The Essential Parley P. PrattThe Essential Parley P. Pratt
Foreword by Peter L. Crawley

on the cover:
The Essential Parley P. Pratt contains the seminal writings of one of the most important and influential theologians of Mormonism’s founding years. Included among the twenty selections, many of which are readily available today only in this compilation, are:

“The Regeneration and Eternal Duration of Matter”
A Dialogue Between Joe. Smith & the Devil!
“Intelligence and Affection”
“Keys of the Mysteries of the Godhead”
“Origin of the Universe”
“One Hundred Years Hence. 1945”
“Destiny of the Universe”


A Royal Planter now descends from yonder world of older date, and bearing in his hand the choice seeds of the older Paradise, he plants them in the virgin soil of our new born earth. They grow and flourish there, and, bearing seed, replant themselves, and thus clothe the naked earth with scenes of beauty, and the air with fragrant incense. Ripening fruits and herbs at length abound. When, lo! from yonder world is transferred every species of animal life. Male and Female, they come, with blessings on their heads; and a voice is heard again, “be fruitful and multiply.”

Earth—its mineral, vegetable and animal wealth—its Paradise, prepared, down comes from yonder world on high, a son of God, with his beloved spouse. And thus a colony from heaven, it may be from the sun, is transplanted on our soil. The blessings of their Father are upon them, and the first great law of heaven and earth is again repeated, “Be fruitful and multiply.”…

Man, moulded from earth, as a brick! A Woman, manufactured from a rib! Thus, parents still would fain conceal from budding manhood, the mysteries of procreation, or the sources of life’s ever flowing river, by relating some childish tale of new born life, engendered in the hollow trunk of some old tree or springing with spontaneous growth, like mushrooms, from out the heaps or rubbish. O Man! When wilt thou cease to be a child in knowledge?

—from “Origin of the Universe”

on the flaps:
One of the first converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Parley Parker Pratt (1807-57) would eventually become early Mormonism’s most famous and widely published defender.

Born in western New York, Pratt converted to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles five years later as one of its founding members. Strong-willed and largely self-educated, he served several missions for the young church, participated in Zion’s Camp sent to rescue the Saints in Missouri from persecutors, quarreled with Mormon prophet Joseph Smith over finances and narrowly escaped excommunication, founded the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star in England, married several plural wives in Nauvoo, Illinois, immigrated to the Great Salt Lake Valley, and filled additional overseas missions for the church.

Best known for his fiery apologetic writings such as A Voice of Warning (1837), Key to the Science of Theology (1855), and his autobiography (published posthumously in 1874), Pratt virtually defined Mormon doctrine and theology for much of the nineteenth century. He was killed in 1857 in Arkansas by the estranged husband of a woman he had married.

“Few of the truly distinctive doctrines of Mormonism are discussed in ‘official’ sources,” writes Peter Crawley in his foreword. “It is mainly by ‘unofficial’ means that the theology is passed from one generation to the next. Indeed it would seem that a significant part of Mormon theology exists primarily in the minds of the members. The absence of a formal creed means that each generation must produce a new set of gospel expositors to restate and reinterpret the doctrines of Mormonism.”

“Today,” Crawley continues, “Parley P. Pratt is remembered mainly as a writer of hymns, the author of a lively autobiography or as ‘one of the great explorers, orators, and missionaries of the Mormons.’ Forgotten is the fact that this composer of hymns all but single-handedly invented Mormon book writing. More than this, the arguments he put in print one hundred and forty years ago—although now unrecognized as his—have become a permanent part of modern Mormonism.”

Peter L. Crawley, professor of mathematics at Brigham Young University, is an acknowledged expert on early publications of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and on the intellectual history of Mormonism. He is the author or co-author of Notable Mormon Books, 1830-1857; The State of Deseret; and Mormon Imprints in Great Britain and the Empire, 1836-1857.

title page:
The Essential Parley P. Pratt
Foreword by Peter L. Crawley
Signature Books
Salt Lake City

copyright page:
Cover Design: Randall Smith Associates
(c)1990 by Signature Books, Inc. All Rights reserved.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
Printed on acid free paper.
94  93  92  91  90  6  5  4  3  2  1

Pratt, Parley P. (Parley Parker), 1807-1857
[Selections. 1990]
The essential Parley p. Pratt / with an indroduction by Peter L. Crawley.
p.  cm.
1. Mormon Church—Apologetic works. 2. Mormon Church—Doctrines.
3. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—Apologetic works.
4. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—Doctrines.
5. Pratt, Parley P. (Parley Parker), 1807-1857. I. Title.
BX8609.P478 1990
230′.9332—DC20          89-27568
ISBN: 0-941214-84-2

