The Myth Makers Part 1, Scene ii:
The Crime of Being a Prophet
ii. Come now, Mr. Tucker!
Scene: Same as Scene i.
Le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche
Chairman: Mr. Pattengill has requested and been granted permission to address us. Mr. Pattengill.
Mr. C. N. Pattengill: I have been asked by Mr. Howe to speak a few words on the singular qualifications of the next witness, Mr. Pomeroy Tucker of Palmyra, New York. He is the one and only real authority on the early life of Joseph Smith. His book “is a standard work on the rise and early progress of Mormonism. The only authentic one on that subject, and its value will increase as time takes the world farther from the origin of the delusion.” In short, “no man, probably, was so well qualified as himself to give a veritable account of that imposition, especially in its incipient stages.”1
Chairman: Very pretty. And what makes Mr. Tucker so peculiarly qualified in the field indicated?
Pattengill: “From the office of the Wayne Sentinel the first Mormon Bible was issued.”2
Chairman: And you think printers are authorities on the books they print?
Pattengill: Tucker had the searching, objective mind of an editor. “Had he drawn somewhat on his imagination, he might perhaps have made a book that would have been more popular, but it would have been less valuable.”3
Chairman: So Mr. Tucker does not ever draw on his imagination—even “somewhat”?
Walter R. Martin: Not in the least. “Witness his unprejudiced testimony. . . . It should be noted that this is contemporary evidence, not the product of flowery Mormon historians who distorted the true character of Smith.”4
Chairman: And what is the date of Mr. Tucker’s “contemporary evidence”?
Pattengill: His immortal book first appeared in the year 1867.
Chairman: Did you know Smith as late as 1867, Mr. Tucker?
Pomeroy Tucker: Of course not. He was dead then. I distinctly remember him “from the age of twelve to twenty years.”5
Chairman: That would be between 1818 and 1826 about, whereas your report is dated 1867. And you call that “contemporary evidence”—Mr. Martin—a mere gap of forty to fifty years?
Pattengill: I submit that Mr. Tucker’s memory was an unusually good one; his absolute refusal to draw on his imagination makes his report completely trustworthy.
Chairman: May I see the book, clerk? I find here a rather interesting frontispiece; who put it in the book?
Pattengill: The publisher, I suppose.
Chairman: Since Mr. Tucker is himself a publisher, isn’t it pretty certain that this picture, the only illustration in the book, was put there with Mr. Tucker’s knowledge and consent?
Pattengill: It could hardly be otherwise. After it appeared in Mr. Tucker’s book the picture was often reproduced.6
Eber D. Howe (with impatience): What’s all the fuss about? It is Mr. Tucker’s book, isn’t it—the first edition? Of course the frontispiece is his.
Chairman: Thank you. Now, it is maintained that the peculiar value of this book is that its author never allows himself to draw upon his imagination. But what do I see here? The engraving shows Smith on a hillside, on his knees, facing a small, nearly nude female figure floating in the air in a semiprone position with upraised arms and very long white wings. On the ground around Smith a host of tiny devils, little men about eight inches high with horns and forked tails, seem to be dancing and cavorting about. Aren’t the unearthly beings depicted here by Mr. Tucker’s arranging just a little bit fanciful?
Howe: What if they are? Every engraver takes some artistic license with his subjects.
Chairman: The engraver made the picture, but the engraver did not write the caption under it. It is to this that I would draw your attention, for it says that this fantastic drawing actually depicts “Smith’s account of taking the ‘golden Bible’ from Mormon Hill.” But how did Smith describe angels?
Howe: “Smith describes an angel as having the appearance of ‘a tall, slim, well-built, handsome man.’ “7
Chairman: Thank you. No one denies that the story of the angel Moroni was told and retold from 1830 on, while others of Smith’s persuasion also reported seeing angels. Whether such reports were reliable or not, the fact is that those people always described angels in the same terms. Did Joseph Smith or any of his followers ever state at any time that the angel Moroni, a mighty warrior of the Book of Mormon, was a little woman, as shown in this picture? Or was he ever described as a nude figure? Or was he ever said to have wings—as angels were supposed to have in conventional Christian imagining? Did Smith or any Mormon ever describe Satan as an imp with horns and a tail?
