“The Mormons.” Benjamin Dobson to the editor, June 16, 1839. Peoria Register and North-Western Gazetteer (Peoria, Illinois) 3, no. 13 (27 July 1839).
Quincy, June 16, 1839.
DEAR SIR: It is precisely 9 o’clock P. M. and I find myself snugly stowed away in no. 77 in the fourth story of the Quincy House, of which I may have occasion to speak in my next letter; but suffice it for the present to speak of the day’s adventures. However, not being able with Irving to manufacture a good story out of every flock of sheep or herd of swine I meet, I will pass by the particulars of my day’s journey, not even stopping to describe the village of Clayton, at which I breakfasted, nor the color of the lady’s eyes or the number of her children, and come at once into the flourishing village of Columbus.
This town stands on an uneven prairie of a fertile, healthy appearance, 16 miles from Quincy, 12 from Clayton and 24 from Mount Sterling, so that when I arrived here I had ridden 24 miles. My horse was warm and tired, and so was I, but being anxious to get to the end of my day’s journey, I intended not to halt, but before I had fully entered the town my attention was drawn to a mass of human beings, who were all moving in the direction of a frame house which stands in the suburbs, and many of the men were carrying on their shoulders benches, planks and chairs. My curiosity being a little excited, I rode up to a house and inquired the cause of all this, and was informed that it was a Mormon meeting; that the preacher was appointed to preach in a school house, but the congregation was so great they could not all get in, whereupon permission had been given him to preach in the meeting house, and it not being well provided with seats, the benches, &c. belonging to the school house were taken along to accommodate the multitude.
On being informed, I wheeled my horse round and in a few minutes I was in the midst of the “Latter Day Saints.” The good people were singing a hymn as other good Christians are wont to do, to keep the first of the people quiet while the last of them are coming in. Then another hymn was sung, after which a prayer was made, and a very good Christian prayer I adjudged it to be. The preacher prayed feverently that his people might be blest with meekness, patience, and Christian fortitude to enable them to bear, as did the children of God of old, the manifold persecutions that were permitted to come upon them. After the prayer another hymn was sung, and then a text was taken and a sermon was preached,—just such a sermon “for all the world” as you might hear from one of our Methodist or Cumberland brethren, with this remarkable difference, that instead of proving from the old testament the truth of the new, the burden of his argument was to prove from both the old and the new testaments the truth of the Book of Mormon.
This being over a sort of irregular skirmish ensued between the Mormon preacher and others. Short speeches were made against the Mormons and replied to. Diverse questions were propounded respecting the Book of Mormon, the gift of miracles, &c. which I thought not well answered. In return, divers questions were propounded to the querist, which I thought equally puzzling, and no better answered. After the meeting was over I had a conversation with several of these people, and heard them converse with others; and being in the habit of scrutinizing human conduct, I watched them closely, and am of opinion that, though wofully deluded, they are an ignorant, honest, and. if let alone, would be an innocent people. As for the preacher, whose name I understood was Groves, I strongly suspect his sincerity; for although in his sermon he got along very well, and seemed to believe what he said, yet when he came to be interrupted respecting his belief, the crimson appeared in his cheeks, and I conceited that an indescribable something in his countenance contradicted his words.
The Mormons profess to be pilgrims and not permanently settled in our state.
When they were banished from Missouri, many of them scattered through the western parts of Illinois; and whereever they can obtain employment they are laboring for the support of their families.
What blinded mortals we are! How little do we profit by experience! The history of the human race teaches that the absurdity of an opinion in theology is no guaranty against its being believed; that the majority of mankind act not from reason, but from impulse and passion; that sympathy is the direct avenue to the heart; and that in all ages any impostor who could procure himself to be persecuted, would enlist the sympathy of the multitude, and make disciples to any foolish dogmas he might think proper to teach.
And yet, in the face of these facts, the people of the United States, have blindly persecuted these people wherever they have attempted to settle, and thereby given them a degree of consequence which neither they nor their ridiculous story about the lost tribes is entitled to.
If they had been let alone and treated with that silent contempt they merited, who cannot see that before now Joseph Smith would have been as contemptible a personage as Jemima Wilkinson or the notorious Matthias? But now the Mormons, through persecution, have grown obstinate and deaf to the voice of reason, and in my opinion they will persevere with a zeal worthy of a better cause until they become a powerful sect.
That my views are correct, when I say that persecution has given them all their consequence, it is only necessary to look into the Book of Mormon. Whether the writer was Smith, Rigdon, Spaulding, or some one else, it is manifest it was not the writer’s intention that it should be the foundation of a sect, for there is no allusion to any thing of the kind it. It only professes to be the history of a part of the Israelites who at an early period peopled this continent. Now if this history could be addressed to the judgment and not to the passions, how could it be the pretext of raising a sect, much less of arraying one part of the community against the other? Leave people to act free from excitement, and few would ever believe in it; and if any body did, no body would care, for it cannot be of any consequence whether a man believes that the American Indians descended from the Israelites, the Syrians, or from some other race. As well might I say that the romance called “Travels before the Flood” was fact, and found a sect of that opinion. In conclusion, I would remark that two facts are manifest from the Book of Mormon. One is that it was written by a New-Englander, because it contains certain New-England expressions, which belong to the English language, and which none but New-England people use. Secondly, that the writer read the romance before alluded to, and borrowed some of his ideas therefrom. B.