Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/December 1876/Mormonism from a Mormon Point of View
By DANIEL WEDDERBURN.
DURING a recent visit to Salt Lake City I happened to ask one of the leading Mormons what works, in addition to the Book of Mormon, would give me a fair idea of the religious doctrines professed by the Latter-day Saints and of their history, as they themselves desire to have it told. The gentleman addressed most kindly offered for my acceptance several books, among which were pamphlets by Orson Pratt, one of the twelve apostles of the church, the "Key to the Science of Theology," by Parley P. Pratt, and the "Rise, Progress, and Travels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," by President George A. Smith.
So far as religious tenets are concerned, the authority of the works mentioned may doubtless be accepted as final. With regard to the historical portion of the subject it is different, and here a certain allowance must be made for the bias of a religious partisan; but it is not the less interesting to read this brief but stirring history, as it is told by those who played a prominent part in its events. Having studied these books, I shall endeavor to give a short account of Mormonism, as it is described by the Mormons themselves, and as it appears to myself, being personally little predisposed to regard it favorably, but convinced that its case has seldom been fairly stated to the public.
A certain practical importance attaches at present to the subject, for the future position of Mormonism in the Union is among the many difficult political problems now offering themselves for solution in the United States of America. It presents, indeed, upon a small scale, a similar difficulty to that caused by the existence of slavery in the Southern States: as to how far it is possible to maintain political federation between communities differing essentially in their social institutions. The American Constitution is wonderfully elastic, but it has proved impossible to retain slaveholding States permanently within its limits. Is its elasticity sufficient to admit into the Union a State which would legalize polygamy? Hitherto a negative answer has been given by Congress to this question, and the claims of Utah Territory to become a State have been urged in vain; but the steady increase of population and wealth is constantly strengthening those claims, and they cannot much longer be ignored. The fourth unsuccessful attempt to obtain admission as a State of the Union was made in 1872, when the population of Utah already exceeded that of Nevada and Nebraska combined (at the date of their admission), being upward of 105,000; and a memorial to Congress was adopted, praying for admission into the Union as a sovereign State. The constitution then proposed for the State, which was to bear the name of Deseret, was approved by the people of the Territory, with only 368 dissentient votes; it provided for women's suffrage, and minority representation.
The admission of Nevada, Nebraska, and Colorado, all of them neighboring Territories with inferior population to Utah, appears to justify the assertion of the Mormons that the unpopularity of their religion was the sole cause of their exclusion. Had Deseret been created a sovereign State in 1872, the controversy as to polygamy might have entered upon a new and critical phase, as the State Legislature would doubtless have claimed the right to legalize plurality of wives within its own jurisdiction. No such right can be claimed by the existing Legislature of Utah, whose powers are restricted by the provisions of the act of 1850, to which the Territory owes its political existence. All laws of the Territorial Legislature must have the sanction of the Governor (who is appointed by the President of the United States), and are passed subject to the approval of Congress. The judges of the Territorial Supreme Court are also appointed by the President, so that the control of the Federal authorities is complete over all departments in the Territory, and it is natural that the Mormon community should aspire to a more independent position. It is questionable, however, whether independence would not prove a disadvantage to the Mormons, as tending to bring them into direct collision with popular feeling, which has always been more or less hostile to them throughout the Union, while the Federal authorities have acted a friendly part. During seventeen sessions of the Utah Legislative Assembly, the power of disapproval has only once been exercised by Congress, and then (as might have been expected) in relation to the law of marriage. The Washington Government has afforded protection to the Mormons against local officers and judges, President Grant, in particular, having recently braved considerable unpopularity by removing the Chief-Justice of the Supreme Court of Utah for "arbitrary and illegal conduct" in his dealings with the Latter-day Saints. Again, a few years ago the United States officials in Utah set at naught the Territorial law under which jurors were selected and summoned, rejecting those who professed their belief in Mormon doctrines. Where the value at issue exceeds $1,000, an appeal lies to the Supreme Court of the United States, and a case tried by a packed jury, and given against the municipal officers of Salt Lake City, was accordingly appealed. The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court at Washington was, that the jury had not been legally impaneled, and the judgment of the Utah court was reversed. Great rejoicing was caused at Salt Lake City by this decision in the Engelbrecht case, as proving that the inhabitants of Territories had rights in common with their countrymen, and that there was justice in the United States even for the professors of a very unpopular religion.
