John E. Thompson
Taken from Restoration 5 (Jan. 1986):21-27. Used by permission of author with minor editorial revision.
On Sunday, June 17,
1838, not quite two full years after the lynching of the Vicksburg gamblers, Sidney Rigdon, at
the time a member of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
preached his fiery and controversial Salt Sermon in Far West, Caldwell County,
Missouri.1 The sermon was so named because Rigdon used as his text these
familiar words from the Sermon on the Mount:
"Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men."2Sidney interpreted this familiar text in an extremely harsh fashion, implying, if not declaring outright, that prominent dissenters like Oliver Cowdery, the Whitmer family and Lyman E. Johnson, who had remained among the Saints at Far West after their excommunication, deserved to die like the Vicksburg gamblers. As James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard have put it: "In his direct and powerful way, President Rigdon applied the text to the dissenters, and the implication was obvious. They must either leave or face the consequences."3
Shortly after Joseph and
Hyrum Smith were killed in the Carthage jail on June 27, 1844, Sidney Rigdon returned to
Nauvoo, Illinois, and unsuccessfully put himself forward as "Guardian, or Spokesman, or Head"
over the Church.7 Soon after, Rigdon was excommunicated from the church and
returned to Pittsburgh where he became the leader of another Mormon
Jedediah M. Grant soon after published A Collection of Facts Relative to the Course Taken by Elder Sidney Rigdon. This work was intended to serve as a defense of the church's actions in excommunicating Rigdon. Grant, who had joined the Mormons in 1833 and had been ordained a Seventy in 1835 and had resided with the Saints in Missouri,9 said the following regarding the Salt Sermon:
"In June he preached what he called his 'Salt Sermon,' in which he called the dissenters the salt that had lost its savor, hence, said he, 'they are good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot.' The dissenters made capital of his sermon, using it to prejudice the people in the adjoining counties against the Saints..."10All of this is relatively accurate, but it is not clear how or where Grant obtained this information: by hearing Rigdon preach, by hearsay or published materials available before his account was written. Though he could have been an eyewitness, he does not claim to have been one. Nor does he here give much of the contents of the sermon, perhaps to save space since he had no reason to spare apostate Rigdon from embarrassment. For all its shortcomings, particularly its brevity, Grant's account goes far, not only to establish that Rigdon preached the Sermon in June of 1838, but also that faithful leadership inside the church admitted the facts of the matter publicly as late as 1844 whenever it suited their purpose to do so.
In May of 1842, John C.
Bennett, Major General of the Nauvoo Legion, Quartermaster General of the Illinois State
Militia, Mayor of the City of Nauvoo, Chancellor of the University of the City of Nauvoo, and
member of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquartered
in that city, resigned all his offices as well as his membership in the church and
departed.11 Shortly thereafter, he began publishing in the Sangamo
Journal (a Whig paper published in Springfield, Illinois, which probably published the
the Saints were Democratic)? he expose of what he viewed as the degradation of Joseph Smith,
Jr., the man Bennett called derisively "Old White Hat."12 Later that year,
Bennett expanded the Sangamo Journal articles to create his History of the
Saints. Thus it was that while
Bennett had joined the Church in 1840, and an 1841 revelation called
him to assist the Prophet, in 1842 he apostatized and publicly attacked
Not surprisingly, Bennett's book contained an account of Sidney Rigdon's Salt Sermon. Since Bennett himself was obviously not an eyewitness to this event, he quoted from an anti-Mormon book, William Harris' Mormonism Portrayed, published in Warsaw, Illinois, in 1841.14 Harris himself had dwelt among the Mormons in Missouri.15 He could even have been present in Far West when the Sermon was preached, though his account nowhere makes such a claim. Later he apostatized, which no doubt was part of the reason Bennett used Harris so freely in his own work.
Thomas C. Sharp, the editor of the Warsaw Signal, later claimed that he wrote at least a portion of the book.16 Even those parts of the book which Sharp wrote (or edited if he overstated his role) were based on materials supplied by William Harris. Thus, the Harris account of the Salt Sermon is ultimately based on William Harris himself. And Bennett's History of the Saints is dependent, not on Bennett's veracity, but rather on William Harris.
These, then, are the words of William Harris, an important and early witness, published less than four years after Rigdon preached the Sermon (possibly touched up by Thomas Sharp):
"About this time, Rigdon preached his famous 'salt sermon.' The text was--'ye are the salt of the Earth, but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted; it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.' He informed the Mormons that the church was the salt; that the dissenters were the salt that had lost its savor, and that they were literally to be trodden under the feet of the church, until their bowels should be gushed out. In order to give weight to this interpretation, he attempted to sustain his position from the Bible! He referred to the case of Judas, informing the people that he did not fall headlong and his bowels gush out, without assistance, but that the Apostles threw him and with their feet trampled them out! He said that Ananias and Sapphira his wife, did not fall down dead, as translated: but that Peter and John slew them, and the young men, or deacons, carried them out and buried them."17There is no evidence that Harris borrowed this account from the Court Testimony of Reed Peck, which already had been published entirely more than once (not to count partial reprintings such as may be found in Bennett's History of the Saints).18 It is also most unlikely that he borrowed the story from Reed Peck's as yet unpublished manuscript. For, Harris differed at points with Reed Peck in a way that a mere reteller of the tale would not have dared to. For example, Harris attributed the statement about Peter hanging Judas to Sidney Rigdon (elsewhere universally attributed to the Prophet Joseph Smith). This little detail, whether the result of faulty memory by Harris or Sharp's editorial work, does not seem to be the result of a deliberate attempt to mislead. The wrong person is remembered as having made the statement, but the statement itself was accurately recalled, an error of a minor sort.
