For 150 years the Church has passed through often hostile waters. Our pages of history give details about mobbings and murders, drivings from lands and homes, ridicule by newspapers and novelists, anti-Mormon laws and government officials at local and national levels, and rough treatment of our missionaries. Our heritage of persecution, however, should not block from our minds the times when fair-minded nonmembers, friendly or just neutral, rose to our defense or at least tried to view our case honestly. Let us honor some of these outsiders by recalling their contributions to our cause.
Few residents knew or even noticed the Smiths. But when anti-Mormon writers in the 1830s wanted to smear the peculiar new faith, they came up with affidavits from Palmyrans that called Joseph Smith and his family idle, worthless people. But the neighbors who knew the Smiths best held better opinions. One such neighbor, Orlando Saunders, went on record to vouch for the persecuted family’s character:
“I knew all the Smith family well … the old man made and repaired wooden casks and tubs; they all worked for me many a day; they were very good people; Young Joe (as we called him then), he worked for me, and he was a very good worker; they all were … They were the best family in the neighborhood in case of sickness; one was at my house nearly all the time when my father died; I always thought them honest; they owed me some money when they left here … One of them came back about a year after they moved and paid me.” 1
Mrs. James K. Polk
Thousands of Mormon men, women and children camped homeless in Indian country, refugees from Nauvoo. Poverty and hunger were permanent guests at their tents, wagons, and crude cabins. In the eastern U.S., the plight of these sufferers deeply affected the more wealthy people. When the Irish potato famine caused mass starvation, wealthy people quickly raised funds and food to provide relief. So when Mormon elders, who were sent to the eastern U.S. to seek aid from Gentiles, explained the Mormons’ troubles, wealthy people were affected again.
“Shall it be said,” asked the Daily Union, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, “that the same people (who aided the Irish) have driven from their peaceful homes fifteen hundred (thousand) of our own people to perish from hunger and cold in the wilderness? We trust this will not be so.” Then followed advertisements for “The Ladies Tea Party for the Benefit of the Mormons.” On October 28, 1846, according to one newspaper report, the special tea-party opened very successfully in Washington, with many prominent people present:
“For the present it is sufficient to say, that the ladies of all denominations, all over the city, led by the mayor and the clergy, went heart and hand into the work. The venerable Mrs. ex-President Madison, Mrs. (President James K.) Polk, Mrs. General Macomb, and many others of the most influential people and highly respected people and most beautiful people of the metropolis were united in the benevolent enterprise.”
Guests paid 50¢ per ticket, which enabled them to hear the Marine Band and a popular vocal group, both of which volunteered their services. Several persons in the city opened their homes as collecting points for clothing and money donated to help the Mormon refugees. 2
Colonel Thomas L. Kane
Members of the Philadelphia Historical Society hushed as Thomas L. Kane rose to address them. Colonel Kane, son of a prominent judge and member of a highly respected Pennsylvania family, read to them a formal paper about his experiences in the West among the Mormon refugees from Nauvoo. Eloquently, he described the exodus from Nauvoo, the poverty and hard circumstances of the refugees, their willing response to the government’s call for a Mormon Battalion, and then told of their beginning efforts in Utah.
The address was so well received that Colonel Kane, at the prodding of a Mormon elder, published it as a very nice book of 84 pages titled The Mormons. The Kanes paid for the printing of two editions of 1,000 copies each, then mailed a volume to every United States senator, most of the congressmen, the President, government department heads, and other influential people.
Why was he concerned for the Saints? Colonel Kane became interested in Mormons four years earlier when he attended a Mormon conference in Philadelphia. Afterwards he talked for hours with Elder Jesse C. Little about Mormonism. He then wrote letters to aid Elder Little among the people in Washington, D.C., and later rode west with the elder to visit the Mormon refugee camps. Near one, he happened to overhear a Saint in earnest private prayer. While listening, the Colonel shed tears. “I am satisfied your people are solemnly and terribly in earnest,” he told Elder Little.
In the camps Colonel Kane became deathly ill. Carefully nursed by Saints, he recovered, but not before witnessing much of the everyday life of Mormons. On his return to the eastern U.S. he stopped to see the nearly deserted City of Nauvoo. At Albany, New York, illness nearly killed him. Fearing death, he instructed his father, a judge, to never suffer any evil to come upon the Saints from the federal government, if he had the power to do so. The Colonel survived, and then drew on his firsthand knowledge for his address to the historical society.
Colonel Kane’s published address, some critics said, seemed too sympathetic about the Mormons. With critics in mind he inserted a preface in The Mormons’ second edition to reinforce his conclusions:
“I have been annoyed by comments that this hastily written discourse has elicited. Well meaning friends have even invited me to soften its remarks in favor of the Mormons, so the Mormons would be more easily accepted. I can only make them more express. The Truth must take care of itself. I not only meant to deny that the Mormons in any way fall below our standard of morals, but I want it distinctly understood that I ascribe to those of their number with whom I associated in the West, a general correctness of deportment, and purity of character above the average of ordinary communities.”
During his lifetime Colonel Kane became the Church’s “Sentinel in the East.” He advised Church leaders on political matters in Washington, D.C. Once, on his own initiative, he traveled to Utah via Panama to serve as a mediator between the Mormons and the federal army sent against them by President James Buchanan. In 1873 he visited Utah again, this time with his wife. While they accompanied President Young on a long trip south through dozens of Mormon villages, Mrs. Kane wrote down her honest reactions in letters home and in her journal. In 1874 her father published a book based on her Utah writings, Twelve Mormon Homes. “with the intent of getting sympathy for Mormons, who are at this time threatened with hostile legislation by Congress.” 3
Thousands of English readers regularly read the All the Year Round magazine issued by famous novelist and journalist Charles Dickens. In 1863 Dickens provided them his first-hand “coverage” of the departure from Liverpool’s docks of the giant emigrant ship Amazon. 4 Knowing a Mormon company was boarding the ship, he boarded with them “to bear testimony against them if they deserved it, as I fully believed they would.”
