Joseph Smith/Polygamy/John C. Bennett/Sidney Rigdon and Bennett's charges

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Sidney Rigdon and Bennett's charges

Sidney Rigdon and Bennett's charges

Summary: In part due to Bennett's determination to disgrace Joseph, the Nancy Rigdon episode almost led to a rupture between Joseph and his long-time friend and counselor in the First Presidency. A miraculous series of events convinced Sidney to continue to support Joseph, though the Prophet's confidence in his counselor was never entirely restored.

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Private Visit With Sidney Rigdon

It seems clear that tensions were high between the Rigdons and Joseph before May. Joseph presented his first address to those who would receive the full endowment on May 1, but Sidney and Bennett "were conspicuously absent."[1] On the 11th, Joseph drafted the letter to withdraw Church fellowship from Bennett, "he having been labored with from time to time, to persuade him to amend his conduct, apparently to no good effect."[2] The next day, Joseph "[d]ictated a letter to Elder Rigdon concerning certain difficulties, or surmises which existed" between them.[3] Rigdon replied the following day, but the text of neither letter is available.[4] This exchange of views led to a visit the next night, during which Joseph "walked with Elder Richards to the post office, and had an interview with Elder Rigdon concerning certain evil reports put in circulation by Francis M. Higbee, about some of Elder Rigdon's family, and others; much apparent satisfaction was manifested at the conversation, by Elder Rigdon."[5]

This entry is telegraphic, but it is again significant that Higbee's name is mentioned. Joseph had already taken steps to deal with Bennett, and more would follow.

Bennett's Fall From Grace

The private interview with Sidney Rigdon likely reminded Joseph of Francis Higbee and his past involvement with prostitution. He may also have concluded that Bennett needed to be publicly opposed. At the city council meeting the next day, Joseph

advocated strongly the necessity of some active measures being taken to suppress houses and acts of infamy in the city; for the protection of the innocent and virtuous, and the good of public morals; showing clearly that there were certain characters in the place, who were disposed to corrupt the morals and chastity of our citizens, and that houses of infamy did exist, upon which a city ordinance concerning brothels and disorderly characters was passed, to prohibit such things.[6] It was later remembered that Bennett opposed a city council effort to suppress brothels;[7] if so, it was likely on this occasion, and he doubtless understood it to be the shot across his bow that it was. Within three days, Bennett was encouraged to withdraw from the Church, and forced to resign as mayor.[8]

The remainder of May saw the collapse of Bennett's hopes. The high council cases involving Chauncey Higbee concluded, and Bennett was soon pleading for mercy at the Masonic Lodge he had helped found. By mid-June, he had been publicly shamed and excommunicated, and left Nauvoo on June 21. He traveled to Springfield, where he concluded an arrangement to print anti-Mormon exposés. By prior agreement, the ‘‘Sangamo Journal’’ called for Bennett to "come out NOW."[9] Since Bennett had no other income during this period, it is thought that he was paid for his anti-Mormon letters, of which he had written three before being urged to do so by the press.[10] Bennett had discovered a fifth con: pretending to risk his life writing religious exposés he was urged to write after agreeing to write them for pay.

George W. Robinson and John C. Bennett

If Joseph had ever satisfied Sidney, it did not last. "[I]n company with Bishop [George] Miller, I visited Elder Rigdon and his family, and had much conversation about John C. Bennett, and others, much unpleasant feeling was manifested by Elder Rigdon's family, who were confounded and put to silence by the truth."[11] Miller had been responsible for uncovering Bennett's serial infidelities, and was probably along to back up Joseph's account of Bennett's wicked ways (see  (needs URL / links))}}

Unsurprisingly for such a contested tale, other versions of this visit exist. The most immediate is George Robinson's, who claimed to be present. We recall that he provided Nancy's version of Joseph's proposal, discussed above. His account, however, was not yet written. In evaluating it, we must remember that his statement was not made until July 27—a month after the family meeting, and more than three months after Joseph's discussion with Nancy. During that time, despite all the disclosures made about Bennett's actions and character, Robinson continued to associate with him as a friend. In fact, after having arranged to be paid for his anti-Mormon letters to the ‘‘Sangamo Journal’’, Bennett returned to the Nauvoo home of none other than George W. Robinson.[12] Bennett arrived the day prior to Joseph's family meeting; we cannot ignore, then, the possibility that Robinson's first-person account was distorted or doctored because of his relationship with Bennett, who was immediately on-hand to counter anything Joseph told them.