It may appear strange that in the freest of lands, and in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a legal doubt should have existed as to whether civil disabilities were attached to any form of religious opinion; but it must be remembered that the evidence of an atheist was very recently rejected in English courts of justice, and the Legislature of North Carolina expelled last year a member, because he conscientiously declared his disbelief in the existence of God. The fact is that, even in Protestant countries, complete religious toleration is limited to certain recognized persuasions, so that feeble and unpopular sects have still to unite in claiming for themselves the same liberty of conscience which has been conceded to all numerous and powerful dissenting bodies. Science now demands from theology absolute and unconditional freedom, and the clay can hardly be far distant when theological heterodoxy will cease to involve any civil penalties in a free country. At present the Mormon refugees of the Rocky Mountains demand only that amount of civil and religious liberty which the Constitution professes to guarantee to every American citizen, and which the Pilgrim Fathers found for themselves "on the wild New England shore." They complain that their enemies have told their story, that their own statements have been ignored, and that no credit has been given to them for an honest attempt, in these latter days, to put in practice the doctrines of the early Christian Church. Even their enemies will hardly deny that they displayed faith, courage, and endurance, when they resolved, after being expelled from one settlement after another, to plunge into the unknown wilderness, and to found a new Zion beyond the existing limits of the United States. These qualities have triumphed over great physical difficulties, and a stranger is astonished at the prosperity which Mormon industry has produced. A carefully-organized system of irrigation has converted a barren desert into a productive garden, and has had the remarkable effect of raising the permanent level of the lake ten feet higher than it was in 1850. Every requirement of the religious community is abundantly supplied by contributions, assessed and collected upon voluntary principles. Besides the immense new Tabernacle, a temple is now in course of construction, almost Egyptian in its massive grandeur, toward which all the faithful contribute, those who cannot afford money giving their labor. The Indians in Utah have been conciliated by the humane policy of feeding, clothing, and teaching, instead of fighting them. The old accusations of violence and cruelty toward Gentile immigrants, or Mormon deserters, if not altogether disproved, have at least been lived down in recent times, and the existence of a military camp near Salt Lake City is now, probably, more unnecessary than it would be at any other town west of the Rocky Mountains. In order to appreciate the tranquillity, sobriety, and steady industry of Deseret (as the Mormons prefer to name their country), it may be contrasted with Nevada, an adjoining State almost identical with Deseret as to soil, climate, and mineral products. The so-called Silver State stands now preeminent in the Union for its turbulent manners, for the number of its liquor shops, and as being the only State which legalizes public gambling of course, Nevada is merely passing through a certain rude stage of her existence, just as California had done before her, and she, too, will one day set her house in order; the remarkable point is that Utah should, alone among the young communities of the far West, have altogether escaped such a condition of things. To many persons this will appear to be sufficiently explained by the fact that the Mormons both preach and practise habits of extreme temperance, almost amounting to total abstinence from every sort of stimulant.
Considerable hostility undoubtedly exists between the Mormons and some of their Gentile fellow-residents; this is greatly due to the bitter attacks of certain local newspapers upon the Latter-day Saints, and upon those who show them any favor. When I was in Salt Lake City, the Governor of Utah Territory was very severely assailed for his alleged partiality toward the Mormons, and a grim hope was at the same time expressed that Mr. Brigham Young might shortly take the place merited by him "at the only fireside, which we know of, large enough to accommodate him and the whole of his family." That such expressions are publicly used in speaking of a man whom the great bulk of the community regard as an inspired prophet, is a sufficient proof that no terrorism is now exercised against dissenters from the dominant church of Utah. To a stranger like myself, desirous of understanding as far as possible the tenets of their faith, a frank and friendly reception was accorded by such of the Mormon leaders as I had an opportunity of visiting. Every explanation asked for was at once afforded, but I do not feel justified in mentioning names, or in repeating any private conversation, although it was probably not intended to be confidential. A passing stranger can only see the external surface of society, and in this respect there is nothing very remarkable in Salt Lake City. The parlor of a flourishing Mormon householder does not differ much in appearance from that of an Englishman who happens to have a numerous family, with a large proportion of sisters or daughters. A new and somewhat startling sensation is, however, experienced during the ceremony of introduction on first hearing the words, "Now, sir, let me introduce you to another of my wives." The strangeness of these words mainly consists in the very fact that they are uttered, not by a dark-skinned barbarian, but by a gentleman answering to the description of the English soldiers given by "Le Conscrit de 1813"—"blancs, bien rasés, comme de bons bourgeois"—and in a room with all the familiar surroundings of civilized domestic life. The public worship of the Church of. Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons invariably designate their own sect, is conducted with great simplicity, very much as it is in an English dissenting chapel, and the preponderance of ladies is by no means greater than that to which we are accustomed in places of worship generally. The only marked peculiarity is the administration of the Lord's Supper in water instead of wine, and of this sacrament it appears to be customary for all the faithful present to partake, old and young alike. The hymns are sung by a mixed choir of young men and women, and addresses, are delivered by eminent Mormon elders. When I was present, the speakers were Mr. Daniel H. Wells, Mayor of Salt Lake City, and Mr. Cannon, brother of the delegate from Utah Territory to Congress. All religious argument was based upon the authority of the Bible, to which the Mormon revelations claim to be additional, but in no sense contrary. Various Mormon doctrines were touched upon, and special allusions were made to the persecutions undergone by the Saints in past times, and to those which appeared to menace them in the future. Although not yet half a century old, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-clay Saints has passed through a baptism of fire, and living men can speak with mingled pride and sorrow of personal friends who died as martyrs to their religious faith. Thirty years ago Nauvoo, in Illinois, was a Mormon settlement, almost equal in population and prosperity to Salt Lake City at the present day; those who witnessed its total destruction can hardly be considered idle alarmists, when they allude to the possibility of trials yet to come. The tone of the speakers was thoroughly practical, exhorting to industry and sobriety, to abstention from all stimulants, including tobacco, coffee, and tea, and to the cultivation of all the useful arts, "even those of war, if necessary to the safety of our community." These exhortations were mainly addressed to the juniors present, a saving clause being inserted for those seniors who had borne the burden and heat of the evil days, and who, having now established this mountain refuge for the Saints, might require to "solace decaying nature" with an occasional narcotic. The addresses breathed a tolerant and rational spirit, the doctrines inculcated were simply those of a charitable form of Christianity, and there was no mention of that peculiar domestic institution which sums up in the minds of so many all notions connected with Mormonism.
After all, it is upon "plural marriages" that the interest as well as the hostility of the outer world has always been concentrated; a Mormon is simply regarded as a man with a number of wives, and beyond this most people know little, and care less, as to the doctrines or customs of the Latter-day Saints. Were it not for their polygamy, it seems probable that the Mormons might now enjoy the same perfect toleration which is extended in America to other forms of religious eccentricity, and that Deseret would long ere this have taken her place among the States of the Union. On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that polygamy is a comparatively recent innovation, condemned by the Book of Mormon in the strongest possible terms:
"The word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord, this people (the Nephites) begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the Scriptures; for they seek to excuse themselves because of the things which were written concerning David and Solomon his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord; wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. Wherefore I, the Lord God, will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord; for there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife, and concubines he shall have none; for I, the Lord God, delighteth (sic) in the chastity of women."These are the words of "Jacob, the brother of Nephi," and words could hardly be more distinct or emphatic; but theologians can generally manage to explain away inconvenient texts and hard sayings, while in this case it may be held by the Saints that the above injunctions were repealed by the subsequent "Revelation on Celestial Marriage." This tardy revelation, vouchsafed to Joseph Smith shortly before the close of his career, is the sole warrant for plurality of wives—a practice which is general among the Mormon leaders, but not throughout the community at large. With them, as with Mohammedans or Hindoos, polygamy is doubtless very much a question of expense, and I was informed on good authority that probably about one in four of the Saints is the husband of more than one wife. The majority, therefore, adheres in practice to the "Doctrine and Covenants," which book is a recognized authority upon articles of Mormon faith, and declares that "one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again." The number of wives ascribed to eminent individuals is usually exaggerated, sixteen being the largest number admittedly married to one man, and six constituting the household of a wealthy and influential elder.
The Mormons compare themselves to the Jews, as well as to the early Christians; they have been a persecuted people, driven forth to wander through trackless deserts, and are now living apart from their neighbors in a theocratic commonwealth of their own. Their precedents on behalf of polygamy are mainly drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures; but they also assert that they have in their favor the example of the primitive Christian Church. Without going into their arguments, it may be at once conceded that polygamy was sanctioned by the ancient Hebrew law; but it is not the less out of date in the new world of America, and is a standing peril to the Church of the Latter-day Saints. By an act of the Utah Legislature, the right of suffrage has been conferred on "all American women, native or naturalized," and it hardly seems possible that polygamy can long survive such legislation. At present the extension of the franchise among persons, few-of whom are "native" Americans, and many of whom. are very imperfectly educated, probably strengthens the hands of the Mormon leaders by swamping entirely the Gentile element. But such an effect is not likely to be permanent, for the rising generation will be educated; in 1871, just after the passing of the act above referred to, sixty per cent, of the girls between four and sixteen years of age were enrolled as scholars throughout Utah Territory, being slightly in excess of the percentage among boys of the same age. Equality between the sexes in education and in electoral privileges must tend to bring about social and religious equality also, and the example of their independent sisters in Wyoming Territory, where women enjoy complete civil rights, will not be thrown away upon the ladies of Salt Lake City. The tone of public feeling throughout the neighboring States and Territories is more favorable toward "woman's rights" than it is in any other part of the world; and, even if this be partly due to a reaction produced by Mormonism, it cannot fail in time to influence the female electors of Utah. Thus it is possible that a peaceable solution of the difficulty may be found, and polygamy may be abolished, not by external force, but by constitutional action within the Mormon community itself.