Howe: Well, as I say, the engraver obviously took some liberties . . .
Chairman: And somebody obviously took still greater liberties in attributing that engraver’s fancies to Joseph Smith. I would say that this oft-reprinted frontispiece shows that Mr. Tucker, the author of this book, not only drew “somewhat on his imagination” but relied heavily on it to score a point against Smith. Now Mr. Tucker, I would like to ask you, first of all, just how well you knew Joseph Smith.
Tucker: Very well indeed: “he is distinctly remembered by me . . . from the age of twelve to twenty years.”
Chairman: One can remember a person distinctly without ever having known him at all; many people distinctly remember seeing the President of the United States. The years indicated would run from 1818 to 1826, then?
Tucker: Yes. Smith was twelve in 1818. I was four years older, having been born in August 1802.
Chairman: Did you live in Palmyra between 1818 and 1826?
Tucker: I lived there during that period.
Chairman: All of it?
Howe: Quibbling again!
Chairman: Mr. Pattengill can tell us whether we are quibbling. Mr. Pattengill, didn’t Mr. Tucker leave Palmyra early in his career?
Pattengill: Well, yes, there was a time. Before he was twenty-one he moved to Canandaigua.
Chairman: That would have been in the year 1822 or 1823. How far is Canandaigua from Palmyra?
Pattengill: About thirty miles away.
Chairman: And how long did Mr. Tucker stay in Canandaigua after he left Palmyra?
Pattengill: “Nearly four years.”8
Chairman: Now, Mr. Tucker emphatically stated—
Clerk (reads): “I distinctly remember him from the age of twelve to twenty years.”
Chairman: Mr. Tucker, were you referring to your age or his age?
Tucker: His age, of course. That is clear enough if you read the rest of the description.
Chairman: So you claim to be giving a firsthand account of Joseph Smith between 1818 and 1826, and yet you left Palmyra at the latest in the middle of 1823. In other words, for at least three and a half of the eight years during which you say you knew Smith so well, you were not in Palmyra at all.
Howe: Mr. Tucker could have kept in touch with affairs in Palmyra while he was away.
Chairman: What kind of affairs interested him?
Pattengill: I can answer that, if Mr. Tucker is too modest to do so. From early youth Mr. Tucker was extremely ambitious to succeed; even at seventeen “he determined to excel as a writer as well as a compositor.” Of course he sought only the best society and in Canandaigua “was thrown into the constant society of those who were foremost in political affairs.”9
Chairman: And Smith was an important figure in Palmyra from the age of twelve to twenty years?
Tucker: Don’t make me laugh, sir. “From the age of twelve to twenty years he is distinctly remembered as a dull-eyed, flaxen haired, prevaricating boy—noted only for his indolent and vagabondish character.”10
Chairman: So during all the time you knew him, Smith was noted for one thing only—being a lazy tramp. Was he much of a public figure?
Tucker: On the contrary, “taciturnity was among his characteristic idiosyncrasies, and he seldom spoke to anyone outside of his immediate associates. . . . He nevertheless evidenced the rapid development of a thinking, plodding, evil-brewing mental composition—largely given to inventions of low cunning, schemes of mischief and deception, and false and mysterious pretensions. He . . . was never known to laugh.”11
Chairman: From what you say, Mr. Tucker, it is clear that you not only remember Joseph Smith distinctly, but that you knew him very well indeed—perhaps better than anyone else. It is plain that Smith was exceedingly hard to get acquainted with and that he was devilishly secretive, but even if he had been frank and open, the intimate knowledge you profess of his mental composition could only come from the closest association. Now, what was it that induced you, a very hard-working and ambitious young man, to spend your time with a perfectly worthless vagabond four and a half years your junior? You were no child when you first met Smith.
Tucker: You don’t have to be a man’s close friend to observe his character.
Chairman: According to you, you had to get close to Smith to observe him at all, since he wouldn’t even speak to anyone “outside of his associates.” And to say immediately what any man “largely” devoted his time and energy to, and what things he “was never known” to do, requires spending a good deal of time with him—unless, of course, your famous firsthand report is only hearsay. Did you think associating with Smith could contribute to your career? Did you perhaps find him an interesting person—even in a bad way?