Robinson's attitude and memory would also have been affected by the charges and rumours swirling around Joseph as Bennett published his exposés, since his letter was written after the publication of four of Bennett's letters.[13]

Our reading of Joseph's meeting with Sidney's family will, then, be greatly influenced by the decisions we make about even this single source. Too many authors, anxious to smear Joseph or tell an exciting tale, have used Robinson (a first hand source, holy grail of historiography) incautiously, without informing their readers of the evidentiary pitfalls which await the unwary. Robinson should not be discarded, but nor should he receive our unbounded trust.

Joseph Meets with the Rigdon Family

Of the meeting, Robinson wrote

[Nancy] told the tale in the presence of all the family, and to Smith's face. I was present. Smith attempted to deny it at first, and face her down with the lie; but she told the facts with so much earnestness, and THE FACT OF A LETTER BEING PRESENT, WHICH HE HAD CAUSED TO BE WRITTEN TO HER, ON THE SAME SUBJECT, the day after the attempt made on her virtue, breathing the same spirit, and which he had fondly hoped was DESTROYED,—all came with such force that he could not withstand the testimony; and he then and there acknowledged that every word of Miss Rigdon's testimony was true.[14]

If Nancy had left their interview in a hostile mood, Joseph would be a fool to meet with the entire family, which again makes that part of the Bennett/Robinson tale implausible. Bennett, unable to appreciate that others might have motives radically different from his own, had no qualms about portraying Joseph as a master of calculation and exploitation. To walk into the family bear trap and deny everything, as Joseph reportedly did, shows naiveté, not calculation.

Robinson saved the greatest part of his ire for Joseph's explanation of the plural marriage offer: "Now for his excuse, which he made for such a base attempt, and for using the name of the Lord in vain, on that occasion. HE WISHED TO ASCERTAIN WHETHER SHE WAS VIRTUOUS OR NOT, AND TOOK THAT COURSE TO LEARN THE FACTS!!!"[15] If accurate, this is strong evidence that Joseph said at least something about Nancy's virtue. As we will see below, Francis Higbee was also almost certainly mentioned. One son remembered Rigdon insisting afterward that Joseph "could never be sealed to one of his daughters with his consent as he did not believe in the doctrine."[16]

It is possible, then, that Joseph's meeting with the Rigdon extended family was a serious miscalculation by the prophet. Confident that Sidney was upset only because he did not understand Higbee's (and, potentially, Nancy's) moral failings, Joseph arrived and was blindsided. Expecting to help parents call sinners to repentance, Joseph was suddenly on trial. Gone was the Nancy ashamed before a prophet's rebuke or astonished at his proposal; in her place stood a woman who could, merely by emphasizing different aspects of their conversation or omitting information about herself, use the truth to lie. Taken aback, Joseph may well have temporized and back-peddled furiously, knowing that the charged situation was ill-suited to persuading the Rigdons to consider his plural marriage teachings as anything but lasciviousness.

The production of his letter would have been one more nail in the coffin, at which point Joseph may have hoped that a frank exposition of the doctrine might soften them. I suspect that he down-played the "marriage" component, and emphasized "sealing" and blessings. This scenario is most consistent with Robinson's version. Joseph ultimately admitted to mentioning plural marriage, but denied doing so with intent to seduce Nancy. Given his earlier denials, those present saw this as clear evidence of deception. Deception implied ill intent. If so, one can sympathize with the Rigdons' situation—many others who were taught about plural marriage under more benign circumstances were stunned and repulsed. This is one plausible reading of the data.

A second approach would read the matter as the History of the Church entry does—the Rigdons were upset, but Joseph's explanations finally reassured everyone. Sidney likely did not accept everything Joseph had to say, but (as when he first encountered the Book of Mormon) would not reject the ideas out of hand without prayer and reflection.[17] In this reading, Joseph left confident that revelation would settle the matter.

The third—and, to my mind, most likely scenario—is essentially a blend of the first two. Joseph arrived into an explosive situation, as described in the first case. He was able, however, to defend his actions and his teachings far more ably than the hapless bumbler portrayed by Robinson and Bennett. Joseph may have left believing that he had done what was necessary to resolve the issue, but doubts lingered. Sidney's angry reaction following the prophet's departure would have decided the issue for any fence-sitters.

