Organization Of The Church

The director of the steps taken to announce to the world a new

Bible and a new church realized, of course, that there must be

priests, under some name, to receive members and to dispense its

blessing. No person openly connected with Smith in the work of

translation had been a clergyman. Accordingly, on May 15, 1829

(still following the prophet's own account), while Smith and

Cowdery were yet busy with the work of translation, they went

into the woods to ask the Lord for fuller information about the

baptism mentioned in the plates. There a messenger from heaven,

who, it was learned, was John the Baptist, appeared to them in a

cloud of light, "and having laid his hands on us, he ordained us,

saying unto us, 'Upon you, my fellow servants, in the name of

Messiah, I confer the priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys

of the ministering angels, and of the Gospel of repentance, and

of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.'" The

messenger also informed them that "the power of laying on of

hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost" would be conferred on them

later, through Peter, James, and John, "who held the keys of the

priesthood of Melchisedec"; but he directed Smith to baptize

Cowdery, and Cowdery then to perform the same office for Smith.

This they did at once, and as soon as Cowdery came out of the

water he "stood up and prophesied many things" (which the prophet

prudently omitted to record). The divine authority thus

conferred, according to Orson Pratt, exceeds that of the bishops

of the Roman church, because it came direct from heaven, and not

through a succession of popes and bishops.*

* Orson Pratt, in his "Questions and Answers on Doctrine" in his

Washington newspaper, the Seer (p. 205), thus defined the Mormon

view of the Roman Catholic church:--

Q."Is the Roman Catholic Church the Church of Christ?" A."No, for

she has no inspired priesthood or officers."

Q."After the Church of Christ fled from earth to heaven what was

left?" A."A set of wicked apostates, murderers and idolaters,"


Q."Who founded the Roman Catholic Church?" A."The devil, through

the medium of the apostates, who subverted the whole order of God

by denying immediate revelation, and substituting in place

thereof tradition and ancient revelations as a sufficient rule of

faith and practice."

Smith and Cowdery at once began telling of the power conferred

upon them, and giving their relatives and friends an opportunity

to become members of the new church. Smith's brother Samuel was

the first convert won over, Cowdery baptizing him. His brother

Hyrum came next,* and then one J. Knight, Sr., of Colesville, New

York.** Each new convert was made the subject of a "revelation,"

each of which began, "A great and marvelous work is about to come

forth among the children of men." Hyrum Smith, and David and

Peter Whitmer, Jr., were baptized in Seneca Lake in June, and

"from this time forth," says Smith, "many became believers and

were baptized, while we continued to instruct and persuade as

many as applied for information."

* Hyrum wanted to start in to preach at once, and a "revelation"

was necessary to inform him: "You need not suppose you are called

to preach until you are called.... Keep my commandments; hold

your peace" (Sec.11).

** Colesville is the township in Broome County of which

Harpursville is the voting place. Smith organized his converts

there about two miles north of Harpursville.

By April 6, 1830, branches of the new church had been established

at Fayette, Manchester, and Colesville, New York, with some

seventy members in all, it has been stated. Section 20 of the

"Doctrine and Covenants" names April 6, 1830, as the date on

which the church was "regularly organized and established,

agreeable to the laws of our country." This date has been

incorrectly given as that on which the first step was taken to

form a church organization. What was done then was to organize in

a form which, they hoped, would give the church a standing as a

legal body.* The meeting was held at the house of Peter Whitmer.

Smith, who, it was revealed, should be the first elder, ordained

Cowdery, and Cowdery subsequently ordained Smith. The sacrament

was then administered, and the new elders laid their hands on the

others present.

* Whitmer's "Address to Believers in the Book of Mormon."