Meanwhile, this church of the nineteenth century possesses amazing vitality, and seems to carry us back to a by-gone era of belief, exhibiting as it does the phenomenon of a religious sect heartily convinced of its future mission and claiming the present for its own. While other churches look to the past for all that is best and truest in religion, the Latter-day Saints regard the present also as a period of miracle and revelation. They expect, in the immediate future, the conversion of all who inhabit their vast continent with as serene a confidence as that with which the early Christians seem to have anticipated the evangelization of the Roman Empire. It may be said of them that in theology they maintain the modern doctrine of continuity, rather than ancient theories of convulsion and catastrophe. Accepting, in a literal sense, the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, they apparently entertain no fear lest scientific research should undermine their faith, as they look for a continuous course of revelation, which shall harmonize theology with the general advance in human knowledge.
The title of Parley P. Pratt's recent work, "Key to the Science of Theology," 1874, may seem almost to involve a contradiction in terms; but it indicates the desire of a distinguished Mormon theologian to keep abreast, if possible, of the scientific spirit of the age. Whether the attempt to do this may have proved successful or not, his policy is surely wiser than that which has frequently placed science and theology in opposition so direct, that every conquest of knowledge over ignorance has appeared to be also a victory over religion. Indeed, Mr. Parley Pratt is entitled to a welcome from the lovers of free thought, considering how rarely theologians seek to identify the progress of their own tenets with that of humanity in every department of science and art, and how seldom it is that they do not
Lest their own judgments should become too bright,
To quote his own words:
"The creeds of the Fathers seem to have been cast in the mould of other ages, to be adapted to a more narrow sphere of intellectual development, and to be composed of material too much resembling cast-iron; or, at least, not sufficiently elastic to expand with the expansion of mind, to grow with the growth, and advance with the progressive principles of the age. For these reasons,
perhaps more than any other, the master-spirits of the age are breaking loose from the old moorings, and withdrawing from established and venerated systems."
Holding these views, Mr. Parley Pratt has aimed at embodying, in his introductory key, a general view of what he calls the Science of Theology, "in a concise and somewhat original manner and style, as gathered from revelation, history, prophecy, reason, and analogy." The revelation and prophecy referred to and founded upon are partly those accepted by all orthodox Christians, partly those of recent date (such as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants) peculiar to the followers of Joseph Smith. It is hard to reconcile polygamy with "the progressive principles of the age," and with modern ideas as to the social position and dignity of woman; but Mr. Parley Pratt is not without a scientific plea on behalf of his theological dogma. He maintains that—
"The principal object contemplated by this law is the multiplication of the children of good and worthy fathers, who will teach them the truth, and this is far preferable to sending them into the world in the lineage of an unworthy or ignorant parentage. . . . A wise legislation, or the law of God, would punish with just severity the crimes of adultery or fornication, and would not suffer the idiot, the confirmed, irreclaimable drunkard, the man of hereditary disease, or of vicious habits, to possess or retain a wife; while at the same time it would provide for a good and capable man to honorably receive and entertain more wives than one. . . . The restoration of pure laws and practices has already commenced to improve or regenerate a race. A holy and temperate life; pure morals and manners; faith, hope, charity; cheerfulness, gentleness, integrity; intellectual development, pure truth, and knowledge, will produce a race more beautiful in form and features, stronger and more vigorous in constitution, happier in temperament and disposition, more intellectual, less vicious, and better prepared for long life and good days in their mortal sojourn. Each generation governed by the same laws will still improve."
This sounds plausible enough in theory, and perhaps the result of polygamy as practised in Utah is, that a large proportion of offspring is born to the most energetic, intelligent, and industrious citizens. In an age when there is reason to fear an increasing tendency to "non-survival of the fittest," such a result may be admitted as tending to counterbalance some of the disadvantages attending plurality of wives.