Francis Higbee: Post-Bennett

Whatever else happened at the Rigdon household, Joseph seems to have named names. His journal for the following day records that "I held a long conversation with Francis M. Higbee. Francis found fault with being exposed, but I told him I spoke of him in self defense. Francis was, or appeared, humble, and promised to reform."[18] Francis was upset that Joseph has revealed his present—and perhaps past—crimes. Joseph explained that he was placed in a position where he could not protect Higbee without harming himself and the Church. Any humility on Higbee's part was likely short-lived; within a few days he provided Bennett with an affidavit claiming Joseph Smith had told him that Bennett could easily be killed with no one the wiser. This is implausible on two grounds. First, given Joseph's clear antipathy to Higbee, he is the last to whom Joseph would make such a remark "about the time of Bennett's withdrawal from the Church, or a short time before." [19] Secondly, Bennett was never shy about self-preservation, and he returned repeatedly to Nauvoo even after his break with Joseph}} Bennett didn't believe the affidavit, and neither should we.[20]

Matters between Joseph and Sidney continued to smoulder. Sidney wrote Joseph, "in the greatest confidence to yourself and for your own eye and no other…I am your friend and not your enemy as I am afraid you suppose. I want you to take your horse and carriage on tomorrow and take a ride with me out to the Prairie…Say not a word to any person living but to Hiram only. [A]nd no man shall know it from me."[21] Even if he could not support Joseph's plural marriage teaching, Sidney strove to repair their relationship.

Either during the family meeting or during the ride, Sidney and family believed Joseph had agreed to stop speaking ill of them. On July 3, George Robinson wrote Bennett. After reporting that Francis Higbee had Joseph's letter to Nancy, he promised to have Chauncey Higbee retrieve it, presumably for Bennett to publish. Outraged, Robinson insisted that Joseph had promised to "take back what he said about us," but reported that Joseph instead announced from the pulpit that "he had agreed to take back what was said, but, on thinking it over, he could not do it, for any man that would suffer Bennett to come into their houses, was just as bad as he." Though Joseph "did not say much about [Francis] Higbee," he did say "that a young man came down to see him the other day, and wanted to know why he came out on him; but…'I have settled all matters with him, and shall not mention his name, for he confessed his sins to me, and begged I would not mention him.' [Added Robinson,] Francis will roar."[22]

Francis seems to have been less committed to Joseph's downfall than his brother or Bennett. On July 6, he purportedly wrote Bennett claiming that Nancy Rigdon would give her affidavit—which she never did. "As it respects my affidavit, sir," wrote Francis,

for God's sake, my sake, and the sake of my people, do not show it to any one on earth, as yet, never, until I give you liberty…I am yet true as death, and intend to stick or die, but you must keep my name back, because I am not ready as yet to leave; and as soon as you bring my name out, they are certain to take my life…[23]

I am torn between presuming this is a forgery by Bennett, and concluding that Higbee was unbalanced. His behaviour does not seem consistent with fear for his life, and Bennett would publish a letter the very next day calling on Higbee and Robinson "to state what they know upon this subject…[for they] can tell some astounding facts in relation to this matter."[24] Bennett feigned fear that "the Danites…[might] murder me," but said nothing of the risk to which he was supposedly subjecting Higbee and Robinson. Bennett would not have scrupled to publish Higbee's affidavit eventually—but, since one never appeared, it seems unlikely that Higbee had given it to Bennett, as the letter claims. Given "Higbee's" anxiety in the letter, it seems unlikely that he would be mistaken. Forgery it is, then.