He confessed to his readers that what he found amazed him. “Nobody is in ill temper, nobody is the worse for drink, nobody swears an oath or uses a coarse word.” Compared with other emigrants he had observed before, “these people are so strikingly different” that he devoted a lengthy essay to them. “They had been on board less than two hours when they established their own watches at all the hatchways. Before nine o’clock the ship was orderly and as quiet as a warship.”
He concluded: “I think it would be difficult to find eight hundred people together anywhere else, and find so much beauty, and so much strength and capacity for work among them.” As a footnote, Dickens told how a Select Committee of the House of Commons in England in 1854 concluded that no ships under the English Passenger Acts could be depended upon for comfort and security in the same degree as those under the Mormon emigrant agents.
Charles Alexander Doniphan
The First Presidency was informed that a Missouri militia leader from the days of Mormon persecutions there was coming to Utah. Immediately President Young’s counselor, Elder George A. Smith, paid tribute to the visiting general at a Sunday meeting in the Tabernacle. 5 Then the First Presidency took General Alexander Doniphan on a special train trip to Provo, Utah for a tour and a sumptuous meal. Why was he given this honored treatment? Elder Smith gave the answer in his Tabernacle sermon:
“During a long career (by the Church) of persecution, people occasionally present themselves like stars of the first magnitude in defense of right, who are willing notwithstanding the unpopularity that may attach to it, to publicly protest against mob violence, murder, abuse, or the destruction of property and constitutional rights, even if the people who are being abused … have the nonpopular name of Mormons.”
In Missouri General Doniphan proved himself to be such a “star of the first magnitude.” 6 He served as the Church’s attorney during much of the Missouri period. When elected to the state legislature, he helped develop two new northern counties as refuge places for the Saints. Then, as a militia leader, he refused to obey General Samuel D. Lucas’ infamous order to murder Joseph Smith, and warned General Lucas:
“It is cold blooded murder. I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty tomorrow morning, at 8 o’clock; and if you execute these men, I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.” 7
Hubert Howe Bancroft
In the same decade that two Mormon elders were killed by a mob at Cane Creek, Tennessee, there was also published the first just history of our people by a reputable non-Mormon scholar. Hubert Howe Bancroft, for whom the famous Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley is named, wanted to write histories of many western states, including Utah. Therefore, he and his assistants spent years collecting mountains of information about the West, including detailed accounts of Utah history from our Church historians. In 1889, Bancroft’s History of Utah appeared. It has been judged “probably the best and least biased history of Utah written during the nineteenth century,” and in some ways served as an apology to the Saints and defense of the Saints. 8
After Utah finally became a state in 1896, anti-Mormon moods faded, except for occasional brief eruptions. During the beginnings of our century the United States generally ignored Mormons, or at best viewed us as curiosities. Then, as more and more Saints moved out from Utah and gained prominence in politics, business, and education, Mormonism was not just tolerated but came to be admired.
Thomas Nixon Carver
Representative of this better opinion are the views of Harvard rural sociologist Thomas Nixon Carver. While visiting general conference on April 6, 1922, to his surprise he was called to the stand to address the vast assembly. He responded by telling the Saints that he had studied many Mormon towns “and in the small communities, as well as the large, I have seen in operation the science and the art of community-building, which is nation-building in miniature, and everywhere it has my unbounded admiration.”
On another occasion he concluded: “I have never found more sound and wholesome personal habits than among the Mormons. I have never mingled with people who showed fewer signs of dissipation. I have never studied groups of people who seemed better nourished and more healthful. I have never known people who took more pains to educate there children. This gives a clue to the success of the Mormons as colonizers and nation builders.” 9
More examples of praise or defense could be cited. But this review of a few cases of justice and friendliness toward the Church serves as good evidence that the Lord takes care of his people and can raise up defenders of the Church when such are needed. President Brigham Young, with Thomas L. Kane and General Doniphan and others in mind offered this interesting explanation of the matter.
“All outsiders are not necessarily gentiles; but, those who belong to the rebellious blood are gentile. There are tens of thousands of the blood of Israel who will not embrace the gospel, neither will they seek to destroy this people, but (will) speak a good word for them, and do good to them whenever they have opportunity.” 10
William H. Kelley, “The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon; the Smith Family … from Late Interview,” Saints Herald, June 1, 1881, p. 165.
Daily Union (Washington D.C.), 27 October 1847; New York newspaper account reprinted in The Millennial Star, 9 (1847), 365.
Elizabeth Wood Kane, Twelve Mormon Homes (Philadelphia: William Wood, 1874).
Quoted in B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 5:91–93.
George A. Smith sermon, 24 May 1874, Journal of Discourses, 17:90–92.
Gregory P. Maynard, “Alexander William Doniphan, The Forgotten Man from Missouri” (BYU, Masters Thesis, 1973), pp. 27–45.
Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church, 3:190–191.
Edward Dicey, “Religion in America,” Macmillan’s Magazine, 15 (March 1867), 447.
Thomas Nixon Carver address, Journal History, 6 April 1922; also, his quotation printed in The Improvement Era, 34 (June 1931), 504.
Minutes of Bishops Meetings with Presiding Bishopric, Manuscript, Church Historical Department Archives, 26 July 1877.