Tucker: Of course not. As I told you, he was “noted only for his indolent and vagabondish character.” He was “a dull-eyed, flaxen-haired, prevaricating boy” who never spoke to anybody and “was never known to laugh.”
Chairman: That answers my question. It would be hard to imagine duller company. What did he do all day?
Tucker: The Smiths spent their time “hunting and fishing, trapping muskrats, digging out woodchucks from their holes, and idly lounging around the stores and shops in the village.”12
Chairman: And where were you all that time? I must insist on this, sir, because you claim to be telling all from personal observation. If you were hard at work all the time, as your panegyrist Mr. Pattengill assures us you were, then you were far from the picturesque scenes you are describing, and your testimony is no better than that of the other affidavit-swearers—who, incidentally, paint a very different picture of Smith—bad, but very different.
The homey touch
Tucker: Oh, Joe came to town, all right. He used to go around selling cakes that his mother had baked. It was quite amusing: “The boys of those bygone times used to delight in obtaining the valuable goods intrusted to Joseph’s clerkship in exchange for worthless pewter imitation two-shilling pieces.”13
Chairman: Didn’t you say Smith was pretty sharp at some things? Read it, clerk.
Clerk (reads): “He nevertheless evidenced the rapid development of a thinking, plodding, evil-brewing mental disposition—largely given to inventions of low cunning.”
Chairman: A pretty shrewd operator, I take it, as sharp as he was crooked.
Tucker: He was cunning, all right.
Chairman: And also, he spent a good deal of time “lounging around the stores and shops in the village.” Money didn’t interest him, I take it.
Tucker: Joe the money-digger? Don’t make me laugh.14
Chairman: Yet Joe the money-digger was the only boy in the village who couldn’t tell a real coin from a “worthless pewter imitation.” That was the point of the joke, as I recall.
Tucker: Well, that was when they first came to Palmyra . . . he was very young.
Chairman: On the contrary, by your own testimony he must have been at least twelve years old. But apparently his greedy family didn’t know real money when they saw it, either.
Tucker: What do you mean?
Chairman: As you so romantically recalled it, “the boys of those bygone times used to delight in” “buying good cakes for worthless tokens. They made a practice of it—a habitual source of merriment.”
O. Turner: That is right!
Chairman: Who are you, sir?
Turner: The author of an early study on the settlement of western New York. “The young people of the town considered him not quite full-witted and, with the cruelty of youth, made him the butt of their practical jokes.”15
Chairman: Mr. Tucker, are we to believe that Mrs. Smith continued to bake cakes day after day while her unsuspecting son continued to sell them for pewter coins? The story does have the homey touch that biographers love as a mark of guileless candor—but it is phonier than the pewter two-shilling pieces. If it is true, then it was the Smiths who were the gullible victims, with all the “schemes of mischief and deception” on the other side. Were they that innocent?
The dragon’s lair
Tucker: “In unbelief, theory, and practice, the Smith family, all as one, so far as they held any definable position upon the subject of religion—basing this conclusion upon all the early avowals and other evidences remembered, as well as upon the subsequent developments extant—were unqualified atheists.”16
Chairman: That puts it on the line: A formidable store of things both heard and seen, “evidences remembered” by you, authorized you to brand all the Smiths unqualified atheists both in theory and practice. We couldn’t ask for a plainer or more unequivocal statement. But where does that leave Smith’s other neighbors, that host of prominent and respectable residents who knew him so well? None of their eager affidavits ever mentions this blatantly paraded atheism! Indeed the famous sixty-two (to cite but one group) said the Smiths were “particularly famous for visionary projects.” Atheists don’t have visions. How did all the neighbors, bent on telling the worst, happen to overlook the Smiths’ atheism?
Howe: A person can be an atheist and conceal the fact.
Chairman: But no gross, unqualified atheist can display his convictions in all his “avowals” and acts for fifteen years without having his close associates come to suspect that he may not be an orthodox believer. You seem to have been a very privileged character, Mr. Tucker, to be taken so much more into the confidences of the Smiths than anyone else was. What was your interest in them—did they show signs of future greatness?