The highest types of domestic animals have been developed under a system of breeding and selection, very similar to that which is advocated in the above quotations, and the burden of proof seems to rest upon those who maintain that a high type of humanity cannot be developed after a similar fashion. Should the Mormons succeed in carrying out practically, for a few generations, any such ideas as are above alleged to be the main objects contemplated in their law of polygamy, they would have fair grounds for the belief that they are destined to inherit the whole earth.
A race of human beings developed (if such a thing were feasible) by strictly scientific selection and culture could not fail to gain the upper hand in the general struggle for dominion, but it remains to be seen whether any success in this direction will attend the system of the Mormons.
"Our physical organization, health, vigor, strength of body, intellectual faculties, inclinations, etc., are influenced very much by parentage. Hereditary disease, idiocy, weakness of mind or of constitution, deformity, tendency to violent and ungovernable passions, vicious appetites and desires, are engendered by parents, and are bequeathed as a heritage from generation to generation."
These are the words of a leading apologist of polygamy, who founds an argument in his own favor upon this truth, now generally admitted, but almost as generally ignored. It is impossible here to discuss so wide and so difficult a question, and I must limit myself to these few brief quotations from the "Key to the Science of Theology," leaving the reader to judge of their worth.
The series of pamphlets by Orson Pratt contains discussions on a great variety of questions connected with Mormonism. In particular the "Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon" is considered at great length, as well as the question, "Was Joseph Smith sent of God?"
Mr. Orson Pratt endeavors to show, in the first place, that to expect more revelation is not unscriptural; secondly, that it is not unreasonable; and, thirdly, that it is indispensably necessary. He then goes on to compare the evidences of the Book of Mormon and of the Bible, alleging that both alike have been confirmed by miracles, and that the prophecies of the Bible, especially those of Isaiah, have been fulfilled in the Book of Mormon and in the history of Mormonism. Throughout his elaborate arguments he assumes the genuineness and authenticity of the Bible, an assumption which he is of course entitled to make in arguing with orthodox Christians. His position is: The truth of the Bible rests upon sufficient evidence, and this evidence is in every way weaker than that which can be adduced for the Book of Mormon—therefore, a fortiori, the Book of Mormon is true. Whatever may be the flaw in this syllogism, those whom Archdeacon Paley satisfies cannot fail to have some trouble in disposing of Mr. Orson Pratt. Toward other Christian sects, whose creeds "are an abomination unto the Lord," the Mormon apostle displays but little brotherly feeling. Upon papist and Protestant alike he pours out the vial of his wrath and contempt in language almost too forcible for quotation; but he seeks to base every reproach directed against them upon texts from the orthodox Scriptures. The pamphlet entitled "The Bible and Tradition, without Further Revelation, an Insufficient Guide," is, in fact, a powerful onslaught upon modern Christendom, perhaps as damaging as any that a professed unbeliever could have made, although in this case the assailant accepts with reverence the Christian Scriptures, seeking to found thereon a revelation newer and more complete.
It is somewhat disappointing, if the Book of Mormon is to be accepted as the new revelation, to find it so very inferior, alike in matter and in style, to its great predecessors. Nearly equal in hulk to the Old Testament, it lacks altogether the poetic grandeur and the graphic force of the Hebrew Scriptures, although the Biblical phraseology has been laboriously imitated throughout. It is styled "An Account written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates taken from the Plates of Nephi. Translated by Joseph Smith, Jr.:"
"Wherefore it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites; written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile; written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation. Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed; to come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof: sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by the hand of Gentile; the interpretation thereof by the gift of God.
"An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also; which is a record of the people of Jared; who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to heaven; which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever; and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile, that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations. And now if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ."
The sacred volume is divided into thirteen books, bearing the names of various prophets, one of whom is Mormon. The last book is that of Moroni, who says:
"Behold I, Moroni, do finish the record of my father, Mormon. Behold, I have but few things to write, which things I have been commanded by my father. And now it came to pass that, after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites, who had escaped into the country southward, were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed; and my father also was killed by them, and I even remained alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people. But, behold, they are gone, and I fulfill the commandment of my father. And whether they will slay me, I know not; therefore I will write and hide up the records in the earth, and whither I go it mattereth not. Behold my father hath made this record, and he hath written the intent thereof. And behold, I would write it also, if I had room upon the plates; but I have not; and ore I have none, for I am alone; my father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolks, and I have not friends, nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not. Behold, four hundred years have passed away since the coming of our Lord and Saviour.
"And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge
in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large, we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof. And these things are written, that we may rid our garments of the blood of our brethren, who have dwindled in unbelief. And behold, these things which we have desired concerning our brethren, yea, even their restoration to the knowledge of Christ, is according to the prayers of all the saints who have dwelt in the land. And may the Lord Jesus Christ grant that their prayers may be answered according to their faith; and may God the Father remember the covenant which he hath made with the house of Israel; and may he bless them forever, through faith on the name of Jesus Christ! Amen."
