|Sidney Rigdon (1793–1876)|
On the Fourth of July, 1838, in Far West, Missouri, Sidney Rigdon delivered a powerful, if not verbose, oration. Being the Fourth of July, his sermon is filled with the kind of patriotic and nationalistic rhetoric you’d expect on such an occasion. His speech, however, also contained some over-the-top fiery rhetoric that would be used by hostile Missourians to justify militia and mob violence against the Saints in Caldwell and Daviess counties later that same year.
We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day, that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever, for from this hour, we will bear it no more, our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity. The man or the set of men, who attempts it, does it at the expense of their lives. And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them, till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed. –Remember it then all MEN.
This part of his speech, which came at the very end, is what’s often latched onto by those commenting on the causes of the Mormon War of 1838. For the purposes of this blog post, however, I want to focus on a part of Rigdon’s oration that is often overlooked.
The object of our religion, is to make us more intelligent, than we could be without it, not so much, to make us acquainted with what we do see, as with what we do not see. It is designed to evolve the faculties, to enlighten the understanding, and through this medium, purify the heart. It is calculated to make men better, by making them wiser; more useful, by making them more intelligent; not intelligent on some subjects only, but on all subjects, on which intelligence can be obtained: and when science fails, revelation supplies its place, and unfolds the secrets and mysteries of the unseen world, leads the mind into the knowledge of the future existence of men, makes it acquainted with angels, principalities, and powers, in the eternal world; carries it into heaven and heavenly places, makes it acquainted with God, its Redeemer, and its associates in the eternal mansions; so that when science fails, and philosophy vanishes away, revelation, more extensive in its operations begins where they [science and philosophy] ends, and feasts the mind with intelligence, pure and holy, from the presence of God.
It’s a shame that this part of Rigdon’s speech is overlooked, since I find it highly remarkable. It jives nicely with what Joseph and Brigham and other Church authorities have taught about the goals of Mormonism vis-a-vis intellectual attainment, and stirs within me the Romantic drive to gain wisdom and knowledge not just from scientific or scholarly routes, but also through our subjective experiences with the divine.
: Oration delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon, on the 4th of July, 1838, At Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri (Far West, Missouri: The Journal Office, 1838). Rigdon’s Fourth of July oration is not to be confused with his equally (in)famous “Salt Sermon” delivered a few weeks earlier on June 17, 1838, wherein he blasted Mormon dissenters (including Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps, and the Whitmers) in their falling out with Joseph Smith and the Church, comparing them with the proverbial salt which had lost its savor, and was thus only good “to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13).
: Oration delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon, 12.
: See Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Columbia, MI: University of Missouri Press, 1987), 49–53; Alexander L. Baugh, A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 2000), 33–36; “Joseph Smith in Northern Missouri,” in Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer, ed. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Kent P. Jackson (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2010), 308–310; Leland H. Gentry and Todd M. Compton, Fire and Sword: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri, 1836–39 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2009), 137–141; Alexander L. Baugh, “War of Extermination,” in The Mormon Wars, ed. Glenn Rawson and Dennis Lyman (Salt Lake City: Covenant Communications, 2014), 51–53.
: Oration delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon, 9.