Essential Orson PrattThe Essential Orson Pratt
Foreword by David J. Whittaker

on the cover:
The Essential Orson Pratt contains the writings of Mormonism’s most popular theologian of the nineteenth century. Although he is best remembered today for his heated doctrinal disputes with Brigham Young, many of Pratt’s speculations and theories have since become staples of contemporary LDS doctrine. Among the twenty selections, many of which are readily available to readers only in this compilation, are:

“Questions on the Origin of Man”
“The Pre-Existence of Man”
“Celestial Marriage”
“Mormon Philosophy. Space, Duration, and Matter”
Absurdities of Immaterialism
“Resurrection of the Saints”
“New Jerusalem”

The Holy Spirit being one part of the Godhead, is also a material substance, of the same nature and properties in any respects, as the spirits of the Father and Son. It exists in vast immeasurable quantities in connexion with all material worlds. This is called God in the scriptures, as well as the Father and Son. God the Father and God the Son cannot be everywhere present; indeed they cannot be even in two places at the same instant; but God the Holy Spirit is omnipresent—it extends through all space, intermingling with all other matter, yet no one atom of the Holy Spirit can be in two places at the same instant, which in all cases is an absolute impossibility. It must exist in inexhaustible quantities, which is the only possible way for any substance to be omnipresent. All the innumerable phenomena of universal nature are produced by the actual presence of this intelligent, all-wise, and all-powerful substance called the Holy Spirit. It is the most active matter in the universe, producing all its operations according to fixed and definite laws enacted by itself, in conjunction with the Father and Son. What are called the laws of nature are more or less than the fixed method by which this spiritual matter operates. Each atom of the Holy Spirit is intelligent, and like all other matter has solidity, form, and size, and occupies space….
—from The Kingdom of God, Part I

inside flaps:
The author of several dozen seminal treaties on Mormon doctrine, Orson Pratt (1811-81) produced during his life a spirited and thoughtful exposition and defense of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that charted the course for all subsequent LDS theologians.

Born in Henderson, New York, Pratt was a contemporary of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism. Smith and his successor Brigham Young depended on Pratt’s rhetorical skills and scientific eclecticism in presenting the Mormon message to the outside world. While Pratt was a member of the LDS church’s leading Quorum of Twelve Apostles many of his works on theology wee published in pamphlet form and used in proselytizing new converts. His rudimentary mathematical talents were also relied on to help navigate that first party of Mormon pioneers to the Great Salt Lake Valley. He was, in fact, the first Mormon to enter the Salt Lake Valley—three days before Brigham Young.

A stubborn and fiercely independent intellectual, Pratt clashed with Joseph Smith over polygamy and Brigham Young over the nature of God and the origin of the human soul. Their arguments eventually led Young in 1875 to demote Pratt within the Quorum of the Twelve, reducing his chances of succeeding to the presidency of the church. Pratt suffered from diabetes, and his final years were plagued by illness. He died in Salt Lake City on 3 October 1881 at the age of seventy.

Orson Pratt was the first to write and publish an account of Joseph Smith’s famous “first vision.” He also authored one of the earliest confessions of Mormon doctrine, which Smith later used in composing his own “Articles of Faith.” Pratt edited the Latter-day Saints Millennial Star, The New York Messenger, The Seer, and The Prophetic Almanac, the latter consisting of meteorological and astronomical observations, fork wisdom, and theological essays—including one of the fist treatments of the Mormon belief that human beings could become gods.

Perhaps Pratt’s most controversial speculation was that atoms, then thought to be indestructible and indivisible, were intelligent, self-conscious, sentient, self-propelled particles which bonded together to form colonies in the shape of plats, minerals, animals, and even gods, and which were tutored over time in the “great school of the universe.”

Pratt’s thought was a unique blend of biblical literalism and speculative theology. Twentieth-century reprints of Pratt’s works have tended to overlook his more controversial work and emphasize his less radical ideas. In the present compilation, care has been taken to remain faithful to the originals, leaving nothing out.

“Throughout his life,” writes David Whittaker in the foreword, “Pratt combined science with theology; each gave support and assurance to the other. It is not a coincidence that he turned more deeply to mathematics and astronomy during the great crises, for the finality of empirical evidence provided a shelter from the storms of his life. During the challenges of plural marriage, the succession crisis of 1844, and his numerous disagreements with Brigham Young, contemporary records show his increased study of things scientific.

about the author: David H. Whittaker is a professor of history at Brigham Young University. He is co-editor of Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons and is a noted authority on nineteenth-century Mormon pamphleteering.

title page:
The Essential Orson Pratt
Foreword by David J. Whittaker
Signature Books
Salt Lake City

copyright page:
Cover Design: Randall Smith Associates
(c) 1991 by Signature Books, Inc. All Rights reserved.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
Printed in the United States of America.
Printed on acid free paper.
94 93 92 91 6 5 4 3 2 1
Pratt, Orson, 1811-1881.
[Selections: 1991}
The essential Orson Pratt/with an introduction by David J. Whittaker.
p. cm.
1. Mormon Church—Doctrines. 2. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—
Doctrines. I. Title.
BX8609.P675 1990 89-27567
BX8609.P675 1990 CIP
ISBN: 0—941214—95—8

Publisher’s Preface [see below]
Foreword by David J. Whittaker [see below]
01 – Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records
02 – “Funeral of Mrs. Caroline Smith
03 – “Questions on the Origin of Man,” “Momon Philosophy. Space. Duration, and Matter,” “Questions on the Present State of Man,” and Angels”
04 – The Kingdom of God. Part II
05 – Absurdities of Immaterialism, or, A Reply to T. W. P. Taylor’s Pamphlet, Entitled, “The Materialism of the Mormons or Latter-day Saints, Examined and Exposed.
06 – New Jerusalem; or, the Fulfilment of Modern Prophecy
07 – Divine Authencity of the Book of Mormon. Introduction—To Expect More Revelation is not Unscriptural—To Expect More Revelation is not Unreasonable
08 – Great First Cause, or the Self-Moving Forces of the Universe.
09 – “The Holy Spirit”
10 – “Latter-day Kingdom, or the Preparation for the Second Advent”
11 – “A General Funeral Sermon of All Saints and Sinners; Also, of the Heavens and the Earth”
12 – “Celestial Marriage”
13 – “Celestial Marriage”—An Excerpt
14 – “The Pre-Existence of Man”—An Excerpt
15 – “Resurrection of the Saints”
16 – “The Equality and Oneness of the Saints”
17 – “The Holy Spirit and the Godhead”
18 – “Man is the Offspring of God—Truth is Eternal—The Doctrines of Christ—The Law of Gravitation—Free Agency”
19 – “Salvation Tangible—Personality of God—Character of God—Pre-existence of Man—Jesus Our Elder Brother—Transformation of the Earth—Creation and Organization—It’s Final Destiny, the Home of the Saints—Revelations by Joseph Smith in Harmony with Scripture”
20 – “The Great Principles of Salvation, Etc.

Publisher’s Preface

[p.ix]Orson Pratt was born to Jared and Charity Pratt, poor itinerant farm laborers who boarded out each of their sons in turn, including Orson, at a young age. Orson was fourth in a family of five sons born on 19 September 1811 in the town of Hartford, Washington County, in upper New York state.

Growing up on the New York frontier, Pratt was subjected to the same kind of religious excitement and inter-denominational competition as his contemporary Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of Mormonism. Sectarian Christianity held no interest for Pratt’s parents, who idealized the “primitive gospel” represented in the New Testament. Sons Orson and Parley in particular inherited the religious longings for a purer, more authentic Christianity.

Orson worked as a farm laborer from the age of eleven to nineteen, from Long Island, New York, to northern Ohio. Throughout this period, Orson subsisted close to poverty, and his childhood education, with the equivalent of only four months of secondary education, was sparse.

In September 1830, Orson’s brother Parley told him of a new-found zeal for the teachings of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. After hearing of Parley’s faith, Orson converted. They made a journey the next month to Fayette, New York, to meet the Mormon prophet.

Orson remained with Joseph Smith for a month, during which time he was found sufficiently faithful to begin proselytizing for the new church. His first mission proved a huge success. He helped form a congregation in Colesville, New York, known as the Colesville Branch, which was later transplanted to Ohio and then to Missouri, where it figured significantly in church history as the first group to adopt communal practices.

