to be beyond dispute: he told the truth, and not “wicked lies about Joseph,” when he asserted that the prophet taught doctrines in secret that he dared not make public; that he practised polygamy and taught the principle in private and denounced it publicly; that one of his plural wives was Louisa Beaman, and that he assured his followers that “It is your privilege to have all the wives you want” [15]. The fact is equally beyond dispute that Bennett was in a position greatly to injure Joseph Smith, and no less certain that he used that power to the utmost. Indeed, the statement has been made by a recent writer that Bennett, more than any other person or influence, was responsible for the downfall of the Mormon power and church in Illinois [16].

One needs but to be reminded of the important part Bennett had played in church and community life to appreciate the character and extent of the peculiar power he held in his hands, and to understand why the prophet hastened to use such means as were available to discredit him before the world, in advance of the final rupture. For nearly, or quite, a year and a half, Bennett had been in a position to know the inner counsels of the leaders of the church, for he was himself one of those leaders. When he became a member of the church, he was Quarter Master General of the state of Illinois. He helped to draft the famous charters, and the bill for the incorporation of Nauvoo, and himself carried them up to Springfield, and successfully urged the passage of the act. He had served as the first mayor of Nauvoo under the new charter; he was second in command in the Nauvoo Legion; he had been appointed Master in Chancery by Judge Stephen A: Douglas, and for a time, he occupied Sidney Rigdon’s place as a member of the first presidency of the church, and with all the rest, he appears to have practiced his profession, that of a physician. By means of these various points of contact he would know-could not help knowing-what was going on in church and community.

That Joseph Smith did not underestimate Bennett’s power to do harm is apparent in the unusual steps taken to counteract his influence. Through lodge, church, legion, and city council-in all of which he had played a prominent part-the prophet moved to humiliate, discredit and overwhelm him. Finding these means insufficient to accomplish the ends sought, he called a special conference of the church, which assembled in Nauvoo early in August, of that year, “for the purpose of calling a number of elders to go out in different directions and by their preaching deluge the states with a flood of truth, to allay the excitement which had been raised by the falsehoods put in circulation by John C. Bennett.” Nearly four hundred men volunteered to do this work [17].

On his part, Bennett left no stone unturned that promised to be of service in his struggle with the prophet. He used voice and pen so persistently and effectively that Joseph Smith decided it to be the part of wisdom to go into seclusion for a time, to avoid officers from Missouri, whose attention had again been turned toward Nauvoo, by Bennett’s representations. For almost a month, immediately preceding the special conference referred to above, no one, outside of his family and a few of his closest friends, had any information as to his whereabouts. A passage in his journal gives an animated account of the effect of his unexpected appearance at that conference [18].

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Footnotes:

[1] Historical Record, vol. VI, pp. 232-33

[2] Rise and Fall of Nauvoo, Roberts, pp. 114-118; Historical Record, vol. VI, p. 219; Deseret News, May 20, 1886; Cf. History of the Church, Period 1, Joseph Smith, Roberts, vol. V, Introduction, pp. 29-46

[3] Deseret News, Extra, Sept. 14, 1852; Historical Record, Vol. VI, p. 227

[4] The incident referred to occurred on the occasion of Schuyler Colfax’s conversation with Brigham, June 17, 1865. The matter of polygamy was brought up by Brigham, himself, and in the course of his remarks he is reported to have declared that “... the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants declared for monogamy, but that polygamy was a later revelation commanded by God to him and a few others, and permitted and advised to the rest of the church.” From Schuyler Colfax’s Journal, quoted in The Western Galaxy, Vol. I, p. 247

[5] Historical Record, vol. VI, p. 221; Life of Heber C. Kimball, Whitney, pp. 331-332; History of the Church, Period 1, Joseph Smith, Roberts, vol. V, Introduction, p. 34

[6] Life of Heber C. Kimball, Whitney, pp. 333-335; One Hundred Years of Mormonism, Evans, p. 474; Succession in the Presidency of the Church, Roberts, p. 120; Biography of Lorenzo Snow, by his sister, E. R. Snow, p. 68

[7] The words quoted in the text are those of Helen Mar Kimball, a daughter of Apostle H. C. Kimball, who was married to the prophet in May, 1843. Life of Heber C. Kimball, Whitney, p. 338

