Mormonism and history/Censorship and revision/Sidney Rigdon trial in Times and Seasons versus History of the Church

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    Why is Sidney Rigdon's 'trial' recorded in the Times and Seasons different from the version in the History of the Church?

Questions


The account of Sidney Rigdon's 'trial' recorded in the Times and Seasons differs markedly from the version available in the History of the Church.

  • Does this demonstrate that the Church's "rewrote" history after the fact?

Answer


The basic story is essentially unchanged—Joseph wanted to get rid of Sidney, and did not fully trust him or have much confidence in him even when he continued in his role as counselor. Joseph held out some hope that Sidney would rise to his calling, and it is this that is omitted in the History of the Church's version.

The history may have been modified by Joseph's successors for noble or base reasons, and they may have served or harmed historical accuracy in doing so. It is difficult to determine which at this remove.

If those compiling the history did wrong, this simply demonstrates that fallible leaders are not without faults, flaws, or improper jealousies. Most members, however, would probably conclude that the History of the Church version removed the ambiguity in Joseph's initial response simply because Sidney had clearly failed to measure up—for the compilers, there was ambiguity no longer.

Needless to say, such a procedure does not meet modern historical standards, and ought not be undertaken today.

Detailed Analysis

The two accounts are compared in the table below (paragraphing has been slightly altered so the accounts will align better for comparison). Red italics have been added, the green text is italicized in the original History of the Church:

Times and Seasons version[1] History of the Church version[2]


MINUTES OF A SPECIAL CONFERENCE. Of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, held in the City of Nauvoo, commencing on the 6th of October, 1843.

Friday, October 6th, 10 o'clock A. M.

The weather proving unfavorable, the organization of the conference was postponed until the next day at 10 o'clock, A. M.

Saturday, 10 'clock A. M. Conference assembled and proceeded to business.

President Joseph Smith was called to the chair, and Gustavus Hills chosen clerk.

Opened with singing by the choir, and prayer by elder Almon Babbitt. The president stated the items of business to be brought before the Conference, to be,

1st. The case and standing of elder Sidney Rigdon, counsellor to the First Presidency.

2d. The further progress of the Temple; after which, any miscellaneous business.

Elder Sidney Rigdon addressed the conference on the subject of his situation and circumstances among the saints.

President Joseph Smith addressed the conference, inviting an expression of any charges or complaints which the Conference had to make. He sated his dissatisfaction with elder Sidney Rigdon as a counsellor, not having received any material benefit from his labors or counsels since their escape from Missouri. Several complaints were then brought forward in reference to his management in the Post Office; a supposed correspondence in connection with John C. Bennett, with Ex-Governor Carlin, and with the Missourians, of a treacherous character: also his leaguing with dishonest persons in endeavoring to defraud the innocent.

President Joseph Smith related to the Conference the detention of documents from J. Butterfield, Esq., which were designed for the benefit of himself, (President Smith,) but was not handed over for some three or four weeks, greatly to his disadvantage. Also, an indirect testimony from Missouri, through the mother of Orin P. Rockwell, that said Rigdon and others had given information, by letter, of President Smiths' visit to Dixon, advising them to proceed to that place and arrest him there. He stated that in consequence of those, and other circumstances, and his unprofitableness to him as a counsellor, he did not wish to retain him in that station, unless those difficulties could be removed; but desired his salvation, and expressed his willingness that he should retain a place among the saints.


Elder Almon Babbitt suggested the propriety of limiting the complaints and proofs to circumstances that had transpired since the last Conference.

President Joseph Smith replied, and showed the legality and propriety of a thorough investigation, without such limitation.

Elder Sidney Rigdon plead, concerning the documents from J. Butterfield, Esq., that he received it in answer to some inquiries which he had transmitted to him that he received it at a time when he was sick, and unable to examine it -- did not know that it was designed for the perusal and benefit of President Joseph Smith -- that he had, consequently, ordered it to be laid aside, where it remained until inquired for by Joseph Smith. He had never written to Missouri concerning the visit of Joseph Smith to Dixon, and knew of no other person having done so. That, concerning certain rumors of belligerent operations under Governor Carlin's administration, he had related them, not to alarm or disturb any one, but that he had the rumors form good authorities, and supposed them well founded. That he had never received but one communication from John C. Bennett, and that of a business character, except one addressed to him conjointly with Elder Orson Pratt, which he handed over to President Smith -- that he had never written any letters to John C. Bennett.

The weather becoming inclement, Conference adjourned until Sunday 10 o'clock A. M.


Sunday, 8th inst., 10 o'clock, A. M.

Conference assembled agreeably to the adjournment and opened with singing by the choir, and prayer by Elder William W. Phelps.

