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I think without depreciating at all any other narrative of these events in our Church literature, I may claim that the story of the Missouri Persecutions in these pages is told more thoroughly than in any other of our present publications. This arises from the fact that this book deals with but a brief period in the history of The Church—from 1830 to 1838—and therefore admits of such a consideration of details as could not possibly be given to that period in any general history of The Church. This detailed treatment of the subject, in the opinion of the author, is justified because of the very important events which the treatise covers, and also for the reason that it is a period of our history which has been very much misrepresented, upon which misrepresentations false accusations are made against The Church and its leaders to this day. Those who have thought themselves called upon to oppose, if not to persecute, The Church in later years, frequently attempt to justify their present opposition by insinuating that The Church was driven from Missouri and Illinois for other reasons than adherence to an unpopular religion. The impression is sought to be created that it was for some overt acts against the State or National government, or for some offense against the spirit of American institutions, or because The Church leaders "were determined to be a law unto themselves," in disregard of the rights of others.
It is, in part, to correct these false statements, and guard our youth against the influence of such calumnious insinuations, that I tell this story of the Missouri Persecutions; not that the history in these pages is written for the purpose of glozing over the defects in the character of the early members of The Church, or to claim for them absolute freedom from errors in judgment, or actual sinfulness in conduct. I have not written what may be called "argumentative history," only so far as a statement of the truth may be considered an argument. After these pages are read I feel sure that no one will be able to accuse me of failing to point out the errors of the early members of The Church; indeed, I have been careful to call attention to the complaints which the Lord made against their conduct; the reproofs of his inspired servants; and the repeated warnings sent to them by the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning the results of their conduct if there was not a speedy repentance.
Three quarters of a century have passed away since Joseph Smith first declared that he had received a revelation from God. From that revelation and others that followed there has sprung into existence what men call a new religion—"Mormonism;" and a new church, the institution commonly known as the "Mormon Church," the proper name of which, however, is THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS.
Though it may seem a small matter, the reader should know that "Mormonism" is not a new religion. Those who accept it do not so regard it; it makes no such pretentions. The institution commonly called the "Mormon Church," is not a new church; it makes no such pretensions, as will be seen by its very name—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This of itself discloses what "The Mormon Church" claims to be—the Church of Jesus Christ; and to distinguish it from the Church of Jesus Christ that existed in former days, the phrase "of Latter-day Saints" is added. "Mormonism," I repeat, is not a new religion; it is the Old Religion, the Everlasting Gospel, restored again to the earth through the revelations received by Joseph Smith.
At a glance the reader will observe that these claims in behalf of "Mormonism" pre-suppose the destruction of the primitive Christian Church, a complete apostasy from the Christian religion; and hence, from the standpoint of a believer, "Mormonism" is the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored; and the institution which grows out of it—the church—is the Church of Jesus Christ re-established among men.
During the three quarters of a century that have elapsed since the first revelation was announced by Joseph Smith, the world has been flooded with all manner of rumors concerning the origin of "Mormonism," its doctrines, its organization, its purposes, its history. Books enough to make a respectable library, as to size, have been written on these subjects, but the books, in the main, are the works of avowed enemies, or of sensational writers who chose "Mormonism" for a subject because in it they supposed they had a theme that would be agreeable to their own vicious tastes and perverted talents, and give satisfactory returns in money for their labor. This latter class of writers have not only written without regard to truth, but without shame. They are ghouls who have preyed upon the misfortunes of an unpopular people solely for the money or notoriety they could make out of the enterprise.
That I may not be thought to overstate the unreliability of anti-Mormon literature, I make an excerpt from a book written by Mr. Phil Robinson, called Sinners and Saints. Mr. Robinson came to Utah in 1882 as a special correspondent of The New York World, and stayed in Utah some five or six months, making "Mormonism" and the Latter-day Saints a special study. On the untrustworthiness of the literature in question, he says:
"Whence have the public derived their opinions about Mormonism? From anti-Mormons only. I have ransacked the literature of the subject, and yet I really could not tell anyone where to go for an impartial book about Mormonism later in date than Burton's 'City of the Saints,' published in 1862. * * * But put Burton on one side, and I think I can defy any one to name another book about the Mormons worthy of honest respect. From that truly awful book, 'The History of the Saints,' published by one Bennett (even an anti-Mormon has styled him 'the greatest rascal that ever came to the West,') in 1842, down to Stenhouse's in 1873, there is not to my knowledge a single Gentile work before the public that is not utterly unreliable from its distortion of facts. Yet it is from these books—for there are no others—that the American public has acquired nearly all its ideas about the people of Utah."
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It has become proverbial that all great movements, all reformations, all revolutions must produce their own leaders; and this is as true of the great work of the last days, the establishment of the Church of Christ on the earth, as it is of any other great movement. Leaders in established usages and institutions, political, social or religious, are very seldom converted to innovations. They usually consider it to their interest to oppose changes, especially those changes which from their very nature cast any shadow of doubt upon the correctness of existing customs or institutions with which they are connected. Hence it happened that the Jewish rabbis, the priests, the scribes, the members of the great Sanhedrin—leaders in their nation—did not accept the doctrines of Messiah and become the chief apostles, seventies and elders of the new church. On the contrary, this class were the stubbornest opponents to the doctrines taught by the Son of God, and His most implacable enemies. It was the common people who heard Him gladly: and from their number He chose the apostles, who, through the God-given powers of the priesthood conferred upon them, shook the old systems of morals and religion from their foundations.
Nor can it be doubted that the hand of the Lord is in this matter of choosing men to be His messengers, His prophets and His rulers. Many of them are chosen before they are born in the flesh. The messenger that was to prepare the way for the coming of the Son of God, John the Baptist, was so chosen. Jeremiah was ordained a prophet to the nations before he was born. Cyrus the Great, the war prince of Persia, was selected to be the deliverer of Israel from Babylonian bondage more than a century before his birth. Indeed, we are given to understand from the revelations of God, that from among the nobler class of spirits that dwell in His presence, the Father hath chosen those who are to be His rulers.
From the very nature of things it must be necessary that men whose minds are unwarped by prevailing customs and traditions, should be selected to establish a new order of religion, of government or of society. How could the Jewish priests and rabbis, bound by long custom to a slavish adherence to the outward forms and ceremonies of the Mosaic ritual, the spirit and purpose of which had long been made of no effect by the rubbish of false traditions, open their minds to receive the larger and nobler doctrines of the gospel of Christ, unmixed with the pomp and circumstance which they of that age and nation considered essential to religion?
Can men educated to an attachment for despotic government, and whose interests are bound up with its maintenance, be expected to look with favor on democratic principles, or become the champions of a republic?