Sidney Rigdon – Part 3

Ok, I’ll continue an overall review of Sidney’s life.  We last left Sidney leaving Hiram, Ohio after a serious beating.  He, Joseph, and the rest of the Saints gathered in Kirtland, where they tried to establish the Law of Consecration, making all things equal among them.   They also built the Kirtland Temple, and had many miraculous visions.  I guess the thing that was interesting to me was to learn more about how the properties were handled.

We’ve all heard that the reason the United Order didn’t work was because the saints were too selfish and greedy, and couldn’t handle it.  When today’s church members look back on this time period, nobody really defines who the greedy people were.  The implication is that the general church membership was the problem, not Joseph Smith or the leadership.  We’ve often been told that Joseph was bad with money, and even have revelations telling us that.  While I believe that is true, Van Wagoner makes the case that real estate speculation was a big problem, and hints that Joseph and Sidney were anticipating real estate prices to go up, making them wealthy.

The plan was that the saints would gather in Kirtland.  Hopefully the new converts would heed the call, would be rich, and the laws of supply and demand would drive up real estate prices.  Of course, Joseph and the leadership would be the first to be there, and would be able to sell property at a profit.  The problem with the plan was that many of the new converts were very poor, and didn’t help with the plan.

I blogged previously about the Kirtland Bank Failure over at Mormon Matters, (for those having trouble viewing it, the post can also be found at LDS Sunday School.)  Van Wagoner goes into more detail than I did on this matter.  Many people were upset with Sidney, Joseph, and other leaders’ mishandling of bank funds.  Both Rigdon and Smith resigned about 6 months prior to the collapse of the bank.  When the bank did collapse, Joseph and Sidney piled on the new management, blaming them for the entire episode.

Just as in Hiram, Ohio, there were plenty of non-members who viewed the LDS United Order with great suspicion.  Many people fell away from the church, and joined with the anti-mormon forces, including high church officials, such as apostle William McClellin.  It got so bad, that the mormons pretty much deserted Kirtland, and headed for Independence, Missouri.

Independence had several issues.   Missouri was really the frontier, and had a bad reputation.  From some of my other studies, I have learned that Illinois citizens referred to people from Missouri as “Missouri pukes.”  They were a very rough people.  Being a slave state, Missourians didn’t like the Mormons abolitionist views.  With the mormons gathering together, current settlers were worried about Mormon political muscle, and were aware of Consecration problems in Ohio as well.

The Missourians quickly formed mobs, and attacked Mormons.  Tired of all the persecution, and leaving Hiram and Kirtland, the saints decided to fight back.  A group called the Danites was formed (apparently with the support of Smith), who attacked Missourians.  From page 247,

Although Mormons and non-Mormons alike were guilty of deplorable crimes during the fall of 1838, the older settlers and Missouri officials were inclined to blame all disturbances on the newcomers.  Had the Saints turned the other check to gentile atrocities perhaps they would eventually have been left alone.  But Rigdon’s and Smith’s combustible rhetoric, the clandestine Danite band’s illicit operations, and the candid anti-Mormon testimony by promininent dissidents–all of which clearly contributed to the conflict–stood as evidence that the Saints posed a bona fide threat to the peace and well-being of society.

Crimes against the Mormons, for which no one was ever charged, were regarded as an unfortunate by-product of the passion of a Mormon-instigated conflict.  This one-sided view led Missouri officials to focus exclusively on the malfeasance of Mormon elders, as though they alone were responsible for the uproar.”

The governor, upon learning of these attacks, soon issued the famous “Extermination Order” outlawing all Mormons in Missouri. Rather than fight, church leaders decided to turn themselves in, to prevent bloodshed as they realized the overwhelming opposition.  Joseph, Sidney, and other church leaders were arrested, and placed in Liberty Jail.  Some of Joseph’s revelations were received there, asking how long the Lord would stay his hand.  The jail conditions were terrible. From page 250,

The charges, according to Rigdon’s account, were “treason, murder, burglary, arson, larceny, theft and stealing.”