Nothing was forthcoming from the supposedly eager but frightened Francis. On 22 July, his name appeared on an affidavit sustained by his father's; both insisted that claims about Mormons murdering a Missouri prisoner were unfounded.[25] Bennett would then claim to receive a letter from Higbee about three weeks after the affidavits' publication, in which Higbee wrote "Statements have been forced from several [in Nauvoo]; you have seen mine; but great God! That's all from this child!"[26]

Despite promises—all made, significantly, via Bennett—that he and Nancy had bombshells that would destroy Joseph Smith, Francis Higbee never delivered. He disappears from the narrative, only to reappear as Joseph's determined enemy in 1844. Heber C. Kimball recalled how "[Francis] had an inclination to write that what he published was false. I exhorted him to go and recall what he had said. I afterwards saw him in Cincinnati, when he promised by every thing sacred that he would come home, reform…He said he would study at Cincinnati, for his character was ruined here."[27] Kimball's story is complimented by Robinson, who on September 16, 1842 wrote Bennett that "Frank Higbee [Colonel Francis M. Higbee] has gone to Ohio." One can sense the disappointment in Higbee's performance: "He did not intend to contradict your statements," he assured Bennett, "but he knew of no prisoner killed…Frank is true blue; but, I fear, like some others here, he lacks MORAL COURAGE!!"[28] One sees how Bennett's clique may have worked on Higbee's sense of honor and pride—if he would not act against Joseph, he was branded a coward.

Not coincidentally, the next we hear of Higbee is a letter published in the ‘‘Times and Seasons’’ on Christmas day. Higbee's father asserts that the letter was written "upon the subject of two letters purporting to be written by him to J. C. Bennett and published in his book." Bennett's History of the Saints was published in October,[29] and the letter rebutting it was written by Francis on November 28, from "Cary's Academy, Pleasant Hill."[30] Of the two letters printed by Bennett, Higbee insisted "such a thing has no foundation in truth." Bennett had nothing from him, claimed Higbee, "except the affidavit that fell into his hands."

Higbee is far too modest: the affidavit in which Joseph supposedly told Higbee that Bennett could be easily killed had to be prepared and sworn; it only fell into Bennett's hands because Higbee wished it so. But, he seems to have quickly had second thoughts, and distanced himself from Bennett. That Bennett printed nothing else proves he had nothing else. No stranger to forgery, Bennett did not let an absence of documents deter him. (It is possible, of course, that Joseph or Higbee's parents forged his November confessional letter. This is unlikely, given that Francis never denounced the letter, and given that the letters printed by Bennett are clearly forgeries on forensic grounds.) Francis' only material contribution to Bennett's campaign against Joseph was the affidavit about a murder plot, which was almost certainly false.

We can now draw some firm conclusions. From 1841 onward, Higbee flirted with sin, and when eventually found out, was manipulated and betrayed by his mentor, Bennett. Alternating between tearful remorse and belligerence, he waffled repeatedly between correcting his life and attacking those who exposed him. For a time, he seems to have decided to reform himself. Higbee was upset at Joseph for making his sins known and disgracing him before at least sixty men at the Nauvoo Lodge. He seems to have lost his connection with Nancy, and eventually left town.

Even his commitment to truth-telling at the end of November 1842 was short-lived: by January 1844 he was back in Nauvoo. The old problems had not died away. On January 5, Joseph made a veiled but pointed reference to Higbee's past indiscretions:

Mayor referred to Francis Higbee's testimony. Thought Francis Higbee had better stay at home and hold his tongue, lest rumor turn upon him and disclose some private matters which he would prefer kept hid. Did not believe there was any rumor of the kind afloat, or he could have told some of the names of his informants. Thought the young men of the city had better withdraw from his society, and let him stand on his own merits. I by no means consider him the standard of the city.[31]

The intervening months had made Higbee bolder. "I received a long equivocating letter from Francis M. Higbee," reads Joseph's history, "charging me with having slandered his character and demanding a public trial before the Church. It contains no denial of the charges which he accuses me of having spoken against him, but is full of bombast."[32] Higbee's tendency to vacillate revealed itself. Within the week, Joseph learned that Higbee was going to sue him for $10,000 "for speaking against him."[33] A reconciliation was effected the next day. Francis "had written a slanderous letter concerning me, and said many hard things, which he acknowledged; and I forgave him. I went before the Council and stated that all difficulties between me and F. M. Higbee were eternally buried, and I was to be his friend for ever. To which F. M. Higbee replied, "I will be his friend for ever, and his right-hand man.'"[34]

It was not to be. Higbee may have acquired some of Bennett's talent for dissembling; he certainly cannot have reconciled with Joseph out of fear, for he remained in Nauvoo and would eventually hound Joseph ceaselessly. A month later, Joseph faulted Higbee's intent to appeal a court case to Carthage, believing his intent was "to stir up the mob and bring them upon us."[35] By May, Higbee was suing Joseph again. If Higbee was concerned about his good name, its value had dropped, for he now was demanding only $5,000.[36] In an ironic twist, it was these attacks that led Joseph and other church leaders to report Higbee's actions of the last three years in open court. Higbee's zeal for revenge provided the clues necessary to untangle the Nancy Rigdon affair.