Publisher’s Preface [see below]
Foreword by Peter L. Crawley [see below]
01 – “The Kingdom of God”
02 – Mormonism Unveiled: Zion’s Watchman Unmasked, and its Editor, Mr. L. R. Sunderland, Exposed; Truth Vindicated; The Devil Mad, and Priestcraft in Danger!
03 –  “The Regeneration and Eternal Duration of Mater”
04 – “An Address by Judge Higbee and Parley P. Pratt, Ministers of the Gospel, of the Church of Jesus Christ of ‘Latter-day Saints,’ to the Citizens of Washington and to the Public in General”
 05 – Plain Facts, Showing the Falsehood and Folly of the Rev. C. S. Bush, (a Church Minister of the Parish of Peover,) Being a Reply to His Tract Against the Latter-day Saints
06 – An Epistle of Demetrius, Junior, the Silversmith, To the workman of like occupation, and all others whom it may concern,—Greeting: Showing the Best Way to Preserve Our Craft, and to Put Down the Latter Day Saints
07 – A Letter to the Queen of England, Touching the Signs of the Times, and the Political Destiny of the World
08 – “The Fountain of Knowledge”
09 – “Immortality and Eternal Life of the Material Body”
10 – “Intelligence and Affection”
11 – A Dialogue Between Joe. Smith & the Devil!
12 – “One Hundred Years Hence. 1945”
13 – Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was in the Island of Great Britain, for the Gospel’s Sake; And being in the Spirit on the 21st of November, A.D. 1846, addressed the following words of comfort to his dearly-beloved Wife and family, dwelling in tents, in the camp of Israel, at Council Bluffs, Missouri Territory, North America; where they and twenty thousand others were banished by the civilized Christians of the United States, for the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus
14 – Proclamation! To the People of the Coasts and Islands of the Pacific; of Every Nation, Kindred and Tongue
 15 – “Mormonism!” “Plurality of Wives!” An Especial Chapter, for the Especial Edification of certain inquisitive News Editors, Etc.
16 – Spiritual Communication. A Sermon Delivered by Elder P. P. Pratt, Senr, Before the Conference at Salt Lake City, April 7, 1853
17 – “Keys of the Mysteries of the Godhead”
18 – “Origin of the Universe”
19 – “Destiny of the Universe”
20 – The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, One of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Embracing His Life, Ministry and Travels, with Extracts, in Prose and Verse, from His Miscellaneous Writings. Edited by His Son, Parley P. Pratt

Publisher’s Preface

[p.ix]Parley Parker Pratt was born on 12 April 1807 in Burlington, western New York, to Jared Pratt and Charity Dickenson. He was third in a family of five sons which included his younger brother, Mormon apostle and theologian Orson Pratt.

Parley’s childhood was marked by extreme poverty. His father, an unsuccessful farmer, moved his family frequently as he struggled to provide for them. The Pratts belonged to no particular religious sect, considering themselves to be non-conformist Christians. Parley’s education was cut short at age fifteen when he was obliged to help support his family by working for other farmers. Despite these obstacles, Pratt pursued learning on his own, studying the Bible and other books, developing the literary and rhetorical skills for which he later became famous.

At seventeen, Parley and his older brother William set out to purchase a farm on credit. About this time Parley joined the Baptists but later claimed that he remained discontented with their version of Christianity. The Pratt brothers improved their farm, working it for a year, but were required to give it up when they were unable to meet the payment, a failure they believed resulted from depressed market conditions. William returned home, while Parley went to frontier Ohio where he lived for a year, building a cabin in the wilderness near the settlement of Cleveland and subsisting by hunting. For Pratt, the time he spent in Ohio was a period of spiritual retreat and searching. At twenty he made up his mind to pursue a calling as a minister and returned home to make the necessary arrangements.

Once home, Parley went to the house of Thankful Halsey with the intention of marrying her. Thankful, a widow nearly ten years Pratt’s senior, had known Parley from his youth. Thankful reportedly did not remarry after the death of her husband because she loved Parley and was waiting for his return. Parley shared with her his hopes of becoming a preacher and asked that she accept his calling as well.

The couple married and moved to Pratt’s property in Ohio which Parley was able to improve with the help of his bride’s dowry. They built a frame house to replace the log cabin, cleared fifty acres, and planted gardens and orchards. While in Ohio, Parley met and joined Sidney Rigdon, a preacher who had broken off from Alexander Campbell’s primitive gospel movement.

[p.x]Because of Parley’s desire to preach, he sold his estate, clearing only about ten dollars, and set out with Thankful to New York by steamer in August 1830. Thankful’s health was fragile and Parley arranged for her to stay with friends in Buffalo while he disembarked at Rochester to begin preaching.

It was at this time that Parley discovered the Church of Christ, later the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), founded by Joseph Smith only five months earlier in upstate New York. Pratt borrowed a copy of the Book of Mormon from a Baptist deacon and read it in one evening. Excited by his discovery, he went directly to Palmyra, New York, to seek the Mormon prophet. He found that Joseph Smith had moved to Pennsylvania, but that Joseph’s older brother Hyrum was there. Pratt was taught and soon baptized.

The next month Joseph Smith called Pratt and other early converts on a proselytizing mission to the American Indians on the Missouri frontier. On his way to Missouri, Pratt passed through Ohio and succeeded in converting his former minister, Sidney Rigdon, and over one hundred of Rigdon’s followers in the Kirtland, Ohio, area. It was in part Pratt’s successful missionary work that brought Smith and church headquarters to Kirtland.

Despite hostility from federal Indian agents and local clergy in Missouri, Pratt returned from his mission and reported that Missouri would make an ideal gathering place for the Mormons. Thankful, who joined the church while her husband was in Missouri, had not gone with the other Saints to Kirtland, deciding instead to remain with friends in the east. Pratt returned to Missouri without his wife, where Smith declared that the Saints must gather to build the New Jerusalem in preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

In February 1832, Pratt resolved to bring Thankful to Missouri, even though she was ill. The journey was financed with sixty dollars Thankful had earned in the east. Also, a member of the church sent money with Parley to assist in establishing a farm but soon became dissatisfied and demanded his money returned, leaving Pratt destitute. Meanwhile Pratt was called on another church mission, this time to Illinois.

Returning from his mission, Pratt began to prosper, as the Saints gathered in Jackson County, Missouri. But mounting persecution from neighbors forced him and Thankful to escape to neighboring Clay County. Pratt left for Ohio in the winter of 1834 to alert Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders to the problems the Mormons were facing in Missouri. Pratt joined the Zion’s Camp expedition mustered by Smith to liberate the Saints and punish their persecutors. Disease weakened the camp members, and the Mormon settlement in Jackson County was abandoned.

[p.xi]In 1835, Smith called Pratt to the original Quorum of Twelve Apostles and sent him to Canada, a mission that garnered the conversion of John Taylor, who subsequently became third president of the Mormon church. During this mission, Thankful gave birth to a son, Parley Jr., but she died soon after.

