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Mormon-Missouri War of 1838 (Part 4 of 8 )

The years 1836-1838 were some of the most tumultuous in Church history.  Events included the Kirtland Banking Crisis, the Fanny Alger affair, excommunication of high church leaders including Oliver Cowder, Thomas Marsh, and the Whitmer brothers.  There were lots of changing alliances and not only a civil war among the Mormons of Missouri, but Mormons had to contend with their Missouri neighbors who didn’t like their presence either.  Dr. Bruce Van Orden, author of We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout, describes how WW Phelps viewed these events.

Bruce:  There are two possibilities. Either he did this totally out of harmony with God, adultery, as some people have alleged, or he did it with God’s approval. I choose to believe, based on my belief system, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that this was done, with God’s approval. But I think it was a mistake. I think it was a wrong thing to do.

GT:  Oh, that’s interesting. I know there’s some question on the dating and I’ve just had a conversation on Facebook with somebody. He said the marriage to Fanny was definitely after the Elijah visit in April 1836. But I know Brian had thought it was earlier than that.

Bruce:  No, I’m absolutely certain it was 1835.

GT:  Okay, so you go earlier at 1835. So, Elijah hadn’t appeared yet.

Bruce:  Right.  Speaking of that, I mean, we make a huge deal today, in retrospect, talking about Elijah and the keys and the restoration and those four heavenly visitors in the Kirtland temple in April of 1836, after the temple is dedicated, all the restoration of the keys. They didn’t talk about it back then. They didn’t mention them. When the sealing went forward in Nauvoo, it wasn’t saying, “Oh, Elijah brought back the sealing. I’m doing what Elijah wanted.” He didn’t say that. We’ve kind of concluded that it has to do with Elijah, the keys, and that may be true. But this whole idea of keys and the restoration of priesthood authority and priesthood ways of doing things, they hadn’t got it all clarified. We now have it.  “It’s this, this and this,” but they didn’t have it clarified in their minds.

GT:  Well, and that’s been my big confusion because even if we’re willing to go with April 1836, which  I think is still in a dispute, but let’s assume that’s true. Oliver was there with Joseph.

Bruce:  Yes.

GT:  So, how is it that Oliver would have been confused about that vision?

Bruce:  I don’t think he was confused, and I think he was in harmony, and I think he was probably feeling okay about everything and Joseph was feeling okay about him, right then. Then, in retrospect, after he got annoyed in 1837 over economic and political affairs, then he remembered this ‘scrape’ between Emma and the idea of having this Fanny connected, cohabitating with Joseph Smith. I think he resurrected that idea and brought it up, then, again.  I don’t think it was a major factor for him back in 1835 and 1836.  It became a factor for him, again in 1837 when he thought about it, when he no longer felt he was in harmony with Joseph Smith.

GT:  Yeah. So, that just became another issue between Oliver and Joseph.

Bruce:  It’s become, in the eyes of many people, THE issue, but it’s not.

GT:  You don’t think it was the most important issue?

Bruce:  No, I don’t think it was.

GT:  What was the most important issue?

Bruce: I think it was how they disagreed about what was going on with the bank, and then the animosity settled in.  Then, Oliver said, “You’re trying to dictate to us how we’re supposed to live our lives with our property and how we spend our own money and how we buy and sell our property. I won’t stand for that. This is a republic.”

Of course, these divisions carried over to cause problems with the Missourians. Check out our conversation….

Lots of internal divisions led to conflict with Missouri neighbors.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Bruce.

563: Cleaning House in Kirtland: Phelps vs Marsh

562: Were Phelps Missouri Troubles Self-Inflicted?

561:  Jailed Before Joined

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Cleaning House in Kirtland: Phelps vs Marsh (Part 3 of 8 )

Following the Kirtland Banking Crisis, many were disillusioned with Joseph Smith’s leadership.  Thomas Marsh was among those who helped Joseph clear out the disaffected, and he set his sights on a disgruntled W.W. Phelps.  Dr. Bruce Van Orden, biographer of W.W. Phelps and author of We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout, will tell us more about the showdown.