Howe: I can answer that. “With the exception of their natural and peculiar habits of life, there is nothing in the character of the Smith family worthy of being recorded, previous to the time of their plot to impose upon the world by a pretended discovery of a new Bible.”17
Chairman: Then I must ask again, how did it happen that an ambitious and eminently respectable young man like you, Mr. Tucker, fully occupied with your busy career and high political connections, had time and inclination to cultivate the miserable Smiths, who didn’t even live in town, and to follow the backwoods odysseys of worthless Joe with such keen personal interest that forty years later you alone can recall conversations word for word and vividly remember “all the early avowals” of the Smiths on religion?
Howe: Mr. Tucker was a newspaperman. It was his business to know about people.
Chairman: And did Mr. Tucker shadow everybody in and around Palmyra as faithfully as he did the most uninteresting boy in the place? Could he have written an intimate biography of every other boy in Palmyra? If he found the Smiths so uniquely interesting, why are they never mentioned in his paper?
Tucker: They are, after 1830.
Chairman: That is just the point. After 1830 “vast numbers of people” suddenly become authorities on the Smiths. But how do you prove your case? The clerk will read your remarks about the foundations of your testimony.
Clerk (reads): “The Smith family, . . . basing this conclusion upon all the early avowals and other evidences remembered, as well as upon the subsequent developments extant—were unqualified atheists.”
Chairman: Just what are the “subsequent developments extant” that prove the Smiths to be atheists?
Tucker: “Can their mockeries of Christianity, their persistent blasphemies, be accounted for upon any other hypothesis?”18
Chairman: Well, the cat is out of the bag again. What gives unique value to your book, Mr. Tucker, is that it rests upon your personal testimony of the Smiths. If you know from personal experience that the Smiths were atheists, what need to try to prove it by dragging in “subsequent developments” with which you were not acquainted? You say the Smiths were unqualified atheists in practice—to what practices do you refer? You say you base this conclusion on “evidences remembered”—why don’t you tell us the evidences, if you remember them?
Tucker: As I said, “their mockeries of Christianity, their persistent blasphemies . . . ”
Chairman: Are you a Christian, Mr. Tucker?
Tucker: Well, I never belonged to any church or “made a public profession of religion,” but towards the end of my life I did discuss things with clergymen.19
Chairman: But that was long after you knew Smith. What in his behavior would you, who were not a confessing Christian, say made a mockery of Christianity?
Tucker: Everybody knows the answer to that: I specifically stated that these were “subsequent developments.”
Chairman: And you also indirectly admitted that Smith’s atheism was a hypothesis, based on a conclusion of your own, which you can only prove by referring to the behavior of the Smiths after you knew them. Don’t you know that a court is not interested in a “conclusion” of the witness, and that you are not supposed to be testifying to any “hypothesis” but to fact? You should confine your testimony to the Smiths as you knew them, and not lamely appeal to “subsequent developments” to prove your conclusion.
Tucker: But the Smiths never changed; we know that.
Chairman: In that case, how did gloomy Joe, who, according to you, “was never known to laugh,” become the “merry prophet” that so many other witnesses describe? Lots of people believed that your atheist was an exceedingly devout and religious man.
Tucker: I know that. They were his dupes and gulls.
Chairman: Nevertheless, their conviction means that your charges of mockery and blasphemy are purely a matter of opinion. Even though you may hold the majority opinion, there are large numbers of intelligent people who view Smith’s teachings in a totally different light. It is a very suspicious thing when a witness who is supposed to be giving impartial and objective testimony to things seen and heard tries to shore up that testimony with theological arguments and beseeching appeals to public opinion and hearsay. Now, we have only time here to deal with the Book of Mormon; can you give us anything specific on that head?
Tucker: I certainly can. “The work of translation” on the Book of Mormon was carried out “in the recess of a dark artificial cave, which Smith had caused to be dug in the east side of the forest-hill near his residence, now owned by Mr. Amos Miner.”20
Howe: There you have it! You asked for particulars, now you are getting them. The witness knows the very name of the man who owned the land!
Chairman: Yes, tricks like that do give the impression of intimate knowledge. But Mr. Tucker is merely giving us the name of the man who owned the land when he wrote his book in 1867—actually it has nothing to do with the story. It is not a contemporary or very relevant fact. So the Book of Mormon was translated in a cave, Mr. Tucker?
Tucker: That is correct, “a dark artificial cave. At least such was one account given out by the Mormon fraternity.”21
Chairman: What, again? Already backing out?
Tucker: What do you mean?
Chairman: That you are trying to pass the buck. Is it you or the Mormons who are telling about this cave?
Tucker: Naturally my reports, being inside information, come from them. They told “another version that the prophet continued . . . at his house, and only went into the cave to pay his spiritual devotions and seek the continued favor of Divine Wisdom.”22
Chairman: By either account, the Mormons must have thought it a very holy place. Why do they never mention it? Why have they never sought to locate its remains? Was it secret?
Tucker: Not at all. Our local “men and boys” passing by used to see Smith at work in the cave translating the Book of Mormon.23
Chairman: Then there were plenty of non-Mormons who witnessed the cave business?
Tucker: That is what I reported.
Chairman: Then why don’t you follow their reports instead of those of the Mormons, whom you obviously distrust? The clerk will please read your words.
Clerk (reads): “At least such was one account given out by the Mormon fraternity.”
Chairman: Why bother with such dubious stuff, when you have a host of men and boys from the town who can tell you all about it? Confine yourself for the present to their accounts.
Tucker: According to them, “Joseph Smith’s stays in the cave varied from fifteen minutes to an hour or over—the entrance meanwhile being guarded by one or more of his disciples. This ceremony scarcely attracted the curiosity of outsiders.”
Chairman: Frankly, it is hard for me to imagine any “ceremony” more perfectly calculated to excite the wildest curiosity than mysterious comings and goings at a theatrical grotto placed under armed guard. What was the cave like?
Tucker: “This excavation was at the time said to be 160 feet in extent, though that is probably an exaggeration.”24
Chairman: That is a pretty large cave, isn’t it? It would require a great deal of hard work of somebody, and you said Smith caused it to be dug. The lazy Smiths really got things done, and there must have been a huge dump of tailings. Why did they need to make it so very deep?
Tucker: I didn’t say it was that deep. I only said it “was at the time said to be” that deep, and that that was “probably an exaggeration.”
Chairman: Are you sure it was an exaggeration?
Tucker: I said it was probably an exaggeration.
Chairman: Then it may have been an exaggeration, but you are not sure. Why didn’t you go out and measure it yourself?
Tucker: That was impossible. Not only was there an armed guard placed at the cave, but it was closed by “a substantial door of two-inch plank, secured by a corresponding lock.”25
Chairman: These Smiths seem to have been immensely industrious and resourceful to run a show like that—which is totally out of keeping with their character as you have depicted it. But it is your behavior that amazes me.
Tucker: How so?
Chairman: Here this Smith, whose nefarious career has always attracted your most penetrating scrutiny, is at last doing something really spectacular, only two miles from your house (you said the cave was “near his residence”), and you are the editor of the local newspaper; yet from the nature of your report it is very clear that you neither walked out to inspect the cave yourself nor sent anyone else to. Didn’t you think it would make a pretty good news story? You are willing to allow that the whole story of the translating in the cave may be a Mormon myth. But don’t you know? Didn’t you make any effort to find out? What kind of a newspaper man are you? Why did you never question Smith about it, since you claim he confided so much in you?
Tucker: I said the place was guarded.