Pratt returned to Kirtland in 1837 to rampant economic and spiritual crisis. Leading Mormons, Pratt included, became angry with Joseph Smith over failed business ventures Smith had endorsed. Pratt, leading the dissent, accused Smith of false prophecy. Smith countered by calling a church court to excommunicate the dissenters. Pratt and others successfully challenged the court’s jurisdiction, and before another court could be convened Pratt made a partial confession thereby escaping excommunication. Smith sent Pratt on a mission to New York where, on 9 May 1938, he married his next wife, Mary Ann Frost, a widow with one daughter.

Following the collapse of the Mormon economy in Kirtland, Pratt left New York in April 1838 to meet the Saints who were gathering in northern Missouri. Soon he was embroiled in the same kind of troubles with non-Mormon neighbors he had fled four years earlier. In October, he was arrested and imprisoned along with Smith, Rigdon, and other Mormons for treason, murder, and other crimes. They were never brought to trial but were moved from jail to jail. After eight months imprisonment Pratt escaped to join the Mormons gathering this time in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Pratt was now called with others of the Twelve on successive missions to the eastern states and England. In Philadelphia, he learned from Joseph Smith the doctrine of plural marriage. He visited the cities of Detroit, Washington, D.C., and New York in the company of Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, and other colleagues from his quorum. In England, Pratt was busy organizing the emigration of Latter-day Saints to Nauvoo and printing works such as the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star. He arrived back in Nauvoo on 12 April 1843, serving as a member of the Nauvoo City Council from 1843 to 1845.

In the spring of 1844, Pratt left again for the eastern states on a mission. During his absence Joseph and Hyrum Smith were assassinated on 27 June. Pratt hurried to Nauvoo where he and others of the Twelve worked to keep the church united against various claims of presidency. He then returned to New York where he spent the first half of 1845 as president of the Eastern States Mission.

Pratt had secretly married Belinda Marden on 20 November 1844 and travelled with her to New York. His first wife, Mary Ann, who remained in Nauvoo, knew nothing of her husband’s plural marriage. Also unknown to Mary Ann were three other marriages to Elizabeth [p.xii]Brotherton in 1843 and to Mary Wood and Hannette Snively in 1844. Returning to Nauvoo, Belinda joined Pratt’s household as a maid. She became pregnant that winter.

In January 1846, Parley and Orson Pratt publicly argued in the newly completed Nauvoo temple over accusations Parley had made against Orson’s wife, Sarah. Orson and Sarah had quarreled with church officials ever since Joseph Smith reportedly approached Sarah in 1842, while Orson was in England, with a proposal of plural marriage. Shortly before Parley’s and Orson’s dispute, Sarah had informed Mary Ann of Belinda’s and Parley’s relationship. Mary Ann confronted Belinda and, after learning the truth, left Parley. They formally divorced seven years later.

In the temple Parley accused Sarah of “ruining and breaking up his family,” as well as of being an apostate. Parley’s and Orson’s argument became so intense that Orson was voted out of the temple. The next day Orson wrote to Brigham Young, president of the Twelve, defending his attack on Parley. He denied responsibility for Mary Ann’s knowledge of Parley’s polygamous marriages and told Young he was willing to repent of anything that would keep him out of good standing. But, he declared, Parley was now his “avowed enemy.” The two brothers did not reconcile until seven years later in 1853.

Temple-related activities in Nauvoo, including plural marriages, ceased early in 1846 when the Saints moved to Iowa on their way to the Rocky Moutain Great Basin. Despite Brigham Young’s prohibition, Parley and Apostle John Taylor married additional wives in the temple. Young accused both men of adultery.

Pratt left the Saints at Winter Quarters, Iowa, to serve another mission in England and returned in time to accompany them on the western trek, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in September 1847. He was active in the organization of the territory of Deseret and served twice as delegate to unsuccessful Utah statehood conventions in 1849 and 1856. He also fulfilled missions in California and South America from 1850 to 1852.

Pratt left for California in 1854 to oversee the church’s Pacific Mission headquartered in San Francisco. There he met Eleanor McLean, who had joined the Mormons but whose husband, Hector, had remained antagonistic to Mormonism. Eleanor gave Pratt food and cared for his domestic needs while his wife was ill; Pratt gave Eleanor advice on her apparently unhappy homelife. After an unsuccessful attempt to claim her children in New Orleans, where Hector had sent them to live with relatives, Eleanor decided to leave her husband and move to Utah where Pratt employed her as a teacher to his children. Within a month of her arrival, Eleanor married Parley, his tenth and last plural wife. She had not been divorced from Hector.

[p.xiii]On 10 September 1856, Parley was called to assist the church in Virginia. Eleanor asked to go with him, hoping to get her children and bring them back to Utah. They reached St. Louis in November, and Eleanor continued to New Orleans where she professed to relatives that she was leaving Mormonism. Thus she succeeded in finally taking her children with her. Hector was immediately alerted and left for New Orleans to track them down.

When Hector arrived in St. Louis, Parley was warned and fled. Hector swore out a warrant against Parley and Eleanor both. They were subsequently located and arrested. A trial was held in Van Buren, Arkansas, where they were acquitted. On 13 May 1857, Parley was given his horse and allowed to leave. But before he traveled far, Hector caught up with and killed him. Parley was secretly buried in Fine Springs, Arkanas, late the next day.

In preparing the following texts of Parley P. Pratt’s writings for publication, a note should be made about presentation. Care has been taken to present them exactly as they were first printed. The only exception to this is the correction of obviously unintentional typesetting errors such as letter transpositions and repeated words. Archaic, variant, and idiosyncratic spelling, usage, and grammar remain as they are found in the original, with no attempt made to correct or resolve occasionally ambiguous constructions and meanings.

The inclusion of Pratt’s autobiography is problematic since it is apparent from the internal style and statements from associates that other writers besides Pratt contributed to its writing. These include his son, Parley Pratt, Jr., John Taylor, and George Q. Cannon. Still, enough of Pratt’s unmistakable hand is evident to justify its republication here.

