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William H. Whitsitt
(1841-1911)

Author of: "Sidney Rigdon,
The Real Founder of Mormonism"


 
  • Bio-Data   Life and Work   T.W.J. excerpts
  •  
  • The Untold Story of Mormonism?
       (review of Whitsitt's Sidney Rigdon biography)
  •  
  • Mormonism (1891)   Exam (1886)   Letters (1886)
  •  
  • Tanners on Whitsitt   (review of same)
  • William Heth Whitsitt (1841-1911)


    Whitsitt: Insights into Early Mormonism  |  Sidney Rigdon, Real Founder of Mormonism (1891)
    1882 Mormon Lectures: #1   #2  |  " Honolulu Manuscript" (1885)  |  "The Mormons" (1892)

     


    A Very Brief Biography of Dr. Whitsitt


    C. S. A. Army Chaplain
    Professor of Divinity
    Seminary President

    and

    First Biographer of Elder Sidney Rigdon

    William Heth Whitsitt was born near Nashville, Tennessee on Nov. 25, 1841 and was the son of Reuben Ewing Whitsitt and Dicey McFarland Whitsitt. Reuben's father, Rev. James Whitsitt, was a Scotch-Irish pioneer who helped establish the Baptist denomination in post-colonial Tennessee.

    As a youth William H. Whitsitt attended Juliet Academy and then studied for the Christian ministry Union University, in Jackson Tennessee, graduating in 1861. Shortly thereafter he joined the Confederate army and was ordained as a Baptist minister within its officer ranks in 1862. He served the remainder of the Civil War as a Confederate chaplain. After the end of hostilities William resumed his higher education in attending first the University of Virginia and then the Southern Baptist Seminary, where he studied between 1866 and 1869.


    As one of the more promising Baptist seminarians of his day, Whitsitt was accepted at the University of Leipzig and at the University of Berlin where he completed his graduate studies in about 1871. Following his return to the United States in 1872, William first served as a Southern Baptist pastor in Albany, Georgia and then applied for a professor's position in Ecclesiastical History in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at Greenville, South Carolina.

    Whitsitt joined the staff of that school in the Fall of 1872 and moved with the rest of the staff when the seminary was relocated in Louisville, Kentucky in 1877. Prior to that relocation Whitsitt received his D.D. from Mercer University in 1874. Whitsitt taught the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as a well respected professor of Church History and Polemical Theology until his elevation to the office of President in 1895, when he became the third head of the seminary since its original founding in South Carolina.

    Prior to his advancement to the Seminary Presidency he had married Florence Wallace of Woodford, Kentucky. The couple later had a son and a daughter and raised their family in Louisville. Whitsitt served with distinction in his new office, winning the respect of staff and students alike, even though his modern religious and theological views were considerably in advance of many members and other leaders within the ranks of the Southern Baptist Convention. While he was President the student body at the school became the largest in America and it has ever since retained one of the largest enrollments of any Christian seminary in the world.


    Problems at Southern Baptist Seminary

    As a student in Europe Whitsitt had conducted investigations into Baptist Church History and the gist of his findings there was somewhat contrary to accepted Baptist notions back in the States. In 1896, the year following Whitsitt's elevation to the Seminary Presidency, he had an article published in Johnson's Universal Encyclopedia which made public some of the understandings in Baptist history he had developed out of his European research. In brief, Whitsitt merely asserted that there had not been an unbroken continuance of the Baptist practice of immersion for adults seeking membership in the denomination. It was practically an article of faith among many Southern Baptists during that period that their ordinance of adult baptism by immersion had been handed down from generation to generation all the way back to New Testament times. Whitsitt's assertion appeared to many to be an undermining of Baptist legitimacy and authority. Whitsitt's progressive approach to ecclesiastical matters, along with his controversial stance in theological and historical discussions, soon raised severe problems for him and his adherents within the Southern Baptist Convention. While Whitsitt received some support from the trustees of the Seminary and other scholars, an opposition, led by T.T. Eaton, editor of The Western Recorder, prevailed and the Seminary President soon found himself and his views quite unpopular among certain influential Baptist circles.

    By 1898 the controversy among the Southern Baptists had reached such heights that the denomination's future support for the Seminary was in doubt. Although Whitsitt's views would win out in the long run, he was currently causing too much trouble to continue in the highly visible position of President of the Convention's flagship seminary. With dismissal a very real possibility, Whitsitt tendered his resignation, effective June 1, 1899. After taking a few months to get his personal and professional affairs in order he accepted a professor's position in the Department of Philosophy at Richmond College in Virginia. He remained there as a professor of Theology and Philosophy until 1910.

    Between 1908 and 1910, seeing the end of his life before him and having amassed a considerable volume of research and personal papers, Whitsitt made preparations to have his papers donated to the Library of Virginia in Richmond and to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Following his death on Jan. 20, 1911, his widow saw that his wishes were carried out and the papers were included in the files of those institutions.


    Whitsitt's Biography of Sidney Rigdon

    One of the more interesting unpublished works among his papers at the Library of Congress is the manuscript for "Sidney Rigdon, the Real Founder of Mormonism," a collection of typewritten index cards affixed to over 500 letter-sized sheets of paper. In addition to its unusual subject matter, the manuscript may be of some interest to historians of the early use of the typewriter in American scholarly writing and publishing.

    On Feb. 16, 1886, in a letter to James H. Fairchild of Oberlin College, Whitsitt had this to say about his Rigdon biography:


    My dear Sir,

    After diligent consideration of the subject you are good enough to bring to my attention, I some while ago reached the conclusion that Mr. Sidney Rigdon supplies the right key to Mormon history and theology. In pursuance of that conviction, I have prepared a Biography of Sidney Rigdon, of which 810 pages are now ready for the printer. A few of my chapters which dealt with the Book of Mormon were read before one of my classes and made the topic of my intermediate examination.

    Mr. Rigdon was a Disciple minister at the moment of producing the particular form of the Book of Mormon which we are now familiar with, and I discovered that it contains all the leading tenets and peculiarities of that people. The contents of the volume, at least to my thinking, will supply a demonstration that it could have been prepared by none but a Disciple theologian, and further that it could have been prepared by no Disciple theologian except Mr. Rigdon. This is what I consider to be my personal contribution to the sum of knowledge on this subject.

    The question touching the Spaulding manuscript has no direct connection with that result; it stands upon its own merits, just as truly as if no such person as Solomon Spaulding ever existed. I was solicitous to avoid the Spaulding controversy entirely, for the reason that it has no real connection with the business. But having set my hand to compose a biography of Mr. Rigdon, I felt somewhat bound by the nature of the task to express an opinion. Here I have given attention almost exclusively to the only original authority in existence, namely Howe, pp 279-290. Citations have also been made from a pamphlet entitled "Who wrote the Book of Mormon?" by Robert Patterson of Pittsburgh, but with caution, for the reason that he has too much credulity and too little criticism. I am also indebted to a few passages in Hayden's "History of the Disciples on the Western Reserve," and in Mr. Alexander Campbell's "Millennial Harbinger."

    In my treatment I have felt myself impelled to reject a great deal that passes current in the literature of the subject: but I have reluctantly assented to the chief point that Spaulding wrote the Book of Mormon under that title also, and that Mr. Rigdon by some kind of process got possession of it. Nay, I have even gone to the length of suggesting a theory of my own in explanation of that process. That theory is different from any other that has been preached, and I cannot avoid to regard it as the weakest point of my performance; I am too often constrained to have resort to such words as "likely" and "perhaps"... In a word my demonstration, satisfactory to my [mind?], without any kind of reference to the inquiry whether Rigdon had any connection with the Spaulding Manuscript.