The record in question professes to contain a history of the American Continent from the date of its first colonization by Jared and bis brother at the time of the dispersion from Babel down to the year a. d. 420, when Moroni, the last of the Nephite prophets, buried his plates in the hill of Cumorah. This account of prehistoric America is but a tedious composition, full of battles and slaughter, full of proper names, of reiterations, and of unnecessary phrases. We are told how the Jaredites, emigrants from the valley of Nimrod, who "did carry with them Deseret, which by interpretation is a honey-bee," attained to great civilization and prosperity in North America, and were utterly destroyed by internecine warfare about the year 600 b. c. They were succeeded by a "remnant of the house of Joseph," brought from Jerusalem in the reign of Zedekiah to inherit the land. These appear to have crossed the Pacific Ocean, landing on the west coast of South America, whence they eventually overspread that continent. They separated before long into two distinct nations, known as Nephites and Lamanites, the former migrating from the persecutions of the latter, and sailing "forth into the west sea by the narrow neck which led into the land northward." Through the personal ministry of Jesus Christ, who visited them shortly after his ascension, the Nephites were converted from the Mosaic to the Christian faith, which was in time accepted by the Lamanites also; and for two hundred years they prospered and multiplied, and there was no contention in the land, all things being common among them. This golden age was succeeded by a period of apostasy; "and from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them, and they began to be divided into classes, and they began to build up churches unto themselves, to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ." A terrible war broke out between the Nephites, now settled in North America (known as the land Desolation), and the Lamanites, who invaded them from the land Bountiful, lying southward of the Isthmus of Darien. This war ended in the annihilation of the Nephites, "an exceeding fair and delightsome people," while a degraded remnant of the Lamanites still survive, after fifteen centuries of rapine and discord, under the name of American Indians. "Now the heads of the Lamanites were shorn; and they were naked, save it were skin, which was girded about their loins; and the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression." Thus the term Gentile is properly used to denote the white man, as distinguished from the copper-colored house of Israel, and the Mormons themselves are expressly described as the "Gentile Saints." For the remnant of Joseph a glorious future is prophesied. They, the despised redskins, shall have the land for their inheritance, and it shall be "a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land." They are to be the chief agents in building the New Jerusalem, and will be converted and redeemed before their brethren of Judah.
The story of the plates, from which the sacred book is said to have been translated, first into English, and subsequently into nearly all the European languages, is of some interest from an archæological point of view, and may be told in a few words. They are described as having been found by Joseph Smith in a cyst composed of six stones, smooth on the inner surfaces, and firmly cemented together. This stone box was buried in the side of a hill near Palmyra, in the State of New York. The plates had the appearance of gold, were six by eight inches in width and length, each plate being nearly as thick as common tin. They were filled on both sides with small characters beautifully engraved, and were fastened at one edge with three rings running through the whole: thus bound together they formed a volume about six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. Various unsuccessful attempts were made by the enemies of Joseph Smith to obtain possession of these plates, and they finally disappeared, having been examined and described by eleven persons, whose testimony, signed with their names, is added to the Book of Mormon.
The evidence of these persons would have been more conclusive had not all of them been believers in the new prophet; moreover, the disappearance of the plates is not quite satisfactorily explained by the statement that they were restored to the charge of the angel under whose guidance they were discovered. Still the actual existence, as well as the genuine antiquity, of plates such as Joseph Smith is said to have brought to light in 1827, seems to have been sufficiently verified elsewhere.
In 1843, near Kinderhook, Illinois, in excavating a large mound, six brass plates were discovered, of a bell-shape, four inches in length, and covered with ancient characters. They were fastened together with two iron wires, almost entirely corroded, and were found, along with charcoal, ashes, and human bones, more than twelve feet below the surface of a mound of the sugar-loaf form common in the Mississippi Valley. Large trees growing upon these artificial mounds attest their great antiquity, and doubtless they contain much that will reward future investigation. No key has yet been discovered for the interpretation of the engravings upon these brass plates, or of the strange glyphs upon the ruins of Otolum, in Mexico; but when an amount of talent, learning, and labor, equal to that bestowed upon Egyptian hieroglyphics or Assyrian cuneiform characters, has been devoted to American antiquities, we may hope to learn something of those mysterious races whose history the Book of Mormon professes to tell.
But if we admit that the plates themselves may have been genuine, our faith in the founder of Mormonism, as a sincere religious enthusiast, is staggered by his mode of interpreting their contents. He tells us that he found along with the records an instrument, called by him the Urim and Thummim, and described as consisting of "two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow." Through the medium of this instrument, he says that he translated the unsealed portion of these scanty records, the result being a bulky volume in English, but he does not explain whether he used it as a magnifier, nor how it proved to be a Rosetta stone for his hieroglyphics, merely asserting that it was "by the gift and power of God." That Joseph Smith believed in his own mission, his character and career alike appear to indicate, and the many ecstatic visions which he describes were probably real enough to him, but the compilation of the Book of Mormon was an act involving much time and labor, and cannot be accounted for by ecstasy.
In these days of La-Salette and Paray-le-Monial it is, perhaps, too much to say that a miracle, in order to find acceptance among educated persons, must be relegated to a remote age and country, and must be invested with a certain amount of external dignity. It is, however, a severe test of faith to be called upon to accept miracles and revelations from a prophet well known to men yet living as "Joe Smith," and referred to as "Mr. S." in the writings of so eminent a disciple as Mr. Orson Pratt. A most remarkable man Mr. S. undoubtedly was, capable of inspiring alike inestinguibil odio, ed indomato amor. The bitter hostility of his opponents was more than equaled by the devoted zeal of his converts, and, although murdered by mob violence at the early age of thirty-eight, he had already so well accomplished his work that the new creed, instead of dying with him, continued to spread with increasing rapidity, and was preached by his apostles and elders in every quarter of the globe. He was a New-Englander, born a. d. 1805, in the State of Vermont, and began to have visions when he was about fourteen years of age. In 1830 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-clay Saints was first organized at Fayette, in the State of New York, and its headquarters were moved gradually westward, until a considerable settlement was formed in Jackson County, Missouri. Here it was expected that the New Jerusalem would be built, but an organized system of persecution drove the Saints out of the State of Missouri, and in 1839 they took refuge in Illinois, where they built the city of Nauvoo, in Hancock County, on the banks of the Mississippi, and enjoyed a short respite from persecution. But in 1844 popular hostility broke out with increased violence, and Joseph Smith (who had been frequently brought before judicial tribunals, and invariably acquitted) proceeded with his brother Hyrum to Carthage, where they surrendered themselves prisoners on a charge of treason, the Governor of Illinois having promised them protection and a fair trial. On the 27th of June, 1844, a large body of men, with their faces blackened, surrounded the prison, and murdered the two brothers Smith. Several of these men were indicted for murder, and were tried about a year later, but they were acquitted. The persecution of the Mormons did not slacken after the death of their prophet, and in September, 1845, an armed mob commenced burning houses in Hancock County, while the authorities declared that the State was unable to protect the Mormons, and they must therefore go. Preparations were made by Brigham Young, President of the Twelve Apostles, and the other leaders of the church, to explore the Rocky Mountains in accordance with an expressed intention of the deceased prophet, and in February, 1846, the exodus of the Mormons commenced. It was not, however, rapid enough to satisfy their enemies, and in September the city of Nauvoo was burned by an armed mob, after several days' siege, and the remnant of the Mormons was driven across the Mississippi into Iowa. In the spring of 1847 Brigham Young, with a party of pioneers, started from his winter-quarters on the Missouri in search of a place of settlement. On the 24th of July he reached the Great Salt Lake Valley, after a laborious march of more than one thousand miles through an unexplored country. After erecting a fort, and hoisting the stars and stripes upon what was then Mexican territory, President Young hastened back to the banks of the Missouri, and in the fall of 1848 he arrived once more in Salt Lake Valley, with eight hundred wagons, and the main body of the Mormons. The severest hardships were undergone by these people, not only during their march, but during the first two years after settling in this barren valley, four thousand three hundred feet above the sea, but strict discipline was enforced in the camp, and a careful system of rationing was maintained, until an abundant harvest at last put an end to the necessity. In 1850 the Territorial government of Utah was organized by act of Congress, and Brigham Young was appointed Governor by the President of the United States. From that time forward the new colony has continued to prosper and progress with almost unexampled rapidity, in spite of great disadvantages as to soil, climate, and situation.
There are few countries on the face of the globe where the Latter-day Saints have not attempted to preach their gospel, but as a rule their preaching has not been tolerated. The records of their missionary efforts make it obvious enough why they obtain so large a proportion of their converts from Great Britain and Denmark, while so few come from the Roman Catholic countries of Europe; except in Scandinavia and the British Empire, the foreign missions of the Mormons have failed through the opposition of the powers that be, who have not only prohibited the missionaries from preaching, but in many cases have expelled them from the country. Even in Norway, so bitterly hostile were the ecclesiastics as to decide that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Christian sect, in order to deprive it of the protection guaranteed by Norwegian law to all Christian dissenters. Three paragraphs from the Mormon Creed, as stated by Joseph Smith himself, will show r the injustice of such a decision:
"We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. We believe that these ordinances are: First, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of bands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost."
It is supposed that a larger percentage of the Danes than of any other nation has hitherto embraced Mormonism, and a Danish newspaper is regularly published at Salt Lake City. Since the separation of Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark, the recruiting-ground of the Mormons has been reduced, as their preaching has been rigidly suppressed in those duchies. Of late years the immigration into Utah from the European missions has varied from one to four thousand persons annually. The most active attempts at propagandism appear to have been made about the years 1852-'53, but in this country a Mormon mission was founded as early as 1837, six years before the "Revelation on Celestial Marriage" had given its peculiar character to Mormonism.
It was not until 1843, thirteen years subsequent to the publication of the Book of Mormon, and to the first organization of the Church of Latter-day Saints, that Joseph Smith proclaimed this new and startling revelation. The style of the document resembles that of the Book of Mormon, but it reveals "a new and an everlasting covenant," distinctly at variance with the teachings of that book already quoted, and justifies the patriarchs, and David and Solomon, "as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives." It is addressed to "my servant Joseph," and confers upon him "the keys and power of the priesthood: And verily, verily I say unto you, that whatsoever you seal on earth, shall he sealed in heaven." Upon "mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife," on the other hand, obedience and submission are inculcated in the strongest terms. She is required to "receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph—And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord." The revelation contains twenty-five short paragraphs only; it is somewhat apologetic in general tone, and is full of scriptural quotations and precedents. A considerate stipulation is made for the consent of the first bride, when another is to be espoused: "As pertaining to the law of the priesthood: If any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent; and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified." A marriage contracted under the new covenant, and sealed by the appointed authority, is valid to all eternity, whereas in the case of ordinary married persons death terminates the contract, and for them in heaven there will be neither marrying nor giving in marriage.
Such are the terms of Joseph Smith's "Revelation of Celestial Marriage," which reminds one of the convenient doctrines from time to time revealed to Mohammed upon analogous subjects. One more revelation and prophecy remains to be noticed; it is said to have appeared in the "Pearl of Great Price," published at Liverpool in 1851, and to have been "given by the prophet, seer, and revelator, Joseph Smith," on Christmas-day, 1832. The date of publication is the point requiring verification, and a genuine copy of the pamphlet above named would be invaluable, as the language of the alleged prophecy has no prophetic ambiguity, and the fulfillment has been complete. In a few terse words are described the rebellion of South Carolina, and the consequent civil war, the appeal of the Southern States to Great Britain for aid, the arming of the slaves against their masters, and the outbreak of hostilities with the Indians. If there is any accuracy in the dates as stated, Joseph Smith must have been a man of rare political sagacity and foresight.
At the present day most of our religious creeds and systems resemble the great ecclesiastical edifices of the middle ages; relics of days when faith was stronger and zeal was warmer. These magnificent relics may indeed be renovated by modern hands, and upon a humble scale they can be reproduced, but the power of originating such buildings has passed away, and ecclesiastical architecture is no longer a living art. So is it with the chief accepted systems of religion; they have come down to us in their existing form from periods with which we have nothing else in common; they are not in harmony with the tone of modern life and thought, and could not have been established in modern times. Nevertheless, they stand firmly on their ancient foundations, and will long continue to stand, more or less altered and repaired in accordance with modern exigencies.
But the Mormon church is an exception; it has been founded in these latter days, and may be said to have introduced a new order of ecclesiastical architecture, although ancient materials have been largely employed. Hence the doctrines and history of this church appear to deserve careful study, for it presents to us a living example of what its mightier predecessors must have been in their early career. The extinct dinornis may be studied in the existing apteryx, and thus (borrowing a fresh metaphor) among the fossils of the past we seem to find one recent specimen, still full of organic life, illustrating the laws of growth, the habits, and the constitution of those species whose dry bones alone remain to us now. The living apteryx seems to be doomed ere long to become like its fossil congeners; if so, the time for study and observation is short.
Even those who have least sympathy with the peculiar doctrines of the Mormons may be willing to enter a protest in their favor, when the issue really lies between religious liberty and persecution. They are the only Christian sect that has suffered in our own days severe persecution at the hands of professing Christians, and their cause on that account demands especial sympathy from all who advocate absolute religious toleration.—Fortnightly Review.