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.
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….