On May 18, 1844, Francis M. Higbee was excommunicated.[37] He was to play a prominent role in the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum.

Stephen Markham's Affidavit

If Francis Higbee was unwilling to provide affidavits about Nancy Rigdon, Stephen Markham was not. Born in 1800, Markham joined the Church near Kirtland, Ohio, in 1837.[38] A faithful member, Markham would later play a key role in rescuing Joseph from an illegal effort to extradite him to Missouri.[39] Fiercely loyal to Joseph, he helped prepare Carthage Jail against possible assault; he left and was not permitted to return, thus sparing him the assault that killed Joseph and Hyrum.[40]

Markham provided an affidavit published in ‘‘The Wasp’’ on July 27, 1843. Several of Bennett's letters had been published, and the Nancy Rigdon charges swirled around Nauvoo. Markham claimed that sometime in 1842,

he was at the house of Sidney Rigdon in the city of Nauvoo, where he saw Miss Nancy Rigdon laying on a bed, and John C. Bennett was sitting by the side of the bed, near the foot, in close conversation with her: [he] also saw many vulgar, unbecoming and indecent sayings and motions pass between them, which satisfied [him] that they were guilty of unlawful and illicit intercourse, with each other.[41]

The reaction was furious. Several Nauvoo citizens published counter-affidavits, claiming that Markham had only testified "to help Smith out of his dilemma." Markham was, they said, "a man of little or no reputation," since he was "a liar, disturber of the peace, and what may justly be termed a loafer." George Robinson insisted that Markham's "character for truth and veracity is not good, and that I could not believe him under oath…I am personally knowing to his lying, and that his character in general is that of a loafer, disturber of the peace, liar, &c." Robinson further insisted that he had been present on the occasion referred to: "Miss Rigdon was then sick, and Dr John C. Bennett was the attending physician."[42] Sidney Rigdon published a refutation, and hired an attorney to sue Markham.[43]

On September 3, an unusual notice appeared in ‘‘The Wasp’’: "We are authorized to say, by Gen. Joseph Smith, that the affidavit of Stephen Markham, relative to Miss Nancy Rigdon, as published in the handbill of affidavits, was unauthorized by him; the certificate of Elder Rigdon relative to the letter, being satisfactory."[44] The editor of the ‘‘Sangamo Journal’’ was sceptical, and declared Markham "putrid and corrupt" for helping Joseph "further his infamous designs."[45] The statement was specific in its phrasing—Joseph did not admit that Markham's affidavit was false, he merely disclaimed responsibility for its publication. This would have been enough to allow the majority of members to disregard it if they chose to do so: it would have been harder to ignore an affidavit which was widely believed to have Joseph's tacit approval.

What are we to make of Markham's affidavit? Was he merely a loyal foot-soldier, willing to perjure himself to save Joseph Smith, and then take the heat when their scheme back-fired? Or, did he honestly see an exchange between Bennett and Nancy which—especially in retrospect when other charges appeared—troubled him, leading him to honestly misinterpret an innocent situation? Or, were Bennett and Nancy enmeshed more tightly than we have thought?

The out-pouring of support for Nancy in the face of the Markham affidavit is striking when compared to the silence which greeted the initial charges against her. Sidney did not swear an affidavit in her support before Markham published his charges; Bennett could not even produce affidavits from Francis Higbee or Nancy about Joseph, much as he wanted them. Sarah Pratt was likewise not defended by charging the prophet and his supporters with slander until decades later. I suspect that Markham made an honest mistake—what he had learned about Bennett and Nancy led him to misinterpret, in retrospect, an innocent medical visit. His false charge persuaded Joseph's enemies that the Prophet really would stoop to anything to avoid having his own crimes revealed.