    When I had concurred the point that Mr. Rigdon made use of the Spaulding manuscript of the Book of Mormon, I felt under obligation [of] an industrious inquiry to examine the volume with reference to the question [of] where Mr. Spaulding obtained the materials that he collected in his history. The conclusion which was reached in this quarter is likewise regarded with modesty; it is not conceived to amount to a demonstration.

    I have placed nearly every fact and incident that I have touched in a different setting from any that it ever before received. I hope to do myself the honor to submit my book to your inspection, and I desire to entreat you in advance not to accuse me of any passion for novelty. On the contrary, novelty is for me the "abomination of desolation standing in the place where it ought not." The different light in which I consider the subject is due entirely to the different point of view which I occupy. Will you not kindly investigate and determine whether the new light is a true light before you shall condemn my conclusions?

    I have derived the theology of Mormonism from the Disciples and from the Swedenborgians and from the Restorationists. These excellent people, I foresee would be very much enraged against me, but I do not feel the slightest hostility against them; I am simply exercising the right of every student to prosecute a thorough investigation. Mormonism, I believe, can be understood by no other process than that which I have advocated. If in any way you should ever feel disposed to employ your kind offices to relieve a fellow soldier from undeserved obloquy, it would be accepted as the kindest favor you could bestow. I consider that I am guilty of no offense except what is involved in a more complete and critical use of the inductive method than has been achieved by my predecessors in this field.

    yours very truly,

    Wm. H. Whitsitt


    Although Whitsitt mentions having "810 pages" of this biography "ready for the printer" early in 1886, the work never saw publication. A relatively small section of the text was excerpted in 1888 and was published by A. C. Armstrong of New York City as Origin of the Disciples of Christ (Campbellites); a contribution to the centennial anniversary of the birth of Alexander Campbell. Beyond this, only one other minor fragment of the text and a summary of the biography were ever put through the press. In August of 1908, Whitsitt wrote the following letter to Dr. Worthington C. Ford, the Chief of the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress:


    Dear Doctor Ford:

    I am the author of an elaborate work in manuscript, entitled: The Life of Sidney Rigdon, the Real Founder of Mormonism; which is an effort to demonstrate from original documents and history, that Mormon theology and church constitution were conceived and produced by Rigdon and not by Joseph Smith.

    It was completed in 1885, with the expectation of publishing it immediately. But such a large amount of money was required to produce the work that I was compelled to desist, and it is still retained in manuscript.

    During the year 1891 I wrote an outline of my course of treatment in an article on Mormonism that was published in the Dictionary of Religious Knowledge by Dr. Samuel M. Jackson of New York. A degree of attention was excited by that article; letters were sent to me by many persons in differing portions of the country who had perused it. Moreover, Bishop John F. Hurst in his Short History of the Christian Church, New York, 1893, mentioned it in terms of special favor and anticipation (History, pp. 583-4).

    I suppose it will never be in my power to issue the work in print, but I should be glad to leave it in some library where it could be consulted in manuscript by any who might feel a particular interest in it, and I beg leave to inquire of you whether the Library of Congress would take charge of it and preserve it in manuscript so that it might always be open to inspection.

    I should be very thankful for any information and advice which it might be in your power to bestow, and I desire to thank you in advance for your kindness.

    Yours very truly,

    William H. Whitsitt [sig.]

    In this letter Whitsitt mentions "letters" which were sent to him "by many persons" following the printing of his 1891 article in Jackson's Apparently such letters continued to arrive in the professor's mailbox well into the first decade of the 20th century, for he appends a note to his 1908 letter, saying: "I beg leave to include herewith copies of the most recent letters that have reached me in reference to this business." It is unknown whether Whitsitt's wife donated this correspondence regarding Mormon history to the Library of Congress or to the Library of Virginia following the death of her husband in 1911.

    While Whitsitt will probably be best remembered for his contributions in Baptist History, it is conceivable that his biography of Sidney Rigdon will yet receive some belated attention from historians of the Disciples of Christ and Latter Day Saint restoration movements during their earlier phases. Should any of Whitsitt's singular theories regarding Mormon origins ever be proved true, he will perhaps be accorded a substantial amount of credit in future histories of the Latter Day Saints.

    For more on the life of Dr. Whitsitt, see James H. Slayton's 2009 W. H. Whitsitt.






    Whitsitt's Writings, Publications, etc.


    01. "Position of the Baptists in the History of American Culture," (no additional information available on this article's publication)

    02. "The History of the Use [Rise?] of Infant Baptism," 1878

    03. "The History of Communion Among Baptists," 1880

    04. "Wm. H. Whitsitt's Lecture" (Book of Mormon, baptism, etc.) Louisville, Western Recorder, Oct. 26, 1882

    05. "The Honolulu Manuscript and the Book of Mormon"
    (article in the Syracuse New York Independent, October 1, 1885)

    06. "Solomon Spaulding's 'Manuscript Found' -- Editor's Comments"
    (unsigned reply in the Syracuse New York Independent, January 7, 1886)

    07. Spencer, J. H., A History of Kentucky Baptists From 1769 to 1885, Including More Than 800 Biographical Sketches... privately printed, 1886
    reprinted: Lafayette, Tennessee, Church History Research & Archives, 1976

    08. Life and times of Judge Caleb Wallace, some time a justice of the Court of appeals of the state of Kentucky, Louisville, J. P. Morton & Company, Printers, 1888 (151 p.)

    09. Origin of the Disciples of Christ (Campbellites); a contribution to the centennial anniversary of the birth of Alexander Campbell, New York, A. C. Armstrong, 1888 (112 p.)

    10. Sampey, J. R., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-1889, Louisville, 1890

    11. "Mormonism" (summarizes Whitsitt's theories on Sidney Rigdon)
    Jackson, Samuel M. (editor) Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge and Gazetteer, NY, The Christian Literature Co., 1891

    12. "An Article on Baptist History," in Johnson's Universal Encyclopaedia, NY, 1896.

    13. A Question in Baptist History: Whether the Anabaptists in England Practiced Immersion Before the Year 1641... Louisville, C. T. Dearing, 1896 (164 p.)
    reprinted: NY, Arno Press, 1980; Ayer Company Publishers, [1997?]

    14. "Whitsitt, William Heth," in Malone, Dumas (editor) Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. X 1896, NY, Charles Scribner's Sons.

    15. "Whitsitt, William Heth," in The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, NY, James T. White & C., 1900

    16. "Annals of a Scotch-Irish Family -- The Whitsitts of Nashville, Tenn," in American Historical Magazine and Tennessee Historical Society Quarterly, Jan., July, Oct., 1904

    17. Genealogy of Jefferson Davis; address delivered October 9, 1908 . . . Richmond, Everett Waddy Co., Printers, 1908 (16 p.)

    18. "William H. Whitsitt's Obituary," in the Richmond, VA Times-Dispatch, Jan. 21, 1911.

    19. "William H. Whitsitt's Obituary," in the Louisville, KY Western Recorder, Jan. 23, 1911

    20. Who's Who in America, 1910-1911, NY, 1912

    21. Nowlin, W. D., Kentucky Baptist History, 1922

    22. Patterson, W. Morgan, "William Heth Whitsitt : the Seminary's Versatile Scholar," (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Founders' Day Address), Louisville, Privately Printed Typescript, February 1, 1994. (24 p.)





    For further reference see:

    Papers. Whitsitt, William Heth, 1841-1911.
    Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division: mm77-60863

    Papers. Whitsitt, William Heth, 1841-1911.
    Library of Virginia, Richmond, (Microfilm: Misc. Reels 37-39)

    The Whitsitt Journal. (misc. articles in various issues)
    Macon, Georgia, William Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society.
    Vol. 1, no. 1 (July, 1994) --




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    [ 159 ]


    THE  REVIEW
    AND  EXPOSITOR

    Vol. IX.                       April, 1912                       No. 2.


    THE LIFE AND WORK OF WILLIAM HETH WHITSITT.