Chairman: But you were Smith’s old buddy; why didn’t you ask him about it? And by whose permission was the cave guarded, anyway? Smith didn’t own the land. Why wasn’t he ordered off? You make a point of naming the later owner: if the owner of the land is so important to you, why don’t you get in touch with him? You are completely vague and noncommittal about the dimensions and even the existence of this cave. Now, the Mormons deserted the place for good in 1830, just a few months at most after it had been used for the “ceremony” of translating the Book of Mormon. There was no guard then, and the sturdy door of two-inch plank, open or shut, would have most irresistibly invited inspection. Yet you ask us to believe that all the people of Palmyra, and you, their ever-inquiring editor, were so utterly devoid of normal human curiosity, at a time when the Book of Mormon was exciting the wildest speculation everywhere, that you did not even bother to take a short walk with a candle and tape measure after the Mormons had left, to see what was really out there. And in all the ensuing forty years during which you continued to live in Palmyra and discuss the Mormons26 you never so much as took an after-dinner stroll to look at the wonderful cave, nor did you ever delegate anyone to make a study of the fateful place, nor did you even interview anybody who had done so! You tax our credulity, sir.
Tucker: Well, as I said, the whole thing “scarcely attracted the curiosity of outsiders.”
Chairman: The story of the origin of the Book of Mormon attracted the curiosity of the nation, yet the melodramatic properties of the most secret cave where it was made interested nobody! What kind of a story is that? Don’t you see, sir, that the probability of your story can be checked at a dozen points and collapses at every one?
Tucker: You can’t check it now. “From the lapse of time and natural causes the cave has been closed for years, very little mark of its former existence remaining to be seen.”27
Clerk: If you will excuse the interruption, sir. Mrs. Dickinson here has given a later account of the cave.
Mrs. Ellen E. Dickinson: In 1885 I reported, “Just beyond the well . . . is shown a cave, or excavation, that was used by Smith and his close followers while engaged in deciphering the golden plates. It was originally boarded.”28
Chairman: This is interesting. In 1867 Mr. Tucker says there was nothing left of the cave—”Very little mark of its former existence remaining,” while almost twenty years later Mrs. Dickinson says it was still one of the sights. Did you ever see the cave, Mr. Tucker?
The wide-eyed innocents
Howe: I protest this badgering of the witness. Let him tell what he knows about the crimes of the Smiths!
Chairman: What about their crimes, Mr. Tucker?
Tucker: Many things were stolen and people began to guard their sheepfolds and suspect the Smiths.29
Chairman: With everybody suspecting them and watching them, the Smiths must have been at a terrible disadvantage. They lived, it would seem, in a goldfish bowl of public attention, yet, stupid and tactless as they were, nobody ever caught them at anything! Did they steal sheep, Mr. Tucker?
Tucker: “It is but common fairness to accompany this fact . . . ”
Chairman: Which fact, Mr. Tucker?
Tucker: The fact that they were suspected.
Chairman: Thank you. You gave the impression that the fact in question was not that they were suspected but that they stole. Proceed.
Tucker: “. . . though it is but common fairness to accompany this fact by the statement, that it is not within the remembrance of the writer . . . if the popular inferences in this matter were ever sustained by judicial investigation.”30
Chairman: Through the years, then, “popular inferences” burdened the Smiths with all kinds of crimes that could never be proven. If they were the stupid criminals that you make them out to be, the Smiths would certainly have been caught a hundred times over. All we have here is slander.
Tucker: Not a bit of it! “The whole idea of an attempt to harm Smith in any way . . . is purely a Mormon invention.”31
Turner: That is correct. It was perfectly absurd for Smith to complain, as he often did, that he was persecuted for his opinions.32
Howe: He pretended he was being persecuted, simply because people wouldn’t believe his wild stories. That’s why he left Palmyra.33
Willard Chase: Yes. “His neighbors having become disgusted with his foolish stories, he determined to go back to Pennsylvania, to avoid what he called persecution.”
Chairman: And when was that, sir?
Chase: At the end of September in the year 1827.34
Chairman: But according to you, Smith had been telling his foolish stories in Palmyra since early 1820, and in 1830 you and your fellows in Palmyra were still having intimate dealings with him. How long did it take you good people to discover that Smith’s stories were foolish? Did Smith’s opinions deserve censure, Mr. Tucker?
Tucker: “His interpretations of scriptural passages,” when he was a child, “were always original and unique, and his deductions and conclusions often disgustingly blasphemous, according to the common apprehensions of Christian people.”35
Chairman: “Original and unique” exegesis is hardly the business of adolescents noted only for indolence and dullness. And are you, Mr. Tucker, as a shrewd observer of human nature, so unaware of the normal reactions of “Christian people” to opinions which they consider “disgustingly blasphemous”? Persecution takes many forms. Are we to understand that this Joe Smith, whose mere memory inspires your impassioned invective a quarter of a century after his death, was never the object of severe treatment while he was alive?
Tucker: As I have said, “the whole idea of an attempt to harm Smith in any way . . . is purely a Mormon invention.”
Chairman: And your own book is written only as a kindness to your old bosom friend? Come, now, Mr. Tucker! Don’t you believe that spreading unsubstantiated criminal charges against a man constitutes an “attempt to harm” him? You have said that the Smiths were suspected of stealing many things, you have charged them “one and all” with the grossest atheism, and described young Joseph as brewing and executing one evil plot against society after another—and you meant him no harm by telling such stories?
Tucker: They were the truth.
Chairman: Then what kind of a community was Palmyra, and what kind of a man were you, to allow such monstrous goings-on to continue year after year without so much as raising a finger of protest? The Smiths, we are told, were the terror and torment of the neighborhood, “a pest to society,” says Mr. Chase;36 theft, fraud, and “unspeakable lewdness” were the order of the day, but never an arrest or trial. Those who give the most lurid reports claim to have their knowledge from the most intimate and prolonged personal association with the Smiths: a day or a week of such association would disgust and sicken any normal person, yet these eminently respectable people, including yourself, go on month after month and year after year receiving and encouraging the confidences of Smith and his family.
Howe: Encouraging their confidences?
Chairman: Would Smith have continued to air his vices and expose his intrigues through the years to these intimates if they had showed any tendency to upbraid or discourage him? You all knew what he was up to—but none of you ever did anything about it. As his most intimate associate and public-spirited man, were you, Mr. Tucker, not under any obligation to society to check and expose his awful deeds? Why did you wait until the culprit was dead twenty-three years to expose him? Don’t you know that makes you virtually an accessory to his crimes?
Howe: Oh, lots of people knew what Joe was up to. Joseph Capron here can tell you.
Joseph Capron: Joe Smith “would often . . . urge them [his neighbors] to embark in the money digging business” with him.37
Chairman: And you call that being secretive. Did any join up?
Capron: Yes, indeed. “Some of them were influenced by curiosity, others were sanguine in their expectations of immediate gain.”38
Chairman: This is worse than I thought. Specifically, did any of our affidavit-swearers participate in Joe’s activities?
Howe: Yes. Peter Ingersoll helped Joseph Smith, Sr., practice dowsing, and William Stafford and Willard Chase both assisted Smith in digging operations accompanied by magical rites.39
Chase and William Stafford: It was just out of curiosity!40
Chairman: Whatever their excuse, the fact is that all three of the witnesses just named claim to have enjoyed the intimate confidences of Joseph Smith from 1820 to 1830, a thing which would have been utterly impossible unless they had given him sympathy and encouragement–such intimacy cannot be wholly unilateral. So I ask again, Mr. Tucker, since you knew Smith so long and so well in all his wickedness, why you never took steps to put an end to it.
Pattengill: Mr. Tucker had no personal prejudice against Smith, sir. What motive could he possibly have for such?
Chairman: You yourself supplied the motive, sir, when you told how at seventeen Mr. Tucker was determined to make his mark in the world, to shine as a writer and publisher; driven by fierce ambition, at the age of twenty-one he was an editor and at twenty-three he owned his own newspaper.41 Cultivating the society of important people, he never stopped pushing himself, and in the end, what was his sole claim to fame? That he had known Joe Smith! Can you imagine anything more perfectly calculated to excite the jealous rage of a boundlessly ambitious, self-centered man—a frustrated prodigy, bachelor, and free-thinker, whose whole life and religion was his own career—than to see a nobody from the farm give Palmyra the only celebrity it ever had? Let me sum up a few points:
Twenty-three years after the death of Joseph Smith and thirty-seven years after Smith had left Palmyra, a citizen of that town brings out a book telling most intimately of the mind and doings of Smith at the time of the writing of the Book of Mormon. (1) Now, since the author of the book is an editor by profession, I find it very strange that he should have waited so long to tell the public what it had been clamoring to hear for decades. (2) He prefaces his book with a purely fanciful drawing depicting an angel and devils as neither Smith nor his followers ever described them, yet he labels the picture “Smith’s account of the finding of the golden plates.” Here is a plain fabrication. (3) Then he describes young Smith as a totally uninteresting tramp whose every characteristic disgusts him—and yet goes on to depict himself, an ambitious and important young man, as spending his days observing Smith’s every move and receiving all his secret confidences. (4) He describes the Smith family as cynical and cunning, but makes them the simple dupes of a pewter-coin joke that could not have fooled the village idiot. (5) He describes them also as outspoken atheists constantly parading their atheism in public; yet none of the public in question, when requested to think of all the bad things they could about the Smiths, ever mentioned their atheism—far from it, superstition was their charge. (6) While Tucker was intimate with the Smiths for some fourteen years, he tells none of the countless firsthand experiences that he should have had with them, but instead offers as proof of their villainy their subsequent behavior, which he did not observe. (7) Tucker tells of a wonderful cave, but can give no certain information about it, though he lived very near to it for forty-two years. (8) True, he insists that nobody was particularly interested in the mysterious doings at the cave, but that only makes me more suspicious, since the whole country was then talking about Smith and his gold plates, and it is inconceivable that he, who took the pains to write a whole book about Joseph Smith, simply wasn’t interested enough in the cave to look it over himself or have somebody else do it. (9) He has the lazy Smiths running a full-scale Army Command Post at the cave, with extensive digging and construction work, changes of guard and all the rest, on land that did not belong to them, but with never a word of protest from anybody. (10) In fact, he insists that no one opposed Smith’s operations at any time or had the slightest intention of harming him, even while he reports the most vicious slanders and adds his own against the Smiths. (11) He describes Joseph Smith as brewing and executing one evil plot after another, while he, a public-spirited man and witness to all this depravity, raised no word of protest until forty years after. (12) Finally, we have seen in the career of Tucker and his unguarded expressions of passion what we think is ample indication of a motive and will to malign the Smiths. It would be instructive to examine Mr. Tucker’s book page by page, but we have had time here only to consider the parts dealing with the Book of Mormon, and I think we have heard enough to form a pretty fair opinion of his trustworthiness.
This court is adjourned until tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.
1. C. N. Pattengill, Light in the Valley: Memorial Sermon Delivered at the Funeral of Pomeroy Tucker (Troy, NY: Times Steam, 1870), 8-9.
2. Ibid., 8.
4. Walter R. Martin, The Rise of the Cults (An Introductory Guide to the Non-Christian Cults) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1955), 49.
5. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: Appleton, 1867), 16.
6. R. W. Beers, The Mormon Puzzle and How to Solve It (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1887), 25-26, uses it as evidence.
7. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed; Or, a Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion (Painesville, OH: the author, 1840), 187.
8. Pattengill, Light in the Valley, 5.
9. Ibid., 4, 37.
10. Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 16.
11. Ibid., 16-17.
12. Ibid., 14.
14. Ibid., 23-30.
15. Ruth Kauffman and Reginald W. Kauffman, The Latter-Day Saints: A Study of the Mormons in the Light of Economic Conditions (London: Williams and Norgate, 1912), 23, citing Orsamus Turner, History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase and Morris’ Reserve (Rochester, NY: Alling, 1851), 213-14.
16. Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 18.
17. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 11.
18. Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 18.
19. Pattengill, Light in the Valley, 9.
20. Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 48-49.
22. Ibid., 49.
26. Pattengill, Light in the Valley, 42-43.
27. Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 49.
28. Ellen E. Dickinson, New Light on Mormonism, with an introduction by Thurlow Weed (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1885), 247.
29. Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 15.
31. Ibid., 119 (emphasis added).
32. J. B. Turner, Mormonism in All Ages (New York: Platt and Peters, 1842), 302.
33. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 246.
34. Ibid., 245.
35. Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 17.
36. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, 247.
37. Ibid., 259.
39. Ibid., 234, 238-39.
40. Ibid., 238.
41. Pattengill, Light in the Valley, 4-6.