Joseph distanced himself from the affidavit for two reasons. Firstly, he had no other evidence that Bennett and Nancy were having an affair, while he reportedly had testimony from Bennett and Higbee about Nancy and Francis. Secondly, as the notice indicates, Joseph had what he wanted from Sidney—there was nothing to be gained for the Rigdons, Joseph, or the Church in pursing the issue raised by Markham. By distancing himself from Markham's charge, Joseph could offer an olive branch to Sidney, and attempt to put the issue behind them.

What had Sidney done to placate Joseph? And why did he do it?

Divine Intervention

Joseph's letter to Nancy Rigdon was published by Bennett in the ‘‘Sangamo Journal’’ on August 20.[46] The most striking event in the whole saga occurred the following day. Sidney no doubt stunned the crowd by announcing that "never before had he seen the dead raised; yet this was a thing that had actually taken place in his own family." His daughter Eliza had been gravely ill, and was pronounced dead by the physicians. Eliza suddenly "rose up in bed," and informed her family that God had sent her back to deliver a message, and then she would return to Him. She insisted that "the Lord had said to her the very words she should relate,—and so particular was she in her relation, that she would not suffer any person to leave out a word, or add one."

Eliza called each family member and spoke to them. She told Nancy, "It is in your heart to deny this work, and if you do, the Lord says it will be the damnation of your soul…She said concerning Geo[rge] W. Robinson, as he had denied the faith, the Lord had taken away one of his eye-teeth, and unless he repented, he would take away another. And concerning Dr. Bennett, that he was a wicked man, and that the Lord would tread him under his feet. Such is a small portion of what she related."

Sidney's daughter did not die. After laying as cold "as when laid in the grave" for thirty six hours, she called Rigdon and told him

that the Lord had said to her, if he would cease weeping for his sick daughter, and dry up his tears, that he should have all the desires of his heart; and that if he would go to bed and rest, he should be comforted over his sick daughter, for in the morning she should be getting better, and should get well. That the Lord had said unto her, because that her father had dedicated her to God, and prayed to him for her, that he would give her back again.[47]

When faced with such an account, a skeptic can only marvel at Joseph Smith's extraordinary luck. Not only was a patient declared dead returned to life, but she brought messages which specifically targeted all those who were causing such difficulty. No prophetic charisma was brought to bear, and Rigdon made his own decision to make the events known. The Latter-day Saint who encounters this report will likely conclude that whatever the details of Joseph's interaction with Nancy, which we can only approximate, any fault or act worth of condemnation lay with others, not the prophet.

Sidney was not the only one moved by these events. Five days later, Eliza R. Snow's personal diary reported that Joseph "said he had some good news, viz. that George W. Robinson had declar'd his determination to forsake his evil deeds and return to the church. If he does return, I hope it may be for his soul's salvation: not to act the part of Hinkle and betray the innocent, in the time of danger."[48] Sister Snow's hopes were not rewarded, but her account is a potent argument: it was not produced for public consumption, and one cannot accuse it of being designed for propaganda purposes. Joseph's remark was made in private to intimates who did not need to be persuaded to support him. If Robinson had persevered in his return, we might read his affidavits—which are supposedly so damning—with a great deal more perspective.

Nancy seems to have been likewise persuaded by her sister's message from the Lord. She never again accused Joseph, and even late in life refrained from charging him with any impropriety. Sidney issued a statement two days later in behalf of Nancy and himself:

I am fully authorized by my daughter, Nancy, to say to the public through the medium of your paper, that the letter which has appeared in the ‘‘Sangamo Journal’’, making part of General Bennett's letters to said paper, purporting to have been written by Mr. Joseph Smith to her, was unauthorised by her, and that she never said to Gen. Bennett or any other person, that said letter was written by said Mr. Smith, nor in his hand writing, but by another person, and in another persons' hand writing.

This statement is also carefully crafted. Nancy denied that she gave Bennett permission to publish her letter, which was likely true since she had given the letter to Francis, and Chauncey set out to obtain a copy.[49] Sidney also drew a careful distinction: since Joseph had not written the letter himself (he had used Richards as a scribe) Nancy could legitimately claim that Joseph had not "written" it. This careful parsing of the facts to protect the Church was characteristic of how the confidentiality of plural marriage was protected in Nauvoo. Joseph and others realized that any statement made publicly had to withstand the scrutiny of a hostile and violent anti-Mormon element (see  (needs URL / links) for a more in-depth discussion).

The letter from Sidney continued:

She further wishes me to say, that she never at any time authorised Gen. Bennett to use her name in the public papers, as he has done, which has been greatly to the wounding of her feelings, and she considers the obtruding of her name before the public in the manner in which it has been done, to say the least of it, as a flagrant violation of the rules of gallantry, and cannot avoid to insult her feelings, which she wishes the public to know. I would further state that Mr. Smith denied to me the authorship of that letter.[50]

Nancy denied authorizing Bennett's actions, which was likely true—even Bennett the forger had only produced letters from Robinson and the Higbees indicating Nancy's support. (I suspect she merely wanted the issue to go away.) Sidney's careful hair-splitting again shows in the last sentence, reporting that Joseph "denied to me the authorship." This also was likely true—during the meeting with Rigdon's family, Joseph probably sought to distance himself from the letter, before finally admitting his proposal and teachings. Rigdon does not say that Joseph "denies" (in the present tense) the authorship, only that he "denied" (past tense).

We have already seen that Joseph reciprocated Sidney's nuanced letter by distancing himself from Markham's affidavit. Eliza's message from beyond the grave seems to have been sufficient to settle Sidney's concerns about Joseph—at the least, it prevented an open rupture between the two men. It did not, however, restore Rigdon to Joseph's confidence. The prophet was well aware that Sidney remained skeptical about plural marriage, and he would remain suspicious of his counselor in the First Presidency for the rest of his life. For Joseph, Sidney had faced a great test, and been found wanting.