In March of 1842, less
than four years after the date of Rigdon's sermon, Rev. Dr. George Montgomery West, an
evangelical minister, published Analysis of the Rev. Dr. West's Lectures and Arguments
Infidelity and Other False Theories. West spoke of the Salt Sermon in a typically
fashion, as evidence against the divinity of the Mormon movement. Thus, West particularly
emphasized that the Prophet had endorsed Rigdon's remarks by informing the Saints that Peter,
in a similar situation, hung Judas.19 While this is more evidence that the story of
Rigdon's Salt Sermon was widely known at that time, even among the Gentiles, it adds nothing
to our knowledge of the Sermon itself. Rev. Dr. West was obviously not an eyewitness to the
sermon. West did not tell us what sources he used, so it is futile to speculate. It is possible that
West had read Reed Peck's court testimony or William Harris, but there are so many possibilities
that it is impossible to be certain.
The Practical Christian
and Church Chronicle, an evangelical magazine published in New Haven, Connecticut, ran
account of the Mormon troubles in Missouri in their April 16, 1841, issue. This admittedly
unsympathetic account (apparently borrowed from either the Baptist Advocate or Episcopal
Recorder) also mentioned the Salt Sermon. As was the case with Rev. Dr. West, this account
particularly emphasized the remarks of the Prophet after Rigdon had completed the sermon:
"Smith was present, and followed Rigdon. He spoke of the fate of Judah [Judas], and said that PETER had hung him, (more Mormon translating;) and said that he approved of Mr Rigdon's sermon...."20While this derivative account is less valuable for determining what Rigdon actually said than an eyewitness, nonetheless, its early date gives it a certain value of its own.
Unlike the Chronicle and
Dr. West, Reed Peck was an eyewitness to the preaching of the Salt Sermon. Peck, soon after
leaving the Church, began writing a manuscript history on September 18, 1839, in Quincy,
Illinois. This manuscript was first published in 1899, after Peck was
Peck had been a Latter-day Saint in the State of Missouri in 1838, residing in Far West. He left the faith after the Missouri troubles and lived out the remainder of his days in Quincy, Illinois. In the manuscript, Peck had this to say about the salt sermon:
"All their measures were strenuously opposed by John Correll and T. B. Marsh one of the twelve apostles of the church and in consequence nothing could be effected until the matter was taken up publicly by the presidency the Sunday following (June 17th) in the presence of a large congregation-S. Rigdon took his text from the fifth chapter of Matthew 'Ye are the salt of the Earth but if the salt have lost his savour wherewith shall it be salted, it is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men' From this scripture he undertook to prove that when men embrace the gospel and afterwards lose their faith it is the duty of the Saints to trample them under their feet. He informed the people that they had a set of men among them that had dissented from the church and were doing all in their power to destroy the presidency laying plans to take their lives &c., accused them of counterfeiting lying cheating and numerous other crimes and called on the people to rise en masse and rid the county of such a nuisance. He said it is the duty of this people to trample them into the earth and if the county cannot be freed from them any other way I will assist to trample them down or to erect a gallows on the square of Far West and hang them up as they did the gamblers at Vicksburgh and it would be an act at which the angels would smile with approbation Joseph Smith in a short speech sanctioned what had been said by Rigdon though said he I don't what [want] the brethren to act unlawfully but will tell them one thing Judas was a traitor and in stead of hanging himself was hung by Peter, and with this hint the subject was dropped for the day having created great excitement and prepared the people to execute anything that should be proposed."22Reed Peck's account has all the earmarks of a careful eyewitness. Unlike William Harris, he properly attributed the remarks to the correct speakers, while casually adding the sort of casual details only a careful eyewitness would have been able to recall. Peck along of all witnesses to the Salt Sermon (and only in his unpublished manuscript, which explains why none of the later accounts based on his court testimony has it) remembered that Rigdon spoke of hanging the dissenters up "as they did the gamblers at Vicksburgh."23 And yet, it is that important allusion which helps us now to better understand the historical context of Sidney Rigdon's Salt Sermon as never before.
Not surprisingly, most of the gamblers quickly left town. But some ignored the warning. On the morning of July 6, a crowd of about 400 people, including the Volunteers and a number of prominent citizens marched out to the gambling halls and destroyed all the gaming equipment that had been left behind by the gamblers.35 Finally, they came to the notorious Kangaroo. There five gamblers, led by John North, had positioned themselves, determined not to leave.36 The Vicksburg folks surrounded the Kangaroo. Dr. Bodley went out to ask them to vacate the premises. The gamblers fired several shots and the physician was killed.37
"NOTICE"At a meeting of the citizens of Vicksburg on Saturday the 4th day of July it was
"Resolved, That a notice be given to all professional GAMBLERS, that the citizens of Vicksburg are resolved to exclude them from this pace and its vicinity, and that twenty-four hours notice be given them to leave the place.
"Resolved, That all persons permitting Faro dealing in their houses, be also notified, that they will be prosecuted therefor.
"Resolved, That one hundred copies of the foregoing resolutions be printed and stuck up at the corners of the streets, and the publication be deemed notice.
"Vicksburg, July 5, 1835."34
"Why should I flee from Alton? Is this not a free state?...Have I not the right to claim the protection of its laws? What more can I have in any other place?...you may hang me up, as the mob hung up the individuals at Vicksburg! You may burn me at the stake, as they did McIntosh at St. Louis, or you may tar and feather me, or throw me into the Mississippi, as you have threatened to do; but you cannot disgrace me. I, and I alone, can disgrace myself; and the deepest of all disgrace would be at a time like this to deny my Master by forsaking his cause."42This, then, is the story of the Vicksburg gamblers. It not only illumines the background of the Salt Sermon, but it also fits its text perfectly. While Peck could have put this saying in Rigdon's mouth, it is probably what Sidney actually said on the occasion. It is significant that, not only did Rigdon speak of putting up a gallows on the square of Far West, but also Joseph Smith endorsed Rigdon's comments by stating that would be following in the path of Peter by hanging Judases in their own midst. According to Peck, then, Rigdon declared outright that the dissenters in their midst ought to be lynched by the Saints as the Vicksburg gamblers had and, that if they were not, he would do it himself.
"On the Sunday succeeding the flight of the dissenters, S. Rigdon in a public discourse explained SATISFACTORITY [sic] no doubt to the people the principles of republicanism After informing them as an introduction that 'Sone certain characters in the place had been crying "you have broken the law you have acted contrary to the principles of republicanism" he said that 'when a county, or body of people have individuals among them with whom they do not wish to associate and a public expression is taken against their remaining among them and such individuals do not remove it is the principle of republicanism itself that gives that community a right to expel them forcibly and no law will prevent it' He also said that it was not against the principles of republicanism for the people to hang the gamblers in Vicksburgh [sic] as it was a matter in which they unanimously acted."46Not only does Peck's account of the Salt Sermon seem authentic in its historical context, but it is in general terms supported by Peck's testimony under oath in the Preliminary Hearing of the case against Joseph Smith and others, in November of 1838, five months before his excommunication.47 This testimony, the holograph of which is still in Missouri, was printed at public expense two times prior to February 15, 1841.48 This is the way he described Rigdon's Salt Sermon before the court:
"The only motive for getting rid of the dissenters in this way, as far as I ever learned, was, that, if they remained among the Mormons, they would introduce a class that would ultimately endanger their lives, and destroy the church; and if suffered to go out from among them, they would be telling lies on them in the surrounding country.
"These reasons I gathered from Mr. Rigdon's Salt Sermon. And Mr Rigdon said, in the same sermon, that he would assist to erect a gallows on the suare [square], and hang them all. Joseph Smith, jr., was present, and followed Mr. Rigdon, after he had made the above declaration, and said he did not wish to do anything unlawful. He then spoke of the fate of Judas, and said that Peter had hung him, (Judas;) and said that he approved of Mr. Rigdon's sermon, and called it a good sermon.
"And further this deponent saith not.
For these reasons,
we find Peck a truthful witness. On two occasions, once under oath, he told the same story. Even
on small details, such as who said that Peter hung Judas, he seems more accurate than even
William Harris' 1841 book. He was the only witness to the Sermon to recall that Rigdon
mentioned the crimes of the dissenters and the comments about the Vicksburg gamblers. At the
same time, Peck's truthfulness is supported in many respects by other testimony.
At about the same time
that Peck was writing his manuscript, John Corrill, formerly a counselor to the Presiding Bishop
of the Mormons in Missouri, and by 1839, a member of the Missouri Legislature, published his
volume A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints. In that work,
outlined his reasons for leaving the church and it seems that he shared many of the same
concerns that had been central to Reed Peck's leaving the church behind. Corrill specifically
mentioned Smith and Rigdon's distaste for the excommunicated dissenters who dwelt in Far
West and he also outlined the methods, particularly the Salt Sermon, the church used to get rid of
them. This is how Corrill described the developing situation in Far West in June of 1838:
"The dissenters kept up a kind of secret opposition to the presidency and the church. They would occasionally speak against them, influence the minds of the members against them, and occasionally correspond with their enemies abroad, and the church, it was said, would never become pure unless these dissenters were routed from among them. Moreover, if they were suffered to remain, they would destroy the church.Corrill, it should be noted, also testified against Joseph Smith and the others at the preliminary hearing before Judge Austin A. King in 1838, but he did not discuss the Salt Sermon in the testimony.
"Secret meetings were held, and plans contrived, how to get rid of them. Some had one plan, and some another, but there was a backwardness in bringing it about, until President Rigden [Rigdon] delivered from the pulpit what I call the salt sermon: 'If the salt have lost its savour, it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men,' was his text, and although he did not call names in his sermon, yet, it was plainly understood that he meant that dissenters, of those who had denied the faith, ought to be cast out, and literally trodden under foot. He, indirectly, accused some of them with crime.
"This sermon had the desired effect. Excitement was produced, in the church, and suffice it to say that, in three or four days, several of the dissenters became much alarmed, and fled from the place in great fright, and their families soon followed, but their property was attached for debt. Necessity compelled others of the dissenters to confess and give satisfaction to the church. This scene I looked upon with horror, and considered it as proceeding from a mob spirit."50
The next witness to the
Salt Sermon we wish to call upon is John Whitmer. Whitmer had been appointed Church
Historian and had been told by revelation to "continue in writing and making a history of all the
important things which he shall observe and know concerning my church" (D & C 69:3).