For the next three years, Pratt remained in the mission field until he was recalled to Smith’s headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio, in the spring of 1834, to serve in the Zion’s Camp expedition to “redeem Zion,” relieving Mormon settlers in Jackson County, Missouri, from vigilantism. When Smith realized that Missouri Mormons would have to be relocated, he called Pratt to the stake high council and made him responsible for resettling the membership to nearby Clay County.

Pratt made his way back to Ohio during the winter of 1834-35, [p.x]preaching along the way. Upon reaching Kirtland he was called to the newly-created traveling high council or Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Pratt travelled through the eastern branches of the church the next summer raising money for the poor of the church and proselytizing. Sarah Marinda Bates, Pratt’s future wife, came to hear him speak at one of his missionary lectures on this tour and was baptized during his brief stay. After another year with no further contact except through correspondence, he returned to marry her on Independence Day, 1836.

Kirtland was a boomtown when Pratt brought his new wife home in the fall of 1836 and relief from missionary duties and financial stress gave him time to devote attention to his interest in mathematics and astronomy. This respite was short-lived, however, as Kirtland’s economy collapsed, along with much of the rest of the nation, in early 1837. Many Mormons, including Pratt, turned against Joseph Smith as a scapegoat to unload their anger over financial loss. But Pratt did not remain long at odds with his leader, leaving soon thereafter for a mission to New York, spending time along the way with his in-laws in Henderson, New York.

Meanwhile, back in Missouri, trouble was again brewing and reached a climax in the latter part of 1838. Notice was sent to the twelve apostles to meet for a special conference at Far West, Missouri, the site designated by Smith as the “inheritance of the Saints.” Pratt got as far as St. Louis, where he was forced to wait out the winter because Sarah had just given birth. By spring, Mormons had been driven entirely from Missouri and were now gathering to Quincy, Illinois.

In Illinois Pratt worked with other church leaders to establish a home in the new city of Nauvoo. Then in late 1839 he and other members of the Twelve were asked to leave the bustle of Nauvoo to find converts in the British Isles. He was the first Mormon missionary to Scotland.

Pratt returned to Nauvoo in July 1841. He earned a living by selling his pamphlets, serving as city councilman, and teaching classes in the Department of Mathematics and English Literature at the University of the City of Nauvoo. Despite his lack of formal education, Pratt was a successful teacher and was awarded an honorary M.A. degree from the school, and thereafter bore the title of professor.

During Pratt’s absence from Nauvoo, Joseph Smith began practicing plural marriage as part of the ongoing “restoration of all things”: in this case, a restoration of the marriage patterns of Old Testament patriarchs. By August 1842, Smith had taken twelve additional wives, five of whom had living husbands. Smith considered invalid all marriage contracts not performed by the authority of the restored priesthood. One of the women Smith apparently told about the new doctrine of mar-[p.xi]riage was Orson Pratt’s wife, Sarah, who, horrified, rejected the doctrine and declined to keep it secret.

In spring 1842, after Orson’s return to Nauvoo, Smith is said to have spoken again to Sarah about polygamy. This time Sarah took the matter to her husband, who became depressed and suicidal, and on 14 July, disappeared. The next day a group of friends found him outside the city near the banks of the Mississippi River and persuaded him to return home.

In August church leaders published three sensational statements accusing Sarah of having had an affair with John C. Bennett, who had been an assistant to Joseph Smith and mediator of some of Smith’s polygamous marriages. Bennett had subsequently become one of Smith’s most bitter enemies, using his intimate knowledge of the prophet’s marital relationships as ammunition for exposes in the public presses. At about the same time fellow apostles Brigham Young, George A. Smith, and Heber C. Kimball met with Pratt to try to convince him to sustain Smith. When Pratt refused, they excommunicated him.

Despite this, Pratt remained at Nauvoo. Apparently he was able to reconcile what he saw as human weakness with the divinity of Joseph Smith’s revelations. When Pratt received a letter from John Bennett seeking to enlist his support in a plan to destroy Mormonism, Pratt took the letter directly to Smith. This act of loyalty helped to restore their friendship, and five days later, on 20 January 1843, church leaders met to reinstate Pratt into the church and to his office as apostle.

From July to October of the same year, Pratt was called on a mission to Pennsylvania and Ohio to raise money for two of Smith’s building projects: a temple and a hotel. On 23 December Pratt was introduced to the rites of the Quorum of the Anointed—rites which Smith planned to present to the general membership of the church when the temple was completed.

During these last years at Nauvoo, Smith continued to fight extradition to Missouri and attacks from local non-Mormons who feared the growing political and economic power of the Latter-day Saints. Concerned with protecting his people’s rights, Smith sent Pratt to Washington, D.C., in March 1844, to present a memorial to the U.S. Congress to redress property losses and to provide protection from state and local community militias. While in Washington, Pratt published his Prophetic Almanac, which included meteorological and astronomical observations, bits of folk wisdom, and theological essays, including one of the first treatments of the Mormon belief that human beings could become gods.

The nomination of Joseph Smith as U.S. presidential candidate made Pratt and fellow apostles quasi-campaign strategists. They trav-[p.xii]elled to New York and Boston to gather support for Smith, but were stunned upon arriving in New Hampshire in late July 1844, to read newspaper headlines reporting the assassination of Joseph Smith at the hands of vigilantes the previous month. They returned immediately to Illinois.

Back in Nauvoo, the apostles set about calming the church and defending their right to leadership against challenges from others. Pratt’s persuasion proved invaluable in helping to bring the general body of the church to the apostles’ side. Brigham Young, as president of the apostles, promised to continue the policies of his predecessor, and, true to his promise, married thirty-three year old Pratt to two young sisters, Charlotte Bishop, twenty years old, and Adelia Ann Bishop, seventeen years of age. Early in 1845 Pratt would marry a third plural wife, Mary Ann Merrill, twenty-five years old, and three other women over the next few years.

Once secure in leadership, the Twelve worked feverishly to complete and furnish the temple and to introduce the rest of the Saints to the washings, anointings, and other endowment rituals. Mormons, despite the prophet’s death, continued to meet antagonism of non-Mormon neighbors, and opposition intensified during 1845 until the Twelve agreed to abandon Nauvoo.

Meanwhile, Pratt was called to return to New York to preside over the church there and publish the periodical, The Messenger. This gave Pratt greater opportunity to develop and disseminate his unique vision of Mormon cosmology. In The Messenger, for example, Pratt answered “Questions on the Origin of Man”; [presented Mormon angelogy in “Angels”; and investigated the nature of intelligence in “Space, Duration, and Matter.” During this period Pratt depended on sales of his publications to support himself and his family.

Returning to Nauvoo in December, Pratt found church leaders wrapping up temple work and preparing to leave the city. He moved his family to the Iowa bank of the Mississippi River early the next year and then was asked to be navigator for the exodus of pioneers that left for the Great Basin in the spring of 1847. On 21 July 1847, he became the first Mormon to enter the Salt Lake valley. By the time Brigham Young arrived, Pratt had already chosen and dedicated a site for settlement. He later used the temple site as a point of reference for surveying the new city.

The following year Pratt returned to England to preach the gathering of the Saints to the Rocky Mountains. On 20 July 1848, he arrived in Liverpool, where he took over the presidency of the European mission and responsibility for the church’s overseas periodical, The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star. While in England he also authored more pam-[p.xii]phlets, which would prove to be the most definitive expositions of his materialist philosophy of his writing career.

In 1851 Pratt was called by Young on a mission to Washington, D.C., to publish a paper, The Seer, to defend the church against anticipated criticism of the practice of plural marriage, as well as other distinctive doctrines. But Pratt’s speculative theology in the pages of The Seer eventually made Young uneasy. Young admired Pratt’s intelligence but gradually felt his position threatened. Pratt believed in a strictly omnipotent, omniscient God, whereas Young preached a God continually progressing in glory and knowledge. Pratt believed that God was omnipresent, Young did not. Pratt preached that people should worship the attributes of God, while Young preferred to worship the being rather than the attributes. Pratt maintained that deity had created itself out of eternal, intelligent particles, but Young insisted that God was uncreated. Paradoxically, Pratt held to the traditional story that Adam and Eve were literally created from the soil of the earth, whereas Young believed that they were transplanted to earth from another planet. Pratt angered Young by publishing the text of the temple sealing ceremony and by facilitating distribution of Joseph Smith’s mother’s reminiscences, which Young ordered gathered and burned. Young and Pratt disagreed privately at first, then sparred openly for two decades. Several times Pratt was ordered to publicly recant his beliefs, which he did, only to resume teaching them again.