Finally, Pratt’s writings occasionally evince a bombastic, confrontational tone which some readers might find offensive. Much of Pratt’s polemicism can be attributed to his environment and self-education. Although not a schooled theologian, Pratt was one of early Mormonism’s most original thinkers and influential writers. While some of his spirited, opinionated writing seems quaint or antiquated today, it struck deep, familiar chords with his disenfranchised, independent-minded frontier contemporaries. For this reason, Parley P. Pratt’s writing serves today as an unembellished window to the concerns, motivations, fears, and aspirations of early Mormons, even if it does not in every aspect conform with contemporary LDS teachings or sensibilities.

by Peter L. Crawley

[p.xv]To measure the contribution to Mormonism of Parley Parker Pratt (1807-57), it may be helpful to review the circumstances surrounding the writing of his first books. This begins with some mention of the so-called primitive gospel movement, a part of the religious milieu in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was born.

The primitive gospel movement was a collection of diverse, independent movements which arose in New England, the South, and the West between 1790 and 1830 in response to the religious revivalism and sectarian conflict that characterized evangelical Protestantism. Certain attitudes tended to be shared by the various groups, among them a biblicist point of view; a rejection of Calvinist predestination; an anticipation of mass conversions foreshadowing an imminent Second Advent; a belief that the established churches were corrupt departures from the original, primitive Christian faith; and the belief that religion should be more personal, more independent of organized, hierarchical institutions. One other attitude is especially pertinent. Primitive gospelers tended to be anticreedal. Deploring the disunity and conflict among the established churches resulting from widely differing interpretations of the Bible, they attacked this problem, not by imposing an authoritarian statement of doctrine, but by eschewing any dogma beyond the most fundamental principles enunciated in the scriptures.1

Primitive gospel leanings are clearly discernible in Joseph Smith’s parents and grandparents as well as in those who surrounded him during Mormonism’s earliest months. David Whitmer’s account of the birth of the Mormon church describes a loosely organized, anticreedal group of religious “seekers” in which Joseph Smith was distinguished only by his “call” to translate the gold plates. Whitmer, who probably reflected the most apparent primitivistic orientation, felt that the church was as organized as it needed to be during the eight months preceding its formal organization on 6 April 1830, that in this embryonic state it was closer to the primitive ideal than at any other time in its history.2

Mormonism differed from most other primitive gospel movements, however, in a number of ways. It rejected the infallibility of the Bible and accepted the Book of Mormon as a new volume of scripture. More fundamental, this loosely organized, anticreedal group of seekers centered on a man who spoke with God. Virtually all other primitive [p.xvi]gospelers—the Vermont lay preacher Elias Smith for example–began their ministries as a result of personal visions. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, continued to receive revelations throughout his life. As new converts were drawn into the fold and Joseph Smith’s revelations multiplied, his stature in the new church inevitably grew to a position of preeminence, and his revelations took on the weight of scripture and became part of an expanding body of dogma.

In an anticreedal church, a growing body of dogma produces fundamental tensions. And a significant part of the history of Mormonism’s first decade can be viewed as the ebb and flow of these tensions which ultimately were resolved only by the excommunication of early Mormon stalwarts such as David and John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris in 1838 and the church’s move to Commerce (later Nauvoo), Illinois, the next year.3 Moreover, the anticreedalism of the early church insured that little of the developing theology would be openly discussed or written about until the church settled in Nauvoo. Although Mormonism began with a book, few others were published during this first decade that dealt with any aspect of Mormon theology.4 On the two occasions when the church attempted to print the revelations to Joseph Smith in book form, internal stresses broke into the open.5 The preface of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants alludes to these tensions and to the reluctance of early Mormons to solidify the gospel in print: “There may be an aversion in the minds of some against receiving any thing purporting to be articles of religious faith, in consequence of there being so many now extant; but if men believe a system, and profess that it was given by inspiration, certainly, the more intelligibly they can present it, the better. It does not make a principle untrue to print it, neither does it make it true not to print it.”

It was against the backdrop of these attitudes that Parley Pratt, an ordained apostle of the new church since 1835, journeyed to New York City in July 1837. The Mormon economy in Kirtland, Ohio, was in a state of collapse; dissension was rife following the demise of the Kirtland Safety Society. Parley himself had been touched by the rampant apostasy. And in an act of renewal he fled to New York to preach the gospel and purify himself. Few New York doors opened to him, so impelled by the literary instincts within him, he retired to his room to write. In two months he produced the most important of all noncanonical Mormon books, the Voice of Warning.6

This was not the first Mormon tract or the first outline of the tenets of Mormonism. A year before Orson Hyde had published his single-sheet broadside Prophetic Warning in Toronto which enumerated the judgments to accompany the Second Advent—but avoided any mention of the Latter-day Saints. Two years before that, Oliver Cowdery, one of [p.xvii]Joseph Smith’s closest associates, had published a one-page outline of the beliefs of the Mormons in the first issue of the Kirtland Messenger and Advocate. But Cowdery’s guarded outline could have represented any evangelical Christian sect and seems to have been written to underscore the similarities between Mormonism and other Christian denominations. Voice of Warning emphasized the differences. More significant, it erected a standard for all future Mormon pamphleteers by setting down a formula for describing Mormonism’s basic doctrines and listing biblical prooftexts, arguments, examples, and expressions which would be used by others for another century. It was, finally, the first use of a book other than the standard scriptural works to spread the Mormon message.