Bruce:  [Marsh] was the president of the Twelve because he was supposedly the oldest. Section 112, which outlines what the Twelve Apostles do, in taking the gospel to all the world. Well, [apostles] Marsh and Patten stayed in Ohio for a while and got rid of some of the apostates that were coming forward as a result of this bank crisis and other apostate activities going on. There were lots of them. Four of the original Twelve were cut off from the Church, under the direction of Joseph Smith, with the aid of Thomas B. Marsh. Marsh was trying to say, “I’m helping you clean up the place.”  Then, he was assigned to go back to live in Missouri, where he didn’t have any specific authority, but he took with him an admonition from Joseph Smith that Phelps and John Whitmer, were doing some things in error. Well, what Joseph Smith had heard from Marsh is that they were using these monies to buy up the property. Then, they would carve out the property into lots in Far West into square lots, and then sell them for a profit. But, the money that was brought in as a result of the profit from selling these lots was to go to the temple. But Marsh didn’t like the idea that these guys were in charge, and he wasn’t. So, when he got back to Missouri in late 1837, and then in 1838, he concocted another court, and this time had enough support from the High Council. It wasn’t presided over in the right way, at all. They excommunicated W.W. Phelps and John Whitmer and installed themselves as the new presidency. ‘Okay, we got rid of them. We’re not the presidency,’ Thomas Marsh and David Patten.

GT:  So this is confusing.

Bruce:  It is confusing. It’s complicated, but it was a power struggle. It was a coup. By the way, Phelps was not perfect in his relationship.  He shot back and had snide remarks and was a bit mischievous in his relationship with Marsh at that point.

GT:  So, let me make sure we understand. Essentially, the Whitmers and W.W. Phelps are leading the church. Marsh is an apostle and actually president the Twelve Apostles, but they’re not supposed to have authority where a High Council exists. Marsh, essentially, usurped authority in Missouri and excommunicated Phelps and the Whitmers. Is that right?

Bruce:  He and Patten both plotted with members of the High Council to undermine Phelps and Whitmer. Remember, David Whitmer still in the east. By the time they finally held the proceedings, David Whitmer had returned, but they didn’t excommunicate him because they felt that–well, Bishop Partridge says, “You’re doing this entirely illegally. A court for them would be held by the bishopric, not by you guys.” According to the revelations, Partridge was right, but they went ahead and excommunicated those two anyway, with the High Council’s approval.  He wanted to get it done before Joseph Smith arrived. Then when Joseph arrives, he can say, “See, I helped you clean out Ohio, and I’ve cleaned up Missouri and now we’re ready to have you just take over.”

GT:  Okay. Marsh basically cleaned out all the apostates.

Bruce:  And Patten, together.

GT:  So, all the people that were upset about the bank, so that would have been McLellin, probably.  Is that right?

Bruce:  McLellin was the fifth one that ended up being lost.

Phelps would return to the church, but this wouldn’t be the last time he was excommunicated.  Check out our conversation….

Thomas B. Marsh and W.W. Phelps had a power play against each other for leadership in Missouri.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Van Orden.

562: Were Phelps Missouri Troubles Self-Inflicted?

561:  Jailed Before Joined

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Were Phelps Missouri Troubles Self-inflicted? (Part 2 of 8 )

W.W. Phelps was deeply involved in editing a political newspaper prior to joining the Church and was no stranger to partisan political fights.  When he and the saints arrived in Missouri, trouble followed quickly.  Was Phelps to blame for the poor reception in Missouri?  Dr. Bruce Van Orden, biographer of Phelps and author of We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout, will answer that question.

GT:  W.W. Phelps, when he was in New York, got involved in the political tussles in New York, as you mentioned, the anti-Masonic party and that sort of thing. How much of the problems in Missouri we’re because of his pugnacious, I guess, attitudes in the newspaper industry?

Bruce:  The word pugnacious is fair, but it is unfair to place all the blame on Phelps. Some people have done that. Because he was a newspaper editor, people knew about him, his name was on the business. It was right next to the courthouse and people knew about Phelps, but he was not alone….

GT: Who are some of the other people?

Bruce:  Well, I’d say Sidney Rigdon, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, William McClellan, probably Edward Partridge, Isaac Morley, John Corrill.

GT: So, quite a quite a few.

Bruce:  Yeah.

GT: Do you think–could they have lived there in peace if they’d have been a little less combative?

Bruce:  No doubt about it. But the reason they were combative is because they felt that this was the New Jerusalem and that Christ would be coming quite soon. They felt that. Even in the Evening and Morning Star, Phelps talked about the signs of the times and that they were telling us that the time is coming in the Redeemer of Israel hymn. He said the tokens already appeared, meaning the signs are already here to say that it’s coming. He wrote, “I may be wrong in this, but I’m calculating this based on biblical evidence, and I think it might be nine years from now, when he comes.”

GT: Oh wow. So, you can understand why the Missourians were pretty upset.

Bruce:  Yes, I can certainly understand.

We’ll go deeper into the Missouri Troubles.  Check out our conversation….

Phelps pugnacious writing style didn’t help Mormons get along with their Missouri neighbors.

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Bruce!

561:  Jailed Before Joined