"The revelation" (Sec. 20) on the form of church government is

dated April, 1830, at least six months before Rigdon's name was

first associated with the scheme by the visit of Cowdery and his

companions to Ohio. If the date is correct, it shows that Rigdon

had forwarded this "revelation" to Smith for promulgation, for

Rigdon was unquestionably the originator of the system of church

government. David Whitmer has explained, "Rigdon would expound

the Old Testament Scriptures of the Bible and Book of Mormon, in

his way, to Joseph, concerning the priesthood, high priests,

etc., and would persuade Brother Joseph to inquire of the Lord

about this doctrine and about that doctrine, and of course a

revelation would always come just as they desired it."*

* Whitmer's "Address to Believers in the Book of Mormon."

The "revelation" now announced defined the duty of elders,

priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the Church of Christ.

An apostle was an elder, and it was his calling to baptize,

ordain, administer the sacrament, confirm, preach, and take the

lead in all meetings. A priest's duty was to preach, baptize,

administer the sacrament, and visit members at their houses.

Teachers and deacons could not baptize, administer the sacrament,

or lay on hands, but were to preach and invite all to join the

church. The elders were directed to meet in conference once in

three months, and there was to be a High Council, or general

conference of the church, by which should be ordained every

President of the high priesthood, bishop, high counsellor, and

high priest.

Smith's leadership had, before this, begun to manifest itself. He

had, in a generous mood, originally intended to share with others

the honor of receiving "revelations," the first of these in the

"Book of Doctrine and Covenants," saying, "I the Lord also gave

commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things to

the world." In the original publication of these "revelations,"

under the title "Book of Commandments," we find such headings as,

"A revelation given to Oliver," "A revelation given to Hyrum,"

etc. These headings are all changed in the modern edition to

read, "Given through Joseph the Seer," etc.

Cowdery was the first of his associates to seek an open share in

the divine work. Smith was so pleased with his new scribe when

they first met at Harmony, Pennsylvania, that he at once received

a "revelation" which incited Cowdery to ask for a division of

power. Cowdery was told (Sec. 6), "And behold, I grant unto you a

gift, if you desire of me, to translate even as my servant

Joseph. "Cowdery's desire manifested itself immediately, and

Joseph almost as quickly became conscious that he had committed

himself too soon. Accordingly, in another "revelation," dated the

same month of April, 1829 (Sec. 8), he attempted to cajole Oliver

by telling him about a "gift of Aaron" which he possessed, and

which was a remarkable gift in itself, adding, "Do not ask for

that which you ought not." But Cowdery naturally clung to his

promised gift, and kept on asking, and he had to be told right

away in still another "revelation" (Sec. 9), that he had not

understood, but that he must not murmur, since his work was to

write for Joseph. If he was in doubt about a subject, he was

advised to "study it out in your mind"; and if it was right, the

Lord promised, "I will cause that your bosom shall burn within

you"; but if it was not right, "you shall have a stupor of

thought, that shall cause you to forget the thing which is

wrong." To assist him until he became accustomed to discriminate

between this burning feeling and this stupor, the Lord told him

very plainly, "It is not expedient that you should translate

now." That all this rankled in Cowdery's heart was shown by his

attempt to revise one of Smith's "revelations," and the support

he gave to Hiram Page's "gazing."

Cowdery continued to annoy the prophet, and Smith decided to get

rid of him. Accordingly in July, 1830, came a "revelation,"

originally announced as given direct to Joseph's wife Emma,

instructing her to act as her husband's scribe, "that I may send

my servant Oliver Cowdery whithersoever I will." This occurred on

a trip the Smiths had made to Harmony. On their return to

Fayette, Smith found Cowdery still persistent, and he accordingly

gave out a "revelation" to him, telling him again that he must

not "write by way of commandment," inasmuch as Smith was at the

head of the church, and directing him to "go unto the Lamanites

(Indians) and preach my Gospel unto them." This was the first

mention of the westward movement of the church which shaped all

its later history.