Three months after Voice of Warning was published, the proselytizing effort in New York City was bearing fruit. A growing congregation of Latter-day Saints met in a room outfitted for them by a local chairmaker, David W. Rogers, and a few copies of Voice of Warning were in circulation around the city. The inevitable response by local clergy came quickly. La Roy Sunderland, editor of the Methodist Zion’s Watchman, attacked the Mormons in an eight-part article (13 January—3 March 1838), basing much of his information on Eber D. Howe’s influential exposé Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, Ohio, 1834). Sunderland also quoted freely from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Voice of Warning. When Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed was first published, the Mormons all but ignored it. One finds only four or five passing references to it in the entire three-year run of the Messenger and Advocate. But in New York City, away from the main body of the church, feeling the power of the press and seeing his own work attacked in print, Parley Pratt responded in kind. In April 1838, just before he left New York for the new Mormon colony at Far West, Missouri, he published his fiery rebuttal to Sunderland, Mormonism Unveiled: Zion’s Watchman Unmasked, and Its Editor Mr. L. R. Sunderland, Exposed: Truth Vindicated: the Devil Mad, and Priestcraft in Danger! This 47- page pamphlet marks another bibliographical milestone: it is the first of a vast number of tracts written in response to anti- Mormon attacks. And like Voice of Warning, it established a formula that would be followed by Mormon pamphleteers for another century, balancing a defense of Mormonism’s sacred books and its doctrines with an unrelenting assault on the religion of the attacker.7

Pratt reached Far West, Missouri, in the spring of 1838. There he found the Mormon colony wracked by the same dissension from which he had fled the year before in Kirtland, Ohio. Within six months anti-Mormon violence had driven the Latter-day Saints from Missouri, and some of its leaders, including Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, [p.xviii]and Parley Pratt, were beginning terms of many months in Liberty and Columbia jails.

For Pratt the months of solitude in Columbia Jail meant time to write. Before he escaped on 4 July 1839, he produced a number of hymns and two significant essays. The first of these essays is an account of the violence in Missouri, which he published in Detroit in October 1839 while en route to a church mission in Great Britain, as an 84-page pamphlet entitled History of the Late Persecution.8 Three months later he republished it in New York City as a hardback book with the title Late Persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The second edition incorporates an introduction, not included in the first, which gives some of the early history of Mormonism as well as a summary of its most fundamental beliefs. None of the doctrinal concepts appearing in this introduction were new to the printed record. All are discussed, for example, in Voice of Warning. What was new was the concise formulation of the concepts in a few pages. In February 1840 Pratt reworked the doctrinal portion of this introduction into a four-page pamphlet entitled An Address by Judge Higbee and Parley P. Pratt … To the Citizens of Washington and to the Public in General. This was the first short missionary tract outlining the fundamentals of Mormonism. Immediately after he reached England in April 1840, Pratt reprinted his four-page address, slightly rewritten for a British audience, with the title An Address by a Minister of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the People of England. During the next three years it was reprinted twice more in England and three times in the United States.9

Two editions were published in Manchester, England, in 1840; a third was published in Bristol, England, in 1841. Two editions were published in New York City in 1841; a third American edition was published in Philadelphia in 1843.

Pratt’s second prison essay is the more interesting of the two. Entitled “A Treatise on the Regeneration and Eternal Duration of Matter” and printed in his Millennium and Other Poems (New York, 1840), it was the first writing to deal with the truly distinguishing doctrines of Mormonism. Earlier articles such as Sidney Rigdon’s three serial pieces, “Millennium,” “Faith of the Church,” and “The Gospel,” begun in The Evening and the Morning Star and continued in the Messenger and Advocate, could just as well have been published in the magazine of any Christian denomination. Even the “Lectures on Faith,” printed first in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, treat only the most general Christian principles. Just a single distinctive idea—that God and Jesus Christ are separate beings—appears in them, in the fifth lecture. “A Treatise,” on the other hand, put in print for the first time such radical ideas as: matter and spirit can neither be created nor annihilated; the world was not created ex nihilo but organized out of existing matter; and God is bound by certain overriding laws. In short it announced that the “omnis” of traditional Christianity did not apply to Mormonism. Four years later the ideas in “A Treatise” were amplified in a pair of essays, “Immortality of [p.xix]the Body” and “Intelligence and Affection,” both included in Pratt’s An Appeal to the Inhabitants of the State of New York (Nauvoo, 1844). These two essays express the most optimistic view of humanity in any Mormon printed source. They establish, in my opinion, a high-water mark in Mormon theological writing.

The year 1840 marked the confluence of several streams of events which changed the course of Mormon intellectual history. During the two years following its appearance in 1837, the Voice of Warning demonstrated the usefulness of the press in spreading the Mormon message, and by the fall of 1839, the first edition of 3,000 was sold out and Pratt was preparing a second edition. At this same time others turned to the press to advertise the Mormon expulsion from Missouri, while Joseph Smith journeyed to Washington, D.C., to seek redress from the U.S. Congress for the Mormon losses there.10 Free from the inhibiting anticreedal influence of David Whitmer and others, Joseph Smith now began to openly discuss the unique doctrines of Mormonism which before had only been whispered of in Kirtland.11 These public teachings, in turn, drew attacks from outside clergy.12 In addition, by the spring of 1840 nine of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles were arriving in Great Britain, and this massing of activity brought further attacks from British clerics. Thus the stage was set for a flowering of Mormon pamphleteering. Where only three polemical tracts were published during the nine years 1830-38, eighteen were published by Mormons in 1840, eight by Pratt.13 Before the death of Joseph Smith in 1844, Mormon writers produced more than seventy works, twenty by Pratt.14

These ephemeral pamphlets fundamentally changed Mormonism. For as they multiplied, the tenets of the church, bit by bit, were identified in print. In the absence of an official statement of doctrine, the ideas printed in these missionary tracts came to serve as the church’s confession of faith. And thus was Mormonism transformed from an anticreedal religion to one identified with a number of distinguishing doctrines.

