Document: 1983 Milton V. Backman, Jr.'s comments (excerpts)
Source: Backman, Milton V., Jr. The Heavens Resound . . . UT, 1983.
Note: The entire contents of this book are copyright © 1983 by Deseret Books.
Quotations provided here are limited to "fair use" excerpts.
A History of
the Latter-day Saints in Ohio
Milton V. Backman, Jr.
Deseret Book Company
Salt Lake City, Utah
©1983 Deseret Book Company
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
First printing October 1983
Library of Congress Cataloging Publication Data
Backman, Milton Vaughn
The heavens resound.
1. the Church of Hesus Christ of Latter-day Saints --
Ohio -- History. 2. Mormon Church -- Ohio -- History.
3. Ohio -- Church history. 1. Title
BX8615.03B32 1983 298.3'771 83-12882
During the construction of the Kirtland Temple, enemies of the Church sought to destroy Mormonism by subverting Joseph Smith's reports of visions and revelations. At a public meeting held in Kirtland early in 1834, angred citizens complained that the Prophet had gathered in that township an impoverished group that threatened the entire region with "an insupportable weight of pauperism." A committee of the aroused citizenry announced to the public, in an article in the Painesville Telegraph, that their only hope of future security was to expose Joseph Smith's claims of "self-pronounced" divine authority. They reported that they had therefore employed Doctor Philastus Hurlbut "to ascertain the real origin of the Book of Mormon, and to examine the validity of Joseph Smith's claims" of revelation. That this was not to be an objective fact-finding mission is strongly hinted at in Hurlbut's commission. The committee admitted that he had been hired to collect data that would "prove the 'Book of Mormon' to be a work of fixtion" and would "completely divest Joseph Smith of all claims to the character of an honest man." They further declared that in the near future a book would be published that would prove the Book of Mormon
Note: the following excerpts are all from chapter 12.
Page numbers will be added later.
Most of the ten members of the Kirtland committee who hired Hurlbut to gather derogatory information about the Prophet were large property holders in Kirtland, owning from 45 to 247 acres in 1833 and 1834. (See Geauga, Kirtland, Tax Records, 1833) . . .
In 1833 Philastus Hurlbut had been excommunicated by a Church council for immoral conduct. Following his excommunication on June 3, 1833, a council of high priests listened to his confession and decided that he should be reinstated. Three weeks later, on June 23, another tribunal was called into session, and this body agreed that Hurlbut's repentance was not genuine. He was therefore excommunicated a second time . . .
After he was employed to collect damaging information against the Prophet, Hurlbut publicly threatened the life of Joseph Smith. This led to his arrest and a subsequent trial on March 31, 1834, in Chardon, county seat of Geauga County. The court issued an order restraining Hurlbut for six months from injuring the person and property of Joseph Smith. He as also ordered to post a bond of two hundred dollars to pay the costs of the proceedings, which amounted to $112.59. (HC 2:46-47; Ohio, Geauga County, Court of Common Pleas Records, Book P, pp. 431-32.)
In an attempt to gather information that would discredit the character of the Prophet, Hurlbut traveled to western New York, where the Smith family had resided. Prior to leaving for New York, he apparently wrote or obtained a series of affidavits that contained many common phrases and similar vocabulary, though they were signed by various individuals . . .
In addition to gathering derogatory information about the character of Joseph Smith, Hurlbut was hired to collect data that would support the theory that the Book of Mormon was a fictitious work based on the writings of Solomon Spaulding . . .
The work was not printed, however, and Spaulding settled in Amity, near Pittsburgh, where he died on October 20, 1816 . . .
Learning that Spaulding had written a work that contained a description of a migration to America, a history of the early inhabitants of this land, and an account of their conflicts, Hurlbut sought affidavits that would reveal parallels in the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding romance . . .
. . . [a] defect in the Spaulding affidavits collected by Hurlbut was that five of the eight witnesses distinctly stated that the religious matter in the two books was different. Yet Hurlbut and E.D. Howe concluded that the principal source of the Book of Mormon was the Spaulding manuscript, despite the fact that the Book of Mormon is a religious record and religious concepts permeate nearly every page . . .
Since Philastus Hurlbut's excommunication from the Church and his conviction at the trial at Chardon had discredited him, the information he gathered was not published under his name. Instead, it was published in 1834 under the authorship or Eber D. Howe. The book, titled Mormonism Unvailed [sic], was the first book of significance printed with the design of destroying the Church. (HC 2:269-70; Messenger and Advocate 2 (1835): 228; Elders' Journal 1 (August 1838): 59-60.) . . .
Although few persons purchased copies of Mormonism Unvailed immediately following its publication, the information in the book became the basis for innumerable anti-Mormon books. Within a few years after its publication, newspapers in the country announced "it appears that Mormonism owes its origins to an individual named Solomon Spaulding; who wrote the historical part of the Book of Mormon." (Painesville Telegraph, November 28, 1834, p. 3; Ohio Repository (Canton), September 1, 1836, p. 2; AURORA, September 24, 1836) . . .
Orson Hyde . . . recalled that when he had preached in New Salem in the spring of 1832 and had organized a branch of the Church there, he had met no one who claimed to have found parallels in the Book of Mormon and the Spaulding romance. After Mormonism Unvailed was published, Orson returned to New Salem and asked a number of people there if they had read Spaulding's novel and if there were similarities in that work and the Book of Mormon. Several who recalled hearing Spaulding read his manuscript insisted they were most surprised that anyone would claim the romance resembled the Book of Mormon. (Orson Hyde to George J. Adams, June 7, 1841, cited in John E. Page, The Spaulding Story, p. 10.) . . .
The manuscript discovered in Hawaii was Spaulding's Roman story and bore no significant resemblance to the Book of Mormon. The styles of the two manuscripts are completely different, and there are no common names and no historical similarities except for the fact that each account tells a history of a migration to America (by different peoples and at different periods of time), and each mentions conflicts that divided the native inhabitants. (Joseph F. Smith, "The Manuscript Found," The Improvement Era 3 (February, March, April 1900): 241-49; 351-57; 377-83.)