Young, for his part, did his best to minimize Pratt’s influence at home by calling him on mission after mission. In 1856 Pratt presided over the British church again, where he married his seventh and last plural wife. In 1860 he was called to the east coast to preach the gathering to recalcitrant Mormons who had not yet fled “Babylon.” The following year, he moved from Salt Lake City to southern Utah to oversee development of a cotton industry, part of the Mormon attempt to become economically self-sufficient. Finally in 1864 Pratt accepted a call to preside over the central European mission.

Sarah Pratt, who despised her exile to the desolation of southern Utah and resented her husband’s many missions and extra wives, secretly taught her children to disbelieve Mormon teachings and eventually apostatized. She became a favorite source for journalists looking for controversial material on Mormons.

Orson Pratt’s other wives subsisted by operating modest mercantiles. They sold hats and fabrics, as well as coffee and tobacco (Orson himself was an enthusiastic coffee drinker). When Orson was in Utah for brief periods between missions, he employed himself by founding schools and lecturing on such subjects as theology, astronomy, and the virtues of vegetarianism.

[p.xiv]On 10 April 1875, the controversies that divided Young and Pratt reached a climax. Young demoted Pratt from his standing as second in seniority among the apostles to fourth. Young rationalized that because Pratt had been excommunicated in 1842, he had lost his original standing in the quorum even though his excommunication had been declared void by Joseph Smith, who ruled that the proceeding against him had been illegal. Pratt, an elderly diabetic, was perhaps too weak to resist this action. His involvement in church leadership decreased in his final years and his interests turned from theological and cosmologic schemes to mathematic puzzles. He died after an extended illness on 3 October 1881, two weeks after his seventieth birthday.

In republishing Orson Pratt’s works more than one hundred years after they first appeared, we hope that readers will be sensitive to the historical context and the cultural peculiarities of the period. Readers should keep in mind that although Pratt’s philosophical and scientific errors are uncorrected, they were not unnoticed. Pratt’s most frequently cited authority for his views is “common sense,” which was for him a blend of folk wisdom, popular science, and mysticism.

Readers who overlook Pratt’s tendency toward dogmatism, ego-centricity, and literalism will be rewarded by the overall breadth of his vision. Pratt’s conviction that science and religion could be reconciled encouraged him to be surprisingly speculative. For example, Pratt understood that the human body was a dynamic organism whose materials were in flux, leading him to theorize that the resurrection would not necessarily restore the physical body but preserve what might be called the genetic blueprint.

In preparing the texts of Orson Pratt’s writings for publication, care has been taken to present them exactly as first printed. The only exception is the correction of obviously unintentional typesetting errors such as letter transpositions and repeated words. Archaic, variant and idiosyncratic spellings, usage, grammar, and punctuation remain as they are found in the original documents, with no attempt to correct or resolve ambiguous constructions or meanings.


by David J. Whitaker

[p.xv]The most prolific and perhaps influential early apologist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Orson Pratt, authored over thirty works on both religious and scientific topics. Influential during his lifetime, from his conversion in 1830 to his death in 1881, he wielded even more influence after his death. Writing for the Latter-day Saint church’s centennial in 1930, John Henry Evans observed: “In the first century of ‘Mormonism’ there is no leader of the intellectual stature of Orson Pratt.”1 In Nauvoo, Illinois, W. W. Phelps labelled him the “Gauge of Philosophy.”2 T. B. H. Stenhouse attributed to him “the first logical arguments in favour of Mormonism.”3 In 1876, Edward Tullidge called Pratt the “Paul of Mormonism,”4 for his contributions to Mormon theology. At Pratt’s funeral, Wilford Woodruff asserted that he had written “more upon the gospel and upon science than any other man in the Church.”5 In the first scholarly study of Orson Pratt’s life, written in 1932, T. Edgar Lyon found that he “did more to formulate the Mormon idea of God, the religious basis of polygamy (polygyny), the pre-existence of spirits, the doctrine of the gathering, the resurrection, and eternal salvation than any other person in the church, with the exception of Joseph Smith.…Due to his efforts…the odds and ends of Joseph Smith’s utterances were constructed and expanded into a philosophic system.”6 When Leonard Arrington asked fifty prominent Mormon scholars in 1968 to rank the leading intellectuals in the history of the Mormon church, Orson Pratt was mentioned second only to B. H. Roberts, receiving more votes than Joseph Smith or Pratt’s own influential older brother Parley.7

Orson was baptized on his nineteenth birthday, 19 September 1830, by Parley.8 He was born in Hartford, Washington County, New York, to Jared Pratt and Charity Dickinson, the fifth of six children. In 1814 or 1815 his family moved to New Lebanon, Columbia County, New York, where he attended school. His parents taught him to read the Bible, although he could not remember attending church more than a few times.

During the winter of 1829-30, he spent four months at a boarding school studying geography, grammar, and surveying. Simultaneously, he began seeking a religious experience. In the autumn of 1829, he remembered: “I…began to pray very fervently, repenting of every sin. In the silent shades of night, while others were slumbering upon their [p.xvi]pillows, I often retired to some secret place in the lonely fields or solitary wilderness, and bowed to the Lord, and prayed for hours with a broken heart and contrite spirit; this was for the Lord to manifest His will concerning me. I continued to pray in this fervent manner until September, 1830, at which time two Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, came into the neighborhood, one of which was my brother Parley.”9

Following his baptism he traveled to Fayette, New York, where he was ordained an elder by Joseph Smith and sent to Colesville, New York, on the first of his many missions. An important aspect of accepting Joseph Smith as a prophet was “the purity of the doctrine…he had brought forth. I knew it was a scriptural doctrine, agreeing in every respect with the ancient gospel when my mind became fully satisfied that God had raised up a people to proclaim the gospel in all its ancient beauty and simplicity, with power to administer in its ordinances.”10

For the next several years Pratt undertook short-term missions in the United States and Canada. In addition, he attended the church’s School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio; marched with Zion’s Camp in 1834 to rescue fellow Saints in Missouri; was ordained a member of the Standing High Council in Missouri; and even acted for a short time as a clerk for Joseph Smith. In February 1835, he became one of the members of the newly-organized Quorum of Twelve Apostles. While studying Hebrew with members of the School of the Prophets in the winter of 1834-35 he debated a fine point of the pronunciation of a Hebrew letter with Joseph Smith to the point of an argument. Smith recorded that Pratt was stubborn and that only after some time did he calm down and ask for forgiveness.11 Pratt remembered that during the winter months of 1836-37 he began studying algebra without a teacher.

By 1839 Pratt was on his way with his fellow apostles to the British Isles, arriving in Liverpool on 6 April 1840. Though “penniless and [among] strangers,” he and his companions baptized about six thousand people in about twelve months. In Edinburgh, Pratt managed in nine months to raise up a branch of 200 members.12 On this mission he published his first pamphlet, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions…(Edinburgh, 1840). Within this tract of thirty-one pages was the first public recording of Joseph Smith’s first vision and a list of fifteen “Articles of Faith,” which may have suggested those Joseph Smith composed two years later.13

Pratt’s return to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1841 thrust him into a maelstrom of rumors and gossip about Joseph Smith and plural marriage—the results of which led eventually to his own temporary disaffection. He spent the next five months seeking the truth regarding Smith’s [p.xvii]calling and the new doctrine of plural marriage. He came to accept both with such assurance that he spent the rest of his life in their defense.

During the two years prior to Smith’s death in 1844, the Twelve learned privately about the doctrines and ordinances which in time were to be taught to the entire church.14 After the martyrdom of Smith and his brother Hyrum, Pratt joined with the Quorum of the Twelve in asserting its right to preside over the church. Throughout this period he also spent “much of my leisure time in study, and made myself thoroughly acquainted with algebra, geometry, trigonometry, conic sections, differential and integral calculus, astronomy, and most of the physical sciences. These studies I pursued without the assistance of a teacher.'”15 His interest in math and astronomy found an outlet in two Prophetic Almanacs, one published in 1845 and one in 1846.

On 6 April 1848, Pratt was appointed to preside over the LDS church in Europe. In addition to carrying out the usual tasks, he managed to write and publish sixteen pamphlets in defense of Mormon doctrines—works oriented as much to investigators as to converts.16 From the sale of these works he was able to support himself, his five wives, and ten children.