    By Professor E. B. Pollard, D. D., Chester Theological Seminary, Chester, Pa.


    Human progress has always moved along the highway of sacrifice. Persons, not things, individuals and not institutions must ever bear the brunt of all social and religious advancement. Progress is a hard bargainer. She extracts her price in toil and sweat and blood. The life of William H. Whitsitt exemplifies these truths. His place will always be a unique one in the history of Southern Baptists. In this altogether imperfect sketch of his life and work, we shall try to be sympathetic, discriminating and just.

    Near the city of Nashville, in Davidson County, Tennessee, William Heth Whitsitt was born on November 25, 1841. He was accustomed to speak of himself as "a strenuous Baptist;" sometimes adding "I have been a Baptist for three generations." The Whitsitt lineage may be fairly well traced. The Whitsitts -- or Whitesides, as they are called in their home-land -- came into Amherst County, Virginia, from Ireland, apparently, by way of Pennsylvania, in the year 1741. The family was


     


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    of Scotch-Irish blood and in religion was Presbyterian. William Whitsitt, the immigrant, had a grandson, James Whitsitt, by name, who, in the great revival which swept over Virginia in 1785-92, was converted, and in 1789, connected himself with a little Baptist church organized in 1788, with a meeting-place on the Whitsitt farm. * In the following year, young James Whitsitt, with uncommon zeal as a Christian, decided to remove from his Virginian home to Davidson County, Tennessee; and in due time, became one of the most notable of the Baptist pioneers in the region of the Cumberland Valley. † This remarkable man is said to have possessed unusual native ability, and strong reasoning powers; as a preacher he took great pains in preparation and at times manifested deep feeling and pathos. With all, he was an earnest friend of the early missionary undertakings of his day. A son of this sturdy pioneer preacher was Reuben Ewing Whitsitt. He and Dicey (McFarland) Whitsitt became the parents of the distinguished subject of this article.

    Young William Whitsitt's father died when he was a lad of eleven years; and his mother became for a time the chief educative force in his life. The boy's first experience away from home came in his early 'teens. In Wilson County, Tennessee, about midway between Nashville and Lebanon, there lay the quiet little village of Mt. Juliet, the principal attraction of which was the Mt. Juliet High School, then a flourishing academy for boys and girls. Thither William Whitsitt was sent, under the oversight of relatives, the Williamsons, who resided near the village. Here the future professor began to lay well the foundations of his life-long habits of study. In the year 1857, he entered tile Union University of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Of this modest educational seat, Doctor Whitsitt later wrote: "It was a small affair,

    _________
    * See Whitesides Baptist Church, Beale's Semple's History Baptists in Virginia, also Am. Historical Magazine and Tenn. Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. IX, 1904.

    † Art. James Whitsitt, Cathcart's Baptist Encyclopedia.


     


                          The Life and Work of William Heth Whitsitt.                       161


    in the hushes on the outskirts of Murfreesboro, but there was much good learning and good fellowship in that shabby house of three stories." From this institution he was graduated with distinction in 1861 before he had yet reached the age of twenty. A life-long friend, who knew him in the early school-days, says of him: "He was the readiest boy I ever knew in the recitation room. I do not believe he ever made a faulty recitation. I do not remember his ever failing in anything."

    The Civil War having begun in the spring of the year of graduation, William Whitsitt enlisted as a private. One of the earliest of his experiences as a soldier may be given in his own words, since they reflect traits which characterized him throughout life: "Early on the morning of November 15, 1862, my colonel sent me an order to saddle up and report to the General. I groomed the horse that I considered superior to anything in the army, and with my shining, morning face and my new Confederate uniform, I saddled in haste and galloped up to see what General Forrest might want of me. I was very proud to receive his commands, and suspected that my large new parchment in the degree of Master of Arts at the poor little university in Murfreesboro may have been the charm that won his regards. I put spurs to my horse. As I came in sight of him, in order to make a brave show, and stopping at the proper distance, I made what must have been to him a very ridiculous salute. He replied more slowly and then calling me forward, inquired my name, and whether I was acquainted with the region between Nashville and Franklin, remarking that he desired me to ride with him in the capacity of a guide. He complimented me on reporting to him promptly, remarking that if I had been five minutes later the whole army would have been delayed by my negligence." The young private was later promoted to a chaplaincy, and doubtless was quite as faithful in guiding his fellows in the way of Christ as he had been


     


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    in conducting his General along the highways of his native county. Doctor Whitsitt, even till his death, took a modest though very manifest pride in his military life, and frequently referred to it with evident enthusiasm. His confederates in arms have testified to his valor and fidelity as a soldier. While on a furlough, it would seem, he was ordained to the gospel ministry at the old Mill Creek Church, of which his grandfather had been pastor; of which he and his people were members, and which he himself was later to serve for a brief period, in 1865-66.

    After nearly four years of military experience -- about twelve months of which time were spent in Federal prisons, he having been twice captured -- young Whitsitt decided to take up again his broken threads of study. In 1866, he entered the University of Virginia, (then as now, doubtless the strongest of the Southern state institutions, and undertook that famous stiff ticket, "Latin, Greek and Math.," -- with Moral Philosophy thrown in! The next year, Mr. Whitsitt entered the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, then located in Greenville, S. C., where he remained two sessions. Here he was regarded as a most diligent and even brilliant student and although he seldom gave himself to athletic sports with his fellows, and devoted but little time to social enjoyments, the entire student body admired him for his abilities, and the kindly disposition he showed towards all. At Greenville, his gifts were at once recognized by the faculty. It is said that Dr. Broadus was particularly fond of drawing him out in class-room discussions. His recitations were said to approach perfection. The two years from 1869 to 1871 were spent in study abroad, particularly in Leipsic and in Berlin. * These years were well improved; for it gave him insight into the historical method of investigation, and confirmed habits of diligence and research. On the student's return to his native land, he

    __________
    * Here the records show he matriculated with the famous professors, Luthardt, Curtius, Lipsius and Tischendorf.


     


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    accepted the care of the Baptist church at Albany, Georgia, in February, 1872. In the fall of that year, however, he entered upon the duties of professorship in Ecclesiastical History at the Seminary in Greenville, succeeding Doctor William Williams who had been transferred from this chair to that of Systematic Theology. Biblical Introduction was also assigned to the new professor. Later, however, on Dr. Manly's return to the Seminary in 1879, Dr. Whitsitt exchanged the latter subject for Polemical Theology. This he taught most successfully, till succeeded in this department by the distinguished teacher, Henry Herbert Harris, in the year 1895. Professor Whitsitt's special classes in the reading of theological works in the German language, in the History of Doctrine, and in his Historical Seminary, were popular with the students and highly profitable. It is in the special department of Church History that Doctor Whitsitt's reputation was made, and upon this it must chiefly rest. His distinguished abilities as scholar, teacher and preacher were not slow in being recognized. Mercer University conferred upon him the Degree of Doctor of Divinity in the year 1873. Three schools of learning, (William Jewell, Georgetown and Southwestern) honored him with the degree of Doctor of Laws in 1888.