This he continued to do even after his excommunication in 1838.
Whitmer had also been a member of the Presidency of Zion which had overseen ecclesiastical affairs in Northern Missouri after the Prophet centered his activities in Kirtland, Ohio. Somewhat autonomous in operation, perhaps too much so for its own good, the Zion Presidency was destroyed and its members excommunicated, at the instigation of Apostles Thomas B. Marsh and David W. Patten, in the first part of 1838.51
In November of 1838, John Whitmer [his name misspelled in the court documents as John Whitnear] also testified in the preliminary hearing of the evidence against Joseph Smith and a number of others. Whitmer briefly mentioned the Salt Sermon. (He devoted great attention to a meeting in April 1838 where Joseph Smith had preached against those who spoke against the First Presidency, a reminiscence confirmed by William W. Phelps' testimony.52) Whitmer's History, however, has a fuller accounting which is again very early:
"Joseph Smith, Jr., S. Rigdon and Hyrum Smith moved their families to this place, Far West, in the spring of 1838. As soon as they came here, they began to enforce their new organized plan, which caused dissension and difficulties, threatenings and even murders. Smith called a council of the leaders together, in which council he stated that any person who said a word against the heads of the Church, should be driven over these prairies as a chased deer by a pack of hounds, having an illusion to the Gideonites, as they were termed, to justify themselves in their wicked designs. Thus on the 19th of June, 1838, they preached a sermon called the salt sermon, in which these Gideonites understood that they should drive the dissenters, as they termed those who believed not in their secret bands, in fornication, adultery or midnight machinations."53While Whitmer's history and court testimony taken together would tell us little we did not already know about the Salt Sermon from other sources, from these we can state that Whitmer knew of it at the time, even though he had already been excommunicated. However, as an apostate, it may be that John Whitmer may not have been present at the meeting when Rigdon preached it. That could explain why Whitmer made no attempt to give more of the contents of the sermon than its general, intent, unlike John Corrill and Reed Peck.
Two other witnesses
mentioned the Salt Sermon under oath at the aforementioned Preliminary Hearing in November
of 1838, John Cleminson and Sampson Avard. Of the two, Cleminson's comments are less
significant, since he only claims to have heard the sermon and asserts that other witnesses who
had testified regarding it were accurate. He said:
"I heard Sidney Rigdon's sermon, commonly called the 'salt sermon,' and its purport and design was about as other witnesses have stated before me."56
Since Cleminson adds
nothing to what we already know about the Salt Sermon and since he states he heard the
testimony of the others, this remark should be given no more weight than it deserves. All he
stated was that he heard the sermon and that the other witnesses had not misstated what it said.
There is no reason thereby to doubt Cleminson's veracity, since Cleminson certainly could have
heard the sermon precisely as he claimed as a Mormon resident of Far West during this period.
Cleminson had no need to lie under oath. And, while he unfortunately said nothing under oath
about what he heard, the other witnesses to the sermon would be more than enough without his
The second witness was the notorious Dr. Sampson Avard, who had been Brigadier General of the Danites.57 Avard has often been treated as both a scapegoat and a traitor, a prime example of all that had gone wrong with the Mormons in Missouri during this period (in stark contrast to the alleged ignorance and innocence of the First Presidency of the church).58 It is true that Avard turned State's evidence against the Prophet after his capture. But it seems extremely unlikely Avard would have dared create and operate the Danites apart from the knowledge or approval of the First Presidency. And it is impossible to continue to assert that Joseph Smith knew nothing at all of the operations of the Danites. The evidence suggest that Joseph Smith, while never under a Danite oath, was in a relationship of military command over them.59 Thus, Avard was not as responsible for the excesses of the Danites as the First Presidency and his superior Generals. His only wrong, then, could be construed as breaking his Danite oath, which, in view of the heinous nature of their crimes, may have been a higher good.
In Avard's testimony under oath before Justice Austin A. King, in the Preliminary Hearing, he, like others, mentioned the Salt Sermon of Rigdon:
"About the time the dissenters fled, President Rigdon preached a sermon from the text, 'Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men--' commonly called the salt sermon; in which the dissenters were called the salt that had lost its savor, and that they should be trampled upon and driven out by the saints: which was well understood by the Danites to be a part of their duty to do."60Exactly as John Whitmer had, Avard testified the Danite band had been formed by the time of the Salt Sermon. And since Reed Peck placed Avard as one of three founding members (the others being Jared Carter and George W. Robinson), that testimony is important.61 Indeed, it is worth noting that Leland H. Gentry agrees with Avard's testimony that the Danites began their existence at about this time.62 The Salt Sermon Avard described correctly, then. One thing that Avard made very clear, though is that Danites took it as their duty precisely to carry out the mandate of the sermon. Two days after the Salt Sermon, the dissenters were sent a letter signed by 83 Mormon citizens of Caldwell County including Hyrum Smith, Sampson Avard and a number of identified Danites.63 O how quickly the dissenters, with a few exceptions, left town! What Avard said in court is consistent with what else is known of the period from other sources.