Pratt returned to Salt Lake City in October 1851 and was soon assigned to teach at the newly established University of Deseret, delivering twelve lectures on astronomy that winter.17 It was at a special missionary conference in August 1852 that Brigham Young asked Pratt to publicly introduce plural marriage. Though tradition implies that he gave the talk extemporaneously, church leaders had actually been preparing this announcement for several weeks. Pratt’s talk was too carefully constructed to have been delivered without preparation. One outcome of the conference was Pratt’s call to publish a Washington, D.C., periodical in defense of plural marriage. The twelve-month run of The Seer in 1853 provides what is still the most detailed analysis of “celestial marriage” in Mormon literature.18 During this same period Orson obtained a manuscript copy of Lucy Mack Smith’s memoirs which he sent to S. W. Richards in England for publication. He obtained her permission to do so, and this first published Mormon biography was available by October 1853.19 In May 1854, Pratt returned to Salt Lake City where he picked up his interest in astronomy.

The last twenty-five years of Pratt’s life continued busy. In 1856 he again presided over the European mission, producing another set of pamphlets.20 In 1864 he was appointed to missions in Austria and Britain. While not successful as a missionary in Austria, he published, in May 1866 in England, his New and Easy Method of Solution of the Cubic and Biquadratic Equation.

Shortly before Brigham Young’s death in 1877 Pratt was assigned to [p.xviii]help prepare new editions of the modern Mormon scriptures. He provided much of the critical work for the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, for the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, and for the 1879 American edition of the Pearl of Great Price.21

In 1879 he published his Key to the Universe at Liverpool, but by this time he was suffering from diabetes. He preached his last public discourse on 18 September 1881 and died 3 October in Salt Lake City.

Pratt’s early training in surveying, mathematics, and bookkeeping reinforced his inclination for exactness and precision. Mormons have sometimes claimed that he was most noted in non-Mormon circles as a mathematician and astronomer. Levi Edgar Young claimed that Pratt’s works were used as textbooks in England, Germany, and France, and others have repeated the claim,22 primarily about his major published mathematical work, New and Easy Method of Solution of the Cubic and Biquadratic Equations (London and Liverpool, 1866). Pratt also published and wrote other mathematical works. He contributed several articles to mathematical publications and left unpublished or incomplete manuscripts on differential calculus and algebra.23 These works demonstrate better than average skills in higher math, but Pratt cannot be considered a great mathematician. Perhaps his real contribution, as Edward R. Hogan suggested, was his role as science teacher and educator on the Mormon frontier.24 Given the disadvantages under which Pratt worked, his work remains impressive.

Pratt’s interest in mathematics led him to astronomy where he found in both fields the same evidence of God’s existence and designs as contemporary scientist Benjamin Sillimari found in his study of geology and chemistry, “a transcript of the divine Character.” Whether Pratt was aware of it, his own approach to nature was common among American thinkers by the 1820s. Identified as Baconianism, it was a thorough-going empiricism that had been borrowed from the Scottish Realists who believed that God spoke to humanity through scripture and nature, an attempt by orthodox protestants to find a satisfactory answer to the challenges of the Enlightenment.25

Like many of his contemporaries, Orson Pratt was also a natural theologian whose religious views were held to be as empirical as his scientific observations. As Herbert Hovenkamp suggests, these conservative protestants maintained that God created nature and that the evidence of his creativity is obvious everywhere, and that God provided equally reliable information about himself in the Bible.26 While such beliefs were seriously challenged during the second half of the nineteenth century, it is clear that Pratt was nurtured on these assumptions during the formative years he studied math, science, and religion. In an address to the Nauvoo Lyceum on 19 November 1842, he posed the ques-[p.xix]tion, “Is there sufficient evidence in the works of Nature to prove the existence of a Supreme Being?”27 The contents of his later works suggest he argued strongly in the affirmative.28

Throughout his life, Pratt combined science with theology; each gave support and assurance to the other. It is not a coincidence that he turned more deeply to mathematics and astronomy during great crises, for the “finality” of empirical evidence provided a shelter from the storms of his life. During the challenges of plural marriage, the succession crisis of 1844, and his numerous disagreements with Brigham Young, contemporary records show his increased study of things scientific.

His first printed piece on astronomy appeared in the Times and Seasons in 1843 and his observations of the heavens continued throughout the rest of his life.29 His Prophetic Almanac for 1845 and 1846 (he also proposed preparing almanacs for the British Isles) provided outlets for his interest in astronomy and astrology,30 as did his series of twelve lectures of 1851-52 in the Salt Lake Valley. These lectures were published in the Deseret News in 1854, with an expanded version delivered again in Salt Lake City, in January and February 1871. They provided the background for his principal scientific work, The Key to the Universe.31 In these published lectures Pratt most clearly revealed his natural theology. Woven through them is his central belief that “the study of science is the study of something eternal. If we study astronomy, we study the works of God.”32

Pratt’s writings were the most complete attempt in early Mormonism to provide a vast teleological argument for God’s existence. He concluded his second astronomy lecture in Salt Lake City in 1854 by proclaiming, “Before its potent energies the complex machinery of nature discloses its beautiful harmonies, and proclaims with inspiring tones, the divinity of its author.” At the conclusion of Lecture IV he asked, “Who can but acknowledge the footsteps of divinity in every part and in the whole?” At the end of another lecture on “Gravitation and Centrifugal forces,” he concluded: “Nothing is calculated to inspire the mind of man with a more profound reverence for the Great author of nature than the contemplation of his marvelous works. For the exact mathematical adjustments of the various forces of nature—the consummate wisdom and skill exhibited in every department of the universe, accessible to finite minds—the omnipotent power and grandeur displayed in the construction of the magnificent machinery of creation—proclaim the majesty and glory of Him who formed and governs the mighty fabric.”33

The concept of a mechanistic, clock-work universe was the product of the Enlightenment and its obsession with order and machines. Hence, inductive methods appeared to be the best way to understand [p.xx]the parts. There is no doubt that the science Pratt learned in the 1830s was heavily mechanistic, an emphasis visible throughout his mathematical and stellar work.

But at the same time, the rise of Romanticism had introduced an organic model which allowed for growth and change, placed God directly in nature, and therefore tended toward a cosmic pantheism.34 Pratt managed to use both of these perspectives in his writings. Most of his work supported the mechanistic view, but his growing concern for discovering the absolute laws of nature led him to seek ultimate causes and universal laws which for him were metaphysical.35

Pratt died before confronting evolutionary naturalism which seriously challenged the mechanistic model and in time completely secularized the organic view. Although Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species was published in 1859, it did not have significant influence in America until the 1880s; Pratt died in 1881. The fact that Pratt’s scientific work was centered in the physical sciences also helps explain his apparent un-awareness of the revolutionary changes then taking place in biology.36

Most of Orson Pratt’s scientific theorizing centered on two main problems. The first was his search for the law which governed celestial dynamics. In the autumn of 1845, in his Prophetic Almanac, he first projected his theory of “Intelligent Self-moving Matter.” This theory found its fullest expression in his 1849 Absurdities of Immaterialism, in his 1851 The Great First Cause, and shortly thereafter in The Holy Spirit.37 Brigham Young’s denouncement of the latter in 1860 seems to have led Pratt to abandon his search for First Causes alone and instead to seek for the underlying cause of all celestial laws.

This second problem found its “solution” in Pratt’s work in astronomy. On 11 November 1854 he proclaimed that he had discovered the “Law of Planetary Rotation.”38 This theory has been abandoned by modern astronomy, but it did describe rather accurately the movements of major planets known in his day.

A recent study has suggested the major flaws of Pratt’s Key to the Universe: Pratt does not mention energy; he misunderstands centrifugal force; he does not grasp the fundamental principles of dynamics; his theory of cosmic evolution fails to consider the conservation of energy principle; he informs the reader that he will avoid calculus, but in doing so he allows errors; his arguments for “ether” as part of gravitating matter ignore Newton; and finally his approach in general shows he had not consulted the best thinking of his time on these questions. For example, Pratt demonstrated no awareness of Maxwell’s electromagnetic field theory (1865) which suggests that he was not theoretically current.39 Thus, Pratt must be considered an amateur scientist, but one whose work is nonetheless impressive given his lack of formal education.

[p.xxi]Of course, Pratt’s science must be viewed in the context of Mormon theology, which was strongly materialistic and intensely teleological. God was material, inside space and time, as were his creations. Creation was organization and the law that governed the universe was eternal, not superceded by humans or God.40 Humanity and God and nature were moving in the same direction—forward to a bright millennial day. In all of these areas Pratt owed a heavy debt to Joseph Smith and his own brother Parley. The fact that he outlived his brother by about twenty-five years and that Joseph Smith left only fragments of his own teachings is likely the reason Mormons tend to remember Orson more as the theologian of early Mormonism. Actually, it seems that Pratt acquired his mechanical view of the universe from Joseph Smith and his organic view from his brother Parley and that both positions were reinforced by the scientific and religious thought of his day.