    As a student in his chosen department, Dr. Whitsitt was instructed in the patient, scientific methods of investigation, which characterize the best type of German scholarship. He therefore went to his task with untiring zeal and thoroughness, and came before his students with the freshness and enthusiasm of an original investigator. It has been affirmed that it was not easy for him at the first, accustomed to books through years of studious preparation, to give to his students easily and effectively the result of his studies, or to draw out their best thinking. But experience demonstrated that he had the qualities of a great teacher, giving himself freely to those


     


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    under his guidance, and treating them as friends and fellow-searchers after the truth. He continually furnished his pupils the example of painstaking labor in the search for facts, and set young men to thinking, by his originality, his keen insight and his unconventional methods of approach to truth. In the class-room therefore Professor Whitsitt impressed himself deeply upon his students. A quiet, and sometimes abstracted manner helped to give the impression of fulness of wisdom. When he spoke, he said something. Since no mortal man could predict what that something would be, the students were kept continually on the alert. His lectures were full of meaty observations upon men and movements. Little asides which indicated at once close familiarity with his theme and ample mother-wit, were delightful characteristics of his style. Originality marked his modes of thought as well as of expression. A dry, unconscious humor enlivened class-room discussions. His students had confidence in him, because he impressed them as one who had not only patiently investigated his subject and obtained the facts, but had thought profoundly upon their meaning. He loved not only history, but the philosophy of history. In pointing out the significance of movements and of men, Doctor Whitsitt was at his best. With him history was philosophy teaching by example. He did not accept views of events simply because they were generally credited. In Baptist history he understood full well that few, if any, of the early historians had done the Baptists justice; their opponents from lack of sympathy, their friends for want of critical and sound historical method. Dr. Whitsitt advanced some opinions that were not held by other students in the same field. Boldness and independence were marked elements in his character as student and as teacher. In one of his encyclopedia articles, he gives, and doubtless justly, to Doctor Henry C. Vedder, in his Short History of the Baptists, the credit for first applying the scientific method to the writing of


     


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    Baptist history. But he himself had been using that method in his class-room lectures for many years. There was a quaintness about Dr. Whitsitt's style, both as lecturer and as writer that had a charm all its own. Unexpected turns of expression, the occasional use of an unusual word, or the common word in an uncommon sense, gave his style a freshness, and a character which sometimes approached the picturesque. These traits appeared in his preaching and in his occasional papers quite as much as in his lectures to students. Nor did his manner of speech appear to be a mannerism; still less a trick of rhetoric. The style was the man. The use of quaint and unusual words, in serious discussion, sometimes caused unpoetic minds, or those not familiar with the man to misinterpret his meaning; but to many his utterances brought unfailing delight.

    Dr. Whitsitt possessed keen literary appreciation. In his student days he had given much attention to the classics. Horace, Juvenal and Virgil were his frequent companions. He kept his heart alert on the affectional side by reading the poets of the heroic age and through fondness for the Romanticism of the closing days of the eighteenth century. The breadth of his taste for poetry may be discerned in the fact of his love for writers so separated in time and spirit as Horace, reclining at the table of Maecenas, and Bobby Burns, barefoot in the furrows at Ayr. Among his choicest occasional lectures was that upon Robert Burns, which was frequently called for by students and societies of cultured people.

    As a preacher, Dr. Whitsitt showed much of that same originality of thought and expression which marked his lectures. He had not the readiness in extempore speech which characterized many of his brethren, and so he preferred to read his formal discourses. These however, were always full of high thought and tender feeling; and while he was never a popular preacher in the ordinary sense, the more thoughtful people rejoiced to hear him.


     


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    The Seminary students were glad when it was announced that he would preach in one of the city pulpits. While the Seminary had in its faculty a number of men highly gifted as preachers yet a distinguished alumnus asserts: "I came to look upon him as the most fecund and the most fecundating man in the Seminary. His sermons moved me as did the sermons of no other member of the faculty, although they were read in the monotone all who heard him will recall." There were times when he produced an impression upon his hearers that was truly profound. A former "colleague writing after a lapse of nearly forty years thus recalls a single occasion: "A sermon that he preached in Greenville on the words, 'Mighty to save' (Isa. 63:1) a description of situations selected from various periods of Jewish and Christian history, was a powerful exhibition of the inspiring influence of trust in God. His literary charm never disguised his seriousness of thought." He always delivered his message with a fervor which though not outwardly demonstrative, was always deep and unctious. For many years he taught a Bible class in the Walnut Street Church, Louisville, which was largely attended by men and women of the city and by interested students, who were glad to sit at his feet both on week-days and on Sundays.

    Professor Whitsitt was not a man of affairs in the ordinary sense of that term. He had not cultivated men in the widely varied activities of life; and yet he was systematic and accurate in mastering administrative details. It was said of him that each year he would know the names, home addresses, and other such facts concerning the entire student body; and that he kept up with the locations and the labors of the alumni to an extent that was truly remarkable. His successful management, for a number of years, of the "Students' Fund," and his careful superintendency of New York Hall, (once the

    __________
    * Prof. Crawford H. Toy of Harvard University.


     


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    main building of the Seminary) gave evidence of practical skill. On the decease of John A. Broadus in 1895, the Trustees elected Dr. Whitsitt to the presidency of the Seminary. Under his administration the number of students reached the highest mark but one in the history of the institution having advanced continually, till an unfortunate and prolonged controversy (1896-99) began to hamper for a time the Seminary's peace. Both faculty and students were devotedly attached to their president; and their affection grew deeper in all the dark days of uncertainty and conflict. When the students spoke of "Uncle Billy" it was with proud affection. They admired the practical wisdom of Boyce. Their minds were quickened and their hearts stirred by the rich resourcefulness of Broadus. It was Dr. Whitsitt's inimitable personality, his genuine, kindly heart that led them captive.

    As an investigator of facts, Dr. Whitsitt was independent to the point of boldness; and in maintaining his conclusions, firm to the last ditch. In matters of administrative policy he sometimes distrusted his judgment, and deferred to others. Because of his modesty and native cautiousness, some judged him timid. Because of his sincerity and openness of heart he could never seem at his best in the midst of more aggressive men. We was a master in times of peace; but for storms, he had no genius. It was strange indeed, that one of the most unassertive and peace-loving of men should have been one of the greatest of storm-centers in Southern Baptist life.

    Carlyle made much of the historical significance of the individual life. With him history was biography writ large. Many others, like Lord Acton, affirm that if we would read history aright it is necessary to get behind individuals to the thought currents -- the movements and counter-movements -- that make and unmake men. The life and work of William H. Whitsitt cannot be properly judged, nor even understood, apart from forces which


     


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    had been at work among Southern Baptists for half a century. It is for this reason that a treatment of Doctor Whitsitt's life would be altogether incomplete, even unintelligible, without some reference to the unfortunate contention which bears his name.

    It is possible that we are still too near the controversy to view it in its true perspective. Only Southern Baptists could appreciate its significance; and many of them doubtless, but partially. Christians elsewhere wondered what it all meant; and even when it was explained, they stood amazed that such fuel should have kindled so vast a conflagration. Strangely enough, while a part of the brotherhood seemed in the midst of a Titanic struggle, which was shaking them from the center to the circumference of their territory, it was a contest upon issues which appeared to the Baptists of the rest of the world to be of no practical interest whatever. This is all the more strange when it is remembered that the more aggressive party in the conflict sincerely believed that fundamental principles were at stake. Doctor Jesse B. Thomas, then Professor of Church History in Newton Theological Institution, in the midst of the now famous discussion, wrote:

    "The historic question opened by Dr. Whitsitt seems to me perfectly legitimate and fairly entitled to candid investigation. I do not sympathize with, nor can I easily understand the expression of resentment because of a frank expression of opinion upon a matter of dry and remote fact, having, in the opinion of most Baptists no serious present significance. Baptists, of all people, are pledged by their own principles to encourage outspoken loyalty to conviction on all issues touching the truth of history as well as of Scripture. He who announces a conclusion which he knows to be novel, and suspects will be unpalatable, to his immediate constituents, is entitled to respect, as having shown the 'courage of his convictions.' He has virtually challenged criticism, and invoked


     


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    research from which no harm can come, except to error. *

    In order to understand all the causes which were at work to produce the long and painful debate which finally terminated in Doctor Whitsitt's withdrawal from the Seminary, it is quite necessary to go further back than the period of Dr. Whitsitt's connection with that institution, or even of its founding; for it is quite clear to the student of events that Dr. Whitsitt was the occasion rather than the real cause of the unpleasant experience through which Southern Baptists passed a decade and a half ago.