By the early 1850s essentially all of Mormonism’s beliefs had been discussed somewhere in print, but no single comprehensive treatment had yet been written. Again it fell to Parley Pratt to produce the first book of this kind. In San Francisco in August 1851, just prior to leaving for his mission to Chile, he began work on his Key to the Science of Theology. Sixteen months later the next-to-last chapter, Chapter 16, was printed in the Deseret News; and in March 1855 the first edition was offered for sale.15

Key to Theology is Mormonism’s earliest comprehensive synthetical work. Its scope is complete. Beginning with a definition of theology, it traces the loss of the true gospel among the Jews and the gentiles; then in linking chapters it discusses the nature of the godhead, the origin of [p.xx]the universe, the restoration of the gospel, the means by which men and women regain the presence of God, the resurrection, the three degrees of glory, and the ultimate position of exalted men and women as procreative beings. Unlike the writings of Orson Pratt, Parley’s younger brother, which are definitive, almost dogmatic, Key to Theology is poetic, allusive, at times ambiguous. It is a masterly book. It is also Pratt’s last major work, published just two years before his assassination in Arkansas in 1857 by the husband of a woman he had been courting.

There are other “firsts” to Pratt’s credit. During his mission with the Twelve to the eastern states in the summer of 1835, he stopped in Boston to publish The Millennium, a Poem. To Which is Added Hymns and Songs, the first book of Mormon poetry.16 Again in Boston nine years later, he took a day off from campaigning for Joseph Smith’s presidency and wrote “A Dialogue Between Joe Smith and the Devil,” which was printed in the New York Herald and later reprinted in pamphlet form. Although written to make a point–that modern Christendom was corrupt and Mormonism was the only true Christian faith–A Dialogue Between Joe Smith and the Devil is the earliest work that can be classified as Mormon fiction.17

Just prior to leaving San Francisco for Chile in September 1851, Pratt composed Proclamation to the People of the Coasts and Islands of the Pacific and handed the manuscript to a fellow missionary Charles W. Wandell for publication. Two months later, immediately upon reaching Sydney, Australia, Wandell arranged for the printing of Proclamation.18 This was the first Mormon book published outside of North America and Western Europe, the first book associated with that extraordinary effort that sent Mormon missionaries in the early 1850s to Africa, India, China and Australia.

While in Chile, Pratt wrote Proclamacion Extraordinaria Para Los Americanos Espanoles, which he published in San Francisco after his return in May 1852. Soon after it appeared, a San Francisco newspaper attacked this tract and questioned the practice of polygamy among the Mormons. Not until 28 August 1852, would the Latter-day Saints first publicly acknowledge what had been a fact for more than ten years, that polygamous families existed among them.19 But six weeks before this announcement and two months before it was put in print, Pratt replied to the newspaper attack with his broadside “Mormonism!” “Plurality of Wives!” in which he outlined a defense of plural marriage that, with various amplifications, would be repeated for another fifty years.

Parley Pratt’s contribution goes beyond merely producing “first books,” however. Although most of his works are now virtually unknown, much of what was printed in them has survived. The early Mormon pamphleteers thought little of borrowing from one another, [p.xxi]and many of Pratt’s arguments and ideas flowed into the works of others and thus were perpetuated as a permanent part of Mormonism’s gospel tradition. A few examples from publications by missionaries will illustrate this process.

Chapter 3 of Voice of Warning deals with the kingdom of God and is based on the following outline: the kingdom has (1) a king, (2) officers, (3) laws, (4) subjects; (5) faith, repentance, baptism by one with authority, and the gift of the Holy Ghost are requisite for entrance into the kingdom; (6) the kingdom must embrace apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, etc.; (7) its members must enjoy the “gifts of the spirit.” Benjamin Winchester used this outline in the second number of his Gospel Reflector (Philadelphia, 1841) and again in the History of the Priesthood (Philadelphia, 1843). William I. Appelby followed it in his tract A Dissertation on Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream (Philadelphia, 1844), at one point quoting Pratt directly–without attribution. And the first number of David Candland’s Fireside Visitor or Plain Reasoner (Liverpool, 1846) borrowed Pratt’s treatment of the necessity of baptism. But the most important use of this chapter was by Parley’s brother, Orson.

Orson Pratt arrived in Liverpool, England, in August 1848 to assume the presidency of the church’s British mission. Enjoined to “print, publish, and superintend the emigration,”20 he wrote sixteen tracts during the next two-and-one-half years which were published and republished by the tens of thousands and formed the basis of the missionary work in Great Britain. Early in 1851 these tracts were bound together with a title page and table of contents, forming a book which eventually came to be known as Orson Pratt’s Works. This was an extremely influential book. It was published at a time when the British mission was producing its most converts. For many of these new converts, Orson’s tracts provided the first contact with published Mormon theology. Orson was a towering figure in the British mission, loved and admired as “the St. Paul of Mormondom,” the “Gauge of Philosophy.” With the onset of the Utah War in 1857, Mormon book writing almost totally ceased, and for the next twenty years virtually no new books were printed.21 What this meant was that those books which were in print before the Utah War continued to exert their influence for another generation, especially Orson Pratt’s Works which simply outnumbered all others by many thousands. When LDS books began to be published again after the death of Brigham Young, Orson Pratt’s Works was reprinted three times (1884, 1891, 1899). Two more editions have been published in our century. More important, Orson Pratt’s Works was a principal point of departure for Mormonism’s twentieth-century writers, such as B. H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, and John A. Widtsoe.

Orson Pratt’s Works includes a series of four tracts, The Kingdom of [p.xxii]God (1848-49), which treats, as the title suggests, the same subject as the third chapter of Voice of Warning. It is constructed on an outline of seven topics essentially identical to Parley’s outline in Voice of Warning.