Elder Sidney Rigdon resumed his plea of defence. He related the circumstances of his reception in the city of Quincy, after his escape from Missouri the cause of his delay in not going to the city of Washington, on an express to which he had been appointed -- and closed with a moving appeal to President Joseph Smith concerning their former friendship, associations and sufferings, and expressed his willingness to resign his place, though with sorrowful and indescribable feelings. During this address, the sympathies of the congregation were highly excited.

Elder Almon Babbitt related a conversation he had had with Esq. Johnson, in which he exonerated elder Sidney Rigdon from the charge or suspicion of having had treacherous correspondence with Ex-Governor Carlin.

President Joseph Smith arose and satisfactorily explained to the congregation the supposed treacherous correspondence with Ex-Governor Carlin, which wholly removed suspicion from elder Sidney Rigdon, and from every other person. He expressed entire willingness to have elder Sidney Rigdon retain his station, provided he would magnify his office, and walk and conduct himself in all honesty, righteousness, and integrity; but signified his lack of confidence in his integrity and steadfastness, judging from their past intercourse.

President Hyrum Smith followed with appropriate and expressive remarks on the attribute of mercy in God, as that by which He influences, controls, and conquers -- and the propriety and importance of the saint's exercising the same attribute towards their fellows; and especially towards their aged companion and fellow servant in the cause of truth and righteousness.

Elder Almon Babbitt and pres't. Wm. Law followed with remarks in defence of elder Sidney Rigdon.

On motion by President William Marks, and seconded by President Hyrum Smith, Conference voted that elder Sidney Rigdon be permitted to retain his station as Counsellor to the First Presidency.




Singing by the choir prayer by pres't. Wm. Law.

Conference adjourned for one hour.

MINUTES OF A SPECIAL CONFERENCE. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Special Conference, held in the City of Nauvoo, commencing on the 6th of October, 1843.

Friday, October 6, ten o'clock, a.m.

The weather proving unfavorable, the organization of the Conference was postponed until the next day at ten o'clock, a.m.

Saturday, ten o'clock, a.m. Conference assembled and proceeded to business.

President Joseph Smith was called to the chair, and Gustavus Hills was chosen clerk.

Singing by the choir, and prayer by Elder Almon W. Babbitt. The president stated the items of business to be brought before the conference to be—

1st. The case and standing of Elder Sidney Rigdon, Counselor in the First Presidency.

2nd. The further progress of the Temple; after which, any miscellaneous business.

Elder Sidney Rigdon addressed the conference on the subject of his situation and circumstances among the Saints.

President Joseph Smith addressed the conference, inviting an expression of any charges or complaints which the conference had to make. He stated his dissatisfaction with Elder Sidney Rigdon as a Counselor, not having received any material benefit from his labors or counsels since their escape from Missouri. Several complaints were then brought forward in reference to his management in the post office; a supposed corespondence and connection with John C. Bennett, with Ex-Governor Carlin, and with the Missourians, of a treacherous character; also his leaguing with dishonest persons in endeavoring to defraud the innocent.

President Joseph Smith related to the conference the detention of a document from Justin Butterfield, Esq., which was designed for the benefit of himself, (President Smith,) but was not handed over for some three or four weeks, greatly to his disadvantage; also, an indirect testimony from Missouri, through the mother of Orrin P. Rockwell, that said Rigdon and others had given information, by letter, of President Smith's visit to Dixon, advising them to proceed to that place [p.48] and arrest him there. He stated that, in consequence of these and other circumstances, and Elder Rigdon's unprofitableness to him as a Counselor, he did not wish to retain him in that station, unless those difficulties could be removed; but desired his salvation, and expressed his willingness that he should retain a place among the Saints.


Elder Almon W. Babbitt suggested the propriety of limiting the complaints and proofs to circumstances that had transpired since the last conference.

President Joseph Smith replied, and showed the legality and propriety of a thorough investigation, without such limitation.

Elder Sidney Rigdon pleaded, concerning the document from Justin Butterfield, Esq., that he received it in answer to some inquiries which he [Rigdon] had transmitted to him [Butterfield]; that he [Rigdon] received it at a time when he was sick, and unable to examine it; did not know that it was designed for the perusal and benefit of President Joseph Smith; that he had, consequently, ordered it to be laid aside, where it remained until inquired for by Joseph Smith. He had never written to Missouri concerning the visit of Joseph Smith to Dixon, and knew of no other person having done so. That, concerning certain rumors of belligerent operations under Governor Carlin's administration, he had related them, not to alarm or disturb any one; but that he had the rumors from good authorities, and supposed them well founded. That he had never received but one communication from John C. Bennett, and that of a business character, except one addressed to him conjointly with Elder Orson Pratt, which he handed over to President Smith. That he had never written any letters to John C. Bennett. The weather becoming inclement, conference adjourned until Sunday, ten o'clock, a.m.


Sunday, 8th, ten o'clock, a.m. Conference assembled agreeably to adjournment.


Singing by the choir, and prayer by Elder William W. Phelps.

Elder Sidney Rigdon resumed his plea of defense. He related the circumstances of his reception in the city of Quincy, after his escape from Missouri,—the cause of his delay in not going to the city of Washington, on an express to which he had been appointed: and closed with a moving appeal to President Joseph Smith, concerning their former friendship, associations, and sufferings; and expressed his willingness to resign his place, though with sorrowful and indescribable feelings. During this address, the sympathies of the congregation were highly excited.

Elder Almon W. Babbitt related a conversation he had had with Esquire Johnson, in which he exonerated Elder Sidney Rigdon from the [p.49] charge or suspicion of having had a treacherous correspondence with ex-Governor Carlin.

President Joseph Smith arose and explained to the congregation the supposed treacherous correspondence with ex-Governor Carlin, and expressed entire lack of confidence in his integrity and steadfastness, judging from their past intercourse.


Patriarch Hyrum Smith followed with appropriate and impressive remarks on the attributes of mercy in God, as that by which He influences. controls and conquers; and the propriety and importance of the Saints exercising the same attribute towards their fellows, and especially towards their aged companion and fellow-servant in the cause of truth and righteousness.

Elder Almon W. Babbitt and President William Law followed with remarks in defense of Elder Sidney Rigdon.

On motion by President William Marks, and seconded by Patriarch Hyrum Smith, conference voted that Elder Sidney Rigdon be permitted to retain his station as Counselor in the First Presidency.

President Joseph Smith arose and said, "I have thrown him off my shoulders, and you have again put him on me. "You may carry him, but I will not." [Fn 2:This paragraph in Italics appears as footnote in the Ms. History.]

Singing. Prayer by Elder William Law.

Conference adjourned for one hour.

The differences

Thus, there are only two significant differences:

Times and Seasons version History of the Church version

President Joseph Smith arose and satisfactorily explained to the congregation the supposed treacherous correspondence with Ex-Governor Carlin, which wholly removed suspicion from elder Sidney Rigdon, and from every other person. He expressed entire willingness to have elder Sidney Rigdon retain his station, provided he would magnify his office, and walk and conduct himself in all honesty, righteousness, and integrity; but signified his lack of confidence in his integrity and steadfastness, judging from their past intercourse.

(Material in bold was removed from the History of the Church account.)

President Joseph Smith arose and explained to the congregation the supposed treacherous correspondence with ex-Governor Carlin, and expressed entire lack of confidence in his integrity and steadfastness, judging from their past intercourse.

(Material in bold was added to the History of the Church account.)

No corresponding text

President Joseph Smith arose and said, "I have thrown him off my shoulders, and you have again put him on me. "You may carry him, but I will not." [Fn 2:This paragraph in Italics appears as footnote in the Ms. History.]

Analysis

A modern historian, of course, cringes at this modification of the original text.

In both cases, it is clear that Joseph still does not trust Sidney, even after he has been cleared of the issue with Gov. Carlin's letters. In the contemporaneous text, however, Joseph does express willingness to keep Sidney as councilor if he will conduct himself properly (though he still expresses doubt that he will).

Since Sidney was kept on as councilor, for him to have any chance of success or influence, Joseph could not simply "cut him off at the knees"—that would guarantee Sidney's failure. Thus, the contemporary account allowed for the possibility of Sidney's proper functioning, though Joseph remained publicly dubious, and privately even more so.

By the time the History of the Church was printed, Sidney had nearly torn the Church apart. He had challenged the right of Brigham Young and the Twelve to lead after Joseph's death. Thus, those compiling the history were firmly convinced that Sidney had failed his chance. Those who compiled it may also have not wanted to portray Joseph as at all 'wrong' about Sidney—they may have known (or believed) that Joseph considered his conciliatory remarks to be of little hope. Or, on a more cynical interpretation, they may have wished to undermine Sidney's claims to leadership after Joseph's death.

It should be noted too that this account is not a verbatim transcript—it is an author's summary of what they heard. Some who compiled the history were doubtless present at the same meeting. They may have remembered the matter quite differently, especially with the passage of time and subsequent events which made them more hostile to Sidney. They may well have seen the Times and Seasons report as too biased in Sidney's favor, or (as discussed above) bending over backward to soft-peddle what Joseph had actually said. They may, then, have seen themselves as restoring accuracy which had been compromised.

The note about the Manuscript History is clearly marked as an addition, and was not included in the original account. It may represent:

(a) a properly-remembered public remark of Joseph's that was not inserted into the record at that time to spare Sidney's effectiveness;
(b) a properly-remembered remark of Joseph's to the Twelve or others; or
(c) a mis-remembered or deliberately fabricated remark inserted after Joseph's death to weaken Sidney's claims to the succession.

One's attitude to Joseph, Sidney, the Twelve, and the Church's truth claims will probably determine which explanation seems most plausible to each reader.


Notes

  1. Times and Seasons 4:330.
  2. History of the Church, 6:47–48. Volume 6 link


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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