A "revelation" in June, 1829 (Sec. 18), had directed the

appointment of the twelve apostles, whom Cowdery and David

Whitmer were to select. The organized members now began to

inquire who was their leader, and Smith, in a "revelation" dated

April 6, 1830 (Sec. 21), addressed to himself, announced: "Behold

there shall be a record kept among you, and in it thou shalt be

called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus

Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the

Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ"; and the church

was directed in these words, "For his word ye shall receive, as

if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith." Thus was

established an authority which Smith defended until the day of

his death, and before which all who questioned it went down.

Some of the few persons who at this time expressed a willingness

to join the new church showed a repugnance to being baptized at

his hands, and pleaded previous baptism as an excuse for evading

it. But Smith's tyrannical power manifested itself at once, and

he straightway announced a "revelation" (Sec. 22), in which the

Lord declared, "All old covenants have I caused to be done away

in this thing, and this is a new and everlasting covenant, even

that which was from the beginning."

Five days after the formal organization, the first sermon to the

Mormon church was preached in the Whitmer house by Oliver

Cowdery, Smith probably concluding that it would be wiser to

confine himself to the receipt of "revelations" rather than to

essay pulpit oratory too soon. Six additional persons were then

baptized. Soon after this the first Mormon miracle was

performed--the casting out of a devil from a young man named,

Newel Knight.

The first conference of the organized church was held at Fayette,

New York, in June, 1830, with about thirty members present. In

recent "revelations" the prophet had informed his father and his

brothers Hyrum and Samuel that their calling was "to exhortation

and to strengthen the church," so that they were provided for in

the new fold.

The region in New York State where the Smiths had lived and were

well known was not favorable ground for their labors as church

officers, conducting baptisms and administering the sacrament.

When they dammed a small stream in order to secure a pool for an

announced baptism, the dam was destroyed during the night. A

Presbyterian sister-in-law of Knight, from whom a devil had been

cast, announced her conversion to Smith's church, and, when she

would not listen to the persuasions of her pastor, the latter

obtained legal authority from her parents and carried her away by

force. She succeeded, however, in securing the wished-for

baptism. All this stirred up public feeling against Smith, and he

was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct.

At the trial testimony was offered to show that he had obtained a

horse and a yoke of oxen from his dupes, on the statement that a

"revelation" had informed him that he was to have them, and that

he had behaved improperly toward the daughters of one of these

men. But the parties interested all testified in his favor, and

the prosecution failed. He was immediately rearrested on a

warrant and removed to Colesville, amid the jeers of the people

in attendance. Knight was subpoenaed to tell about the miracle

performed on him, and Smith's old character of a money-digger was

ventilated; but the court found nothing on which to hold him.

Mormon writers have dilated on these "persecutions", but the

outcome of the hearings indicated fair treatment of the accused

by the arbiters of the law, and the indignation shown toward him

and his associates by their neighbors was not greater than the

conduct of such men in assuming priestly rights might evoke in

any similar community.

Smith returned to his home in Pennsylvania after this, and

endeavored to secure the cooperation of his father-in-law in his

church plans, but without avail. It was four years later that Mr.

Hale put on record his opinion of his son-in-law already quoted.

Failing to find other support in Harmony, and perceiving much

public feeling against him, Smith prepared for his return to New

York by receiving a "revelation" (Sec.20) which directed him to

return to the churches organized in that state after he had sold

his crops. "They shall support thee", declared the "revelation";

but if they receive thee not I shall send upon them a cursing

instead of a blessing". For Smith's protection the Lord further

declared: "Whosoever shall lay their hand upon you by violence ye

shall command to be smitten in my name, and behold, I will smite

them according to your words, IN MINE OWN DUE TIME. And whosoever

shall go to law with thee shall be cursed by the law." This

threat, it will be noted, was safeguarded by not requiring

immediate fulfillment.