Orson Pratt’s greatest impact upon Mormonism came through his clearly and precisely written theological studies. Within each work he moved carefully from one point to another, gradually developing his position with the same exactness he would have used in solving a mathematical equation. More than anything else, his concern for definitiveness gave his works a finality early Mormons found reassuring in an unstable world, and his ability to simplify—to reduce things to their lowest common denominator—was especially appreciated by elders defending the faith in mission fields all over the world.

All of Orson Pratt’s religious pamphlets grew out of a missionary context. His first work, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, was published in Edinburgh as part of his efforts to introduce Mormonism in that country in 1840. As mission president in England, he issued two series of tracts: fifteen from 1848 to 1851 (under seven titles, including a reprinting of his 1840 work) and eight additional in 1857-58. Little new Mormon doctrine surfaced in these works. Their importance lies in the extended arguments and “proofs” for the central tenets of Mormon theology. Mormon thought reduced to its essentials forms the core of Pratt’s religious pamphlets.

Pratt more or less outlined what he considered the essentials in his first pamphlet and then expanded them in his later essays. As noted, An Interesting Account can be divided into several parts. Pratt began with a biographical sketch of Joseph Smith, emphasizing his visions and his divine calling growing out of these experiences. Next he told of the institutional embodiment of these in the church Smith organized in April 1830. Finally, he ended his sixteen-page pamphlet with a “sketch of the faith and doctrine of this Church.” This sketch included fifteen articles of belief that outlined the basic doctrines of Mormonism: the Godhead, the fall of Adam, the atonement of Jesus Christ, the purpose of mortal-[p.xxii]ity and evil, the first principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ (faith, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost), that Mormonism is patterned after the New Testament church, that Christianity had apostatized from the true order, authority, and pattern originally established by Jesus, that the honest in heart will receive the true gospel when it is presented to them by proper messengers, that revelation continues, that the church has been reestablished to prepare humanity for the second coming of the Lord, that the righteous will be gathered out of the world to assist in building a latter-day Zion, that ancient prophecies will be fulfilled through this latter-day work, and that terrible judgments await all those who fail to repent.

His later pamphlets expanded on these notions by providing lengthy discussions and scriptural (mainly biblical) rationalizations for their authenticity. Divine Authority, or Was Joseph Smith Sent of God (1848) was an extended discussion of the Mormon position that modern revelation was absolutely necessary for any claim to be a disciple of Christ. The story of Joseph Smith, Pratt argued, was thoroughly consistent with the Bible which required heavenly messengers to open a dispensation of the gospel and to provide for legal administrators authorized to act for god pertaining to the salvation of humankind.41

Within one month after he finished Divine Authority, Pratt began to issue The Kingdom of God. This series gave extended argument for the nature, purpose, and character of God’s kingdom on earth. While Joseph Smith and Parley P. Pratt had earlier addressed this subject,42 Orson’s ninety-six page essay was the most complete discussion of “theocracy” in early Mormon literature, an extensive examination of the church or “kingdom,” its establishment, its officers, its laws and the requirements for admission to it, and the privileges and blessings of its citizens both now and in the future.43

After issuing two replies to anti-Mormon attacks, in which Pratt repeated many of his earlier arguments, he then wrote an essay on the New Jerusalem of the last days44 and a lengthy defense of the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon.45

In these works Pratt spelled out the implications of the ideas he had surveyed in his 1840 pamphlet. With logic and biblical proof-texts, he challenged his readers by asserting throughout that they had only two alternatives: either Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon were divinely inspired or they were frauds. The evidence Pratt marshalled suggested that only the first alternative was possible for the honest seeker. This simplifying of complex questions and issues to an either/or answer had obvious benefits for missionary work and goes a long way to explain the popularity of Pratt’s pamphlets.

]p.xxiii]His second series of pamphlets (1857-58) continued the same approach, but with more precise topics. Beginning in August 1856, he issued, at two-to-four week intervals, tracts on faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, miracles, and apostasy and the latter-day kingdom. Each had been listed as an item of faith and doctrine in his 1840 pamphlet and several of these topics had previously appeared in the second volume of The Seer.46

By the time Pratt finished his second set of pamphlets, there were few, if any, doctrines left to write about. It was in his pamphlets that the key Mormon doctrines of the gathering, premortal existence, plural marriage, eternal progression, the eternal nature of matter, and several central millennial beliefs were articulated and analyzed. The two series of pamphlets published by 1857 demonstrate that he was one of the first systematizers of Mormon thought. While these pamphlets do not constitute a Summa Theologia, they go further in that direction than any other Mormon writer’s work in the nineteenth century. It has been this comprehensiveness that led both his contemporaries and later scholars to judge Orson Pratt, perhaps more generously than he deserves, as the intellectual of the early church.

What is Pratt’s place within the development of Mormon thought? In almost every area he was taught the substance by Joseph Smith, often through his brother Parley. This suggests that Orson was more of a popularizer and systematizer than an innovator. Although there are great difficulties in tracing the sources of a person’s thought, it becomes increasingly clear that the real mind of the early Mormon movement was Joseph Smith. Before April 1839 Smith had depended upon public spokesmen to articulate many of his ideas; but after his escape to Illinois he began acting as his own spokesman. As can be clearly shown in the early Mormon pamphlet literature, new Mormon doctrines first surfaced in the written works of those elders who heard Smith preach during his journey to and from Washington, D.C., 1839-40. As Peter Crawley has claimed, Parley Pratt was first taught the doctrine of eternal marriage during this time; Orson Pratt soon thereafter journeyed to Scotland where he published his Interesting Accounts of Several Remarkable Visions (1840), which includes the first published account of Smith’s first vision; Samuel Bennett published in 1840 A Few Remarks by Way of Reply to an Anonymous Scribbler which affirmed the notion of a corporeal, anthropomorphic god, among other new doctrines; and Benjamin Winchester published his Examination of a Lecture Delivered by the Reverend H. Perkins, which spoke of the doctrine of the premortal existence of spirits. That same year Smith first taught the doctrine of vicarious work for the dead. Little wonder that in April 1842 Smith accused several of his followers (including Orson and Parley Pratt) of publishing his ideas as their own.47

[p.xxii]In addition to learning from Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt benefited greatly from the writings of Parley. Orson’s The Absurdity of Immaterialism (1849), considered his most important philosophical treatise, demonstrates the fallacies of an ex nihilo creation and neatly dismantles the immaterial matter argument by demonstrating that this position is really one of atheism. But behind Orson’s work stand important insights from Joseph Smith which laid the foundation for such a position. In addition, Parley had published in 1840 The Millennium and other Poems to which he attached a forty-four page essay he had written while in a Missouri jail in 1839: “A Treatise on the Regeneration and Eternal Duration of Matter.”48 In 1844, Parley published two additional essays which expanded on his 1839 essay, and Orson had access to all of his brother’s works.

Other works by Parley foreshadowed Orson’s own writings. Parley’s Voice of Warning (1837) provided such detailed arguments for the Book of Mormon and the basic principles of the gospel, including the gathering and the kingdom of God, that it is hard to ignore their potential influence on Orson. In addition, Parley’s essays on “Intelligence and Affection,” “Celestial Family Organization,” and other pamphlets, which were replies to anti-Mormon writers as well as defenses of major Mormon doctrines, provided much upon which Orson likely drew. Parley’s preference for “dialogue” in his tracts also provided Orson with a writing technique in defending Mormonism. Even Orson’s detailed defenses of plural marriage were foreshadowed by Parley’s San Francisco broad-side published six weeks before Orson publicly announced the practice.49

Orson clearly was aware of his brother’s works. He wrote to his wife in January 1840 about the publication of The Millennium and specifically noted the material on the eternal duration of matter.50 A year later he began selling Parley’s books out of his own home in Nauvoo, advertising them in church periodicals.51 The best evidence of Orson’s relationship to his brother comes in a letter he wrote to Parley in 1853: “There are no writings in the church with the exception of the revelations, which I esteem more highly than yours.…Oh, my dear brother, in some way, burst these shackles and send forth your theological Works by thousands among all languages and nations till the whole earth shall be enlightened with the light thereof.”52 This is not to say that Orson merely reproduced his brother’s work. It is clear that Orson labored diligently over his writing. In another letter to his brother he shared his frustrations: “Writing always was tedious to me, but seeing the good that may be accomplished, I have whipped my mind to it, till I am nearly bald-headed, and grey-headed, through constant application. I almost envy the hours that steal away, I find myself so fast hastening to old age. A few short years, if we live, will find us among the ranks of the old men [p.xxv]of the earth; and how can I bear to have it so without doing more in this great cause? I wish to accomplish something ere I die, that shall not only be esteemed great by good and holy men, but that shall be considered great in the sight of God.”53 In most of his work, however, Orson Pratt was an “elaborator,” systematizer, and popularizer of Mormon thought, not an innovator or originator. He was among the one or two most important of the approximately eighty pamphleteers in early Mormonism. He was at his best in developing the ideas of others and expanding them into fully elaborated statements. Without question, all religious movements in their movements in their infancy need such disciples.


1. The Heart of Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, for the LDS Department of Education, 1930), 411.

2. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts, ed., revised ed., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954), 7:434-35; originally published New York Sun, 6 Aug. 1845.

3. Rocky Mountain Saints (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1873), 9.

4. Life of Brigham Young (New York: n.p., 1876), appendix, 74.

5. Latter-day Saint’s Millennial Star 43 (7 Nov. 1881):707.

6. T. Edgar Lyon, “Orson Pratt—Early Mormon Leader,” M.A. thesis, University of Chicago, 1932, 104, 99; see Orson F. Whitney, “Orson Pratt, Apostle, Pioneer, Philosopher, Scientist, and Historian,” Improvement Era 15 (Jan. 1912): 195-206.

7. “The Intellectual Tradition of the Latter-day Saints,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Spring 1969): 22-23.

8. For full documentation on biographical sources, see David J. Whittaker, “Early Mormon Pamphleteering,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1982, 123-24. See also Breck England, The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985).

9. In Elden J. Watson, comp., The Orson Pratt Journals (Salt Lake City: Elden J. Watson, 1975), 8-9. Doctrine and Covenants, Section 34 [Chapter 36 in 1833 Book of Commandments] was a revelation through Joseph Smith addressed to Orson Pratt, 4 November 1830, calling him to a life of missionary work.

10. Journal of Discourses of the Church of Jesus Chest of Latter-day Saints, 26 vols. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855-86), 12:85. Hereafter cited as JD.

11. The context is provided in Louis C. Zucker, “Joseph Smith as a Student of Hebrew,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer 1968): 45. References to Pratt’s study of Hebrew in the History of the Church include 2:326,356-57, 397, 406.

12. Much of the story is told in James B. Allen and Malcolm R. Thorp, “The Mission of the Twelve to England, 1840-41: Mormon Apostles and the Working Classes,” Brigham Young University Studies 15 (Summer 1975): 499-526; see also Breck England, “Gospel Seeds in Scottish Soil,” The Ensign 17 (Feb. 1987): 26-31; Frederick S. Buchanan, “The Ebb and Flow of Mormonism in Scotland, 1840-1900,” Brigham Young University Studies 27 (Spring 1987): 27-52; Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record 6 (Sept. 1887): 348-51; and Orson Pratt’s letters in Millennial Star 1 (Dec. 1840): 213-14; and 2 (May 1841): 10-12.

13. This pamphlet appeared by October 1840. See letter of Orson Pratt to George A. Smith, dated Edinburgh, 24 Sept. 1840, LDS archives, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; hereafter LDS archives. Information on the background of the “Articles of Faith” is provided in David J. Whittaker, “The ‘Articles of Faith’ in Early Mormon Literature and Thought,” New Views of Mormon History, A Collection of Essays in Honor of Leonard J. Arrington, eds. Davis Bitton and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987), 63-92.

14. See D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844,” Brigham Young University Studies 16 (Winter 1976): 187-233; Roland K. Esplin, “Joseph, Brigham and the Twelve: A Succession of Continuity,” Brigham Young University Studies 21 (Summer 1981): 301-41; and the “Message” of Orson Pratt in New York Messenger as reprinted in Times and Seasons 6 (15 Aug. 1845): 995-99.

15. In Milando Pratt, “Life and Labors of Orson Pratt,” The Contributor 12 (Jan. 1891): 85-87.

16. The fifteen pamphlets he issued during this time (1848-51) include: Divine Authority, or Was Joseph Smith Sent of God, 16 pp. (30 Sept. 1848); The Kingdom of God, Part 1, 8 pp. (31 Oct. 1848); pt. 2, 8 pp. (30 Nov. 1848); pt. 3, 8 pp. (14 Jan. 1849); pt. 4, 16 pp. (14 July 1849): Reply to ‘Remarks on Mormonism’, 16 pp. (30 April 1849); Absurdities of lmmaterialism, or a Reply to T. W. P. Taylder’s Pamphlet, entitled ‘The materialism of the Mormons or Latter-day Saints examined and exposed’, 32 pp. (31 July 1849); New Jerusalem or the Fulfillment of Modern Prophecy, 24 pp. (I Oct. 1849); Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, 96 pp., no. 1 (15 Oct 1850); no. 2 (I Nov. 1850); no. 3 (1 Dec. 1850) no. 4 (15 Dec. 1850); no. 5 (7 Jan. 1851); no. 6 (n.d, probably 15 Jan. 1851); and Great First Cause, on the Self Moving Forces of the Universe, 16 pp. (1 Jan 1851). These were published under one cover with some additional material in 1851. For bibliographical information on these and the other published works of Orson Pratt, including foreign language editions, see Chad J. Flake, ed., A Mormon Bibliography 1830-1930 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1978). Pratt also reissued in 1848 as Remarkable Visions his earlier Interesting Account…

17. These were published in the Deseret News but are more conveniently found in N. B. Lundwall, comp., Wonders of the Universe, or a Compilation of the Astronomical Writings of Orson Pratt (Salt Lake City: N. B. Lundwall, 1937).

18. The conference minutes were published in a Deseret News, Extra, 14 Sept. 1852, and in a Millennial Star, Supplement, 15 (1853). In addition, Pratt’s speech can be found in JD 1:53-66. The larger story and a detailed examination of Orson Pratt’s polygamy defenses, especially the series in The Seer, and their impact in LDS thought appears in Whittaker, “The Bone in the Throat: Orson Pratt and the Public Announcement of Plural Marriage,” Western Historical Quarterly 18 (July 1987): 293-314; and Whittaker, “Early Mormon Polygamy Defenses,” Journal of Mormon History II (I984): 43-63.

19. So far, the best overview of this work in early Mormonism is in Howar C. Searle, “Early Mormon Historiography: Writing the History of the Mormons, 1830-1858,” Ph.D. diss, UCLA, 1979, 358-428. See also Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 87-107. See also letter of Orson Pratt to Lucy Mack Smith, 28 Oct. 1853, LDS archives.

20. His second series of pamphlets, eight in number, were issued separately, then bound into a book, Tracts by Orson Pratt…(Liverpool and London, 1857). They were issued between 25 August 1856 and 15 March 1857: The True Faith, 16 pp. (25 Aug. 1856); True Repentance, 16 pp. (8 Sept. 1856); Water Baptism, 16 pp. (22 Sept. 1856); The Holy Spirit, 16 pp. (15 Nov 1856); Spiritual Gifts, 16 pp. (15 Dec 1856); Necessity for Miracles, 16 pp. (15 Jan. 1857); Universal Apostasy, or the Seventeen Centuries of Darkness, 16 pp. (15 Feb 1857); and Latter-day Kingdom, or the Preparation for the Second Advent, 16 pp. (15 March 1857). The pamphlet on the Holy Spirit had its origin in essays published in the Millennial Star 12 (15 Oct 1850): 305-23; 12 (I Nov. 1850): 325-28. Since Pratt acted as the editor of the Star during his presidencies of the British Mission, much of the material that later appeared in pamphlet form was first printed in the Millennial Star.

21. See Robert J. Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants,” Ph.D. diss. Brigham Young University, 1974, 1:54-92; Jeffrey R. Holland, “An Analysis of Selected Changes in Major Editions of the Book of Mormon, 1830-1920,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1966; James R. Harris, “Changes in the Book of Moses and Their Implication upon a Concept of Revelation,” Brigham Young University Studies 8 (Summer 1968): 361-82; and James R. Clark, The Story of the Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955).

