Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism
John Phillip Walker, editor
27. To Francis W. Kirkham
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
3 January 1948
[p.145]Dear Mr. Kirkham:
Last week in Independence [Missouri] I bought a copy of the new edition of your book on the coming forth of the Book of Mormon [A New Witness for Christ in America], and I have read it with some interest. I am surprised that some of the slips of the pen from the previous edition have not been called to your attention, or have not themselves come to your attention, and for such value as a list may have for you, I will remark on some of these below.
What most impels me to write you however is my curiosity as to whether you are satisfied by the rebuttal you have made to the seer-stone thesis set forth by Mrs. [Fawn] Brodie. I cannot believe that this represents the considered thought of church scholarship, and I am inclined to believe that much of the material you include came to light at such a late date that you were unable to weigh it properly. If no better rebuttal of the seerstone thesis can be made than this, objective scholarship is likely to regard it as established.
It strikes me that there are two critical weaknesses in your own theory, one in assuming that all the “glass-looking” and “seerstone” stories have originated in the affidavits gathered by [Philastus] Hurlbut; and second, in assuming that Joseph Smith’s remark of 1831 invalidates anything David Whitmer and Martin Harris had to say in later years about the method of translation.
You will be interested, in the first instance, in an article reprinted from the Wayne County Inquirer (probably a Pennsylvania paper, but I have not investigated the point yet) in the Cincinnati Advertiser and Ohio Phoenix of June 2, 1830. These remarks were as follows: “A fellow by the name of Joseph Smith, who resides in the upper part of Susquehanna county, has been for the last two years we [p.146] are told, employed in dedicating (sic) as he says, by inspiration, a new bible. He pretended that he had been entrusted by God with a golden bible which had been always hidden from the world. Smith would put his face into a hat in which he had a white stone, and pretend to read from it, which his coadjutor transcribed. The book purports to give an account of the ‘Ten Tribes’ and strange as it may seem, there are some who have full faith in his Divine commission. The book it seems is now published. We extract the following from the Rochester Republican.” (Then follows the article, “Blasphemy,” printed in your book. The Republican was, of course, the weekly edition of the Rochester Daily Advertiser.)
In view of the early date of this comment, it would be interesting to have you review the assumptions you make in your book, and see where you come out this time. In so reviewing your book, you will also have to give new authority to the disputed court record of 1826 and the [William D.] Purple reminiscences, for I have discovered a letter written from South Bainbridge in March, 1831, and printed in April, 1831, which discusses both the trial of 1826 and those of 1830; indeed, it interprets the Book of Mormon as simply an extension of the “glass-looking” for which Joseph had been tried four years earlier. Moreover, it harmonizes the discrepancies between the trial record and the Purple reminiscences by saying that although found guilty, because Joseph was a minor and on the theory that he would reform his conduct, he was not subjected to the penalty of the law on being convicted. Beyond giving you this general summary I do not wish to identify more closely the printed source and the contents of the letter in question, pending the writing of my own book later this year. I tell you this much because I am interested in seeing the best possible defense the Church can make to the seerstone hypothesis, and I cannot believe that either you or the Church will feel that your book serves adequately in this function.
With so much by way of larger comment, let me provide you with some correction and commentaries, in the event you get out still another edition of your book at some future time[:]
p. 16 and elsewhere, the advertisement by Joseph Smith, St., appeared in seven issues of the Sentinel, not three, and was first published September 29, not September 25, 1824.
p. 18 and elsewhere, “Delusions” was published in Boston, not New York, or at any rate I have never seen or heard of a New York edition. And [E. D.] Howe’s book was Mormonism Unvailed, not Unveiled, or at any rate I have never seen a title page rendered as you have it. Also on this page, I do not think you can find substantial authority for saying that Hurlbut supplied anything to Howe’s book but the affidavits. The expository material comes clearly out of Howe’s own files, and he himself gives us warrant, in his signed statement in 1885, to think that Hurlbut contributed only the affidavits. In fact, he says he used only a small part of the affidavits Hurlbut gathered. The attribution of the book to Hurlbut has been primarily by the Mormons, who have wanted to give an apostate [p.147] coloration to its entire contents, as indeed you do yourself in the present book, on occasion.
p. 19, first line, the date is 1838, not 1836; and among the titles you quote, I am under the impression you will find that the “Mormonism Unveiled” published in London in “1842” is the reprint without date of the romance originally published in this country 1855 as “The Prophets, or Mormonism Unveiled,” attributed to Orvilla S. Belisle.
p. 20. The first edition of Mrs. Brodie’s book is of course 1945. p. 113. What is the basis of your statement that Joseph Smith’s “Caractors” were similar to the characters found on the Rosetta Stone in 1816?
p. 118-9. The [Stephen R.] Harding letter was obviously written in 1867, not 1857, for he did not become governor until 1862 and was on good terms with the Saints on his first arrival in Utah. This bears on your further statement on p. 13 [blank in original] that Harding was a “lifelong” enemy of the Saints.
p. 139. Hurlbut’s investigations took place after his expulsion but before the trial you speak of. Also they were not his own doings only; he was financed by a group of men living in and around Kirtland.
p. 141. Written in 1842?
p. 168. The article you quote is from the Wayne Sentinel.