Smith returned to Fayette in September, and continued church work

thereabouts in company with his brothers and John and David


Meanwhile Parley P. Pratt had made his visit to Palmyra and

returned to Ohio, and in the early winter Rigdon set out to make

his first open visit to Smith, arriving in December. Martin

Harris, on the ground that Rigdon was a regularly authorized

clergyman, tried to obtain the use of one of the churches of the

town for him, but had to content himself with the third-story

hall of the Young Men's Association. There Rigdon preached a

sermon to a small audience, principally of non-Mormons, annoucing

himself as a "messenger of God". The audience regarded the sermon

as blasphemous, and no further attempt was made to secure this

room for Mormon meetings. Rigdon, however, while in conference

with Smith, preached and baptized the neighborhood, and Smith and

Harris tried their powers as preachers in barns and under a tree

in the open air.

A well-authenticated story of the manner in which one of the

Palmyra Mormons received his call to preach is told by Tucker*

and verified by the principal actor. Among the first baptized in

New York State were Calvin Stoddard and his wife (Smith's sister)

of Macedon. Stoddard told his neighbors of wonderful things he

had seen in the sky, and about his duty to preach. One night,

Steven S. Harding, a young man who was visiting the place, went

with a companion to Stoddard's house, and awakening him with

knocks on the door, proclaimed in measured tones that the angel

of the Lord commanded him to "go forth among the people and

preach the Gospel of Nephi." Then they ran home and went to bed.

Stoddard took the call in all earnestness, and went about the

next day repeating to his neighbors the words of the "celestial

messenger," describing the roaring thunder and the musical sounds

of the angel's wings that accompanied the words. Young Harding,

who participated in this joke, became Governor of Utah in 1862,

and incurred the bitter enmity of Brigham Yound and the church by

denouncing polygamy, and asserting his own civil authority.**

* "Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism," pp. 80, 285

**Stoddard and Smith had a quarrel over a lot in Kirtland in

1835, and Smith knocked down his brother-in-law and was indicted

for assault and battery, but was acquitted on the ground of


AS a result of Smith's and Rigdon's conferences came a

"revelation" to them both (Sec. 35), delivered as in the name of

Jesus Christ, defining somewhat Rigdon's position. How nearly it

met his demands cannot be learned, but it certainly granted him

no more authority than Smith was willing to concede. It told him

that he should do great things, conferring the Holy Ghost by the

laying on of hands, as did the apostles of old, and promising to

show miracles, signs, and wonders unto all believers. He was told

that Joseph had received the "keys of the mysteries of those

things that have been sealed," and was directed to "watch over

him that his faith fail not." This "revelation" ordered the

retranslation of the Scriptures.

The most important result of Rigdon's visit to Smith was a

decision to move the church to Ohio. This decision was

promulgated in the form of "revelations" dated December, 1830,

and January, 1831, which set forth (Secs. 37, 38):--

"And that ye might escape the power of the enemy, and be gathered

unto me a righteous people, without spot and blameless:

"Wherefore, for this cause I give unto you the commandment that

ye should go to the Ohio; and there I will give unto you my law;

and there you shall be endowed with power from on high; and from

thence whomsoever I will shall go forth among all nations, and it

shall be told them what they shall do; for I have a great work

laid up in store, for Israel shall be saved.... And they that

have farms that cannot be sold, let them be left or rented as

seemeth them good."

A sufficient reason for the removal was the failure to secure

converts where Smith was known, and the ready acceptance of the

new belief among Rigdon's Ohio people. The Rev. Dr. Clark says,

"You might as well go down in the crater of Vesuvius and attempt

to build an icehouse amid its molten and boiling lava, as to

convince any inhabitant in either of these towns [Palmyra or

Manchester] that Joe Smith's pretensions are not the most gross

and egregious falsehood."*

* "Gleanings by the Way."

The Rev. Jesse Townsend of Palmyra, in a reply to a letter of

inquiry about the Mormons, dated December 24, 1833 (quoted in

full by Tucker), says: "All the Mormons have left this part of

the state, and so palpable is their imposture that nothing is

here said or thought of the subject, except when inquiries from

abroad are occasionally made concerning them. I know of no one

now living in this section of the country that ever gave them


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