The most important
primary source dealing with the Salt Sermon is "The Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith Jr." The
"Scriptory Book" entry was most likely written in July or August of 1838, just a matter of weeks
after the Sermon was preached, making it the earliest written account of the event.64
In addition, the "Scriptory Book" during this period was recorded by First Presidency
scribe George W. Robinson, who was also Sidney Rigdon's son-in-law. Therefore, he would
have wanted to be both fair and accurate in portraying the event. In addition, Robinson was at
this time a Colonel in the Danite Band.65
This account is also important for another reason. The "Scriptory Book" accounts of events in Caldwell and Daviess Counties during the residency of the Prophet and is a source which was used in the preparation of Volume 3 of the LDS History of the Church.
In passages where the "Scriptory Book" was used, it was often altered to make it appear that Joseph Smith was the author, rather than Robinson. In addition, the scribes were selective in using the "Scriptory Book" text for the History of the Church. Some incidents believed to mar the reputation of the church or its leaders were not selected for the text of the History of the Church as published. But we can, with the "Scriptory Book" extant and even available in published form, find support for events like the Salt Sermon, which before this tended to be greeted with skepticism because not witnessed to by a faithful source. The Salt Sermon was mentioned in the "Scriptory Book," but not in the Manuscript History of the Church. Thus, it is History of the Church, Vol.3, talks about Rigdon's 4th of July address, but does not mention the Salt Sermon. But that makes the "Scriptory Book" account of the Salt Sermon all the more valuable, since it proves beyond all doubt now that faithful Latter-day Saints of the period knew about the Sermon every bit as much as apostates. Here are Robinson's own words:
"I would mention or notice something about O. Cowdery David Whitmer Lyman F. Johnson and John Whitmer who being guilty of base iniquities and that so manifest in the eyes of all men, and being often entreated would continue in their course seeking the lives of the First Presidency and to overthrow the Kingdom of God which they once testified of. Prest. Rigdon preached one Sabbath upon the salt that had lost is savour that is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and troden [trodden] under foot of men, And the wicked flee when no men pursueth. These men took warning, and soon they were seen bounding over the prairie like the scape Goat to carry of [off] their own sins, we have not seen them since, their influence is gone, and they are in a miserable condition, so also it [is] with all who run from truth to lying Cheating defrauding & swindling."66While Robinson's account does not verify everything that was in the other early accounts of Rigdon's sermon, it does verify that Rigdon preached the sermon on Matthew 5:13. It also confirms that the intent was to frighten off the dissenters and that the dissenters were soon on the run. It also confirms that the sermon was on a Sunday in June 1838, since in the margin by this, running sideways, is the word "June."67 Since Rigdon is said to have preached the sermon "one Sabbath" here, it is the final proof that the sermon was preached on June 17, as the majority of witnesses have it, not June 19 as Whitmer erroneously put it.68 It also clearly verifies that the First Presidency felt that the dissenters were threatening them and the church (as Corrill, Peck and Whitmer imply). We have no verification that the dissenters were actually threatening them, however, beyond the charges themselves, although it is not beyond the realm of possibility when one considers the sorts of things that happened between Joseph and dissenters in Kirtland in the year 1837.
What shall we conclude?
Sidney Rigdon preached his Salt Sermon based on Matthew 5:13 on June 17, 1838, a Sunday. In
the words of Daryl Chase, Rigdon's biographer, "It was an insane utterance" which was
"inflammatory and threatening."69 He stated (or implied) that the dissenters
dwelling among the Saints in Far West were salt who had lost their savour, and which ought to,
as B. H. Roberts said, "literally" be trodden under the foot of men (almost all witnesses agree on
this point and none state otherwise). Rigdon also accused them of crimes of various sorts (Peck,
Corrill and the "Scriptory Book").
This sermon, which Reed Peck saw as a "farce acted to frighten these men from the county that they could not be spies upon their conduct,"70 was, nonetheless, deadly serious and was fully put into action by the Danites (Avard). Within a short time afterward, the dissenters were fleeing Caldwell County (Scriptory Book, Whitmer, Corrill, Peck). The additional material in the Reed Peck manuscript should not be utterly discounted, since he swore to the substance of it under oath as well. Even though no one but Peck mentioned Judas and gamblers at Vicksburg, we should not assume that Peck was fabricating. These are precisely the sorts of things that a careful eye-witness would recall long after that others might overlook. In view of the attitudes and mores of the day, the Salt Sermon fits the climate of what was happening in that day not only in Vicksburg, but in Alton, Illinois, St. Louis and in Independence, when the Saints were driven from Jackson County. Lynching and vigilante organizations in Jacksonian America were as American as could be and, unfortunately, Sidney Rigdon is simply one more illustration of religious bigotry in American history.
The Salt Sermon of Sidney Rigdon, thus, is more firmly established historically now than at any time in the past. The addition of George W. Robinson's witness in the "Scriptory Book" establishes the event on firm historical footing since at the time Robinson was not an apostate and since he was Rigdon's son-in-law, a Danite colonel, and First Presidency scribe. Finally, it should be pointed out that all of these witnesses to the Salt Sermon were either Latter-day Saints then to be later excommunicated (Avard, Phelps, Peck, Corrill, Cleminson, Harris) or had been (Whitmer) with the exception of the "Scriptory Book" which may be characterized as a thoroughly loyal Mormon source from the period. No Gentile ever claimed to have heard the Sermon, which is not surprising at all. Even now, without the text of his remarks (if Rigdon ever prepared any), we can reconstruct in a general sense, not only the tenor of Rigdon's remarks, but accurately, though incompletely, a part of what Rigdon actually said as recalled by a number of eyewitnesses.