pp. 169-70. The article you quote from the Hillsborough Gazette, which the copyist or printer has somewhat maltreated, you will find at length in the Morning Courier & New York Enquirer for August 31 and September 1, 1831. It was written at Canan[d]aigua, August 15, 1831. The article as a whole would be devastating support of the adverse view of the character of Joseph Smith, Jr. and St., but it must be called into question because it brings [Sidney] Rigdon into the story in a manner no scholarship can accept. Whatever Rigdon was, he was not a money-digger in the 1820s. A large part of the second half of this article was reprinted in various New England and Ohio papers. If you quote the full story as found in the Hillsborough Gazette, this is only a fragment of the part that was generally circulated.
p. 182. You assert that [Ariel] Crowley finds the characters make “connected thought.” What is this connected thought? It does not appear from your text.
p. 195. It strikes me that you should submit Emma Smith’s statements about Joseph’s illiteracy to the actual test of his writing. You will find in the Chicago Historical Society and Reorganized Church Libraries handwritten letters of 1832 which evidence a flair for words, a measure of eloquence, and a sufficient degree of schooling. I have not examined the personal diary you speak of, but I suspect that it too would invalidate Emma’s memory.
p. 196. Will you not agree with me that all that can safely be concluded from Joseph Smith’s remark in 1831 concerning the [p.148] coming forth of the Book of Mormon is that at the moment he uttered it, he was not in a communicative mood?
pp. 211-12. Revelation to Harris or Emma?
p. 303. This is not the correct title of Corrill’s history.
p. 307. Rigdon was back in Ohio by February 1, 1831.
p. 359-60. I am curious how you justify to yourself the inclusion of the matter quoted from the preface of Mrs. Brodie’s book. Is this not what you object to in writings against the Mormons, an appeal to prejudice and to matters extraneous to issues of fact?
pp. 366-67. I would be curious to know how you feel that there is misrepresentation in how Mrs. Brodie has quoted or interpreted these statements, as against the way you feel she should have stated them. Or, put another way, in what manner is the reader likely to have been led astray by her reading instead of yours?
p. 376 and the question of seerstones in general. You nowhere squarely meet this question, and I would be interested to know what significance you give to seerstones in the history of the Church. What do you make of Brigham Young’s notation in his journal, as cited by Mrs. Brodie? What of his demonstration before the regents of the University of the State of Deseret, as recorded by Hosea Stout? How do you interpret the seerstones and the use thereof as these crop up in the earliest annals of the church and certain of the revelations? What do you think of Brigham H. Roberts’ remarks, as printed at least in the original version of the Comprehensive History? What seerstones remain in the possession of the Church today, and what is the official attitude taken toward their function, past use, and historical significance? All these things are of basic importance in a study of Mormon origins in general and the Book of Mormon in particular. It is certainly not possible to leave all these matters aside in an analysis of the claims made for the Book of Mormon.
pp. 384ff. Is it possible that no better method of defense can be found in dealing with the asserted court record than that you have adopted? Consider the arguments you adopt, Mr. Kirkham. You enter upon a legalistic treatment from a modern point of view of court proceedings in local courts, in a totally different social environment. It is your thesis that because the revised laws of New York State, printed in 1829, require the recording of certain facts not mentioned in the alleged record, and do not require the testimony of the defendant, this purported record of 1826 may be called in question. You even appeal to a “Manual for all counties and Town Officers” not published until 1837. Have you demonstrated that there was any prescribed methodology for the keeping of records by New York justices of the peace in 1826, or that there was any uniformity among justices of the peace in that year as to the manner of taking evidence or recording that evidence? What do you seriously make of the fact that j[ustice]. [of the] p[eace]. records are not found in the records of Chenango County, knowing as you must that j. p. records are almost never found with county records proper?
[p.149] You print the Purple reminiscences, somewhat skirting the credit rightfully due Mrs. Brodie for bringing this information into the light of day, but you do not print the evidence she also found which went to establish Dr. Purple’s credibility as a witness. Your treatment of the Purple material and the court record does credit to the integrity of your beliefs about your religion, but you will forgive my saying that it does not make very convincing objective history.
Returning to the alleged court record itself, it is a curious line of argument you adopt to show (a) that [Bishop Daniel S.] Tuttle himself did not maintain his belief in it; and (b) Funk and Wagnalls did not believe it. You make the first assertion despite the fact that Tuttle himself twice printed the document and gave an account of why he conceived it genuine, and never altered it in two successive editions of the encyclopedia [Religious Encyclopedia, edited by Philip Schaff] for which he had furnished the article, and on what grounds? Because he did not directly refer to it in his autobiography. A parallel to this, Mr. Kirkham, would be for you to write your autobiography now, and have it concluded that any statement you have made in your book or in your Improvement Era articles you no longer believed in because you didn’t print it again in your book. Would you accept this method of investigation concerning your own life and writings? In the second instance, I should imagine that you are well aware that publishers do not interfere with the literary license of their authors as long as they stay within the bounds of fact—or more precisely, do not furnish fuel for libel suits. I have never heard of the Encyclopedia Britannica undertaking to tell its authorities what they should and should not put into their articles. I doubt that Funk and Wagnalls did anything of the kind, either. Mormon history is so large a subject, and anything that can be said about it in a few hundred words is so limited at best, that it is astonishing to have you find any significance in differences in the use and interpretation of facts, especially in view of the fact that when one writer redoes a job previously done by another, he is generally under the psychological compulsion to show he is indebted to the previous writer for nothing. These are indeed sad arguments to plead against the authenticity of the court record. Surely more solid arguments than these can be found to support the claims of the Church; this is hardly more than a grasping at straws.
