In response to my post earlier this morning, one person is arguing that John Whitmer and his fellow Witnesses to the Book of Mormon might simply not have wanted to admit, in their post-Mormon days, that they had been participants in Joseph Smith’s fraudulent Book of Mormon scheme.
I don’t have the time or patience to spend a lot of time on this notion here, but it doesn’t seem to accord with the historical evidence, which is considerable.
The Witnesses actively declared their testimonies, for example. Why didn’t they simply clam up? Why didn’t they suggest that they, too, had been victims of Joseph Smith’s supposed cunning? Why, when they were presented, by helpful interviewers, with easy escape routes (e.g., “It was dark, and far off, and you couldn’t see very well”) did they emphatically refuse to take the opportunity? Why did they, as a matter of fact, reaffirm their testimonies even more decisively under such conditions?
David Whitmer even had his testimony incorporated into his grave marker at this death in 1888. (See the image above.)
The honesty and consistency of the Three and the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon are manifestly apparent in the materials concerning them that have been preserved for our examination today, and extensive historical research about them has confirmed their reliability. Several early sources, for example, tell of Oliver Cowdery, confronted during a trial by a rival attorney who sought to embarrass and discredit him. Alienated from the body of the church, offered an opportunity and abundant motivation to distance himself from the widely condemned claims of an unpopular people, Oliver nevertheless reaffirmed his testimony of the angel, the plates, and the corroborating divine voice.
On the day following the death of David Whitmer in 1888, the Chicago Times reported an interview with an unnamed “Chicago Man.” This man related a conversation that he had carried on with another individual some years before, a prominent resident of the county in which David Whitmer had lived, who had been a lawyer and a sheriff there and who had, he said, known the Witness very well and had told him a remarkable story of David Whitmer’s later life.
In the opinion of this gentleman, no man in Missouri possessed greater courage or honesty than this heroic old man [David Whitmer]. “His oath,” he said, “would send a man to the gallows quicker than that of any man I ever knew.” He then went on to say that no person had ever questioned his word to his knowledge about any other matter than finding the Book of Mormon. He was always a loser and never a gainer by adhering to the faith of Joseph Smith. Why persons should question his word about the golden plates, when they took it in relation to all other matters, was to him a mystery.
So it doesn’t appear that David Whitmer, at least, was seeking personal advantage from his status as a Witness to the Book of Mormon. Quite the contrary. In an 1878 interview with Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, David gave dramatic and emphatic testimony of his experience as a Witness:
I saw [the plates and other Lehite artifacts] just as plain as I see this bed (striking the bed beside him with his hand), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God.
He doesn’t seem to have taken the occasion, as he could very easily and simply have done, to distance himself from the Book of Mormon. Six years later, David was interviewed by the leader of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith III:
Rather suggestively [Colonel Giles] asked if it might not have been possible that he, Mr. Whitmer, had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived him into thinking he saw the Personage, the Angel, the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban.
How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full heightâ€”a little over six feetâ€”and said, in solemn and impressive tones: “No, sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!”
This dog, as the saying goes, won’t hunt.