1. Donna Hill, Joseph
Smith, the First Mormon (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1977),
pp. 225-226. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph
Smith, 2d ed.,
Revised and enlarged (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), pp. 217-218. Harold Schindler,
Porter Rockwell, 2d Revised Ed. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983),
Stephen C. LeSueur, "The Mormon War: The Struggle to Maintain Civil Order in Northwestern
Missouri in 1838," M.A. Thesis, George Mason University, 1981, p.22. Leland H. Gentry, "The
Danite Band of 1838," Brigham Young University Studies 14, 4 (Summer 1974),
2. Matthew 5:13, King James Version. Of course, Rigdon totally misinterpreted this apparently non-violent passage from the Sermon on the Mount. No doubt he did so intentionally. This does not speak well of Rigdon's practice of the art of Biblical exegesis. Nor does it speak well of his practice of the art of preaching (which at least attempts to explicate what the original meaning of the text was rather than using it as a pretext for doing something else). The New Translation by Joseph Smith reads differently from the King James Version here: "Verily, verily I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of the earth: but if the salt shall lose its savor, wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall thenceforth be good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. "(Matthew 5:15 in the Inspired Version). Of course, Joseph Smith's rendition of this verse has absolutely no ancient manuscripts in support. The primitive Greek manuscripts, instead, are in accord with the old King James Version and various modern translations. See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1971) p.13. Some LDS scholars have suggested D & C 97:5; 98:1 and 104:4-7 as additional background for the sermon, but the problem is that none of the eyewitnesses mention anything other than Matthew 5:13.
3. James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), p. 121. They give the date of the Salt Sermon as June 19.
4. Brigham Henry Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol.1 (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1965), p. 438. Roberts called the section of the chapter in which these comments were recorded, "The Error of the Salt Sermon." It is not clear what in the Salt Sermon Elder Roberts considered to be an error, however, its doctrine or its results. Roberts also had a footnote at the end of the material quoted here and gave his sources as J. M. Grant's pamphlet as well as Corrill's history.
5. Harold Schindler, Orrin Porter Rockwell: Man of God, Son of Thunder, Revised Second Edition (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983), p. 27.
6. The Scriptory Book of Joseph Smith, Jr. -- President of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-day Saints In all the World. Far West April 12th 1838. Microfilm of holograph, LDS Archives, Salt Lake City.
7. Jedediah Morgan Grant, A Collection of Facts Relative to the Course Taken by Elder Sidney Rigdon in the States of Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and Pennsylvania (Bountiful, Utah: Restoration Research, 1984 - reprint of 1844 Philadelphia, Pa. edition), pp. 5-7. See also Andrew F. Ehat, "Joseph Smith's Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon Succession Question," MA Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1981, p.190.
8. Grant, Collection of Facts, pp. 7-13. See also Ehat, "Temple Ordinances," pp. 212-236.
9. Wayne J. Lewis, "Mormon Land Ownership as a Factor in Evaluating the Extent of Mormon Settlements and Influence in Missouri 1831-1844," M. A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1981, p.114. See also, Grant, Collection of Facts, p.16 for biographical data on Grant.
10. Grant, A Collection of Facts, p. 3.
11. John C. Bennett, History of the Saints, or an Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism (Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842). Bennett has a lengthy exposition of his titles and a defense of his reputation in the beginning of the work as well as the details of his conversion to Mormonism and his departure.
12. For the Democratic propensities of the Prophet and his instructions to the Saints at the end of 1841 and beginning of 1842, see Joseph Smith, History of the Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976) 4:479-480. See also Robert Bruce Flanders, Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1965), pp. 225-226. Flanders asserts that the Sangamo Journal was a Whig newspaper. See also Donna Hill, Joseph Smith the First Mormon, p. 300. A summary of the contents of Bennett's articles in the Sangamo Journal under subject and date and other published materials on Bennett and the Mormons may be found in Cecil A. Snider, A Syllabus on Mormonism in Illinois from the Angle of the Press, (photograph of typescript in possession of author), pp. 51-62.
13. John C. Bennett, History of the Saints, p.33. "Extract from a Revelation given to Joseph Smith, Jr., Jan. 19, 1841."
14. William Harris, with emendations by a citizen, Mormonism Portrayed; its errors and absurdities exposed, and the spirit and designs of its authors made manifest. (Warsaw, Illinois: Sharp and Gamble, 1841). According to Chad J. Flake (Mormon Bibliography, pp.53-54, Entry 628), Sharp later claimed to have largely written the book from materials supplied by Harris [See Warsaw Signal, Sept. 11, 1844]. Sharp probably was involved in the project as editor if not writer (for he either emended or wrote).
15. Lewis, "Mormon Land Ownership," p.118.
16. Thomas C. Sharp, Warsaw Signal, Sept.11, 1844, quoted in Mormon Bibliography, p. 54.
17. Harris, Mormonism Portrayed, pp. 32-33. See also Bennett, History of the Saints, p.137. (On page 140, Bennett stated he was quoting Harris for this portion of his book.)