    The fact is, almost since the days of the apostles there have been two types of Christians: those who make much of the outward and historical connections, and those upon whom such things sit lightly, because of their emphasis upon the purely spiritual relationships. Rome has been the most conspicuous representative former tendency; while the independent bodies, among whom were our Baptist progenitors before the Reformation, are examples of the latter. Unfortunately, though perhaps not unnaturally, a like line of cleavage came to exist within the independent and reforming bodies. For example, among the English Baptists of the seventeenth century, these two distinct emphases were found; the one party ** setting much store by unbroken succession of baptismal administration from the apostles, the other † regarding such succession as quite immaterial, as related either to personal obedience, or to the existence of a true church of Christ. It will be recalled, too, that Roger Williams became imbued with the 'succession' doctrine and after a few months he left the Baptist fellowship because he concluded that the succession had become

    __________
    * The Western Recorder --republished in pamphlet, Both Sides, Louisville, 1897.

    ** The "Old Men," led by Spillsburg.

    † The "New Men," led by Kiffin.


     


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    hopelessly lost in the vicissitudes of the centuries; while others of his party apparently cared for none of these things. Among Southern Baptists these two styles of churchmanship had made their appearance. A New England contribution to the Baptists of the Southwest was Doctor J. R. Graves, who was born in Chester Vermont, in the year 1820. He was a man of considerable intellectual ability, of some learning, and of unusual polemic skill. Through his journal, The Tennessee Baptist, by his books, and by eloquent platform utterances, Dr. Graves laid uncommon stress upon the strictest regularity of church order and of the administration of the Christian ordinances. The argument ran somewhat thus: Only those can be regarded as true ministers of the gospel who have, under God, been so authorized by a local church. A church is a body of baptized (immersed) believers. It therefore follows that no Pedo-Baptist organization is a church in the scriptural sense; hence no Pedo-Baptist body can give authority to preach. From this, it follows that Pedo-Baptist preachers can not be recognized as gospel ministers. Baptism administered by them, therefore, is not valid, since they themselves have not been baptized, nor have they any authority to baptize others. This position seemed logically to demand an unbroken succession of churches and of ordinance, that regularity might be preserved; and easily led also to a denial of the doctrine of the invisible spiritual church. The Kingdom of God is composed, according to this view, of visible (Baptist) churches, rather than of all the saints of every age. The exponents of this view naturally felt the need for an unbroken succession of Baptist churches going back to the apostles and supported their contention with vigorous arguments, mainly exegetical; although there were attempts made, more or less praiseworthy, in the domain of church history. This type of teaching came to be known as "Old Landmarkism;" and many Southern Baptists, notably in Tennessee,


     


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    Kentucky and the Southwest mere deeply impressed by it, having been educated in its tenets by such able champions as A. C. Dayton, J. R. Pendleton and J. R. Graves. The Seminary, though conciliatory, had never taken the side of Landmarkism.

    In further explanation, it should be remarked that the beginnings of the Baptist cause in the South were the result of the labors of deeply pious, but for the most part, of unlettered men. Education and culture, however, had rapidly been leavening the lump. Yet there remained a considerable number of those who had never been thorough-going advocates of education, particularly of an educated ministry. These had never entertained great love for the Seminary, and some were not averse to any occasion for adverse criticism. It should also be remembered that the early decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the interaction of forces, which, in the South, had not been entirely spent. Many Southern Baptists who had not gone with the primitive Baptist schism of 1835, but maintained nominal affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention, were never genuinely missionary in spirit. The Southern Seminary, from its establishment in 1859, became the most effective single agency for the spread of both the educational and the missionary impulse among Southern Baptists. It was intended to, and constantly sought to, serve the entire Southern Baptist brotherhood. Its founders, therefore, had adopted a policy of conciliation toward all classes, in order that it might the better be the servant and helper of all. During the days of Boyce, Broadus and Manly, criticism directed against the Seminary or its professors from any of these sources, had as a rule been kept within bounds, though often it was outspoken and severe; much diplomacy being necessary to prevent open breach from time to time. When Doctor Whitsitt was elected to the presidency in 1895, the last of the original faculty had passed away, and naturally, their masterful personal influence


     


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    in a measure, passed with them. Besides, Dr. Whitsitt was no diplomat, and he had scant sympathy for the doctrines held dear by some of the brethren -- notably those to which we have just adverted. Applying rigid methods to the study of Church History, he did not always find the facts in accordance with what these Baptists would have wished; and he made no apparent effort to apologize for the facts as he read them, nor to interpret them in the interest of any particular exegetical or ecclesiastical theory.

    We now turn from historical causes to the occasion of the controversy. Here, it is necessary to go back to, the year 1880. In this year Dr. Whitsitt, after months of careful investigation of English Baptist history from documentary sources, chiefly in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library, became deeply impressed with the fact that Baptist history had been treated most inadequately; and that Baptists themselves were signally lacking in information as to their own notable history. It became a conviction, which ripened into a passion, that Baptists should be induced to study their own past. He deliberately set to work to prod them into such an investigation. One of the methods he chose by which to accomplish this end proved a mistake; at least it was destined to play an important role in his subsequent experience. Knowing that the widely read religious journal, The Independent, of New York, through its editor, Dr. William Hayes Ward, took much interest in Church History; that the journal had a wide circulation among scholarly people and was denominationally independent, Dr. Whitsitt chose to prepare a few articles for that weekly upon some points in English Baptist History. The first contribution was a very brief * review, or rather criticism, in a single paragraph, of three separate studies in the history of Baptism, by three distinguished Baptists

    __________
    * The Independent, June 24, 1880.


     


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    (Doctors Burrage, Cathcart and Potter) which had but recently appeared. At this period the editor of the Congregationalist, Dr. Henry M. Dexter, had also been writing articles which bore directly or indirectly upon English and American Baptists. Dr. Ward of The Independent, knowing (apparently from the aforementioned review of Burrage and others) that Dr. Whitsitt had fresh information upon the period under discussion, secured several articles from his pen. * In these, it was maintained that there is no evidence that English Baptists practiced immersion, prior to the year 1641; and also that Roger Williams was probably sprinkled, and not immersed in 1630, as is generally believed. These articles appeared as editorials. Dr. Whitsitt's reasons for using this method of publishing his views may be found in the fact that he realized that if the author were known, criticism would be directed against himself and perhaps unjust criticism against the institution with which he was connected. He wished the questions involved to be considered upon their merits. He chose to put his views in the form of a challenge, as from an outsider, in order to incite Baptists to a profounder interest in the study of their own history. Both the criticism which he attempted to avoid and the deeper interest which he desired to arouse in Baptist history, eventually came to pass. Fifteen years or more elapsed however, before any notice of the points at issue was taken in the South. In the year 1895, Dr. Whitsitt prepared for Johnson's Cyclopedia, of whose staff he was a member, the article on the Baptists. Here, over his own signature, Dr. Whitsitt presented the same views of English Baptist history, and of the baptism of Roger Williams he had earlier expressed (though not over his own signature), in The Independent. Some months later, Doctor Henry M. King, then pastor of the First Baptist Church of Providence, the church founded by Williams, took occasion,

    __________
    * Ibid., Sept. 2, Sept. 9, Oct. 7, 1880.


     


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    first through the weekly press, * then in a "Brief Account of the Origin and Early History of the First Baptist Church in Providence," † to make a spirited reply to Whitsitt's theory concerning the baptism of Roger Williams. In the discussion which followed, Professor Whitsitt, in justice to himself, acknowledged the authorship of the Independent editorials; in this way establishing priority to Henry M. Dexter or to any other, in presenting the new discoveries in English and American Baptist history. Some of the Baptist papers of the South took the matter up, and began to criticise Doctor Whitsitt severely, not only for his views on these historical subjects, but for his method of promulgating them. Associations, -- local and state bodies -- as well as numerous individuals, were drawn into the dispute. Dr. Whitsitt rarely undertook any reply; but his critics were aggressive. Throughout the Southern Baptist Convention, leaders took sides, and frequently there was shown much depth of feeling, and here and there was engendered no little bitterness.

    There were those who urged that the Seminary's president should resign. Associations passed resolutions of condemnation, and threatened the withholding of support from the institution. One may well hesitate to attempt an analysis of the controlling motives of all those who made protest; for what was true of some, was certainly not true of others. Of course those who regarded historical continuity as essential to the Baptist position or to the integrity of Scripture, conceived that vital issues were involved. Others thought that no loyal denominationalist of the straightest sect -- such as they conceived the president of their Seminary ought to be -- could have brought forward facts, or alleged facts, which appeared to them so unfavorable to Baptist composure, and that too, in a tone, as it were, of an antagonist. It

    __________
    * The Examiner, Mar. 26, 1896.

    † "The Mother Church," Am. Bap. Pub. Sec., 1896.


     


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    was definitely declared that one would surely not undertake to prove things to be true, unless one wished them to be true. As a scientific historian, this line of argument naturally failed to impress Dr. Whitsitt, who had no particular reverence for myths, nor even for time-honored traditions, if the facts appeared to him to be against them. For him it was quite enough that the tenets of Baptists should fund their sanction in the New Testament example and teaching, whatever might or might not have been true through the uncertain centuries of erratic historical practise. That Doctor Whitsitt did not regard a single Baptist principle as in any wise in jeopardy by his historical opinions may be seen by the following clear-cut statement from his pen: "This is purely a question of modern historical research. It does not affect any item of Baptist principle or practice. These are all established by the Bible. Our watchword for generations has been, "The Bible and the Bible alone, the religion of Baptists." It is now too late in the day to alter our views and set forth any new battle-cry.... 'Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid!'" *

    Dr. Whitsitt was never a foe to 'succession,' but held that it could not be historically proved, and that it was quite unnecessary that it should be. That he had no such hostility may be shown by an excerpt from the article 'Baptists' in Johnson's Universal Cyclopedia. In discussing the attempt of certain English Baptists to secure 'valid' (historically unbroken), baptism, he wrote: "If the Rhynsburgers introduced immersion only in the year 1619, it might be claimed that their succession was a mere myth, and that Blount did not obtain what he went so far to seek. That question has been investigated in a special treatise by de Hoop Scheffer... in which he suggests that immersion had been fetched outof Poland to Rhynsburg by Joannes Geesteranus. From the Polish Anabaptists it might be traced back to Switzerland

    __________
    * "A Question in Baptist History," p. 56.


     


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    and the Reformation. Hence the friends of succession are not so hardly bestead as might first appear. Their case is stronger than some are aware who oppose their claims."

    There were many who refused to make the issue with President Whitsitt either upon historical, or upon denominational grounds, but kept to the front what they regarded as grievous mistakes of practical judgment on his part. Some were even willing to remove the Seminary's president from office for the sake of peace, disregarding the issues involved. On the other hand there was a large number of noble and intelligent men who felt that to yield to this demand would be an intolerable blow to the principle of freedom for the teacher. Indeed, many conceived this to be really the paramount issue in the contest.

    It may be affirmed that Doctor Whitsitt himself saw two principles involved. First, what we may term the material principle. That is, Should Southern Baptists reverse the historic position, and deny the doctrine of the church universal, invisible and spiritual, in the interest of the theory of a visible church succession? This doctrine of the invisible church was that with which the forefathers made reply to Rome's excommunications and anathemas; saying, "We belong to the church universal into which we enter by faith, and from which you cannot drive us by fire. The strongest, the essential, ties are spiritual, not formal; the important connections are internal, not historical." Second, there was involved, as Dr. Whitsitt saw it, what may be termed a formal principle, namely, Shall a teacher be free to investigate, and to teach what he finds to be true; or shall history be decided by a show of hands, and facts be made to conform to doubtful ecclesiastical theologies? To Doctor Whitsitt, these two issues were momentous, and for their right decision he was willing to stand -- and if necessary, to fall. To those who opposed these two principles he was prepared like Paul, to give place, no, not for an hour.


     


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    For three years the Seminary trustees declined to remove the president from office. It must be said to their credit, though strong pressure was brought to bear, for three years, they refused to hamper a professor's freedom, so long as he kept within the teaching of the Scriptures and the Seminary Articles to which each instructor assents when he enters upon his duties. It was Doctor Whitsitt who took the initiative by sending in his resignation as president and as a professor -- in the interest of peace. Even then a respectable minority were in favor of rejecting the resignation, in the interest of freedom of teaching. But Doctor Whitsitt was not skilled in the art of popular appeal. He had no fondness for ecclesiastical politics and therefore felt a great burden roll from his shoulders when his resignation was accepted, and his retirement became a fact in the spring of 1899.

    We may now ask with propriety, What was Dr. Whitsitt's influence upon Southern Baptists, and what contribution did he make to their life?

    We reply, he enabled them better to understand themselves. During the controversy they more clearly perceived, at once their strength and their weakness. They came out of it all more determined than ever to keep upon the main road, and to attend to the things best worth while. In so far as the opposition came from foes to organized missionary and educational progress, it was the more clearly seen that there could be no compromise. The great hosts of Southern Baptists became more determined than ever to lay aside divisive issues and press forward to the conquest of the Kingdom. They discovered that prosperity and progress lie along the road of good-will, of mutual respect and forbearance. Side issues can never again thrust themselves to the center of the stage. Southern Baptists have now grown too strong, and too knowing, again to countenance such a dispute, even if so able leadership could again be mustered for such an enterprise -- which is itself quite improbable.


     


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    The type of thought from which much of the opposition drew its inspiration has passed, or is rapidly passing; for it fails to adjust itself to the progress of Christ's mind and spirit in modern life.

    Thousands of Southern Baptists were made to see more clearly the difference between divine Scripture and human interpretations of it; between the divine in history and human interpretations of it; to see that the God of history and the God of the Bible can never be contradictory; but that interpretations of Scripture and the interpretations of events may very often conflict. They discern more distinctly than before, that the interpretation of a metaphor * and the interpretation of a date † may both be fallible; but the truth in both fields is absolutely secure; that our little systems have their day, but God's Word and his works are not only sure, but harmonious. They know that it is not opinions concerning historic facts which make Baptists, and that these cannot unmake Baptists; that historical links do not authenticate, nor their absence destroy, a New Testament church.

    Progress among any people seldom proceeds along the whole line with equal tread. Milton makes the tawny lion, in creation, struggle, "pawing to set free his hinder parts." That a body so numerous as Southern Baptists, should not discover its power in all its parts and resources at once, is not strange. This contest was a struggle to go forward on all fours. The Greeks had a proverb, "Suffering is a physician." Disease is nature's attempt to attain health, a kind of defensive reaction against harmful substances. Influences had come into the Baptist body that were incompatible with the historic Baptist; genius and life. The Whitsitt controversy was a painful spasm to restore to the organism the equilibrium of health.

    To Dr. Whitsitt must be given the credit of advancing through scientific methods the spirit of scholarship research.

    __________
    * e. g. Matt. 16:18.

    † e. g. A. D., 1641.


     


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    The controversy itself caused many who had hitherto taken little interest in their denomination's history to study it. Some who had been interested before, investigated Baptist origins afresh; and a number of valuable articles and monographs appeared. It was a day of no little light as well as heat. The Scriptures were examined anew for fresh light upon the questions at issue. The doctrines of the Kingdom, of the church, visible and invisible, were carefully and laboriously scrutinized -- from the ecclesia of the Septuagint to "the church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven." The rock upon which Christ once built His church threatened to become a rock upon which his churches were now to be split. But the result of the protracted discussion, through the press and otherwise, was, we firmly believe, a somewhat clearer view of the truth, on the part of the masses of the Baptists. The path along which our people have come was seen in clear-light, and the road along which they must go, if they would journey safely, was made more sure. The result has been that Southern Baptists feel more secure in their solidarity than ever before in their history. Henceforth they can be franker in considering their problems, and can look one another more fully in the face.