  1. Andrew F. Ehat, "Joseph Smith's Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question," (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Master's Thesis, 1981), 40.
  2. ‘‘Times and Seasons’’ 3/15 (15 June 1842): 830.
  3. History of the Church, 5:6. Volume 5 link
  4. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 297n260. Van Wagoner complains of the Church's refusal to let him examine the originals upon which the ‘’History of the Church’’ is based, but his treatment of Joseph makes it unsurprising that the Church would not want to facilitate his efforts.
  5. History of the Church, 5:8. Volume 5 link
  6. History of the Church, 5:8. Volume 5 link
  7. ‘‘The Wasp’’ 1 (2 October 1842): 2.
  8. History of the Church, 5:12, 38. Volume 5 link
  9. ‘‘Sangamo Journal’’ (1 July 1842); cited in Smith, Saintly Scoundrel, 98, caps in original.
  10. Smith, Saintly Scoundrel, 99.
  11. {{HC|vol=5|pages=46; see also Bennett, History of the Saints, 245. (Bennett examined)
  12. Bennett, History of the Saints, 290. (Bennett examined)
  13. Smith, Saintly Scoundrel, 98–99.
  14. George W. Robinson to General James Arlington Bennet, "Dear Sir," (27 July 1842); cited in Bennett, History of the Saints, 246 (small caps and italics in original). (Bennett examined)
  15. George W. Robinson to General James Arlington Bennet, "Dear Sir," (27 July 1842); cited in Bennett, History of the Saints, 246 (small caps and italics in original). (Bennett examined)
  16. Wickliffe Rigdon, "Life Story of Sidney Rigdon," 167; cited in Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 297.
  17. John Wickliffe Rigdon, "The Life and Testimony of Sidney Rigdon," ‘’Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought’’ 1/ 4 (Winter 1966): 23.
  18. History of the Church, 5:49 (29 June 1842). Volume 5 link One suspects that Van Wagoner's desire to clear Nancy of any immorality—the better to condemn Joseph—leads him to avoid mentioning Higbee in this context.
  19. Francis M. Higbee, affidavit (30 June 1842); cited in {{CriticalWork:Bennett:History of the Saints/Short|pages=288–289; also in Shook, True Origin, 64, italics removed. Smith, Saintly Scoundrel, 97 gives the date as July 1.
  20. The affidavit was sworn to non-member Hiram Kimball, who nevertheless went to Utah with the Saints. It is unlikely that he found Higbee persuasive either.
  21. Sidney Rigdon to Joseph Smith, 1 July 1842, Joseph Smith Collection; cited in Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 298. and Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 31n36.
  22. Geo[rge] W. Robinson to General [John C.] Bennett, "Sir," Nauvoo (3 July 1842); cited in Bennett, History of the Saints, 44–45, italics in original. (Bennett examined) Friendly sources say only that Joseph spoke on the "prophecies of Daniel" and "the Kingdom of God set up in the last days & said many things which were truly edifying." (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 125–126).
  23. Francis M. Higbee to General John C. Bennett, "Dear Sir," Nauvoo (6 July 1842); cited in Bennett, History of the Saints, 46, italics in original. (Bennett examined)
  24. John C. Bennett, ‘‘Sangamo Journal’’ (7 July 1842); cited in Shook, True Origin, 57.
  25. Elias and Francis M. Higbee, "[ Certificats]," ‘‘The Wasp’’ (Extra), (27 July 1842).; see also "Certificate of Elias and F.M. Higbee [22 July 1842]," ‘‘Times and Seasons’’ 3/19 :(1 August 1842): 874; see also History of the Church, 5:78. Volume 5 link
  26. Francis M. Higbee to General [John C.] Bennett, "Dear Sir," Nauvoo (16 August 1842); cited in Bennett, History of the Saints, 261. (Bennett examined)
  27. Heber C. Kimball testimony in Multiple, "Municipal Court," 540–541.
  28. George W. Robinson to General [John C.] Bennett, "Dear Sir," Nauvoo (16 September 1842); cited in Bennett, History of the Saints, 248, italics and small caps in original. (Bennett examined) The interpolation which identifies "Frank" as Francis Higbee is Bennett's in the original.
  29. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 463. Note that Bennett's work contains reproductions of material dated 30 Aug (150), 17 Sept (233), and 7 Oct (259), so publication must follow these dates.
  30. There is a "Pleasant Hill, Ohio" located about 80 miles NNE of Cincinnati, Ohio. I suspect that this was Higbee's location. Robinson places him in Ohio, and Kimball at or near Cincinnati. Furthermore, the Cincinnati Historical Society's "Morgan Bibliography of Ohio Imprints, 1796–1850" contains A Catalogue of the Course of Study, Principles of Government, etc. of Cary's Academy, Pleasant Hill, Millcreek Township, Ohio March 1834 (Cincinnati: Printed by F.S. Benton, 1834), demonstrating that such an academy was already functioning before 1842. On-line here (accessed 5 May 2008).
  31. History of the Church, 6:169 (5 Jan 1844). Volume 6 link
  32. History of the Church, 6:174 (10 Jan 1844). Volume 6 link
  33. History of the Church, 6:174 (15 Jan 1844). Volume 6 link
  34. History of the Church, 6:178 (16 Jan 1844). Volume 6 link
  35. History of the Church, 6:225 (26 Feb 1844). Volume 6 link
  36. History of the Church, 6:356 (6 May 1844). Volume 6 link
  37. ‘‘Times and Seasons’’ 5/10 (15 May 1844): 543.
  38. Juliana Markham Crowe, Excerpts from the "History of the Life of Stephen Markham," (n.p, n.d.), New Mormon Studies CD-ROM, Smith Research Associates and Signature Books, 1998.
  39. History of the Church, 5:439–443. Volume 5 link
  40. History of the Church, 6:592–616. Volume 6 link
  41. ‘‘The Wasp’’ (Extra), (27 July 1842). Van Wagoner mentions the reprinting of the Affidavits against Bennett on 31 August, but not the initial publication in the Wasp. See {{CriticalWork:Van Wagoner:Sidney Rigdon/Short|pages=301, Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 34n12.
  42. Bennett, History of the Saints, 250–252. (Bennett examined)
  43. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 34n12.
  44. ‘‘The Wasp’’ 1/20 (3 September 1842).
  45. Bennett, History of the Saints, 250. (Bennett examined)
  46. Template:Thesis:Bachman:1975; Jessee, ed., Personal Writings, 689.
  47. ‘‘Times and Seasons’’ 3/22 (15 September 1842): 922–923; see also History of the Church, 5:121–123. Volume 5 link
  48. Maureen Ursenbach, "Eliza R. Snow's Nauvoo Journal," ‘‘Brigham Young University Studies’’ 15/ 4 (Summer 1975): 397.
  49. Geo[rge] W. Robinson to General [John C.] Bennett, "Sir," Nauvoo (3 July 1842); cited in Bennett, History of the Saints, 44–45. (Bennett examined)
  50. ‘‘The Wasp’’ 1/20 (3 September 1842).