18. In particular, see Correspondence, Orders, etc., in relation to the disturbances with the Mormons; and the evidence given before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Circuit Court of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a criminal court of inquiry, begun November 12, 1838, on the trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and others, for high treason and other crimes against the state. Fayette, Missouri: Published by Order of the General Assembly, 1841. See also 26th Congress, 2nd Session. Senate Document 189. Showing the testimony given before the judge of the fifth judicial circuit of the State of Missouri, on the trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and others, for high treason, and other crimes against that State. February 15, 1841. Ordered to be Printed. The holograph copies of these court records are in the Joint Collection of the University of Missouri, Western Historical Manuscript Collection--Columbia and State Historical Society of Missouri Manuscripts, along with additional related material not published in the documents. John C. Bennett has a lengthy extract from Correspondence and Orders on pp. 307-340 of his History of the Saints. The material from the "evidence" given before Judge King begins on p. 324.
19. Rev. George Montgomery West, Analysis of the Rev. Dr. West's Lectures and Arguments Against Infidelity and Other False Theories; to Which are Appended Testimonials of Approval. (np, March 1842), p. 17.
20. Practical Christian and Church Chronicle. New Haven, Connecticut, April 16, 1841, p. 63. Taken from the Episcopal Recorder.
21. Reed Peck, The Reed Peck Manuscript; An Important Document Written in 1839 Concerning the Mormon War in Missouri and the Danite Band (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co., nd.) For information concerning the provenance of the original manuscript, see the introduction. The holograph manuscript was once reportedly in the collection of the late Fawn McKay Brodie, author of No Man Knows My History.
22. Reed Peck, pp. 6-7.
23. Reed Peck, pp. 6-7.
24. James B. Allen, and Glen M. Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. l21.
25. The following sources deal with the story of the lynching of the gamblers: Karen Lynn Ragsdale, "Kangaroo Justice," unpublished paper supplied by Old Court House Museum, Court Square, Vicksburg, Mississippi (9 pp); Dunbar Rowland (ed.) Vol. 2, Encyclopedia of Mississippi History (1907), vol.2, pp. 860-861. Marion Bragg, "Most Memorable July 5th Saw Crusade on Gamblers," Vicksburg Evening Post, July 5, 1971, page 1. Gordon A. Cotton, "Old Court House Comment," Vicksburg Sunday Post, February 15, 1981, p.40. Gordon A. Cotton, "Vigilante Action in 1835 Described by British Author," Vicksburg Sunday Post, November 30, 1980, p. 36. Annie Lee Guider, "Vignettes of Vicksburg, Bodley Monument," Vicksburg Sun, October 1980, p. 8. Mack Swearingen, "Vicksburg, Miss.," Dictionary of American History, Vol.5, p. 367. Richard Hofstader and Michael Wallace, eds., American Violence: A Documentary History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), pp. 450-453. See also Nile's Register, August 1 and 8, 1835. Grand Gulf (Miss.) Advertiser, July 14, 1835; Vicksburg Register, Abstract of Articles Appearing from June 25, 1835 to Sep.17, 1836 (4 pages); H. S. Fulkerson, Random Recollections of Early Days in Mississippi (6 pages typescript), Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History, P.O. Box 571, Jackson, Mississippi 39205.
26. Karen Lynn Ragsdale, "Kangaroo Justice," p. 1.
27. Ragsdale, p.1. See also Gordon A. Cotton, "Citizen Kept Bawdy House, Jury Charged," Vicksburg Evening Post, Dec. 31, 1978.
28. Marion Bragg, "Most Memorable July 5th . . .' Vicksburg Evening Post, July 5, 1971, p. 1. See also Ragsdale, p.2. Ragsdale notes that she has seen the name spelled both as Cabler and as Calber.
29. Bragg, "Memorable July 5th . . . ," p. 1. Ragsdale, p. 2.
30. Ragsdale, p. 3.
31. Ragsdale, p. 3.
32. Dunbar Rowland, Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, vol.2, pp. 860-861.
33. For the ''Secret Constitution'' of the citizens of Jackson County, Missouri, who, in the fall of 1833, drove the Mormons from Zion across the Missouri River into Clay County, see Warren Abner Jennings, "Zion is Fled, The Expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County, Missouri," Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Florida, 1962, pp. 135-137. In the fall of 1838, as the Mormons were being driven out of Carroll County, Mo., by a vigilante band, they asked Abbott Hancock, Chairmain of the citizens, by what authority they were being forced to leave. Hancock replied: "By the authority of Carroll County." LeSueur, "The Mormon War," p. 33.
34. One of the original 100 notices is extant in the collection of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi. A photographric reproduction was printed in the Vicksburg Evening Post, July 5, 1971. The text is also quoted by Ragsdale, p. 3.
35. Ragsdale, p. 4.
36. Ragsdale, p. 4.
37. Annie Lee Guider, "Vignettes of Vicksburg, Bodley Monument," Vicksburg Sun, October 1970, p. 8.
38. L. S. Houghton, Letter to Mr. Henry Bosworth, July 10, 1835, quoted in Ragsdale, p. 4.
39. Vicksburg Register, July 9, 1835. See also Ragsdale, p. 4.
40. Bragg, "Memorable July 5 . . . ," p. 1 and Ragsdale, p. 4.
41. Bragg, p. 1.
42. Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy, remarks of November 7, 1837, Alton, Illinois, as quoted in Edwin Scott Gaustad, A Religious History of America (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 184 [portrait of Love-joy on p. 185]. McIntosh, to whom Lovejoy referred, was Francis McIntosh, "a free Negro who killed a deputy sheriff in St. Louis, was chained to a tree and burned to death, April 28, 1836," according to Gaustad.
43. Jared Carter, the Captain General of the Danites in the early phase, had a brother named Gideon. Thus, the order was called at that time the "Brother of Gideon." See John E. Thompson, "The Leadership of the Danite Band in Northern Missouri," unpub. paper read at the annual meeting of the Mormon History Association, Kansas City, Mo., May 1985, pp. 5-6. See also Leland H. Gentry, "The Danite Band of 1838," Brigham Young University Studies, Vol.14, No. 4 (Summer 1974), p. 429. See also LeSueur "The Mormon War," pp. 21-22.
44. The document is in the testimony of Sampson Avard in the Preliminary Hearing but without the names of the signers (See Senate Document 189, pp. 6-9). A shortened version of that text is given on p. 328 of John C. Bennett, History of the Saints. The full text with the names of the signers is found in Leland H. Gentry, "A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri, 1836-1839," Ph.D. dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1965. Correspondence and Orders, p. 106. See also Ebenezer Robinson, "Items of Personal History," The Return, October 1889, p. 147.
45. Correspondence and Orders, p. 106. Senate Document 189, pp. 6-9. See also LeSueur, "The Mormon War," p. 22.
46. Peck, p .8.
47. History of the Church, Vol.3, p. 284.
48. See note 18, above.
49. Senate Document 189, pp. 20-21.
50. John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints (St. Louis: for the author, 1839), p. 30.
51. See John E. Thompson, "The Initial Survey Committee Selected to Appoint Lands for the Gathering in Daviess County, Missouri (1837-1838)," in Maurice L. Draper and Debra Combs, eds. Restoration Studies III (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1986), 302-13.
52. Testimony of John Whitmer and W. W. Phelps as printed in Senate Document 189, pp. 32-33.
53. John Whitmer, John Whitmer's History (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm, nd), p. 33.
54. John E. Thompson, "The Leadership of the Danites," unpublished paper read at the Mormon History Association, May 1985.
55. Leland H. Gentry, "The Danite Band," p. 427.
56. John Cleminson, Testimony as printed in Senate Document 189, p. 15.
57. Thompson, "Leadership of the Danites." See also Gentry, pp .425-428.
58. Joseph Smith, letter dated December 16, 1838, as printed in History of the Church, Vol.3, p. 231. See also Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), pp. 374-382.
59. Stephen C. LeSueur, in "The Mormon War," p. 158, writes: "Gentry concludes that Joseph Smith and his counselors were largely unaware of the Danites militant and lawless nature. Recently discovered evidence from loyal Mormon sources demonstrates, however, that Smith and his counselors knew and approved of the activities of the Danite band. Mormon sources also show that the Danites played a prominent and influential role among the Mormons during this period." For more on the relationship of the Danites and the First Presidency, see John F. Thompson, "A Chronology of Danite Meetings in Adam-Ondi-Ahman, Missouri July-September 1838," Restoration 4, 1 (January 1985); and Thompson, "The Leadership of the Danites in Northern Missouri," unpublished paper, pp. 9-12. Of course, for a different view, see Gentry, pp. 442-449.
60. Sampson Avard, Testimony, in Senate Document 189, p. 9.
61. Peck, pp. 9-10. See also Thompson, "Danite Leadership," unpublished paper, pp. 5-6.
62. LeSueur, "The Mormon War," pp. 21-22. Gentry, "A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri," p. 317. Gentry, "Danite Band," pp. 422-426. Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 121. Thompson, "Chronology of Danite Meetings," p. 11
63. See note 44. Avard was the first signature on the document. Avard testified Rigdon drafted the document. (Senate Document 189, p.6). It may be that Avard himself drew up the document as Gentry suggests in "The Danite Band," p. 424. Or, as Stephen LeSueur argues, it could be that Rigdon wrote the document but chose to obscure that fact. (See "The Mormon War," p. 22). Gentry is undoubtedly on the mark when he stated that a number of the signatories were Danites ("Danite Band," p. 425). That connection needs to be more fully examined in future studies.
64. For information relevant to the date of this passage, see John E. Thompson, "Spring Hill and Adam-Ondi-Ahman," Restoration 3, 4 (October 1984). See also Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Provo, Utah: Seventy's Mission Bookstore, 1981), pp. 228-229; 333-334.
65. Peck, p. 11. Elders' Journal, August 1838. Scriptory Book, August 7, 1838. Gentry, "Danite Band," pp. 441-442. See also Thompson, "Leadership of the Danites," unpublished paper, p. 3ff.
66. The Joseph Smith Scriptory Book, p.47; June. See also transcription in H. Michael Marquardt, Joseph Smith's 1838-1839 Diaries (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co., 1982), p. 10.
67. The Joseph Smith Scriptory Book, microfilm of holograph, p. 47. This notation is not in the Marquardt transcription, however, since it would have been difficult to portray such a marginal note accurately in a typescript.
68. Scriptory Book, p. 47. Marquardt, 1838-1839 Diaries, p. 10. See also LeSueur, "Mormon War," pp. 22-23. See also Gentry, "Danite Band," p. 423.
69. Daryl Chase, quoted in Leland Gentry, "A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri," pp. 160-161.
70. Peck, p. 7.