Anticipating the claim of the non-Mormon clergy that the Bible contains all sacred writings, Parley listed, in the fourth chapter of Voice of Warning, a number of sacred books mentioned in the Bible but not included in it. Expanded and accompanied by the biblical citations, this list was printed in his tract Plain Facts, Showing the Falsehood and Folly of the Rev. C. S. Bush (Manchester, 1840). A few months later John Taylor included Parley’s list in his Truth Defended and Methodism Weighed in the Balance and Found Wanting (Liverpool, 1840). Benjamin Winchester reprinted the list and citations in his Gospel Reflector, and Lorenzo D. Barnes incorporated it in his References to Prove the Gospel in its Fulness (Philadelphia and Nauvoo, 1841). It was printed again in Erastus Snow and Benjamin Winchester’s An Address to the Citizens of Salem and Vicinity (Salem, 1841). Finally, Orson Pratt used half of Parley’s list together with the accompanying argument in the first installment of his six-part Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon (1850-51), also a part of Orson Pratt’s Works.

The concluding section of Mormonism Unveiled: Zion’s Watchman Unmasked attacks the doctrines of the Methodists, particularly their concept of a God without body, parts, or passions. Parley expanded this in his unsigned pamphlet The True God and His Worship Contrasted with Idolatry (Liverpool? 1842?) which argues that a belief in a God without body, parts, or passions is equivalent to a belief in a God that does not exist– a belief, the tract declares, that is nothing short of atheism. John Taylor quotes Parley’s attack on the Methodists in Truth Defended, and W. I. Appleby incorporates it in Dissertation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream. The idea that those who believe in a God without body or passions are atheists is one of the central ideas in Orson’s Absurdities of Immaterialism (1849), an important pamphlet in Orson Pratt’s Works.

As mentioned above, Parley’s An Address by a Minister of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the People of England was derived from the doctrinal part of his introduction to Late Persecution. An Address to the Citizens of Salem and Vicinity. It is reprinted in full—without citation—in John E. Page’s Slander Refuted (Philadelphia? 1841?); and its discussion of authority is evident in Moses Martin’s A Treatise on the Fulness of the Everlasting Gospel (New York, 1842). But again it is Orson Pratt who makes the most intriguing use of this text. In Edinburgh in the fall of 1840 Orson published his Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records. This is a signal book, the first printed account of Joseph Smith’s 1820 vision. Reprinted in 1848 [p.xxiii]with the title Remarkable Visions, it was included in Orson Pratt’s Works. The last seven pages of Interesting Account contain “a sketch of the faith and doctrine” of the church which is generally considered to be the precursor of the thirteen Articles of Faith. It is clear, however, that Orson’s “sketch of the faith and doctrine” was written with Parley’s introduction to Late Persecution in view; at one point a paragraph from the introduction is quoted directly—again without credit.

The most egregious case of borrowing is by George J. Adams in his A Letter to His Excellency John Tyler, President of the United States, Touching the Signs of the Times, and the Political Destiny of the World: By G. J. Adams (New York, 1844). This is nothing more or less than a faithful reprint, including typographical errors, of Parley’s Letter to the Queen of England (New York? 1841). Adams supplied only a short concluding paragraph and acknowledged the source of his text in a grudging and disingenuous postscript: “It is but justice for me to add, that I am indebted to Elder P. P. Pratt for many truths contained in the foregoing letter.”

If Parley P. Pratt was the inventor of Mormon book writing, why is his name not remembered as prominently as B. H. Roberts, Orson Pratt, James E. Talmage, and John A. Widtsoe? The answer lies in the accidents of history as well as in the nature of Mormon theology itself.

Even though it is a “revealed” religion, Mormonism is all but creedless—an inheritance from its primitivistic beginnings. While certain doctrines are enunciated in the standard works and some doctrinal issues have been addressed in formal pronouncements by the LDS First Presidency, there is nothing in Mormonism comparable to the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Augsburg Confession. Few of the truly distinctive doctrines of Mormonism are discussed in “official” sources. It is mainly by “unofficial” means—Sunday school lessons, seminary, institute, and Brigham Young University religion classes, sacrament meeting talks, and books by church officials and others who ultimately speak only for themselves–that the theology is passed from one generation to the next. Indeed it would seem that a significant part of Mormon theology exists primarily in the minds of the members.

The absence of a formal creed means that each generation must produce a new set of gospel expositors to restate and reinterpret the doctrines of Mormonism. As one looks back at the flow of LDS doctrinal exposition, one sees, beginning in the 1850s, this process of restatement occurring roughly every thirty years.22 The books that are now best remembered are the great synthetical books that came out of these periodic restatements. Here the names of Widtsoe, Talmage, and Roberts come to mind.

John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952) was the most prominent gospel writer of the period near the Second World War. His three-volume Evidences [p.xxiv]and Reconciliations (1943-51) discussed Mormonism with an eye to the prevailing notions of science and history. B. H. Roberts (1857-1933 and James E. Talmage (1862-1933) were the preeminent Mormon writers of the period just after the turn of the twentieth century. Roberts’s Mormon Doctrine of Deity (1903), Seventy’s Course in Theology (1907-12), his edited seven-volume History of the Church (1902-32), and his six-volume Comprehensive History (1930) are still in print and still read, as are Talmage’s monumental books Articles of Faith (1899) and Jesus the Christ (1915).

Roberts, whose The Gospel was first published in 1888, actually spanned two generations, as did Orson Pratt (1811-81). After Parley’s death in 1857, Orson lived another twenty-five years, a period when almost no other Mormon books were written and most of the Latter-day Saints had a copy of Orson Pratt’s Works on their shelves. His reputation as the great nineteenth-century Mormon intellectual was greatly enhanced by his lectures and articles on science and mathematics in the Deseret News, published in Salt Lake City, and the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, published in England; his bettering of John P. Newman, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, in a debate on polygamy; and his conflicts with Brigham Young over doctrinal matters.23

Except for Voice of Warning and Key to Theology, Parley’s books were ephemeral missionary tracts printed in small editions. And it is tempting to conjecture that the Latter-day Saints preferred more direct, unambiguous books such as Orson Pratt’s series True Faith, True Repentance, etc. (1856-57), John Jaques’s Catechism for Children (1854), Charles W. Penrose’s “Mormon” Doctrine Plain and Simple (1882), and Franklin D. Richards and James A. Little’s Compendium (1882) to the poetic Key to Theology–in spite of the fact that in spirit and approach Key to Theology is more faithful to the informal, idiosyncratic nature of Mormon theology.