I do not have the time just now to enter upon a discussion of your book in the large. It is an interesting and in many ways valuable book, but I think that the matters it “proves” are, generally speaking, those about which little controversy exists, and that it makes assumptions at critical points which are by no means supported by the evidence adduced. If you would be interested in a discussion of these matters, we can enter upon one when I finish my transcontinental researches in the spring. Although I cannot accept your logic on many points, I do respect your sincerity, the energy you have brought to your researches, and your effort to achieve a scientific basis for your religious convictions. There are not many Saints [p.150] working in the field of Mormon history for whom one can feel this respect; the generality of the writers of history are content to lean on the researches of others, to the point where, if the Journal History were to be destroyed by some disaster, they would be utterly deprived of materials.
With best wishes,
Dale L. Morgan
28. To Fawn Brodie
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
25 January 1948
I am getting ready to shove off again, Tuesday or at the latest Wednesday, so I’ll send along the news before I take to the road. I expect to spend a day getting to Columbia, going via old Far West, Shoal Creek, Gallatin, etc., then after a couple of days in Columbia and one in Jefferson City, go on to St. Louis at the end of the week. After a week there, up to Springfield again, and on around to Fort Leavenworth via Nauvoo and the Mormon trail across Iowa to Council Bluffs. Once back here, I will shove off for the southwest, probably around February 15. Although I would like to revisit Chicago for a day or two and go up to Madison, I had better put that off to another time. I am rich in neither time nor money at the moment.
The work in Independence [Missouri] has been interesting in itself and for other reasons. Including the case of F. Brodie. Nothing was said about you at first [by officials of the RLDS church], but it was bound to come out finally, and it did, a day or two after I wrote you last. It was [S. A.] Burgess who brought up the subject. He commented on the fact that Utah admitted no one to its library, while they maintained an open policy. But, he said, they had been very much disappointed in you, and went on to add that you had misrepresented yourself and lied to them.
Naturally I had to take him up on this; whether I might want to or not, I must be your advocate in Independence, otherwise they will [p.151] accuse me of dishonesty later. So I said that on the contrary I knew you well, that you were a person of great honesty and integrity, etc. It turned out that what he meant was that you had told them you were writing a very sympathetic book about Joseph and were much inclined to admire him. I then pointed out to Burgess that this was entirely true, that though your book came to adverse conclusions about the claims of the church, it was very sympathetic toward Joseph Smith the man, and that if he read all the reviews of the book, he would find that this was the impression it had made upon the reviewers. I added that you were one of the most objective persons about your writing that I had ever met, and were entirely willing to receive factual objections and weigh them judiciously. He said that they didn’t want to advertise your book (!), and I said that was all the same to you: why didn’t he write you about errors or misinterpretations as he viewed them. He said that would require almost another book, but that if he had a stenographer, he might consider doing something of the kind. So the discussion finally ended, as far as you were concerned, on that note, though it continued for some time about my own qualifications and background, not to say attitudes. One amusing remark in the conversation about you was that Burgess commented that in one of my letters to him several years ago I had spoken of having dinner with you. Some people, he said, would think that was improper, but he didn’t! (This had to do with mistaken interpretations made from the written record.) Well, it was quite an afternoon, and wholly wasted as far as research was concerned. I didn’t get one damned thing done, only this underbrush cleared away.
The following morning I had an interview with [RLDS president] Israel Smith to tackle him about the microfilms I wanted. He received me with neither warmth nor hostility. I opened the conversation by giving him the letter formally requesting the microfilming, then discussed the work I had sunk into this history, particularly my travels since summer. The first thing he said at all was that he had read my review of your book and had gained the impression I was strongly Mormon in my views. This nonplused me for a moment until I realized he meant pro-Utah church. I told him that I had avoided coming to any final conclusions until my research was done, but said I would be less than frank if I did not tell him that as far as the polygamy issue was concerned, I thought the Utah church had a better case than the Reorganized Church. He then went on to talk about the Utah church, how they made an awful liar out of their prophet, etc. He then spoke of some recent evidence he had found in Springfield, and eventually I found out what he was referring to. He said that [Andrew] Jenson’s Historical Record says the Partridge girls were married to Joseph on May 11, 1843 (I think it was) by James M. Adams, and it seems that he had found a court record in Springfield showing that Adams was presiding over his court in Springfield on May 13. “Springfield is 125 miles from Nauvoo,” he said. “Draw your own conclusions.” He then [p.152] complained that none of the Utah historians knew how to qualify a witness, etc.
But we ended on a pretty cordial note. He agreed to the micro-filming of the periodicals I wanted done, and also offered to lend me his copy of the excerpted Memoirs of his father, and gave me a photographic copy of Joseph’s letter to Orville Browning of June 27, 1844. His original sanction for the microfilming depended on its being done by the State Historical Society of Missouri, of which he is a trustee, but when I learned from them they had no facilities, and approached him about having it done by the Library of Congress instead, he readily agreed. Accordingly I wrote Dr. Evans a week ago, and hope it will go through without a hitch. With some lesser stuff, I want microfilmed Thompson’s Zion’s Harbinger Baneemy’s Organ, 1849-55, and the Hinkle-McLellin The Ensign, 1844-45, plus a book and a pamphlet published by Thompson.
I have seen a good deal of interesting stuff. It was not practicable to see the Book of Mormon MS, because this is kept in a K[ansas]. C[ity]. bank vault from which it may be removed only in the presence of the president and the presiding bishop, but I spent a day examining a negative photostat of the manuscript. On its internal evidence, I am disposed to think that this MS is wholly the second copy, from characteristic copyist’s errors. However, on p. 138 there is what may be a constructive struggle at rendition of a dictated text. The MS was supposed to be in four handwritings, but I could identify only three in the original text. A fourth may have made some of the grammatical corrections which, Burgess tells me, were made sometime after publication of the 1830 edition and prior to the 1837 edition.
Another very interesting item was what appears to have been a part of the printer’s copy of the Book of Commandments. There appears to be no doubt about it, and it is conclusive evidence that the B.C. as printed was not complete. This has been suspected, of course, for the B.C. ended in the middle of a verse and with a fully printed five sheets.
Well, I won’t now go into all the stuff I have seen, but a lot of it, relating to the factions, is useful and valuable. Burgess also had Peter Whitmer’s copy of the original quarto edition of The Evening and Morning Star, the first I have located. Incidently, I was fortunate enough to get from the Hedrickite headquarters on the Temple Lot a complete file of their reprint of the Star except for the last four pages of the first issue, contained in the reprint issue of July, 1911. Neither the original in the church’s hands nor the reprint contains the Extra of July 20, 1833, disavowing “Free People of Color.” I also got a copy of the Hedrickite reprint of the Book of Commandments; this was lucky, because at first they thought they had none.
I also examined with attention John Whitmer’s history, including some crossed out material [Andrew] Jenson did not transcribe in the copy in Salt Lake City. From this it is evident that Whitmer stopped making entries originally in March, 1838, then about ten [p.153] years later wrote the unpublished parts. Burgess was disposed to think the later part, which he says “is not history,” was written after 1860, but I am willing to bet it was written about 1847-48 after the schism in the Strangite church led [William E.] McLellin and others in the Kirtland area to call upon David Whitmer to become the spearhead of a “true church.”
One thing that interested me was that I found Burgess unexpectedly sensitive to the possibility that Emma may have married [Lewis] Bidamon for love. Without exactly saying anything, he intimated that there was more in this marriage than met the eye, and she had made a mistake. But if Emma was not in love with him, she gave a damned good counterfeit of it in a letter she wrote him in early 1850, directed to him at San Francisco. It seems that he had gone to California in the gold rush the previous summer, and the warmth of her letter made quite a contrast to Joseph’s complaints in some of his letters about how she didn’t put herself to the trouble of writing him. Pressed for time, I did not copy this letter, so I make a point of mentioning it to you in case you didn’t see it yourself.
I haven’t had a single peep out of [Francis] Kirkham on the subject of stones, and I wonder if I will. I wrote that letter with malice aforethought, both because I was annoyed at his condescending criticism of you, and because I want to put them on notice in Utah that I am interested in seerstones before I even show my face around there. After writing the letter to him, I made a lot more notes on the subject of money-digging and peepstones, in sources antedating [E. D.] Howe’s book [Mormonism Unvailed], and it is interesting how much material there is, even in Kirkham’s own book.
It was interesting to see Hiram Page’s seerstone (but this is an olive-green color, not black as you call it in your book), and I wonder if I will get to see any others in Utah. Burgess peered through the stone at me, then said facetiously that he couldn’t make it work—lack of faith!
Well, let’s leave the Saints to take care of themselves, and think a little about the sinners. I’ve been wondering if you finally got your well driven through and now have a good supply of water of your own. It is turning out to be a very rough winter in your neighborhood, and I can hardly suppose that anything at all can be done in the way of building till spring gets a good toe-hold on the weather. The trouble is, you will die with impatience every week from now on, after waiting so long. The last few weeks are the worst. Ask Dick how it is just before Christmas.
I’ve maundered on so long in this letter that I am under the necessity of ending it so that the folks around here can get a little sleep, so we’ll append a to-be-continued note. But thanks for the extract about Brigham [Young]. It is not news to me, but interesting to have a comment on the subject in a national journal of opinion. I enclose another of William Smith’s varied stories about the origins of Mormonism, principally interesting right now for what it says about looking into hats. William’s account of the Urim and [p.154] Thummim is so brilliant I can’t work up even a vague picture of what the whole was supposed to be like.
A cloudy groundhog day to you,
29. To Fawn Brodie
Salt Lake City, Utah
20 April 1948
I came home from the U[niversity] of U[tah] this afternoon, having finished the local phase of the work on my bibliography, and found in my mail box a letter dated April 14, signed by Joseph Anderson as Secretary to the First Presidency. (True to my promise, I mailed them a second letter this morning prodding them to answer my first letter, but as it turns out this was already in the mails.) The hub of this reply is that “an experience running over several years has persuaded us of the unwisdom of giving access to our manuscript records to people writing books, because that same experience has shown that people writing such books are rarely qualified to appraise accurately what they read, and too frequently, whether consciously or unconsciously, they misrepresent what they find. Such manuscripts will therefore not be available for general inspection nor use.” The Historian’s Office, being not a research library “but a private library, maintained and operated for the benefit of the Church,” will afford me “access to printed materials which they have in the library, but this will not include the use of first and rare editions of books.”
Or in other words, they will cooperate with me so far as my bibliography is concerned, but beyond that, to hell with me. So I say as cheerfully, to hell with them. I’ll take them up on the bibliography, because I want that to be as complete as possible and because I want some information as to which, on the basis of titles in my bibliography, is “the greatest Mormon collection.” But beyond that, I will write my book independently. Thank God I did the essential research for this book years ago, that is, the things wherein I am to any significant degree dependent on their collections.
Also in the mail this afternoon was the copy of Vermont Life, which I will file without bothering to read, since I have regarded [p.155] [Milton] Hunter [an LDS church authority and historian] as nothing but an ignoramus ever since I met up with his doctoral thesis, “Brigham Young the Colonizer,” when this was serialized in the [LDS Deseret] News Church Section back in 1938-39. And likewise the copy of the Larson book, which I am glad to have, whatever its merits may prove to be.
On my return here I bought a copy of [Leland] Creer’s new history, The Founding of an Empire, and I regret very much to report that it is the shoddiest kind of historical workmanship. Damn it all, I take some pride in my state and the caliber of work that is or should be done there. I should like Utah scholarship, quite apart from the Mormon factor, to be of the highest caliber. There is no reason why it shouldn’t be. Creer in this work sidestepped the touchy Mormon problems for the first period (to about 1855, when his book ends), but that was all right with me, for he was writing a history of the State, not of the Mormons, and there is no necessity for those problems to be met frontally in such a work (cf. my own last book). But my God, his treatment of the fur trade, for instance, is slipshod in the extreme. Thus he quotes something from [Harrison C.] Dale’s Ashley-Smith Explorations, then follows it with a quotation from a newspaper piece I wrote for the Writers’ Project which presents later research wholly invalidating the quotation from Dale, then without seeing the slightest conflict between the two, he goes ahead in the old canon, etc. Hell! Worse still, he doesn’t have the slightest feeling for primary sources. Anything is grist to his mill.
Still, there is some congenial company up on the hill. I enjoy talking to Dr. Chamberlain and Dr. Cottam; they have brains and the scientific spirit. Maybe it is not merely accidental that they are natural scientists.
The University itself I simply can’t get used to. Everything is changed except the physical plant, and there are great changes in that, also. There isn’t a single familiar face in the library, and very few among the faculty members. In some ways there is evidence of a more progressive spirit, but in others there is a depressing lack, as it seems, of function. I haven’t yet been able to find out anything of interest about that so-called Humanities Foundation. Harold Folland is in charge of it, in a room in the library with presumed office hours Tuesday and Thursday from 10 to 1. But just try and find him there then! (Or any other time, so far as I can learn.)
More cheerful topic: It is making like spring here, and the last week has been very fine indeed. Tomorrow I am going to drive up to Logan to check the [Utah State] A[gricultural]. C[ollege]. library, and I anticipate a pleasant day’s outing, whatever develops from the bibliographical search.
I was glad to hear that your contractor has finally stirred from his sloth, but sorry indeed to hear about Dick’s accident. It is fortunate that the accident was no worse, and I hope that as time goes on some of the damage will be undone.
[p.156] Thanks for remembering me about the [Latter-day Saints’, Millennial] Stars. However, I already have a run from July 1844 through to December, 1855, and even for the missing volumes I wouldn’t pay more than about $3.50 or $5—if I had the money. I doubt if I paid as much as $20 in all for the volumes I have, though of course that was back in 1941. The [Utah State] Historical Society has been working at filling in a file, but I believe they have most of these early volumes.
Incidently, I have turned up the answers to a couple of questions lately. When Sampson Avard joined the church, for example. Orson Pratt baptized him at Freedom (N.Y., evidently, but maybe Freedom, Pa., if there is such a place) in November, 1835, and immediately ordained him an elder. Avard previously had been a Campbellite and had preached among them. [Messenger & Advocate, Nov., 1835, p. 224.)
A second item of interest is that in the Journal of John Lyman Smith, which you drew upon in your book, there tums out to be some information on Sarah Cleveland. It seems that he [Smith] married a daughter, Augusta B., of John and Sarah Cleveland. In 1855, when enroute east on a mission, he called on them in Plymouth, which evidently was in Illinois but may have been in Iowa. So this shows they were living together at that date. To make things more interesting, John Smith was John Lyman Smith’s father.
This shows once more how useful your book is. Had you had the advantage of your finished book when you started out to write it, how much more would you have derived from sources you turned to, for fragments of information that could have no meaning for you in the initial phase of the research would have meant a lot to you later on. I am the beneficiary of your work in this respect, and no doubt there will be someone to benefit from mine.
With all your other pursuits (and of course yourself as an object of pursuit), I hope you will still find time to keep plugging away at your book. It goes without saying it will be interesting, and I look forward to the time when it is finished.
30. To Joseph Anderson 1
Salt Lake City, Utah
20 April, 1948
[p.157]Dear Mr. Anderson:
Your letter of April 14, which was not delivered in the mails until this afternoon, of course answers in effect my second letter, mailed to you this morning.
I regret the position taken by the Church with respect to its archives. I feel that what amounts to a policy of suppression is a mistaken one, and ultimately will work out to the disadvantage of the Church. Although, as you say, people writing books may be “rarely qualified to appraise accurately what they read, and too frequently, whether consciously or unconsciously,…misrepresent what they find,” this cannot be amended except by the appeal to the record. In the long run the record will correct itself. This is the principle on which all our concepts of the free press are founded; it is also the basis for all modem scholarship. So long as the Church permits access to its archives only when it can control the fruits of the scholarship, so long must it be content to be misrepresented and misunderstood. I do not question the right of the Church to adopt such policies, but I think that the position of the Church is fundamentally untenable, and sooner or later must be reversed.
I shall avail myself of your invitation to use the facilities of the Historian’s Office, to the extent of inviting the cooperation of the Assistant Historians in checking my bibliography against the holdings of the Church. As your collections are so notable, I suspect that a number of titles which are unique outside your library, insofar as my researches have disclosed, may have a second existence in the Historian’s Office; and the Church may have as many as 10 or 12 tracts or pamphlets I have found nowhere else. Much of this material is of little use to the historian who works in broad fields, but even pamphlets devoted to local controversies or doctrinal disputes have an ultimate interest, and I suspect that my bibliography will be found very interesting by members of the Church as well as scholars at large.
Since Mormon materials are so widespread and modern library facilities so flexible, I will not have to burden the Historian’s Office [p.158] in connection with research in printed sources for my history proper, which I shall write independent of the resources of the Church: I do not wish to lay the Church under any obligation it may feel unwilling to assume in connection with the writing of my book.
Dale L. Morgan
31. To John Selby1
Salt Lake City, Utah
26 July 1948
Dear Mr. Selby:
For the last month or so I have been working up the ambition to sit down and write you about my Mormon history, and your letter of the 22nd, arriving this morning, seems to provide the necessary energy, like a box of cornflakes or something.
The production of this book, or series of perhaps three books, has been in a condition of virtual suspended animation since I arrived back here from California at the beginning of April. My transcontinental researches, culminated with a broken cylinder in Berkeley in March, put me in a hell of a financial hole, and the last three months have been dedicated to the proposition of getting out of said hole. Thus except for some research in the form of obtaining some essential microfilms from the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Harvard, and Yale libraries, the history has had to await the time when I could afford the luxury of working on it. This time is not going to arrive for another six weeks or so, because I have entered into a proposition with the State Department of Publicity and Industrial Development to do them a historic trails map of Utah; this is going to require four solid weeks of field research and another two weeks of putting the fruits of this research in shape for their draftsman. After that, however, except for an October visit to the Huntington Library at San Marino [California], made necessary by the declination of the Utah church to cooperate in the production of a history about it (the only library, and the only Mormon church [p.159] in the entire country, by the way, which has not cooperated fully), I shall get to work on the first volume of the history and bring it to completion as rapidly as I can.
So this is the situation I have been intending to explore when I could get around to it. Everything considered, I believe that I had better ask for an advance on royalties so that I can spend my working time on the book instead of on the sundry kinds of hackwork that have taken up my time since April. I should like to have the first draft of the book done by the end of April, and the final draft done by the end of July.
But this of course is the first book, which brings up the second point requiring discussion. We have not got around to signing a contract for the Mormon history, but obviously we will have to if I am going to ask a royalty advance to enable me to get the book done within the reasonably early future. If such a contract is drawn up, I want it to encompass not only this first book of my Mormon history, but the entire work. I have felt that it would be advantageous not to try to market the history as a formidable three-volume work; rather, to write a series of three books which can be merchandised separately, but which when completed will comprise a closely integrated history in three volumes. Fortunately, the material falls naturally into such divisions—the first is concerned with the Mormon story down to Joseph Smith’s death in 1844. The second opens with the struggle for power that took place among Joseph’s followers, and closes with Brigham Young’s death in 1877. The third volume brings the story down to our own time.
The underlying theme of the whole work is the social significance of the Mormons as a minority in American society, how the Mormons have influenced and been influenced by American life, how minority and majority come to terms with each other. Thus the Mormon story sheds a great deal of valuable light on numerous world problems today, and I believe that those who read my history will find that it imparts a useful point of view in evaluating some of these contemporary problems. As for myself, I have found my intensive study of the Mormon phenomenon a highly useful education—for my money, the Russians today are simply a nation of Mormons, embodying on a national scale the characteristics of the Saints during their intransigent period. (Not that the Mormons would be flattered to think so.)
But to get back to my main point, as it seems necessary for me to make some contractual arrangements, I want any contract to envision a total work of three volumes, though it is to be left to my discretion whether the work shall not be condensed into two instead. (From some points of view, except for thorough coverage of the subject, two volumes might be preferable to three. I could doubtless fill more, but here it is necessary to compromise what may be desirable historically with what is practicable commercially.)
If the firm [Rinehart & Company] is willing to draw up a contract along these lines, with the finished manuscripts to be delivered [p.160] successively on August 1, 1949, August 1, 1950, and August 1, 1951, and if a substantial royalty advance can be made on the first book to enable me to give all my time to it, we will make a deal on this basis. Any questions of advances on the books to come can be left for determination after the first book is completed; I prefer not to spend a book before it has been written, and am only getting involved in such a proposition now because it seems the best of the several expedients open to me.
A further angle is Mrs. [Madeline] McQuown’s book on Brigham Young. Naturally I don’t want my own book to prejudice the success of hers in any way. She is working night and day right now to get the manuscript reduced to workable proportions so that you may have it for spring publication next year. You will know better than I whether it is advisable for you to take on two major books of similar nature. I believe both books will be memorable and it may be that each will help the other. I could take my book to another publisher if necessary, the mails having practically been infested with overtures, but I have felt a special obligation to Rinehart on this work and have wanted to give the firm first crack at it.
All this plain speaking covers all the angles, I believe. I will leave it to you to decide where we go from here, or at any rate, how we go from here.
Dale L. Morgan
32. To S. A. Burgess
Salt Lake City, Utah
13 August 1948
Dear Mr. Burgess,
I received on Monday your letter of August 5, and since then I have been pondering how best to answer you. For it is not easy to answer you, just as it is not easy to answer any of the representatives of the several Mormon or L.D.S. churches with whom I have had discussions of one kind and another; it is not easy, because none of [p.161] you can even agree very far among yourselves, and yet all of you I give credit for being honest and sincere, men of integrity who hold to their beliefs and their ways of thinking for the best of reasons, yet who hold beliefs which cannot be reconciled with each other. If I accept any part of what one of these men says, I am immediately challenged by some other among them. Whether one is regarded as “friendly” or not by one of these men depends upon the extent to which one accepts his views. And if one attempts to steer an impartial course among them, all of them are likely to regard him as “unfriendly.”
Even you, who have shown yourself in our intercourse a gentle and generous nature, are not immune from what I might call these animosities, your basic assurance and insistence that you hold correct views. Thus while I was in Independence [Missouri], I mentioned to you my intention, when my book was completed, of submitting the draft of it for criticism by some responsible member of your church, as a means of repairing any gaps in my objectivity, although, I said, I could give no assurances that I would amend the book in any particular unless the objections brought to bear seemed to me reasonable and proper in the circumstances. You were at once antagonized by the reservation I had made, yet if you had paused to consider, you would have realized that anything else would be an abdication of my responsibility as author; in like circumstances, is it conceivable that if you had written a book on your church and submitted it to me for the critical benefit of my ideas about it, that you would have felt yourself bound to have the book reflect my ideas rather than yours? I think not. This of course was an emotional reaction at base, but it exhibits the difficulty of establishing ourselves entirely on common ground. Many things you say in the notes you now send to me are kindred to this.
A few weeks ago I was discussing some political questions with a friend, and I remarked then that we are only critical about the things we don’t want to believe. I think this observation has a more general application, and certainly it applies to some of the things you say to me in this letter. For example, you talk at some length about polygamy, which of course is a subject about which your church has always been hyper-sensitive. It is common among the members of your church to bring to bear the question of legal proofs, evidence that would stand up in court, when the subject of polygamy is brought up. But your church members, even you yourself who have been educated in the law, only take such ground when the matter under discussion is one you do not wish to believe. For example, you say to me now, about Joseph Smith, “Considering only the esoteric aspects it appears true that he claimed at an early time of his life to have had some remarkable spiritual experiences. He tried to tell them to a neighboring preacher as well as to his father. The details and development of the Book of Mormon, the fact that such claim was made, is clear from newspaper and other accounts published at the time.”
[p.162] Perhaps I may be allowed to conclude from this that you are talking about the period down to 1830, say, down to the date of publication of the Book of Mormon. But the fact is, Mr. Burgess, that what you say is not true. I have made a most determined search for evidences that would support Joseph Smith’s claims in this respect, the most thorough search, I believe, that anyone has ever made, and this evidence does not exist. I have examined all the surviving newspapers published in Palmyra and Canandaigua during the time of the Smith residence in that neighborhood, as well as fragmentary files of the papers published in the Susquehanna Valley—I spent months on this research—and in none of them is there anything to bear out Joseph Smith’s later portrait of himself as a person who had had spiritual experiences of overwhelming import (that is to say, one to whom God the Father had shown himself). Mr. [Francis W.] Kirkham, who did much research in the same field, was not able to demonstrate anything in this respect either; on the contrary, the stories he found and published present quite another picture of the young Joseph Smith. If you had to go into a court and present a case for Joseph Smith that hinged upon establishing the fact that his spiritual claims were common knowledge during the seven years before 1830, not to speak of the period before that, you could present no evidence except that of an obviously interested witness, himself. And you could not establish that even he himself had set forth such claims as a public record before 1840. Whatever may be said about Mrs. [Fawn] Brodie’s book, it must be said that she was absolutely within her province as historian in pointing out this fact. You will find in your Church History a presumptive reference to such a vision as early as 1835, in private conversation (and it is due Mrs. Brodie to say that she called attention to this), but the documents are unfortunately withheld, and one is not permitted to investigate the value and import of the document in question. I have made a most determined search to go beyond Mrs. Brodie’s findings, a far more determined search than any members of any of the so-called Mormon churches has made, and I have found no evidence whatsoever—in newspaper, religious periodical, court record, or private journal—that the First Vision was talked about or even known among the church members before 1840.
Now, Mr. Burgess, you may say that I am unfriendly to Joseph Smith because, as a historian, I set up a yell for the facts when I come across any claim whatsoever in Mormon history, be it for or against the Saints. I am as willing to find things in Joseph Smith’s favor as to find things against him; indeed, the only way I can do my job as a historian is to try to prove the case for as well as against, in any particular. But in the end I must sit in judgment, and the basis of my judgment has to be the facts at my disposal. I am under no illusion that anyone is ever absolutely objective about anything; the remark I quoted to you above, about people being critical only about those things they don’t want to believe, applies as pointedly to me as to anyone else. But at least in the writing of history I try to take [p.163] nothing for granted, and I have no emotional investment to persuade me to believe anything on one side or the other.