22. Levi Edgar Young, The Founding of Utah (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1924), 320. Lundwall and others have repeated the claim. It apparently originated in a letter from Orson to his wife Marian from Liverpool, 23 December 1878, in which he told her he hoped “to distribute a few hundred copies [of Key to the Universe] among the Universities, Colleges, Academies, and the great mathematicians of both Europe and America. I do not expect that such a work would sell, excepting now and then a copy. But my object is not speculation, but to preserve the mathematical propositions which cost me so much time and labor to discover, from falling into oblivion” (in LDS archives; Leonard J. Arrington called this letter to my attention).

23. In February 1861 he submitted to the Mathematical Monthly (Cambridge, Massachusetts) a series of problems concerning mathematical laws relating to the origin of the solar system. He later recalled: “In the month of May [February] 1861, I prepared a series of problems relating to this subject, and forwarded the same to the editor of the Mathematical Monthly,…but in the consequence of the war then pending, the paper ceased its publication, and I heard nothing further from the manuscript. But as it was hastily and somewhat imperfectly prepared, it is perhaps better that it remained unpublished” (Lundwall, comp., Wonders of the Universe, 175). In a letter to the editor of the Mathematical Monthly, dated 22 Feb. 1861, Pratt noted that his work was done without the aid of “any mathematical works” (Orson Pratt Papers, LDS archives). See also his letter to the editor of the Analyst (Des Moines, Iowa), 18 Sep. 1876; “Six Original Problems,” 3 (Nov. 1876): 186-87; “Problem 143,” (March 1877): 63; and “Problem 221,” 5 (Sept. 1878): 159. These are identified in Edward R. Hogan, “Orson Pratt as a Mathematician,” Utah Historical Quarterly 41 (Winter 1973): 62n8. As Hogan suggests, this periodical was an outlet for amateurs; the first serious mathematical periodical did not appear until 1878, and the American Mathematical Society was not founded until 1888. The Orson Pratt Collection at LDS archives includes two unpublished mathematical works: “Differential Calculus” (224 pp.; pages 79-103 missing) and an incomplete text book on “Determinants” (40 pp.) for junior students. According to Orson Pratt’s 1 March 1878 letter to G. Rand (typescript in LDS archives), he wrote the book on differential calculus after he published Cubic and Biquadratic Equations (1866).

24. Hogan, Orson Pratt as a Mathematician,” 66. Hogan notes that Pratt’s work, even when he claimed “originality” or “new discovery,” was really only slight modification of well-known existing theorems (p. 64). See also William J. Christensen, “A Critical Review of Orson Pratt, Sr., Published Scientific Books,” M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1929. Richard Anthony Proctor, a non-Mormon scientist, visited Salt Lake City in the 1870s and stated that Orson Pratt was one of the four real mathematicians in the world; his statement must be seen as good public relations, not an accurate judgement of Pratt’s mathematical standing. In Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons, 1904), 4:29. Lyon suggests that Proctor used Pratt’s work on the Pyramid of Gizeh in his own The Great Pyramid (London: Chatto and Windus, Picadilly, 1883), “Orson Pratt,” 96n.

25. The growing use of the inductive method and all Baconianism implied in the early nineteenth century is presented in George H. Daniels, American Science in the Age of Jackson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), esp. ch. 3; Theodore Dwight Bozeman, Protestants in the Age of Science, The Baconian Ideal and Ante-bellum American Religious Thought (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977); and Herbert Hovenkamp, Science and Religion in America, 1800-1860 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978).

26. Hovenkamp, Science and Religion in America, xi.

27. See The Wasp 1 (12 Nov. 1842): [3].

28. Pratt functioned in Mormonism as Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864), a Yale professor of chemistry and natural history, did for New England audiences during the same period. While evidence is lacking, it is possible that Pratt attended some of Silliman’s lectures in the 1830s while doing missionary work in the Boston area, a claim made by Jules Remy, A Journey to Great Salt Lake, 2 vols. (London, 1861), 2:12ff. For the fuller picture, see Margaret W. Rossiter, “Benjamin Silliman and Lowell Institute: The Popularization of Science in Nineteenth-Century America,” New England Quarterly 44 (Dec. 1971): 602-26. The growing professionalization of science in America during the same time is told in John C. Greene, “American Science Comes of Age, 1738-1820,” Journal of American History 55 (June 1968): 22-41; and George H. Daniels, “The Process of Professionalization in American Science: The Emergent Period, 1820-1860,” Isis 58 (Summer 1967): 151-66. Also valuable is Donald Zochert, “Science and the Common Man in Ante-Bellum America,” Isis 65 (Dec. 1974): 448-73.

29. Times and Seasons 2 (16 Aug. 1841): 517; “Halos and Parhelia,” Times and Seasons 4 (1 April 1843): 151-12; The Wasp I (5 April 1843): 2, was dated 23 March 1843 and described the comet first seen from earth in late February and March 1843. Its appearance added to the public awareness of astronomy—an interest pricked by the 1835 return of Halley’s Comet. Like the Times and Seasons, newspapers all over America were telling their readers about what they were observing. The continuing popularity of Pratt’s writings and lectures on astronomy among the Mormons should be viewed in the context of the larger American interest in such matters. Some valuable background material is John C. Greene, “Some Aspects of American Astronomy, 1750-1815,” Isis 45 (Dec. 1954): 339-58; and D. J. Warner, “Astronomy in Ante-bellum America,” in Nathan Reingold, ed., The Sciences in the American Context (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1979), 55-75.

30. Both almanacs were twenty-four pages long and published in New York in 1844 and 1845 respectively. In addition to articles on religious matters (see the material from the 1846 Almanac in Watson, Orson Pratt Journals, 242-58), pratt’s calculations and observations went back to 6 April 1830, the day the Mormon church was founded. In his 1879 Treatise on the Egyptian Pyramid of Gizeh (Liverpool, 1879) he argued that the date for the organization of the church was recorded in the chronology of the floor lines in the Grand Gallery of the Great Pyramid. See also the Millennial Star 41 (5 and 12 May 1879): 280-82; 296-98; Stenhouse, Rocky Mountain Saints, 482-83; and Orson Pratt, Conference Address, 8 April 1880. Orson Pratt to Reuben Hedlock, 20 Aug 1845, in New York Messenger 2 (30 Aug. 1845): 67, claims an edition of 5,000 copies for his 1846 Almanac. For the cultural and bibliographical context of his almanacs, see Whittaker, “Almanacs in the New England Heritage ofMormonism,” Brigham Young University Studies 29 (Fall 1989): 89-113. Early sources that report his work and thought in astronomy include History of the Church 7:554; Watson, Orson Pratt Journals, 478; “Mormon Philosophy, Space Duration, and Matter,” New York Messenger 2 (13 Sept. 1845): 81; “The Immensity of the Universe,” in Lundwall, comp., Masterful Discourses and Writings of Orson Pratt, 208-10; and “General Reflections on Eternal Existence,” Millennial Star 10 (1 Nov. 1848): 332-34.

31. Deseret News 4 (26 Oct. 1854): 3 and issues following. Pratt’s audience raised $5,000 in cash and commodities to give him at the end of the lectures according to Lyon, “Orson Pratt,” 52-53. Published in 1879 in Liverpool and Salt Lake City, Key to the Universe is most conveniently found in Lundwall, Wonders of the Universe, 214 ff.

32. JD 7:157.

33. Lundwall, Wonders of the Universe, 36, 75, 193, a lecture of 11 Aug. 1875.

34. See the discussion, from which I have drawn, in Hovenkamp, Religion and Science in America, 97-117.

35. Examples of Pratt’s mathematical literalness applied to his theological discussions include his calculations of the number of children promised to Abraham whose seed was to be as “numerous as the sands of the sea shore” (JD 1:61-62); his figures on the total number of spirit children created by God the Father (The Seer 1 [March 1853]: 38); and the weight of the earth in pounds, expressed to twenty-six places. As Hovenkamp points out, this kind of exactness reveals a strong belief in mathematics as the key to the underlying structure of the universe. Pratt came close to doing what Benjamin Pierce, a Harvard mathematician, was doing with math. See Hovenkamp, Religion and Science in America, 103ff; and Russell Blaine Nye, Society and Culture in America, 1830-1860 (New York: New American Nation Series of Harper and Row, 1974), 236-82.