[8] Life of Heber C. Kimball, Whitney, p. 335, 336, Note; Compare the prophet’s words to John Taylor, quoted by Roberts, Rise and Fall of Nauvoo, p. 117

[9] Historical Record, vol. VI, pp. 220-227; Rise and Fall of Nauvoo, Roberts, p. 118

[10] Rise and Fall of Nauvoo, Roberts, p. 118

[11] Times and Seasons, vol. V, p. 423; Cf. Historical Record, vol. Vl, p. 220

[12] Historical Record, vol. VI, pp. 233-34

[13] Milennial Star, vol. 45, p. 435. Concerning such denials, a church historian says that the leaders were obliged to make such denials because “ . . . .over-zealous advocates and ill-informed denunciators never truly represented the doctrine of the revelation on Marriage," and so, “the denial of these misstatements of the doctrine and its practice was not regarded by the leading elders of the church as a denial of the doctrine of the revelation; and while this may be considered a refinement in presentation that the world will not allow, it nevertheless represents a distinction that was real to those who were struggling with a difficult proposition, and accounts for the seeming denials made by John Taylor, public discussion wilt three ministers at Boulogne- sur-Mer, France, 1850.” History of the Mormon Church, Roberts, Americana, vol. VI, p. 297. Another high church authority explains: “Until the open enunciation of the doctrine of celestial marriage by the publication of the revelation on the subject in 1852, no elder was authorized to announce it to the world,” and so, “ . . . . . when assailed by enemies and accused of practicing things which were really not countenanced in the church, they were justified in denying those imputations and at the same time avoiding the avowal of such doctrines as were not yet intended for the world.” C. W. Penrose, Deseret News, May 29, 1886, quoted in Proceedings Smoot Investigation, vol. II, p. 967. Another, frankly admitting his own inability to account for such denials in view of the facts, acknowledged that he had “no sufficient explanation of them.” R. W. Young, Smoot Investigation, vol. II, p. 965 ; Other instances of such denials are, a letter by Hyrum Smith, Times and Seasons, vol. V, p. 474, and Journal of Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Period 1, Joseph Smith, Roberts, vol. VI, p. 46_ See also, Joseph F. Smith, Historical Record, vol. VI, p. 220

[14] Historical Record, vol. VII, p. 495 ; History of the Saints, John C. Bennett, pp. 10-35; History of the Church, Period 1, Joseph Smith, Roberts, vol. V, Introduction and pp. 67-83. Less than a year before the rupture mentioned in the text, the editors of the church paper wrote, in answer to an editorial in the Warsaw Signal, “General Bennett’s character as a gentleman, an officer, a scholar, and physician stands too high to need defending by us, suffice it to say, that he is in the confidence of the executive, holds the office of Quarter Master General of the state, and is well known to a large number of persons of the first respectability throughout the state. He has likewise been favorably known for upwards of eight years by some of the authorities of the church, and has resided three years in the state.” Times and Seasons, vol. II, pp. 431-32

[15] The History of the Saints, Bennett, pp. 256, 287 ; Rise and Fall of Nauvoo, Roberts, p. 118 ; Historical Record, vol. VI, pp. 221, 233; vol. VII, p. 495. Cf. Wm. Clayton’s statement, in which he quotes the prophet’s words: “It is your privilege to have all the wives you want.” Historical Record, vol. VI, p. 225. With Clayton’s sworn statement, read Hyrum Smith’s letter to the “Latter Day Saints living on China Creek,” in which he denies that such doctrine was taught. Times and Seasons, vol. V, p. 474

[16] Masonic Voice-Review, (new series) vol. X, p. 334

[17] Times and Seasons, vol. III, pp. 870-74; History of the Church, Period 1, Joseph Smith, Roberts, vol. V, pp. 71-82; 137-39; Historical Record, vol. VII, p. 500; The History of the Saints, Bennett, Preface

[18] History of the Church, Period 1, Joseph Smith, Roberts, vol. V, p. 137

~~~~~~~~~

Feel free to take advantage of the free subscription to this page so that you will get an email notification when something is posted herein—see subscribe link above, next to my name…or just CTRL+F and search for “subscribe.”

Find us on:

Main (repository) homepage

Facebook

Twitter

YouTube

Advertisement

Related Videos: