Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet
by Dan Vogel
Moroni, Military Hero
The concluding chapters of the Book of Alma (Alma 45-62) with all the details of war and military tactics that comprise Helaman’s military history seem incongruous within the religious context of the Book of Mormon to this point. In some respects, Helaman’s narrative is not unlike the Old Testament portrayal of holy wars and inspired military leaders. But there is more at play here than a faith-promoting story. Within weeks, Joseph Smith will predict a civil war in America in which religious people will unite with Indian tribes to destroy the United States government and vanquish unrepentant gentiles in order to found a New Jerusalem (3 Ne. 20:16, 20-21).1 In this context, Helaman’s account is intended as a model for latter-day warriors who, Smith believes, will soon battle for the establishment of Zion.
This militarism portends Smith’s future activities in Missouri and Illinois as leader of the paramilitary “Zion’s Camp” in 1834, commander of the “Army of Israel” in 1838, and lieutenant general of the Nauvoo Legion in the 1840s. Clearly, Smith’s concept of what a prophet is included elements akin to the eighteenth-century Anabaptists who captured the city of Munster, for instance, and exceeded American sensibilities.2 This militancy, which was evident from the beginning, would be a discomfiting aspect of Smith’s message and mission for many people.
Helaman’s thirteen-year military history begins about 73 B.C. and is reminiscent of the War of 1812 when British forces united with Indians to attack from Canada, laying siege to and capturing several fortifications. Invaders burned Washington, D.C., before they were repelled by the American troops. The British received a stunning defeat in the Battle of New Orleans, from which General Andrew Jackson emerged a national hero. The most threatening war since the Revolution, the War of 1812 was lauded by nineteenth-century Americans as a triumph of freedom over monarchy. Nevertheless, the war uncovered America’s vulnerabilities where the British forged alliances with Canadians and Indians.
Despite Helaman’s efforts to reform the church, people grew proud because of their wealth (Alma 45:20-24). Similar to the Second Great Awakening which began in the 1790s and continued sporadically into the 1820s, Helaman’s attempt at reformation broke up into “many little dissensions and disturbances” (v. 21). Taking advantage of the division, a faction emerged to overthrow the Nephite theocracy and establish a monarchy with one Amalickiah intended to be the king.3 Some in the church joined the monarchists, we are told, with additional support from “the lower judges of the land” (46:1-7)—“Thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi exceedingly precarious and dangerous” (v. 7).
I suggest that Amalickiah is loosely based on Andrew Jackson and that the preceding description reflects the rhetoric of the 1828 U.S. presidential campaign. Jackson’s political opponents, especially in western New York, exploited his affiliation with Freemasons. In the western part of the country, anti-Masons had been especially active since the 1826 abduction and murder of William Morgan, an apostate Mason from Batavia. When only a few Masons were convicted and then given light sentences, people suspected sabotage of the legal machinery. Anti-Masons charged that this group already controlled the “lower judges” and were seeking to establish a Masonic monarchy in America with the election of Jackson.4
Enter Moroni—Nephite military hero and quasi-born-again Andrew Jackson.5 In the ensuing account, Moroni heroically fights off dissenters and Lamanites and saves the faltering Nephite nation from destruction (Alma 43-62). Moroni is every bit the military hero and patriot that Jackson was except that Moroni fights not only for his country but also for God and church, even consulting the prophet Alma for military advice. His is a holy war, and he rouses his countrymen when he rips a large piece of cloth from his coat and writes on it: “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children” (46:12).
After attaching this “title of liberty” on a pole, Moroni kneels and prays “for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land” (46:13-14; emphasis added)—words that validated the importance of religion in Jacksonian America’s struggle for survival. Moroni’s banner of liberty, which became the Nephites’ national flag (v. 36), substitutes for the stars and stripes.
Waving the banner above his head, Moroni commands all who support him to make a covenant, which they do by “rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments” (46:21).6 The people declare that they “covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression” (v. 22). This was a broad hint to Jacksonians that secularization and a seeming disregard for the religious welfare of the nation would be fatal.
Seeing that Moroni’s supporters are more numerous than his, Amalickiah and his followers head south for the Lamanite border. Moroni’s armies overtake and capture them, although Amalickiah and a small number manage to escape. Having authority from the chief judge, Moroni orders his men to execute any captive refusing to join the fight for freedom (46:35; 51:15). The decisiveness reminds one of General Jackson’s execution of six mutineers in September 1814, which Jackson’s opponents exploited during the 1828 campaign. John Binns, editor of the Philadelphia Democratic Press, dramatized Jackson’s “needless cruelty” by reprinting a widely circulated picture of six black coffins depicting the six militiamen executed during the Indian war, bearing the title “Account of some of the Bloody Deeds of GENERAL JACKSON.”7 The response from Jackson was that the scoundrels had received their just desserts.8 While Jackson worried his superiors with his unorthodox, arbitrary, and frequently independent exercise of power, Moroni acted in accordance with the “voice of the people” and due consideration to “the governor of the land” (51:15).
Moroni’s intolerance for those not willing to fight for freedom is contrasted with his respect for the Anti-Nephi-Lehi pacifists (Alma 43:11; 53:10-23). Similarly, in an attempt to win Quaker votes, Jacksonians claimed that as a member of the Tennessee Constitutional Convention, Jackson had advanced a proposition “to exempt Quakers from military duty.” Given Jackson’s reputation, Quakers were wary of this olive leaf.9
Meanwhile, Amalickiah ingratiates himself with the king of the Lamanites and persuades him to attack the Nephites. A majority of the Lamanites refuse to be conscripted and flee to Onidah, a name seemingly inspired by the Oneida Indians of New York State. Frustrated, the Lamanite king does the unthinkable. He appoints Amalickiah, a despised Nephite foreigner, as commander of his army and orders him to attack the deserters in Onidah (Alma 47:1-3). The appointment of Amalickiah is reckless and impolitic and will prove fatal for the Lamanite king.
Leading the army to the land of Onidah, Amalickiah places his men near Mount Antipas where the deserters have withdrawn for tactical advantage. Betraying his own men, Amalickiah three times sends a “secret embassy” by night to Lehonti, leader of the dissenters, asking for a secret meeting. The cautious Lehonti refuses, so Amalickiah climbs the hill to Lehonti’s camp and again sends for him “the fourth time” (47:5-12). One is reminded of Smith’s four attempts to meet and negotiate with the guardian of the gold plates on the Manchester hill.
The two generals finally meet, and Amalickiah proposes to turn over his command to Lehonti, provided that Amalickiah be made second in command over the united forces (47:13). When Amalickiah’s army awakens the following morning, they find themselves surrounded by Lehonti’s men and can do nothing but “fall in with their brethren” and become a single force (v. 15). Amalickiah nevertheless conspires with a servant to “administer poison by degrees to Lehonti” (47:18), who dies. Amalickiah thus becomes chief commander of the united Lamanite forces.
Note the dynamics of this story. The Lamanite nation is at odds with itself and on the verge of self-destruction until Amalickiah steps in and does what is necessary to unite the military under his leadership. Interestingly, this is accomplished through deception and betrayal of a man named Lehonti, a possible link to father Lehi. However, Lehonti’s subsequent death by poisoning calls to mind Alvin, Joseph’s surrogate father, who died of poisoning. Although Joseph had nothing to do with this, he may have felt guilt about stepping into his older brother’s role. It is common for surviving siblings to feel such guilt, especially if the misfortune was preceded by envy. Nevertheless, Alvin’s death helped Joseph move closer to uniting his family under his leadership.10
Amalickiah marches toward the city of Nephi, the Lamanite capital. The king comes to greet Amalickiah and is first met by Amalickiah’s servants who bow reverently. As the king takes each man by the hand and raises him up—a Lamanite token of peace—the first man stabs the king in the heart (47:21-24).11 The royal servants flee for their lives, giving Amalickiah opportunity to blame them for the assassination. Rushing to the scene, Amalickiah “pretends to be wroth” and sends troops after the servants to avenge the king’s death (47:25-28). The army pursues them to the border of the Nephite lands where the servants will eventually join Ammon’s Lamanite converts, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, in the northern land of Jershon.
Amalickiah beguiles the queen by presenting his own servants as witnesses to the king’s assassination and then thoroughly charms her to the point of eventually marrying her,12 thereby becoming king of the Lamanites: “And thus by his fraud, and by the assistance of his cunning servants, he obtained the kingdom” (47:34-35). It will be remembered that Joseph too aspires to become his family’s leader. Ostensibly honoring his father as the patriarch of the family, Joseph’s deceptions, which begin on a hill, allow him to supercede and replace his father as leader of the family as Nephi did Lehi and as is mirrored in some ways in the story of Amalickiah and Lehonti and the king.13
About 72 B.C., Amalickiah sends his armies against the Nephites, this time heavily armored, beginning with a march against the city of Ammonihah, the same city the Lamanites previously turned into the Desolation of Nehors (cf. Alma 16:11). Amalickiah knows that the city has been rebuilt but does not know it has been heavily fortified by Moroni. Thus, the Lamanites are frustrated in their attack. “But behold, how great was their disappointment,” Mormon editorializes. “For behold, the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect, neither could they come upon them save it was by their place of entrance” (49:4).
In anger, the Lamanites turn away and, with a determined oath, march toward the nearby city of Noah, which they discover to be heavily fortified by the army of Lehi (49:12-20). Frustrated, the Lamanites attack anyway (v. 18) and suffer over a thousand losses in attempting to breach the entrance. Not one Nephite is killed (vv. 21-24). The Lamanites withdraw to their own land.
When Amalickiah learns of his army’s defeat, he vows to drink Moroni’s blood (49:25-2; cf. 1 Chron. 11:19). But for an unexplained reason, he does not attack the Nephites for another five years, not even responding to Moroni’s purge of the eastern wilderness (v. 7).
Meanwhile, Moroni continues fortifying Nephite cities and making preparations for war. He instructs his armies to “commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all the land which was possessed by the Nephites. And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities. And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high. And he caused towers to be erected that overlooked those works of pickets, and he caused places of security to be built upon those towers, that the stones and the arrows of the Lamanites could not hurt them” (50:1-4).
Given the presence of fortification mounds in the Great Lakes region, many of these mounds within Smith’s personal observation, this description of Moroni’s fortifications makes sense. While we are given scant details about the temples and palaces in the Book of Mormon, the Nephite fortifications are portrayed in great detail and in accord with what was generally understood about these sites, although in the Book of Mormon they are built in the land southward rather than in the northeast. Mormon scholar B. H. Roberts remarked in 1890 that whoever built the Ohio fortifications certainly “knew something of Moroni’s system of fortification-building.”14
In 1820 Caleb Atwater, postmaster of Circleville, Ohio, published in Archaeologia Americana his “Description of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States.” Several of the earthen fortifications were protected by ditches and trenches, and among the works near Chillicothe, Ohio, he wrote, “is a circular work, containing between seven and eight acres, whose walls are not now more than ten feet high, surrounded with a ditch.” Of a fort near Circleville which included two circular walls separated by a deep ditch, he wrote: “The round fort was picketed in, if we are to judge from the appearance of the ground on and about the walls. Half way up the outside of the inner wall, is a place distinctly to be seen, where a row of pickets once stood, and where it was placed when this work of defense was originally erected.”15 Other observers conjectured that the walls had been topped with wooden pickets. Thaddeus Harris, who visited the Ohio sites in 1803, wrote:
It is not unlikely, also, that these “fenced cities,” were rendered secure by a wooden wall or palisade on the top of the parapet; and that the passages were gate-ways, protected by towers built over them. From one of these to another is about two arrowshots; so that the archers in the towers would be able to defend the whole distance of the wall between them; while those in front could ward off the assailants at the passage.16
If published descriptions of these archaeological sites were not accessible to Smith, the mounds themselves were. DeWitt Clinton described fortifications in the vicinity of Smith’s home—works near such towns as Onondaga, Pompey, Manlius, Oxford, Scipio, Jamesville, Ridgway, Canandaigua, and others.17 Smith would have seen these mounds at least from a distance even if he didn’t see them up close. Historian Fawn Brodie estimated that there were at least eight mounds within twelve miles of the Smith farm in Manchester.18 There was an Indian burial mound in Clifton Springs, a little more than five miles south of the Smith farm.19 About ten miles away, near Victor, was an ancient fortification that showed evidence of having been picketed.20 There were three mounds ten miles south of the farm in Canandaigua where the Smiths occasionally conducted business. East of Canandaigua on the road to Geneva was the circular wall of one of New York’s most famous ancient fortifications.21
On his way to South Bainbridge and Harmony, Smith probably passed through Geneva, about seventeen miles southeast of the Smith home, near which were three fortifications, at least one showing evidence of where lumber poles had stood.22 When Smith traveled to Chenango County to dig for money, he passed near mounds in Norwich, Greene, and Oxford.23 After describing the banks of earth and the ditches found in Oxford, Clinton wrote in 1817: “Probably this work was picketed in, but no remains of any wooden work have been discovered.”24 The Oxford Gazette for 19 November 1823 speculated that it was “most probable” that the circular walls of earth had been “picketed.”25
While Moroni’s fortifications were constructed in the “land southward,” many early writers linked the North American mounds to ruins in Mexico, Central America, and Peru. James Sullivan asserted in 1795, for instance, that the Ohio mounds and fortifications “must have been raised by the people of Mexico and Peru, because the northern nations never possessed the art.”26 Thaddeus Harris said in 1805 that burial mounds and fortifications were of “the same structure” as those in Mexico.27 John Yates and Joseph Moulton, in their 1824 History of the State of New York, saw the ruins of their state as part of one great project:
These remains of art may be viewed as connecting links of a great chain, which extends beyond the confines of our state, and becomes more magnificent and curious as we recede from the northern lakes, pass through Ohio into the great vale of the Mississippi, thence to the Gulf of Mexico, through Texas into New Mexico and South America. In this vast range of more than three thousand miles, these monuments of ancient skill gradually become more remarkable for their number, magnitude, and interesting variety, until we are lost in admiration and astonishment.28
Such descriptions implied that these structures were engineered by one group— the so-called mound builders who were thought to have originated in the north and then migrated south to Mexico and Peru, building greater and greater mounds. But others believed that the group originated in the south and was pushed into North America by savage tribes. The fortifications in the Great Lakes region were a last desperate effort at defense, according to this view—the view that is supported by the Book of Mormon.
That the descriptions of stone buildings, vast palaces, and huge temples in the Book of Mormon tend to be sketchy and the fortifications are described in such elaborate detail suggests that Smith knew of the ruins in Mexico and Peru but had firsthand knowledge of the fortification mounds. Perhaps as a youth he had stood on the ridges of the Canandaigua fortification and tried to imagine its original appearance and the possible battle that he assumed had occurred there.
Moroni’s preparations for war are extensive, for he raises fortifications “round about every city in all the land” (50:6). He drives away Lamanites inhabiting the wilderness along the eastern seashore and begins constructing fortified cities along the southern border dividing the two nations (vv. 7-15). Thus, the battle line becomes more distinct with Nephites controlling all of the land north of the line (v. 11).
About 68 B.C., the chief judge over the Nephites, Nephihah, dies and his son Pahoran succeeds him (50:37-40). His succession is challenged by the upper classes, who desire a return to a monarchy (51:2-8). The monarchists send “petitions” demanding that “a few particular points of the law should be altered” (v. 2). Pahoran refuses to change the law because it would “overthrow the free government” of the people (v. 5). Those who support the changes are known as “king-men” and those who oppose them are “freemen” (vv. 5, 6). When the matter is finally put to a vote, the freemen win (v. 7). The matter is far from settled and the timing is unfavorable—the Book of Mormon calls it a “critical time” (v. 9)—because the Lamanites are about to invade. When Amalickiah attacks about 67 B.C., the king-men refuse to take up arms (vv. 12-13). Moroni marches against them, killing 4,000 king-men, imprisoning their leaders, and forcing the remainder to raise the “title of liberty” on their towers (vv. 18-21).
The terms “king-men” and “freemen” point to loyalists (Tories) and supporters of the American Revolution. There is also a parallel to the Federalists during the War of 1812.29 The Federalists disapproved of the war and refused to participate. When war was declared Massachusetts lowered its flags to half-mast. Secret meetings were held as New Englanders contemplated a separate peace with Britain. Near the end of the war, a convention at Hartford, Connecticut, protested that “Mr. Madison’s war” was running the country into financial ruin. They issued a proclamation demanding seven amendments to the Constitution. Enemies charged them with treason. “Most Republican editors,” writes historian Carol Sue Humphrey, “accused the Federalists of plotting against the government.”30 Republican editor Henry Wheaton branded the anti-war Federalists “the British party in America.”31 Although inaccurate, the Federalists were linked to the disloyal Tories of 1776 and never fully recovered from this stigma. Indeed, it contributed to the Federalists’ disintegration and ultimate demise.
The post-Revolutionary image of freemen standing up to a monarchy was revived by anti-Masons of the late 1820s and early 1830s who charged Masons were attempting to overthrow free government and establish an American royalty. The Reverend Lebbeus Armstrong warned in 1830: “Let masonry prevail and prosper, and the deplorable results may be looked for, of a Masonic Monarchy for our form of government. … Then might be written with tears and blood, America is fallen!”32 Through publication of his 1827 book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Tendency of Speculative Free-Masonry,33 John G. Stearns, according to historian William Preston Vaughn, “led the way in expounding the theory that Masonry was a state within a state and that one day Masons would overthrow the democratic government of the United States and would crown one of their ‘grand kings’ as ruler of this nation.”34 The election of Jackson the next year meant that the anti-Masons’ worst fears had been realized.35
Reflecting British attacks on Baltimore and Maine from the sea during the War of 1812, the Lamanites attack the newly founded city of Moroni on the southern border near the eastern sea (51:22). Despite its fortifications, Amalickiah takes possession of this and several nearby cities (vv. 23-26). Working his way up the east coast, Amalickiah eventually comes to the northern land of Bountiful (v. 28)36 and is about to go through the narrow pass when he is headed off by Teancum’s men (vv. 29-31).37 After a long battle, the two armies retire for the night.
It is New Year’s Eve when Teancum and a servant enter the Lamanite camp and murder Amalickiah by putting a javelin through his heart. Upon returning to his own camp, Teancum tells his men of the assassination and advises them to prepare for possible retaliation (51:32-37). Smith’s lack of military experience is likely responsible for the incongruities in this story. It is difficult to believe that all of the enemy were asleep, that there were no spies watching for Teancum’s army, no guard, especially at the king’s tent, or that Teancum himself, along with just one servant, were able to perform the dangerous mission without any of his own men knowing.
Upon finding Amalickiah’s body in the morning and seeing Teancum’s readiness to fight, the Lamanites withdraw into the city of Mulek (52:1-2). Amalickiah’s brother, Ammoron, is chosen as his successor and begins gathering the army for a western attack (vv. 3, 12).
Meanwhile, Teancum lays siege to several cities and fortifies others. Securing the narrow pass, he anxiously awaits the arrival of reinforcements (52:5-12), but help is not quick in arriving and Moroni contends with enemy forces in the southwest (v. 12). Similar to the War of 1812, the Nephite-Lamanite war has two fronts. Although the British attacked cities along the east coast, which corresponds to the Lamanite occupation of the eastern wilderness,38 the major theaters of conflict were in the north on the American-Canadian border and in the southwest in the Battle of New Orleans.
The next year, about 65 B.C., after securing the southwest border, Moroni and a portion of his army join Teancum in the northern city of Bountiful to prepare to retake Mulek (52:15-18). Some two years after the siege has begun, Moroni, Teancum, and the chief captains hold a “council of war” to discuss how to finally end the standoff (v. 19). They decide to take the city by stratagem. Accordingly, when Teancum and a small army pass by the city on the west, the Lamanite leader, Jacob, takes the bait, emerges from the fortress with nearly his entire army, and pursues Teancum northward toward the sea (vv. 20-24). Moroni’s army easily takes possession of Mulek and then begins pursuit of Jacob’s army (vv. 24-26). Meanwhile, Teancum is joined by Lehi near Bountiful, and the Lamanites, realizing their error, retreat toward Mulek (vv. 27-30) only to run into Moroni’s army. In the ensuing battle, a great number of Lamanite soldiers are taken captive and their leader, Jacob, is killed (vv. 31-40).
This is a tactic that was used by the British and Indians in the Battle of Fort Meigs when they tried to draw the Americans out of the fort by staging a mock battle nearby, making it appear that a column of American reinforcements was under attack. The stratagem failed because Americans knew there were no reinforcements coming. An even closer parallel would be the successful Israelite capture of Ai (Josh. 8; cf. Judges 20:29-48). Following God’s instructions, Joshua conceals 30,000 troops on the west side of the fortified city, then camps 5,000 troops within view of the city to the north. The latter draw out the Canaanites while the bulk of the Israelite army burns the unprotected city, then pursues the enemy, who find themselves surrounded by Israelites.
Moroni leaves Teancum to fortify the city of Bountiful, using the Lamanite prisoners as labor, and gives Lehi charge of the city of Mulek (53:1-7). The Lamanites are gaining ground on the southwestern front (vv. 8-9), but the Nephites find an added defense there when a force of “two thousand stripling soldiers” headed by the prophet Helaman (v. 22) makes a stand. These young men are the sons of the Ammonite pacifists—a second generation, free of their parents’ oath and eager to participate in the defense of their land (vv. 10-22). The appearance of Helaman’s special force at this location is puzzling since one would expect them to be involved in the northeast where the Ammonites are located. The City of Anti-Nephi-Lehi is in the land of Jershon (Alma 27:22). Equally puzzling is that although the Lamanites bring the war to the borders of the land Bountiful, Jershon is not mentioned (Alma 51:28).39
About 63 B.C., Ammoron, king of the Lamanites, sends a letter by courier to Moroni requesting an exchange of prisoners (54:1). Sending a letter back by the same courier, Moroni accuses Ammoron’s brother of murder and demands the immediate withdrawal of the Lamanite armies. Failure to do so will result in a counter invasion of their own lands. However, Moroni agrees to exchange a Nephite man and his wife and children for one Lamanite prisoner (vv. 4-14).
Ammoron gives an angry response, blaming the Nephites for the war since it is the Lamanites’ natural right to rule, having descended from Lehi’s oldest sons. From Ammoron’s perspective, his brother Amalickiah was not a murderer but rather a defender of Lamanite entitlement. Nevertheless, Ammoron agrees to exchange prisoners according to Moroni’s suggestion (54:15-24).
Meanwhile, Moroni is planning to rescue other Nephite prisoners held in the city of Gid (55:1-3). One night he sends a few men, headed by a Lamanite defector by the name of Laman, on a secret mission (vv. 4-5). Hailing the guards as fellow Lamanites, Laman pretends to be an escaped prisoner from Bountiful. The unsuspecting guards welcome him to their camp and drink his wine, which he says he stole from the Nephites. After the guards become intoxicated, Moroni’s men throw weapons over the city’s walls (vv. 16-17). This is somehow done in “profound silence.” When the Lamanites awake in the morning, they are confronted by armed prisoners and surrounded by Moroni’s army outside the city walls (v. 22). Finding resistance futile, they throw down their weapons and become prisoners (v. 23). They are forced to work on reinforing the walls of Gid and are then taken to Bountiful to join the other prisoners (vv. 24-26).
The preceding narrative seems loosely based on the well-known Canadian capture of Fort Niagara. Leading a night attack on the American fort, Andrew Spearman singlehandedly killed several guards after coercing the password out of one of them. He then walked across the drawbridge, gave the password to the sentry, watched the gate open, and strangled the sentry, whereupon his men rushed the fort. It was taken with little resistence. Eight Canadian prisoners were freed and the cells were filled with 400 Americans.
As incredible as this story seems, the Book of Mormon’s story is even more implausible. Any enemy having the ability to march through hostile territory and easily take a string of fortified cities cannot be considered stupid. Yet, the Lamanites seem easy prey for Moroni’s machinations. One has to wonder if guards in the midst of war, deep within an enemy’s borders and surrounded by danger on every side, would gullibly accept the stories of strangers coming out of the dark. The fact that Laman was of the same race as the guards would have had little influence since the Lamanites were aware of the Ammonite dissenters. Moreover, Moroni’s letter to Ammoron would have put the Lamanites on high alert. Ultimately, Moroni’s plan relies too heavily on the guards drinking and falling asleep. The author evidently believed that no Indian could refuse a free drink, for this marks the second time he uses the stratagem (cf. Mosiah 22). The Nephites, on the other hand, are not vulnerable to the same kinds of tricks: “And it came to pass that they did, notwithstanding all the intrigues of the Lamanites, keep and protect all the prisoners whom they had taken. … And many times did they attempt to administer of their wine to the Nephites, that they might destroy them with poison or with drunkenness. … They could not be taken in their snares; yea, they would not partake of their wine, save they had first given to some of the Lamanite prisoners” (55:27, 30, 31). Having engaged in such activity themselves, would the Lamanite guards casually drink the wine of strangers? Would they not be suspicious about the claim that fleeing prisoners had stopped to steal wine? Would they not rush these men to the commander for debriefing? The Book of Mormon fails to describe the seasoned and disciplined soldiers one anticipates.
The actions of Moroni’s men are not completely understandable either. How did they awaken the prisoners without waking the Lamanites? Were the prisoners not guarded? How did they “cast in weapons of war” without waking the Lamanites? We are told that all these maneuvers were done in “profound silence,” but is that possible? Why were the guards not disarmed while asleep? Why wait until morning to make the final move? It is as if there is a need for dramatic effect that outweighs a sense of realism. But while the plot is thin and implausible, it was perhaps not unlike the stories young Joseph had heard veterans telling around hearths and stoves of his own community.
At the beginning of 62 B.C., Moroni receives a letter from Helaman detailing the events of the last four years on the southwestern front of the war (Alma 56-58). Helaman particularly dwells on the subject of his troop of 2,000 young men, how in the “twenty and sixth year” of the reign of the judges (about 66 B.C.), during the first year of the war in the southwest, Helaman marched with his men to the city of Judea to assist the army of Antipus (56:9; cf. 52:12, 14).40 By the time of Helaman’s arrival, several cities had already been lost to the Lamanites. Again, the Lamanites have captured fortified cities that the Nephites find difficult to retake (v. 21).
The following year (about 65 B.C.), Antipus and Helaman decide that they will lure the largest of the Lamanite armies out of the city of Antiparah using tactics similar to those previously mentioned. Pretending to carry provisions to a city beyond Antiparah, Helaman and his small force pass near the Lamanite stronghold. The Lamanites take the bait and send out their troops to intercept them. By the time Helaman joins the contest, he finds Antipus dead and his army in retreat. However, with Helaman’s reinforcements, the army is defeated (56:30-57).
One wonders how the Lamanites captured Antiparah, one of Moroni’s fortified cities, and occupied it in such a way as to prevent the Nephites from recapturing it without using a lure? Why would the Lamanites fall for the decoy trick a second time? Considering the location of the city, it would be more likely for the Nephites to surround the fortification and starve the Lamanites.
Helaman reports that while the Lamanites suffered heavy losses in the conflict, not one of his 2,000 “stripling warriors” was killed. Similarly, in the Battle of New Orleans, only eight Americans were killed and thirteen wounded while more than 2,000 British were killed or wounded and several hundred captured.
One can also see Smith family dynamics in this story. Helaman’s band was fighting to protect their fathers who were unable to defend themselves. Yet, they owed their success to the faith of their mothers. As Helaman reports: “Now they … did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (56:47-48). Joseph defended his father’s dreams and choice to remain independent of all churches while also championing his mother’s faith and orthodoxy.
About 63 B.C., according to Helaman’s epistle, the Nephites besiege the city of Cumeni, which the Lamanites have taken, and intercept a shipment of provisions being brought into the city at night. After “not many days,” the Lamanites surrender and the city is retaken by the Nephites (57:6-12). With the capture of Cumeni, the number of Lamanite prisoners is becoming a burden, which the Nephites alleviate by “slaying upwards of two thousand of them” (v. 14). As Helaman recounts, this is a necessary expedient. Smith could appreciate ethically grey areas into which war sometimes pushes its participants, and Smith was himself at war with the forces of evil (“secret combinations”) seeking to destroy America. It was this perceived danger that created circumstances under which normal ethical imperatives no longer applied.
Helaman’s band is now headed by Gid, who is instructed to escort the remaining prisoners to Zarahemla. Along the way, some Nephite scouts inform them of a Lamanite advance. The prisoners overhear this and attack their guards, who respond by slaughtering all but the few prisoners who escape into the wilderness. One can only wonder in this instance why Nephite spies would relay sensitive military information within earshot of Lamanite prisoners and why unarmed prisoners would irrationally attack their armed guards? Nevertheless, free of their prisoners, Gid and his men rush to assist in the defense of Cumeni. In the ensuing battle, the Lamanites are forced to retreat to the city of Manti. Miraculously, not one of Gid’s men is killed, although 200 are wounded, many of whom “fainted because of the loss of blood” (57:16-36).
In attempting to recapture the city of Manti, the Nephites find that the Lamanites cannot be coaxed out easily, “for behold, they remembered that which we had hitherto done; therefore we could not decoy them away from their strongholds” (58:1). Yet, a small Nephite force again lures the Lamanite soldiers away from their fortress to give pursuit, leaving “a few guards only.” The remaining Nephites emerge from the wilderness and begin moving toward Manti (vv. 1-22), a march that will take a day and a night. What is unexpected is that as the decoy band of Nephites turns toward Zarahemla, the Lamanites suspect a trap, reverse direction, and head back toward their weakly defended city (vv. 23-24). Night falls and they are forced to set up camp. Under the cover of darkness, the Nephite army slips by them and continues on toward the city, the Lamanites evidently having failed to watch the movements of the Nephites. The following day, the Lamanites find that the city has been taken. Demoralized, they flee into the wilderness. “By this stratagem,” Helaman reports, “we did take possession of the city of Manti without the shedding of blood” (v. 28), forgetting what he has already reported, that Gid’s and Teomner’s men “ran to the city and fell upon the guards who were left to guard the city, insomuch that they did destroy them and did take possession of the city” (v. 21).
In concluding his letter to Moroni, Helaman reports that by the end of the “twenty and ninth year” of the reign of the judges (about 63 B.C.), the Nephite forces in the southwest had regained all their cities and the Lamanite armies had retreated from that quarter (58:29-38). Helaman does not mention the recapture of Zeezrom (Alma 56:14), which must be an unintentional oversight.
During this time, Moroni’s efforts to defend the Nephites’ northeast quarter are suffering from lack of governmental support, which results in the loss of Nephihah (59:4-13).41 Helaman complains in his letter to Moroni that the government in Zarahemla has not responded to his request for reinforcements and supplies, adding his “fear that there is some faction in the government” (58:36). Moroni is of the same opinion. He too has written to Governor Pahoran requesting reinforcements for the southwest (59:3). This “faction in the government” may reflect the lack of conviction Congress demonstrated during the War of 1812 and its general reluctance to release funds for equipment and supplies. Troops were under-fed and poorly equipped. The Hartford Convention of 1815 formalized what was already known of New England’s lack of enthusiasm for the war.
In a second letter to Pahoran, Moroni writes to know the cause of the government’s “great neglect” (60:6). Blaming the government for the military setbacks, Moroni declares: “For were it not for the wickedness which first commenced at our head, we could have withstood our enemies that they could have gained no power over us” (v. 15). Without knowing the cause of the political apathy, Moroni threatens Pahoran, promising that a failure to send reinforcements will result in his return to Zarahemla to personally “stir up insurrections among you, even until those [like Pahoran] who have desires to usurp power and authority shall become extinct. Yea, behold I do not fear your power nor your authority, but it is my God whom I fear. … Behold, I wait for assistance from you; and, except ye do administer unto our relief, behold, I come unto you, even in the land of Zarahemla, and smite you with the sword” (vv. 27-28, 30). Moroni claims the Lord told him that “if those whom ye [the Nephites] have appointed your governors do not repent of their sins and iniquities, ye [Moroni] shall go up to battle against them” (v. 33). This offers a hint that Smith’s thinking is beginning to stray into a frightening area. As becomes evident in subsequent chapters, Smith believed that he had a similar command from God to “stir up insurrections” against the wicked in Washington.42
Moroni’s threatened insubordination suggests a tie to Jackson’s reputation during the War of 1812. It was with good reason that leaders in Washington saw Jackson as unorthodox and arbitrary in his exercise of power. Indeed, as Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. noted, “as a general [Jackson] had tended to do necessary things with great expedition and to inquire afterward into their legality.”43 For example, he placed New Orleans under martial law in 1815 without Congressional approval. Only his eventual victory and overwhelming public support spared him from censure. When his political opponents in 1828 made this an issue, the Wayne Sentinel on 4 January 1828 defended Jackson, arguing that under the circumstances, “constitutional forms should be suspended for the preservation of constitutional rights; and, that there could be no question whether it were better to depart for a moment, from the enjoyment of our dearest privileges, or have them wrested from us forever.”44 The Jacksonian theory of violating the Constitution to save the Constitution recalls Smith’s modus operandi in defense of the truth.
Moroni receives a letter from Pahoran explaining that the “king-men” have taken control of Zarahemla and that he is in exile in the land of Gideon organizing a resistance of “freemen” (61:1-7). The fall of the capitol is perhaps based on a major event in the War of 1812. On 25 August 1814, British troops marched on Washington, D.C., and set fire to government buildings including the president’s residence (later named the White House), which forced President James Madison and his cabinet to flee west to Virginia. While not occupying the American capital like the king-men, the British dealt a demoralizing blow to America.
Pahoran informs Moroni that the king-men, like the British, have formed an “alliance” with the Lamanites and are seeking the destruction of the Nephite military hero (61:8). He requests that Moroni turn his command over to Lehi and Teancum and assist in crushing the rebellion in Zarahemla (vv. 14-21).
Marching toward Gideon, Moroni gathers supporters. After uniting with Pahoran’s forces, these freedom fighters invade Zarahemla, kill Pachus, leader of the king-men, and retake the city. Pahoran is restored to the judgment seat and the king-men are tried and executed (62:7-11), reminiscent of Jackson’s execution of six mutineers in 1814. One is also reminded of the Ancaster Bloody Assize of 1814 in which more than fifty Canadian men were indicted for high treason, eight of whom were hanged. Many Americans, perhaps including Joseph Smith, believed that the Federalists who participated in the Hartford Convention deserved the same fate.
After restoring the government, Moroni sends 6,000 reinforcements and provisions to Helaman in the southwest and 6,000 reinforcements to Lehi and Teancum in the northeast (62:12-13). Moroni and Pahoran themselves lead a large force to liberate the city of Nephihah (v. 14). On their way, they intercept a company of Lamanite soldiers. Taking about 4,000 prisoners, Moroni compels them to enter into a covenant of peace, then sends them to dwell with the Ammonite pacifists in the land of Jershon (vv. 15-17). One wonders if one could one trust a covenant made under such circumstances and if it would be reasonable to send four thousand enemy prisoners among pacifists. Moroni’s thinking on this matter remains a puzzle since an explanation is not given.
Upon reaching Nephihah, Moroni stations his army in an adjacent valley. After nightfall, Moroni climbs the wall to find the exact location of the Lamanite army. He discovers them encamped on the east side by the city entrance and finds that they are all asleep. Returning to camp, he instructs his men to make rope ladders to let themselves down into the western portion of the city. Evidently the Lamanites, although they know there is a large Nephite force outside their gate, neglect to place guards on the walls. Again, the Nephites do not attack but wait until their armed enemies awake to find themselves surrounded. When the Lamanites make a dash for the gate, Moroni’s men slaughter them, taking others prisoner. Not one of Moroni’s men is killed. The prisoners are sent north to join the Ammonite pacifists to become peaceful farmers and ranchers (62:18-29).
Moroni continues southward along the coast toward the city of Lehi, which the Lamanites abandon when they learn of his approach. From city to city, Moroni pursues the enemy southward until finally the Lamanites are pushed into one last stronghold, the southernmost city, appropriately named Moroni (62:30-34). During the night, Teancum climbs the city walls and attacks King Ammoron, piercing him near the heart with a javelin. The Nephite assassin is then killed by one of the king’s servants (vv. 35-37). In the morning, Moroni and Lehi attack the fortification and drive the Lamanites south of the border (v. 38).
After thirteen years of military conflict, the war has ground to a halt. Much like the War of 1812, it was the most threatening war since the founding of the Nephite nation. But through faith, perseverance, and stratagem, the Nephites have vanquished the numerically superior invaders and preserved their independence, religion, and families. A key to the Nephite victory was the use of “stratagem,” a feature of American tactics as well. In defending the use of such military strategies as decoy and ambush, the Book of Mormon entered into a centuries-old debate over the morality of such methods.45 But the Book of Mormon’s defense of stratagem is more than an apologetic for American military strategy; it offers justification for an American holy war. The reasoning is that if trickery was justifiable to preserve Zarahemla, then the same kind of trickery, and indeed a political coup, would be justified in defense of America’s salvation.
About 60 B.C., Moroni retires, leaving command to his son Moronihah. Pahoran returns to the judgment seat. Helaman resumes preaching, reestablishing the church throughout the land (62:42-46). About 57 B.C., Helaman dies (v. 52). For some reason, his oldest son, Shiblon, does not take possession of the sacred relics and records until the following year (63:1). In that year, Moroni also dies (v. 3).
About 55 B.C., there is a large migration to the land northward, which diminishes Zarahemla’s population by 5,400 families (63:4). The same year, a man named Hagoth builds a ship near the narrow neck of land and launches into the west sea carrying Nephites to the land northward. Returning the next year, Hagoth builds more ships, fills them with passengers, and again launches into the sea. Since he never returns, the Nephites assume that “they were drowned in the depths of the sea” (v. 8). Not having heard from Jason Mack for twenty years, the Smiths suspected a similar fate for their relative who owned a schooner and made frequent trips between New Brunswick and Liverpool.46 “And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not” (v. 8). These passages are sometimes cited to explain the origin of the Hawaiians and Polynesians.47
About 53 B.C., Shiblon dies (63:10). Corianton has gone to the land northward in one of the ships, so Shiblon bequeaths the records to Helaman II (vv. 11-13). Also of note during this year is that dissenters among the Nephites excite the Lamanites, who attack but are easily repelled by Moronihah’s army (vv. 14-15). Thus ends the Book of Alma. Problems with dissenters and Lamanite agitation will continue to dominate the narrative in the Book of Helaman.
2. For a general history of Anabaptism, see James Hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 13 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908-21), 1:406-12; Harold S. Bender et al., eds., The Mennonite Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1955-59), 1:113-16; William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975); and Robert Friedmann, “Recent Interpretations of Anabaptism,” Church History 24 (1955): 132-51. For comparisons between Anabaptism and Mormonism, see David B. Davis, “The New England Origins of Mormonism,” New England Quarterly 26 (June 1953): 148-65; Robert J. McCue, “Similarities and Differences in the Anabaptist Restitution and the Mormon Restoration,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1959; William E. Juhnke, “Anabaptism and Mormonism: A Study in Comparative History,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 2 (1982): 38-46; and D. Michael Quinn, “Socioreligious Radicalism of the Mormon Church: A Parallel to the Anabaptists,” in New Views of Mormon History: A Collection of Essays in Honor of Leonard J. Arrington, eds. Davis Bitton and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987), 363-86.
3. The name Amalickiah apparently had significance for Smith, as it will be recalled that the last would-be king had a similar name, Amlici (Alma 2). Interestingly, the Amalekites in the Old Testament were Israel’s foremost enemies until God commanded King Saul through the prophet Samuel to “utterly destroy” them in 1 Samuel 15. I will make other connections to Amalickiah and the Amalekites in subsequent notes.
6. 1 Samuel 15, which mentions the Amalekites, has Saul accidentally tearing Samuel’s “mantle” and Samuel declaring: “The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day” (v. 27). In both instances, the rending of garments is symbolic of the rending of government.
7. National Journal, 26 and 28 May 1827; 2 and 16 June 1827; “Extra,” Telegraph, 26 July 1828; Wayne Sentinel, 21 Mar. 1828; see also Robert Vincent Remini, The Election of Andrew Jackson (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1963), 154-56.
8. See [Democratic Party], The Case of the Six Mutineers, Whose conviction and Sentence were Approved of by General Jackson, Fairly Stated: With a Refutation of Some of the Falsehoods Circulated on This Subject (Albany, NY, 1828); also published in Geneva, New York, the same year; see also Remini, Election of Andrew Jackson, 154-56. The Wayne Sentinel defended Jackson against the accusations of the Coffin Hand Bill (Wayne Sentinel, 21 Mar. 1828; 22 Aug. 1828).
12. Note Anderson’s analysis of Amalickiah’s story when viewed as a reflection of Smith family dynamics (see Robert D. Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999], 177).
13. The scenario I suggest of the younger son removing an older brother to unite the family and restore the father’s leadership, followed by the younger son’s superseding his father, is expressed more clearly in Smith’s dictation of Jaredite history (see chapter 22 of this volume).
15. Caleb Atwater, “Description of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States,” Archaeologia Americana: Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society 1 (1820): 151, 145.
17. DeWitt Clinton, Discourse Delivered before the New-York Historical Society (New York, 1812), 53-54. Some of the same mounds are described in John V. N. Yates and Joseph W. Moulton, History of the State of New York (New York, 1824), 13-14.
21. Thomas, Catalogue of Prehistoric Works East of the Rocky Mountains, 148; Squier, Antiquities of the State of New York, 55. DeWitt Clinton visited the mounds at Canandaigua in 1811 and described them in his Discourse, 53-54.
24. DeWitt Clinton, “A Memoir on the Antiquities of the Western parts of the State of New-York,” Transactions of the Literary and Philosophical Society of New York 2 (1815-25): 81. See also Thomas, Catalogue of Prehistoric Works East of the Rocky Mountains, 140; Squier, Antiquities of the State of New York, 46. Thomas also lists “twenty-five distinct embankments, adjacent to each other, about 4 miles south of Oxford” (140).
25. For further information on the Oxford mound, see Thomas F. Gordon, Gazetteer of the State of New York (Philadelphia, 1836), 392; Henry Galpin, Annals of Oxford (Oxford, NY: Times Book and Job Printing House, 1906), 51-53.
29. While there are some similarities between the “freemen” and the Tories of the American Revolution (see Thomas E. Donofrio, “Book of Mormon Tories,” www.post-mormons.com/tories.htm), the context, as I interpret it, links them more closely to the Federalists.
34. William Preston Vaughn, The Antimasonic Party in the United States, 1826-1843 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1983), 20. See John G. Stearns, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Tendency of Speculative Free-masonry 3rd ed. (Utica, NY, 1827).
35. Robert Anderson has pointed to the rhetoric of the 1824 and 1828 campaigns which portrayed John Quincy Adams as an aristocratic tyrant—“King John the Second,” as some called him—while Jackson was held up as the champion of liberty and the common man (see Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith, 178-79). However, in the Book of Mormon it is the “king-men” who wish to overthrow the democratically established government, whereas in the campaigns of 1824 and 1828, Jacksonians were trying to overthrow the aristocratic power elite. A more complete understanding of the 1828 political rhetoric, especially as it was handled in western New York by the anti-Masons, resolves this apparent inconsistency. The theme of Jackson as a Masonic king is explored in more detail in chapter 19 of this volume.
36. In naming the cities captured by the Lamanites (Alma 51:22, 26), Smith’s memory would not have been taxed too much: Moroni, Nephihah, Lehi, and Morianton were introduced for the first time in the previous chapter (50:13, 14, 15, 25); Gid and Mulek were introduced in chapter 51 for the first time; and Omner appears only once. However, the city Aaron, situated near Nephihah, is conspicuously missing (50:14).
38. A major puzzle in Book of Mormon geography is why the Nephites did not exploit their eastern coast and allowed a strip of wilderness to remain undeveloped and unprotected. I suggest that this eastern wilderness, which prior to Moroni’s purge gave the Lamanites passage into the northern section of Nephite lands, corresponds to the Atlantic Ocean.
40. In describing the activities of his young warriors in the “twenty and sixth year” of the reign of the judges, or about 66 B.C., Helaman creates a chronological puzzle. Mormon first mentions Helaman and his 2,000 “stripling soldiers” while describing the events of the “twenty and eighth year” of the reign of the judges, or about 64 B.C. (Alma 52:19-53:23). Mormon gives no indication in his narrative that these soldiers had become warriors, only that they had marched with Helaman to support the war effort in the southwest (53:22). John L. Sorenson, who admits this is a “major error in dating” and that there are “too few facts to settle the problem,” offers speculations consistent with an ancient authorship (“The Significance of the Chronological Discrepancy between Alma 53:22 and Alma 56:9” [Provo, UT: FARMS, 1990], 8). To my mind, the discrepancy is evidence that Smith’s memory was sometimes imperfect.
41. The city Nephihah had already been taken by the Lamanites five years earlier (Alma 51:24, 26). This has led to the apologetic speculation that there were two cities of the same name in the same region.
44. Another example of Jackson’s apparent disregard for legal boundaries occurred during his Indian campaigns in 1818. Pursuing the Seminoles into Florida, Jackson seized Fort St. Marks, replaced the Spanish flag with the stars and stripes, tried and executed two men—both British—for inciting the Indians, and escorted the Spanish governor and his soldiers to Havana. While the American people acclaimed him as a national hero, the Monroe administration and Congress had to deal with the fact that Jackson had committed an undeclared act of war against Spain and executed two British subjects.
47. Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes has demonstrated that Polynesians came from Asia, not America (see Bryan Sykes, The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science that Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry [New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2001], 79-107).