36. For good discussions of the issues, see, in addition to Hovenkamp, Theodore Dwight Bozeman, Protestants in the Age of Science, The Baconian Ideal and Ante-bellum American Religious Thought (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977); Lorin Eisley, Darwin’s Century (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958); John C. Greene, The Death of Adam: Evolution and its Impact on Western Thought (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1959); Paul F. Boller, Jr., American Thought in Transition: The Impact of Evolutionary Naturalism in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: Rand McNally and Co., 1969); William Coleman, Biology in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977); D. R. Oldroyd, Darwinian Impacts, An Introduction to the Darwinian Revolution (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1980); God and Nature, Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); The Darwinian Heritage, David Kohn, ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985); and James P. Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies…(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). Shorter overviews are in Bert James Lowenberg, “Darwinism Comes to America, 1859-1900,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 28 (Dec. 1940): 339-68; and Richard Sherlock, “A Turbulent Spectrum: Mormon Reactions to the Darwinist Legacy,” Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978): 33-59. Pratt did suggest a kind of spiritual evolution in humanity’s premortal existence in The Seer I (March 1853): 37-39.

37. I summarize here from Donald Skabelund, “Cosmology on the American Frontier: Orson Pratt’s Key to the Universe,” Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology II (1965): 190-204. See also Lyon, “Orson Pratt,” 87-90. The best published history of Pratt’s conflicts with Brigham Young is Gary James Bergera, “The Orson Pratt-Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict Within the Quorums, 1853-1868,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 (Summer 1980): 7-49. The Holy Spirit is in line with nineteenth-century Mormon speculation on the subject of the Holy Ghost as seen in Parley’s chapter on the subject in The Key to the Science of Theology (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855). See also Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine,” in Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, ed. Gary James Bergera (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989), 53-66. At their base, both The First Cause and The Holy Spirit were defenses of Mormon materialism. They also were, like Orson Pratt’s other scientific work, refutations of the deterministic atomism of Pierre Simon de LaPlace whose Celestial Mechanics (1799) argued for a completely mechanistic cosmos. See Ronald L. Numbers, Creation by Natural Law: LaPlace’s Nebular Hyposthesis in American Thought (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977).

38. Originally published in the Deseret News 5 (1 Aug. 1855): 165-72, it was reprinted in other LDS periodicals: St. Louis Luminary 1 (13 Oct. 1855): 185; The Mormons [New York City] 1 (27 Oct. 1855); and Millennial Star 17 (15 Dec. 1855): 792-97. There are many similarities between Pratt’s “Law of Planetary Rotation” and Daniel Kirkwood’s theories which were introduced to the American scientific community in 1849, several years before Pratt announced his. On Kirkwood’s ideas, see Numbers, Creation by Natural Law, 41-54. A photo of Pratt’s telescope and observatory is in Lundwall, Wonders of the Universe, 225; Deseret News, 14 Nov. 1931; and Utah Historical Quarterly 41 (Winter 1972): 66. See also Improvement Era 15 (Jan. 1912): 200.

39. These are summarized from Skabelund, “Cosmology on the American Frontier.” The recent study of the cosmic symbolism in the architecture of the Salt Lake Temple overemphasizes Orson Pratt’s role and brilliance as a scientist. In addition, it fails to suggest the possible influence of nineteenth-century masonic astronomy. See C. Mark Hamilton, “The Salt Lake Temple: Symbolic Statement of Mormon Doctrine,” in Thomas G. Alexander, ed., The Mormon People, Their Character and Traditions, Charles Redd Monographs in Western History, No. 10 (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1980), 103-27. See also D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), 150-91. The larger story of the study of astronomy in the nineteenth century is told in Bessie Z. Jones, Lighthouse of the Skies… (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1965). Since astronomy was the queen of the physical sciences in the nineteenth century, public interest was broad-based.

40. Sterling M. McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1965), esp. parts one and two. See also Lyon, “Orson Pratt,” 88-90.

41. Pratt argued consistently that authority from heaven was the key to the correctness of the Mormon message. See JD 8:101-106; 12:352-62; 14:289-99, 137-47; 15:178-91; 17:278-88, 264-77; 18:41-57, 264-71, 222-29; and 22:27-38.

42. Pratt’s essay on the kingdom of God was an extended treatment (in the same order) of the material presented in chapter three of Parley’s Voice of Warning (1837). Joseph Smith’s teachings on this subject are presented in D. Michael Quinn, “The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 1844 to 1945,” Brigham Young University Studies 20 (Winter 1980): 163-97; and Andrew F. Ehat, “‘It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth’: Joseph Smith and the Constitution of the Kingdom of God,” Brigham Young University Studies 20 (Spring 1980): 253-79.

43. The Kingdom of God and Zion were regular topics in Pratt’s writings and speeches. See The Seer, 147-50; JD 3:70-74; 7:210-27; 13:124-38; 15:67-76; The Seer, 261-71; JD 14:343-56; 15:44-53, 329-41; 16:1-8, 78-87; and 17:24-36, 289-306.

44. These defenses were Reply to a Pamphlet Printed at Glasgow, with the “Approbation of Clergyman of Different Denominations,” entitled “Remarks on Mormonism” (Liverpool: R. James, 1849), and Absurdities of lmmaterialism, or A Reply to T. W. P. Taylder’s Pamphlet, entitled, “The Materialism of the Mormons of Latter-Day Saints, Examined and Exposed” (Liverpool: R. James, 1849). See The Seer, 265-71, for his discussion of the New Jerusalem.

45. For Orson Pratt, the Book of Mormon was the key to Mormonism. His pamphlet on the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon was an extended defense of modern revelation. He argued that to establish the truth of the Book or Mormon it must first be shown that continuing revelation is necessay, scriptural, and reasonable. The organization of the work follows a logical format. He presents seven main propositions: (1) to expect more revelation is not unscriptural; (2) to expet more revelation is not unreasonable; (3) more revelation is indispensably necessary; (4) without further revelation, the Bible and tradition are insufficient guides; (5) the evidences of the Book of Mormon and Bible are compared; (6) the Book of Mormon is confirmed by miracles; and (7) the prophetic evidence is in favor of the Book of Mormon. All of these themse appreared regularly in sermons: JD 21:128-36; 20:62-77; 7:22-38; 16:209-20; and 13:124-38. See also The Seer, 257-61. Orson ended his pamphlet with his own testimony: “And I now bear my humble testimony to all the nations of the earth who shall read this series of pamphlets, that the Book of Mormon is a [p.xxxii]divine revelation, for the voice of the Lord hath declared it unto me.” See further, Whittaker, “Orson Pratt: Early Advocate of the Book of Mormon,” The Engisn 14 (April 1984): 54-57.

46. The emphasis of this second series of tracts on the basic principles of Mormonism probably reflects the counsel he received from Brigham Young as he was publishing The Seer in 1854. See the letter of Orson Pratt to Brigham Young, 14 Feb. 1854. LDS archives. The material that appeared in his second set of pamphlets that had previously appeared in The Seer includes: “Faith,” The Seer 2 (Jan., Feb. 1854): 198-204; 209-12; “Repentance,” ibid. 2 (Feb., Mar., April 1854): 254-56; and “Preparations for the Second Advent,” ibid., 2 (Aug. 1854): 305-20.

47. See “Relief Society Minutes of Nauvoo,” 28 April 1842, LDS archives.

48. Parley P. Pratt, The Millennium and other Poems, to which is annexed A Treatise on the Regeneration and Eternal Duration of Matter (New York: Printed by W. Molineux, 1840), 105-48. Orson probably benefited from the 7 April 1843 discourse of Joseph Smith, as well. See Joseph Smith’s diary, for that date, in Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1986), 355-57. See also Peter Crawley, “The Passage of Mormon Primitivism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 13 (Winter 1980): 26-37.

49. The broadside, dated San Francisco, 13 July 1852, is titled Mormonism! Plurality of Wives! An especial chapter for the edification of certain inquisitive new editors, etc., and is now conveniently found in The Essential Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 169-71. It provided a curious defense of polygamy without admitting to its practice. See also Parley’s 1855 speech to the Utah Territorial Legislature, published as Marriage and Morals in Utah (Liverpool, 1856).

50. Orson Pratt to Sarah M. Bates Pratt, 6 Jan. 1840, Times and Seasons I (Feb. 1840): 61.

51. Times and Seasons 2 (1 Aug. 1841): 502, 518, 534. Three of the four works advertised were by Parley.

52. Orson Pratt to Parley P. Pratt, 12 Sept. 1853, LDS archives.

53. Orson Pratt to Parley P. Pratt, 2 Nov. 1853, LDS archives.