Nevertheless Voice of Warning and Key to Theology are still in print and still affectionately read by a few twentieth-century Mormons. Parley grew prophetic when he wrote in the preface of the 1847 edition of Voice of Warning, “And should the author be called to sacrifice his life for the cause of truth, he will have the consolation that it will be said of him, as it was said of Abel, viz, ‘He, being dead, yet speaketh.’”


1. Marvin S. Hill, “The Role of Christian Primitivism in the Origin and Development of the Mormon Kingdom, 1830-1844,” Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1968, 6-36. See also Dan Vogel, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988); and Marvin S. Hill, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989).

[p.xxv]2. See Hill, “Christian Primitivism,” 37-60. Peter Crawley, “The Passage of Mormon Primitivism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 (Winter 1980):26-37. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, MO, 1887), 28-33, 45-48.

3. Crawley, “Passage of Mormon Primitivism,” 26-37.

4. Just three polemical tracts were published before 1839: Orson Hyde, Prophetic Warning (Toronto, 1836); Parley P. Pratt, Voice of Warning (New York, 1837); and Parley P. Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled: Zion’s Watchman Unmasked (New York, 1838). Virtually all of the early Mormon tracts were self-published, including most of those cited herein.

5. Crawley, “Passage of Mormon Primitivism,” 29-32.

6. Peter Crawley, “A Bibliography of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York, Ohio, and Missouri,” Brigham Young University Studies 12 (Summer 1972): 516-18. Apart from its importance in the intellectual history of Mormonism, Voice of Warning was probably the most effective nineteenth-century Mormon missionary tract. Before 1900 the Utah church printed twenty-four editions in English as well as editions in Danish, Dutch, French, German, Icelandic, Spanish, and Swedish.

7. Leroy Sunderland, born in 1804 in Rhode Island, founded Zion’s Watchman in 1835. He was an impassioned advocate of temperance, abolition, mesmerism, phrenology, and spiritualism. Following his 1838 exchange with Parley Pratt, he established the Wesleyan Methodist Church, attended the World Anti-slavery Convention in London, founded the first spiritualist newspaper in the United States (The Spiritual Philosopher), and published at least eight books, ranging from Pathetism; with Practical Instruction to The Trance and Correlative Phenomena. He died in Massachusetts in 1885. See Leslie A. Shepard, Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1985), 1305.

8.Crawley, “Bibliography of the Church,” 535-37.

9. Two editions were published in Manchester, England, in 1840; a third was published in Bristol, England, in 1841. Two editions were published in New York City in 1841; a third American edition was published in Philadelphia in 1843.

10. See, for example, John P. Greene’s Facts Relative to the Expulsion of the Mormons (Cincinatti, 1839); and John Taylor’s A Short Account of the Murders, Roberies [sic], Burnings, Thefts, and Other Outrages (Springfield, 1839).

11.Crawley, “Passage of Mormon Primitivism,” 34.

12. Caleb Jones, a Methodist preacher, published two tracts under the pseudonym Philanthropist which were responded to by Samuel Bennett and Erastus Snow. H. Perkins, a Presbyterian, delivered an anti-Mormon lecture which brought a response from Benjamin Winchester. See note 12.

13. The three early tracts are cited in note 4. In addition to the works of Parley Pratt listed below, those works published in 1840 include: Samuel Bennett, A Few Remarks by Way of Reply to an Anonymous Scribbler (Philadelphia, 1840); Orson Hyde, A Timely Warning to the People of England (Manchester, 1840); Orson Pratt, Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (Edinburgh, 1840); Sidney [p.xxvi]Rigdon, An Appeal to the American People (Cincinnati, 1840); Erastus Snow, E. Snow’s Reply to the Self-Styled Philanthropist of Chester County (Philadelphia, 1840); three tracts by John Taylor—An Answer to Some False Statements and Misrepresentations made by the Rev. Robert Heys (Liverpool, 1840);and two tracts by Benjamin Winchester—An Examination of a Lecture Delivered by the Rev. H. Perkins (n.p., 1840), and The Origin of the Spaulding Story (Philadelphia, 1840).

14. Chad J. Flake, A Mormon Bibliography 1830-1930 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1978).

15. Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography (New York, 1874), 433. (It is uncertain how much of Pratt’s autobiography was written by Pratt himself and how much of it reflects the involvement of his son, Parley Jr., John Taylor, and George Q. Cannon.) Deseret News, 8 Jan. 1853. Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 17 (31 March 1855): 208.

16. Crawley, “Bibliography of the Church,” 498-99.

17. Pratt, Autobiography, 376; New York Herald, 25 Aug. 1844.

18. Peter Crawley, “The First Australian Mormon Imprints,” Gradalis Review 2 (Fall 1973): 38-51.

19. Deseret News Extra, 14 Sept. 1852.

20. Latter-day Saints’ Millenial Star 10 (15 Aug. 1848): 241.

21. Flake, A Mormon Biliography.

22. The first synthetical books include Orson Spencer, Letters Exhibiting the Most Prominent Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Liverpool, 1848); John Jaques,

23. Thomas Edgar Lyon, “Orson Pratt–Early Mormon Leader,” M.A. thesis, University of Chicago, 1932, 86-134; Gary James Bergera, “The Orson Pratt-Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict Within the Quorums, 1853 to 1868,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 (Summer 1980): 7-49. Orson Pratt’s reputation greatly extended beyond the facts; he was certainly not “one of the world’s greatest scientists.” Lyon, 2.