…[page 254]

Imprisonment was emotionally as well as physically trying.  Joseph Smith lamented, “our souls have been bowed down and we have suffered much distress…and truly we have had to wade, through and ocean of trouble.”  Hyrum Smith later complained that because of “my close and long confinement, as well as from the sufferings of my mind, I feel my body greatly broke[n] down and debilitated, my frame has received a shock from which it will take a long time to recover.”  Forty-five-year-old Rigdon, a fretful hand-wringer under stressful circumstances, was not a good companion.  While others bore taunts, bad food, unsanitary and crowded quarters, and fear of lynching, Rigdon’s frequent bouts of mania, followed by melancholic periods of whining, wore heavily on the others’ nerves.

During a preliminary hearing, most of the church leaders were tried as a group, being represented by non-mormon friend Alexander Doniphan.  (Doniphan had previously saved Joseph and others’ lives following the extermination order by defying a military command to have the prisoners executed.)  However Sidney chose to represent himself, and on page 254, “His unique rhetorical skills served him well.  When summoned to address the court, the still-infirm spokesman spoke from a cot on which he reclined….Judge Turnham, affected by the persuasive narrative, admitted Sidney to bail and immediate release.

The other prisoners were required to stay in jail, but Sidney felt he was actually safer in jail.  A fake escape attempt at night was formulated, about 10 days after the judge’s orders.  Sidney returned to Illinois after riding a few days on back roads through Missouri, where he assumed leadership of the church in Joseph and the other leader’s absence.

So, what do you make of these experiences?  Do you agree with the author’s idea that if the Mormons had endured the Missouri persecutions, that the persecutions would have eventually gone away?  After being kicked out of 2 cities in Ohio, would you have been able to turn the other cheek?  How culpable are the Mormons for the problems in Missouri?

3 comments on “Sidney Rigdon – Part 3

  1. I had some serious problems with Van Wagoner’s description of the Missouri events. I felt like his narrative presented a lot of disputed events as being accurate. I wish he would have qualified disputed assertions.

    After reading about the Danites for example, I Iooked around and found that the extent of Joseph’s involvement is pretty hotly debated. I’m ok with Van Wagoner taking a position, but I would have appreciated a heads up as to state of discussion and divergence of opinion on the matter. I felt that Bushman in Rough Stone Rolling was much better about letting the reader know that he was voicing an opinion and that there were other interpretations. Because I felt that I couldn’t really trust Van Wagoner on the Missouri stuff, it made wonder how much I could trust his interpretations elsewhere in the book.

    In order to understand the Missouri period better, I have acquired the LeSeuer book and the Baugh Dissertation. I have also been reading the biography of John Lowe Butler, who was a self proclaimed Danite and lifelong member (he is also my great grandfather’s grandfather). This is a lot of reading to try and get to the bottom things but what are going to do. Anyway, I suppose I can thank Van Wagoner for getting me going on this.

    Turn the other cheek–me? Probably not — would any human? I was raised believing that Mormons did turn the other cheek in the early days but I don’t believe that too much anymore. The early Mormons were no Gandis. And my direct ancestor John Lowe Butler wrote about swinging a bat at Gallatin and cracking heads — he sure didn’t turn a cheek and I take pride in his standing up for himself and his fellow Mormons. So am I and are Mormons really just like most everyone else — human?

  2. Make that LeSueur.

  3. It’s been so long since I read RSR, there are many parts I don’t remember, such as the Danites. I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to read the website someone listed in my Part 1 of Sidney–I’ll have to check it out. He says he is more poisitve toward Rigdon than Van Wagoner is. I’ll have to check out the website.

    I’ve come across some virulent anti-mormons who love to look at all the Danite atrocities and make mormons look bad. I know few mormons have heard of Danites, and I agree that they did break the law. But I have a hard time with people who refuse to acknowledge the atrocities committed by the mobs.

    I can even empathize with some in Missouri. If a bunch of Muslims moved into my neighborhood, wanted to buy my land, and/or wanted to convert everyone to Islam to make a theocracy, I’d probably have a problem with that. Our court system and justice system is less likely to allow the sort of mob violence that happened in the Missouri frontier. Mormons love to tout the persecution angle, while antis try to justify the bad behavior of the mobs by showing mormons were involved in bad actions as well. I think Van Wagoner does a pretty good job of showing that there were bad apples on both sides.

    Having said all that, if I was a follower of Joseph, I’d be pretty ticked off that mobs formed everywhere I went. I don’t think that I would have the disposition of Ghandi, allowing myself to be beaten without retaliation. I think mormons had every right to protect themselves, especially in light of the one-sided courts in Missouri.

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