You may say to me that religious experience is of such nature that it does not necessarily reflect itself in the kind of facts that I, as a materialistic historian, must deal with. You may say this and I will have no quarrel with you. But religious experience in general, certainly Mormonism as it is proselyted, is not content with a purely metaphysical existence and meaning. It begins to “prove” itself by “facts,” by material processes, correspondences, and relationships and to justify itself by these “facts.” When religion removes from the metaphysical to the material plane, however, it subjects itself to material criteria. As it lays claim to “facts,” so it becomes embodied in “facts,” and those facts may be taken up and individually evaluated by even the most materialistic of historians without legitimate objection by the religion or its adherents. If you tell me that you know God lives, I have no argument with you. If you tell me that religious experience is the most rewarding experience of humankind, I do not necessarily argue with you, though the question is open to debate. But if you tell me that the Book of Mormon is “proved” by modem archaeological findings, or that the Book of Mormon explains the material objects dug up by modern archaeology more satisfactorily than any other hypothesis that has been advanced, I have every right to bring materialistic disciplines to bear on what you tell me—in other words, to argue with you—and it will not satisfy me to have you say, for example, that you have evidence these things axe true because Joseph Smith once took up a human thigh bone from a mound and said that it was a part of a “prehistoric” man named Zelf.
Perhaps it is in point here to bring up the information about Brigham Young I tried to obtain from you, and which you, for good reasons as you now explain, felt it necessary and proper to withhold from me. The allegation you refer to is worth nothing in itself, of course. But for me it would have been a starting place. I should have inquired what the opportunities of the one making the allegation were for having correct information. I should have wanted to know where and when Brigham Young was asserted to have belonged to a love cult, what its nature was, what it was called, who if anybody was asserted to have been associated with him in this cult. I should then have set about establishing whether Brigham Young lived at such a place at such a time, whether the local histories or newspapers make mention of such a cult or such persons even as were asserted to have been involved, whether the census reports in the National Archives list such persons as living at such a place at such a time. And so on, to the extent that the source material would support researches. I tell you this merely in illustration of my point of view on source material, and of the responsibilities that rest upon anyone who comes into possession of suggestive material. This is the modern research discipline, Mr. Burgess; it is the basis for the writing of modern history. In view of the hard things you have to say [p.164] about Mrs. Brodie, it will interest you to know that she too subscribes to this point of view. You are inclined to feel that she threw into her book everything that would damage Joseph Smith, and played down everything in his favor. It is too bad that you did not have the privilege of talking over her problems with her while she was writing her book, of obtaining some insight into the workings of her mind, and seeing what was rejected as well as what was accepted for the content of her book. This is not to defend the validity of everything that appears in her book; but practically nothing appears in her book that does not have evidence of some kind to pose at least the possibility of its being true, a supporting framework to justify its inclusion in the text.
Being human as we are, it is too easy for all of us to rest on certain easy assumptions while we become properly critical and scientifically objective about other things. I have no doubt that my own book too often will be defective in this respect. But it helps to remember our common fraility in this matter. For instance, Mr. Burgess, you have much to say in the notes you now send me about the asserted relationship of Joseph Smith and Mrs. Buell in the spring of 1839. You take your critical stand on the fact that “after two days travel towards Boone County we are asked to believe that Joseph Smith jr. escaping, turned his face West into [a] field of his enemies, rushed to Far West, committed adultery with a married woman, turned around and in two days from release was on Salt River??? History shows facts of transfer to Boone County, escape, and at Salt River in two days or second day later. Nothing is shown that he went near Far West.” Now, I have not looked into these facts, but in reading what you say, several times adverted to in your notes, my curiosity is aroused to make me wonder who has said that Joseph Smith visited Far West after his escape. On examining Mrs. Brodie’s book, I find that she has not said this. Nor is it established that Prescindia Buell was at Far West at the time of Joseph’s escape, although it would appear probable that she was somewhere in Missouri. Your whole argument about the logic or illogic of Joseph’s having visited Far West depends upon the prior assumption that in the period under discussion Mrs. Buell was in fact at Far West. Maybe she was; maybe you can even prove that she was. But you do not now present any evidence for the significant assumption upon which the validity of your entire argument depends.
It would take me a long while to comment individually on each of the numerous points you bring up. Some of your points are well taken; on others it is evident that you talk on the basis of insufficient evidence (for example, examine the title-page of Eliza R. Snow’s biography of her brother; or see her signature to her manuscript autobiography in the Bancroft Library, which hardly supports your idea that she did not use the name “Smith” during her lifetime).
The question of seerstones I won’t attempt to go into in detail right now, as my ideas and what I have found out will be spread [p.165] before you in due course in the manuscript of my book. The same thing is true about the early Justice of the Peace record, or the trial in the Susquehanna Valley. As I said to you last winter, Kirkham’s ideas are absolutely invalid and will have to be given up, for a description of the trial, published in April, 1831, triangulates with two different later sources, all far apart in place and time.
Incidently, let me correct you on one point. My great-grand-mother Pratt was not Sarah but a later wife of Orson Pratt.
To leave the subject of your letter for the present, I wish to make a further inquiry about the imperfect copy of Parley Pratt’s pamphlet of 1838, Mormonism Unveiled, which you showed me in January. At that time I supplied you with a typed copy of the title-page as I had found it on another copy. The question is which of the first three editions your imperfect is. I have discovered a single copy of the first edition in the Western Reserve Historical Society, and a couple of copies of the other editions in other libraries. There is at least one point of difference. The third edition is misnumbered “34” at the head of page 4. The first edition is corrected in its pagination, however. On inquiry at Harvard, I find that the second edition is also incorrectly numbered. It can therefore be determined whether your copy is first edition or not, although if not, I do not yet have further points of differentiations as between second and third editions.
I have worked periodically at this bibliography since my return to Utah, and when opportunity offers, I am now typing up a checklist to be checked against the holdings of such libraries as I could not visit in person, e.g., the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. When such libraries have reported as to their holdings, the final, chronologically organized bibliography will be typed up, and I shall see what can be done about getting the bibliography in print.
Dale L. Morgan