Smith's Falling Out With Bennett And Higbee

Surprise has been expressed that Smith would permit the newcomer,

General John C. Bennett, to be elected the first mayor of Nauvoo

under the new charter. Much less surprising is the fact that a

falling-out soon occurred between them which led to the

withdrawal of Bennett from the church on May 17, 1842, and made

for the prophet an enemy who pursued him with a method and

vindictiveness that he had not before encountered from any of

those who had withdrawn, or been driven, from the church


The exact nature of the dispute between the two men has never

been explained. That personal jealousy entered into it there is

little doubt. Smith never had submitted to any real division of

his supreme authority, and when Bennett entered the fold as

political lobbyist, mayor, major general, etc., a clash seemed

unavoidable. It was stated, during Rigdon's church trial after

Smith's death, that Bennett declared, at the first conference he

attended at Nauvoo, that he sustained the same position in the

First Presidency that the Holy Ghost does to the Father and the

Son; and that, after Smith's death, Bennett visited Nauvoo, and

proposed to Rigdon that the latter assume Smith's place in the

church, and let Bennett assume that which had been occupied by


* Times and Seasons, Vol. V, p. 655.

The Mormon explanation given at the time of Bennett's expulsion

was that some of their travelling elders in the Eastern states

discovered that the general had a wife and family there while he

was paying attention to young ladies in Nauvoo; but a very slight

acquaintance with Smith's ideas on the question of morality at

that time is needed to indicate that this was an afterthought.

The course of the church authorities showed that they were ready

to every way qualified to be a useful citizen. Smith directed the

clerk of the church to permit Bennett to withdraw "if he desires

to do so, and this with the best of feelings toward you and

General Bennett." But as soon as Bennett began his attacks on

Smith the church made haste to withdraw the hand of fellowship

from him, and framed a formal writ of excommunication, and Smith

could not find enough phials of wrath to pour upon him. Thus, in

a statement published in the Times and Seasons of July 1, 1842,

he called Bennett "an impostor and a base adulterer," brought up

the story of his having a wife in Ohio, and charged that he

taught women that it was proper to have promiscuous intercourse

with men.

As soon as Bennett left Nauvoo he began the publication of a

series of letters in the Sangamon (Illinois) Journal, which

purported to give an inside view of the Mormon designs, and the

personal character and practices of the church leaders. These

were widely copied, and seem to have given people in the East

their first information that Smith was anything worse than a

religious pretender. Bennett also started East lecturing on the

same subject, and he published in Boston in the same year a

little book called "History of the Saints; or an Expose of Joe

Smith and Mormonism," containing, besides material which he had

collected, copious extracts from the books of Howe and W. Harris.

Bennett declared that he had never believed in any of the Mormon

doctrines, but that, forming the opinion that their leaders were

planning to set up "a despotic and religious empire" over the

territory included in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and

Missouri, he decided to join them, learn their secrets, and

expose them. Bennett's personal rascality admits of no doubt, and

not the least faith need be placed in this explanation of his

course, which, indeed, is disproved by his later efforts to

regain power in the church. It does seem remarkable, however,

that neither the Lord nor his prophet knew anything about

Bennett's rascality, and that they should select him, among

others, for special mention in the long revelation of January 19,

1841, wherein the Lord calls him "my servant," and directs him to

help Smith "in sending my word to the kings of the people of the

earth." There is no doubt that Bennett obtained an inside view of

Smith's moral, political, and religious schemes, and that, while

his testimony un-corroborated might be questioned, much that he

wrote was amply confirmed.

According to Bennett's statements, Mormon society at Nauvoo was

organized licentiousness. There were "Cyprian Saints," "Chartered

Sisters of Charity," and "Cloistered Saints," or spiritual wives,

all designed to pander to the passions of church members. Of the

system of "spiritual wives" (which was set forth in the

revelation concerning polygamy), Bennett says in his book:

"When an Apostle, High Priest, Elder or Scribe conceives an

affection for a female, and he has satisfactorily ascertained

that she experiences a mutual claim, he communicates

confidentially to the Prophet his affaire du coeur, and requests

him to inquire of the Lord whether or not it would be right and

proper for him to take unto himself the said woman for his

spiritual wife. It is no obstacle whatever to this spiritual

marriage if one or both of the parties should happen to have a

husband or wife already united to them according to the laws of

the land."

Bennett alleged that Smith forced him, at the point of a pistol,

to sign an affidavit stating that Smith had no part in the

practice of the spiritual wife doctrine; but Bennett's later

disclosures went into minute particulars of alleged attempts of

Smith to secure "spiritual wives," a charge which the

commandments to the prophet's wife in the "revelation" on

polygamy amply sustain. A leading illustration cited concerned

the wife of Orson Pratt.* According to the story as told (largely

in Mrs. Pratt's words), Pratt was sent to England on a mission to

get him out of the way, and then Smith used every means in his

power to secure Mrs. Pratt's consent to his plan, but in vain.

Nancy Rigdon, the eldest unmarried daughter of Sidney Rigdon, was

another alleged intended victim of the prophet, and Bennett said

that Smith offered him $500 in cash, or a choice lot, if he would

assist in the plot. One day, when Smith was alone with her, he

pressed his request so hard that she threatened to cry for help.

The continuation of the story is not by General Bennett, but is

taken from a letter to James A. Bennett, he of "Arlington House,"

dated Nauvoo, July 27, 1842, by George W. Robinson, one of

Smith's fellow prisoners in Independence jail, and one of the

generals of the Nauvoo Legion:--

* Ebenezer Robinson says that when Orson Pratt returned from his

mission to England, and learned of the teaching of the spiritual

wife doctrine, his mind gave way. One day he disappeared, and a

search party found him five miles below Nauvoo, hatless, seated

on the bank of the river.--The Return, Vol. II, p. 363.

"She left him with disgust, and came home and told her father of

the transaction; upon which Smith was sent for. He came. She told

the tale in the presence of all the family, and to Smith's face.

I was present. Smith attempted to deny at first, and face her

down with a lie; but she told the facts with so much earnestness,

and the fact of a letter being proved which he had caused to be

written to her on the same subject, the day after the attempt

made on her virtue, breathing the same spirit, and which he had

fondly hoped was destroyed, all came with such force that he

could not withstand the testimony; and he then and there

acknowledged that every word of Miss Rigdon's testimony was true.

Now for his excuse. He wished to ascertain if she was virtuous or


To offset this damaging attack on Smith, a man named Markham was

induced to make an affidavit assailing Miss Rigdon's character,

which was published in the Wasp. But Markham's own character was

so bad, and the charge caused so much indignation, that the

editor was induced to say that the affidavit was not published by

the prophet's direction.

Bennett's charges aroused great interest among the non-Mormons in

all the counties around Nauvoo, and increased the growing enmity

against Smith's flock which was already aroused by their

political course and their alleged propensity to steal.

A minor incident among those leading up to Smith's final

catastrophe was a quarrel, some time later, between the prophet

and Francis M. Higbee. This resulted in a suit for libel against

Smith, tried in May, 1844, in which much testimony disclosing the

rotten condition of affairs in Nauvoo was given, and in the

arrest of Smith in a suit for $5000 damages. The hearing, on a

writ of habeas corpus, in Smith's behalf, is reported in Times

and Seasons, Vol. V, No. 10. The court (Smith's Municipal Court)

ordered Smith discharged, and pronounced Higbee's character

proved "infamous."

Smith A Candidate For President Of The United States Smith's First Visits To Missouri Founding The City And The Temple facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail