Mormon History 1830-1844

Did Joseph Smith Plot to Murder Grandison Newell?
In May 1837, Grandison Newell charges Joseph with attempted murder. Joseph is eventually acquitted, but the testimony of church leaders and employees reveals how the seriously the Prophet's followers took his offhand remarks—or did he mean it? In either case, statements by two apostles and other close associates no doubt undermined the Prophet's reputation, gave some Saints cause to leave the church, and hastened the church's departure from Kirtland.
Grandison Newell   Among non-Mormons of the Kirtland period, Joseph Smith's arch-enemy was Grandison Newell. A prosperous farmer and businessman from Mentor, Newell later bragged he spent $1,000 in court actions against Mormons in 1837.  
<i>Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess</i>, Richard S. Van Wagoner &#40;Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994&#41;.
')" onmouseout="kill()" target="_blank" class="ref">Sidney Rigdon, 190n48.

Newell had helped finance Doctor Hurlbut's 1833 trip to Palmyra to gather netgative testimonies about the Smith's there.
Mentor bank suit   In February 1837 Samuel D. Rounds, acting on Newell's behalf, filed a complaint against Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon for illegally purchasing the Monroe, Michigan bank. State law provided that only corporations could own banks. The matter was scheduled for the fall session of the court.  
Murder conspiracy   Then in May, Newell charged Joseph with attempted murder. According to Newell, Joseph had conspired with Solomon Denton and a Mr. Davis to murder him. In a letter to the editor of the Painesville Telegraph he alleged,   In April 1838, Oliver Cowdery was accused of complicity in a counterfeiting ring with Davis, John Boynton, Warren Parrish, and Burton H. Phelps.
Joseph's assassins lay in wait with loaded weapons but changed their minds  

two of the saints of the latter-day, by concert, and under the express direction of the prophet, this high priest of Satan, met in the night, at a little distance from my house, with loaded rifles, and pistols, with a determination to kill me. But as they drew near the spot where the bloody deed was to be performed, they trembled under the awful responsibility of committing a murder, a little cool reflection in darkness and silence, broke the spell of the false prophet—they were restored to their right minds, and are now rejoicing that they were not left to the power of the devil and co-adjuter Smith, to stain their souls with a crime so horrible.

  "[Leonard Rich] told me Jo Smith had a revelation that Grandison Newell must be killed, and he was the man indicated to do it. Rich refused and Jo engaged M. C. Davis, a gunsmith, who went on horseback and said he saw Newell sitting with his back to a window reading a newspaper, but could not shoot him. He told prophet Jo, Newell was not at home." "William Rockafellow," Naked Truths, April 1888. Source
Preliminary hearing June 3

  The preliminary hearing was held on June 3 in the Painesville Methodist church, Justice Flint presiding. The witnesses were as follows:   "The Humbug Ended," Ohio Statesman (Columbus), July 5, 1837 (reprint of Painesville Republican, [June 15, 1837]. Source
Prosecution witnesses
  For the prosecution—Solomon Denton, an alleged co-conspirator; Warren Parrish, the Prophet's scribe and treasurer of the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company; and Luke S. Johnson and Orson Hyde, apostles.    
Defense witnesses   Defense witnesses included Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and a Mr. Cahoun [Cahoon].    
Denton: Joseph directed Davis and confirmed conspiracy   Denton and Davis had worked with Joseph, Sidney, and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland printing office. Denton testified that in April or May, Davis (otherwise unknown) approached him about killing Newell at the Prophet's behest. After borrowing a pistol from Sidney Rigdon, Joseph told Denton, "I know where you are going and what your business is," and that
God's will to put Newell out of the way  

he had seen Davis and told him I would be a good hand to go with him, said this was a good work, And we must be very wise; then spoke of Newell, said he had injured the society, and that it was better for one man to suffer than to have a whole community disturbed; that it was the will of Heaven that Newell should be put out of the way.

Hyde: Joseph said Newell should be put out of the way   Orson Hyde testifies that when rumors circulated that Newell might sue the foundering Kirtland Safety Society, Joseph "seemed much excited and declared that Newell should be put out of the way, or where the crows could not find him; he said destroying Newell would be justifiable in the sight of God, that it was the will of God, &c."   As early as 1823 Orson Hyde worked for Newell in a small iron foundry. ¶ Orson Hyde (h)
Attests to Joseph's character   However, he also said that Joseph later apologized for using such language, he had "never heard Smith use similar language before," and believed him to be "possessed of much kindness and humanity towards his fellow beings."    
Johnson: Joseph said Newell should be put out of the way if he led a mob

But he is tender-hearted and humane
  Luke Johnson also heard him say "if Newell or any other man should head a mob against him, they ought to be put out of the way and it would be our duty to do so." Like his fellow apostle, however, Luke described Joseph as "a tender-hearted, humane man."    
Parrish: Newell's name was mentioned at bank   Of all prosecution witnesses, Warren Parrish is closest to Joseph. He surprises everyone by testifying only that Newell's name had been mentioned several times at the bank.    
Parrish's character   Moreover, when asked "whether he knew anything 'in the character or conduct of Mr. Smith which is unworthy his profession as a man of God,' he answered—"'I do not.'"  
<i>Comprehensive History of the Church of The Jesus Christ of Latter&#45;day Saints</i>, B. H. Roberts. 6 vols. &#40;Salt Lake City: Deseret News&#41;, 1930.
')" onmouseout="kill()" target="_blank" class="ref">CHC, 1:405.
Possible motivations   The Elder's Journal, edited by the Prophet, later concludes Parrish was afraid he would be caught in a lie. But it is also possible he was not ready to break with the Prophet or feared retaliation.   ¶ Argument to Argument
Sidney: Davis and Denton consped, but Joseph was not involved

Reynolds: Agree with Sidney
  Sidney heard Denton and Davis planning to murder Newell two years earlier, but he had no reason to believe Joseph was involved, adding that Davis had "never been strictly subservient to the rules of the society." Cahoun supports Rigdon's testimony.    
Hyrum: Denton planned murder   Hyrum testifies he overheard Denton discussing the plot and confronted him, but Denton denied it.    
Denton's testimony insufficient   Denton's testimony is damaging but legally insufficient. What Joseph allegedly told Davis was hearsay, and Davis did not testify. What Joseph allegedly told Denton is uncorroborated and vague enough to leave doubt as to Joseph's specific intent. Moreover, Denton apparently failed to support Newell's assertion that he and Denton took any significant action to commit the deed.    
$500 bond   Nevertheless, Judge Flint binds Joseph over for trial. Bail is set at $500, which is promptly paid.    
    The next day, June 4, as Joseph, Sidney, and Hyrum are setting apart Heber C. Kimball for his mission to England, Orson Hyde enters the room.   In
<i>History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter&#45;day Saints</i>, edited by B. H. Roberts, 7 vols. &#40;Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1902&#45;1912, 1932&#41;.
')" onmouseout="kill()" target="_blank" class="ref">HC 2:489–490, Heber is set apart—in the next sentence the act is referred to as "ordaining"—"on or about the first of June, 1837 … by the … laying on of hands, of the First Presidency. " However, in his diary Heber wrote he was set apart on June 4. (qtd. in <i>Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer</i>, Stanley B. Kimball &#40;Urbana: University of Illinois Press&#41;, 1981.')" onmouseout="kill()" target="_blank" class="ref">Heber (1981), 41. )

¶ Heber C. Kimball (h3) Orson repents, set apart for mission  

Upon listening to what was passing, his heart melted within him, (for he had begun to drink of the cup filled with the overflowings of speculation), he acknowledged all his faults, asked forgiveness, and offered to accompany President Kimball on his mission to England. His offer was accepted, and he was set apart for that purpose.

      More might have been required if Orson had borne false witness against the Prophet. More likely his "fault" was in testifying for the prosecution, even though his testimony was truthful, or at least true to his recollection; his "speculation," that of misjudging the Prophet's intentions.   Trial June 9   In any case, the trial is held June 9 in the county court, Justice Humphrey of the Court of Common Pleas presiding. The result is, according to a newspaper reporter,     Thirteenth prosecution

Not guilty in all cases

  the entire acquittal of Joseph Smith, Jr. of the charges alleged against him. This is said to be the thirteenth prosecution which has been instituted against Joseph Smith, Jr. for the prejudice against him, he has never in a single instance been convicted, on a final trial. This fact shows on the one hand, that a spirit of persecution has existed, and on the other hand it certainly furnishes some evidence that he has for some reason, been falsely accused, and that he is indeed and in truth better than some of his accusers.

    Weak evidence  

I attend the trial and took down the evidence, but was much surprised to find that no testimony appeared, on which, any reliance could be placed, that went in the least degree to crimination the respondent, but rather to raise him in the estimation of men and candor.

Ohio Opposition
Kirtland 1837

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