    The Seminary, too, emerged from the contest stronger and surer of itself than ever in its history. Its professors will continue to breathe such an atmosphere of freedom as consecrated learning must demand. The choice of Dr. Whitsitt's successors in the presidency and also in the chair of Church History -- indeed, every selection since -- has given evidence that the trustees and the convention mean that this honored school shall enjoy that type of liberty which Baptists have always prized, and in the exercise of which truth can alone flourish.

    Much then, of Doctor Whitsitt's work will abide. As to the correctness of his interpretations of history, in many points we yet await further light. The preponderance


     


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    of authority is not with him in the matter of Roger Williams; upon the much discussed question of the English Baptists and 1641, however, the recognized scholarship of the day is with him in substantial agreement.

    It remains for us to speak of the contribution of Dr. Whitsitt to the literature of his chosen subject. He was truly a diligent workman. The very large number of manuscripts which he left are a mute, but powerful witness to his untiring labor as student and investigator. One may well wonder why he published so little in comparison with the amount of scholarly work he performed. The answer may be found doubtless in the fact that his researches were not of the sort to be popularly demanded; and to have published extensively would have required large financial means. Besides, much of his work was upon disputed points, and Dr. Whitsitt was not fond of controversy. Much that he did publish moreover, seemed destined to awaken sharp criticism.

    His "Origin of the Disciples of Christ" which appeared in 1888, as "A contribution to the centennial of the birth of Alexander Campbell, raised a storm of protest from the Church of the Disciples and a vigorous reply was made, in a volume by George W. Longan, a Disciple. The tone of the volume on the "Origin of the Disciples" was altogether too polemical to carry the greatest weight as a contribution to history its sub-title was cutting, and many besides the Disciples candidly thought that the author failed to establish his thesis; namely, that the Disciples of Christ mere an "offshoot" of the Sandemanians of Scotland; though the Campbells' large indebtedness to that sect was clearly and unmistakably presented.

    Among Dr. Whitsitt's other important treatises are "The Rise of Infant Baptism" (1878), "The History of Communion Among Baptists" (1880), "The Relation of Baptists to Culture" (Inaugural 1872); Life and Times


     


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    of Judge Caleb Wallace (1888), "Annals of a Scotch-Irish Family -- The Whitsitts of Nashville, Tenn." * (1904), "Episode in Immersionist History (Presbyterian Quarterly 10, 1896), "A Question in Baptist History (1897), "The Genealogy of Jefferson Davis" (1908). Among his published addresses are that on the a Fiftieth Anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention, † 1895, and that before the Baptist Congress in London *** on "National Primary Education," 1905.

    Among his unpublished manuscripts was a very extensive study of the Mormon Church, which he bequeathed to the Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. He also left in manuscript a valuable discussion of "Baptist Principles," which, it is hoped may even yet be published.

    After Dr. Whitsitt's retirement from the presidency of the Seminary in 1899, he spent a year in rest and study, and was elected to be James Thomas professor of philosophy in Richmond College, Virginia, succeeding the lamented William D. Thomas, in June, 1901. Dr.. Whitsitt had long loved Virginia. Here had been the home of his ancestors, and here apart of his training for life had been received. Here he had earned many warm friendships. The Baptists of Virginia, during the disquieting years of discussion had been particularly sympathetic and loyal toward him and the Seminary. It seemed to him therefore a providential opportunity to continue the use of his gifts as a teacher and friend of young manhood, when this chair was offered him in Virginia. He entered upon his work at the College, with the same scrupulous fidelity that had characterized his life in the Seminary. Beginning at the age of sixty years, it would not be probable that he could enjoy the teaching of philosophy as he had loved the study of history. And

    __________
    * Am. Historical Magazine and Tenn. Historical Society Quarterly, Nashville, Vol. IX, 1904, pp. 58, 113, 231., 352.

    ** "A Retrospect," The Southern Bap. Pulpit, Phila., 1895.

    † Proceedings, London, 1905.


     


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    yet his duties and his students were upon his heart. His personal interest in the student body is shown in that it was his custom to visit every young man in the College at least once during the session; and it is said, he never failed to be able to report promptly upon such students as were assigned to his kindly oversight -- whether his younger colleagues were ready with their reports or not. Upon his resignation the students showed their high regard and affection by the hearty presentation to their retiring professor, of a handsome loving cup. In Sunday school and religious work in the Grove Avenue Church, Richmond, Doctor Whitsitt demonstrated his ardent, though unaffected piety, and endeared himself to a large circle of his fellow-Christians in Virginia. During his residence in that State he continued by his active personal influence and by occasional papers, to contribute to the preservation of Baptist history in which he had a life-long interest. It was he who has been credited with first making the suggestion in 1905, which issued in the Bunyan Memorial Window, lately dedicated in Westminster Abbey.

    A smaller man might have become embittered and shown grievous disappointment in having the current of his life abruptly turned into a different channel. It was not so with Professor Whitsitt. Grieved and disappointed doubtless he was, but not one whit sour nor vindictive. Resigned in spirit, humble and gracious of soul, he continued to love his brethren and, to the end, was ready to serve. He prayed, and fervently believed that what had happened to him would turn out for the furtherance of the gospel. The writer of this sketch was casually thrown with him soon after the severance of his official relations with the Seminary. He remarked, "The day was never brighter for Southern Baptists. I have much faith in them. They have a noble future." He had caught the spirit of the Apostle who wrote: "Notwithstanding.... every way Christ is preached and I therein


     


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    do rejoice yea, and will rejoice." And it may be added that some of the kindest things said about him when life's day had closed, were generously penned, or spoken, by those who had, a decade before, opposed him zealously.

    An account of Doctor Whitsitt's life would surely be incomplete, were no mention made of his devoted wife whose helpfulness and loyal comradeship were important factors in his labors. The woman of his heart was born, Miss Florence Wallace, of Woodford County, Kentucky, who became Mrs. Whitsitt on October 4, 1881. Though never of rugged health Mrs. Whitsitt was thoroughly sympathetic with her husband's life-tasks, lovingly supported him in all his labors, and tenderly soothed his last moments with her devoted care. A beloved son and fond daughter also survive him.

    After Professor Whitsitt resigned the chair at Richmond College, in the spring of 1910, he felt, through failing health, that his work was done. He began calmly to set his house in order and look for the end. He planned the disposal of important historical papers; engaged his biographer, selected his monument, planned his funeral, left tender words of love, and yielded up his spirit. On January 20, 1911, he went to be with Him whom he loved with soulful passion, and whom he served with unfailing zeal and loyalty.

    He was as gentle as a woman, as guileless as a Nathaniel, as devout as a Francis, but in matters of conscience and conviction, he was a Luther. When there was suggested to him the possibility of yielding upon a certain matter which he esteemed to be one of principle, he replied, "I'd die dead first." This was the man. Said he, in his last published paper, writing of Jefferson Davis, for whom he had great personal admiration, "He endured for many years a great burden... of sorrow with manly dignity and courage. There was displayed the excellent religion of his fathers, finer, perhaps, than you and I possess." No, not finer than the writer of


     


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    those lines himself evinced; for he bore with patience and calm dignity the strange wrenching of his life from its chosen course. He carried his grief so patiently that few were aware he bore it. But love clasped grief and grief was drowned. His life was no anti-climax. The Christian graces were at their best in the closing years. Character is the standard of greatness; and he who in life, like the great Duke, had sought but "Duty's iron crown, already being offered, went to receive with rejoicing the crown of righteousness which the Righteous Judge has promised those that love Him.
     






    [ 449 ]


    THE  REVIEW
    AND  EXPOSITOR

    Vol. LI.                       October, 1954                       No. 4.


    WILLIAM HETH WHITSITT.
    The Seminary's Martyr


    BY W. O. CARVER

    This article is still under copyright.
    Only limited, "fair use" excerpts appear here.


    No man the history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary ever received so little recognition for so great service as William H. Whitsitt, its sixth professor and its third president...



      [450]
    ...In the first thirty years of the Seminary Broadus and Whitsitt were the two truly great scholars, very different while closely akin in attitude and achievement. Broadus was the comprehensive, conventional scholar, Whitsitt was the profound, original, creative thinker... They appreciated and supported each other...



      [450]
    ...I have had the good fortune to find in our library recently a combined diary and notebook covering his first years as professor that is most illuminating. Besides, the Library has between twenty-five and thirty full notebooks of his lectures and other work for his class. His fuller diaries recording his observations about men and measures in religious and denominational life during his last thirty to forty years are by his decree not available for any except his family until fifty... years after his death... His lecture notes and diary entries reveal the remarkable competency and breadth of his cultural and social interest and his studious thoroughness of preparation...



      [455]
    In all his distressful reasonings Whitsitt nowhere indicates serious doubt concerning the doctrinal basis and beliefs of the Baptist system. He knows that there is some radical defect and error in the practical formulation and administration. He is never able to locate the exact error. He gets very near to it most of the time. Discussion of the weaknesses was extensive during the year of Whitsitt's wrestling in the valley of indecision. Articles and editorials appeared frequently in denominational journals, especially the Christian Index, Religious Herald, Western Recorder, and Tennessee Baptist...



      [458]
    ...the Baptist History was put aside, while he gave himself to collateral studies which could be carried on in America. First he made "an exhaustive study of Mormonism." His diary he began, November 15, 1885, "to record the progress of that work" to which he gave the title "Sidney Rigdon, the Real Founder of Mormonism." Nearly two years later, July 4, the diary reads: "Wrote the last word of the last chapter of the Biography of Sidney Rigdon... Forty pages of his diary records the tragic and comic experiences of a month in New York preaching and seeking a publisher for his manuscript. His wife wrote him that he must publish it "if it took every cent he had"...



      [459]
    ...Dr. Whitsitt proceeded now to "The Origin of the Disciples of Christ," published February, 1888...



      [461]
    ...Dr. Whitsitt was essentially a university lecturer, not a quiz-master, He was deliberate in speech and careful of accurate statement, employed an individualistic vocabulary which tended toward etymological and earlier English terms and meanings. He had a vein of sententious humor in his lectures. He did not elicit questions from class but dealt with them courteously and helpfully. He was not the most popular teacher but was most rewarding to the more serious students...



      [466]
    ...Whitsitt was deeply convinced that he represented for the whole Baptist denomination and for the Christian world the right of research and of freedom of expression of convictions arrived at by genuine and sincere investigation; that on the outcome of this vote [for the trustees to accept his resignation] would largely depend at least for a long time to come the advancement of scholarship, the spiritual quality of Southern Baptists, the opportunity of Baptists to make their divinely appointed contribution to the growth of evangelical Christianity... students...



      [467]
    ...What had Whitsitt accomplished?... For one thing he aroused and promoted among Southern Baptists the concept and gradually and increasingly the study of their history scientifically, objectively, and in its wider historical context...



      [468]
    ...after Whitsitt was out [of the Seminary presidency] a group of his opponents were rejoicing in that "We got rid of Whitsitt." Standing among them was the venerable W. E. Powers... who spoke up and said: "Yes, you got rid of Whitsitt. But you didn't get rid of Whitsittism." "Whitsittism" became thenceforward the authoritative word in American Baptist history.






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    Volume 3.                             April, 1996                            Number 1.


    Whitsitt: the seminary's versatile scholar

    By W. Morgan Patterson, Mill Valley, Calif.

    Copyright 1996, Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society
    (reproduction limited to short excerpts only)
    ... it is incumbant on us not only to learn something of Whitsitt's life and work, but also to find those qualities and insights which we might apply to ourselves and our own ministry to make us better servants and better Christians.

    In this spirit we seek to describe and assess the impressive contribution and work of Dr. Whitsitt as he fulfilled his calling by teaching in the classroom, counseling with students, preparing lectures, preaching in the churches, writing books and articles, achieving a high level of scholarship...



      [7]
    ...In the larger story of Southern Baptists, the name of William Heth Whitsitt is invariably and irretrievably linked to the episode of the 1890s known as the Whitsitt Controversy. It was a major dispute for the denomination, and it pitted the power and influence of the Landmark Movement against the scholarship and historical conclusions of Whitsitt on the subject of Baptist beginnings.

    Professor Whitsitt insisted that the basic distinctive of Baptists is believer's baptism by immersion, that the mode of immersion had been lost for centuries and that it was recovered or restored by certain English Separatists in the early 1600s, therefore, it is only at that point that it is appropriate to speak of Baptists as a denominational entity. Landmarkism, on the other hand, claimed that there was a traceable continuity of believer's baptism by immersion through numerous and diverse dissenting groups going all the way back to the first century and that these people were Baptists...



      [10]
    ...Whitsitt had a strong interest in the founding of the Disciples of Christ and in the followers of Alexander Campbell. In 1888, he published the Origin of the Disciples of Christ: A Contribution to the Centennial Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Campbell.

    His curiosity about the Mormon movement... What might have been his magnum opus is a 1400-page volume entitled "Sidney Rigdon, the Real Founder of Mormonism, 1793-1876." He was fascinated by the ideas, leaders and documents of Mormonism, and by 1887 he had amassed a huge amount of information on the subject. He carried on a voluminous correspondence to assemble the facts related to Mormon beginnings and its leaders. There are scores of entries in his diaries dealing with the obstacles and successes of his research. They also show the tireless historical detective at work to track down every lead and source.

    On July 4, 1887, he made this comment in his diary: "Wrote the last word of the last chapter of the Biography of Sidney Rigdon at Ten o'clock this morning. To God be all praise and thanksgiving! Amen and amen. By my calculation there are 138 chapters in the volume. Nobody will ever consent to print it." He was right about that, for it appears that no publisher was interested without a substantial financial investment by the author, and Whitsitt decided not to commit his own limited funds to its publication. It remains unpublished to this day, although there have been one or two others interested in seeing it published, even recently.

    In his work, Whitsitt contended that Sidney Rigdon, not Joseph Smith, was the real founder of the Mormon Movement. Rigdon, a former Baptist, had been a minister of the Disciples of Christ before breaking with Campbell. Whitsitt asserted that Rigdon later formulated Mormon views "to be an improvement upon the theology and polity of the Disciples" (from Whitsitt's preface). In essence he claimed that the earliest Mormons were apostate Campbellites. Whitsitt researched this subject in painstaking detail, and he copiously documented his analysis and conclusions. A summary of this thesis is to be found in the extensive encylcopedia article on Mormonism written by Whitsitt for the Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, published in 1891....



      [11]
    ...Dr. Whitsitt employed the best methods of modern historical investigation, logical reasoning, and non-partison assessment of historical claims in order to ascertain the facts of history. He did not claim infallibility for his conclusions but rather, he frequently stated his willingness to correct any errors of misjudgments he might have made.

    As a minister and theological professor, Dr. Whitsitt had an intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures, the Source of our faith and doctrine, as well as with the discipline of theology...

    A study of Dr. Whitsitt's life and work serves not only to expose and emphasize his undoubted scholarship, but also to identify several qualities of a personal and professional nature which are worthy of mention and even of emulation. In the personal area, I think especially of his manifest piety, his self-examination and humility, his tirelessness in study and work, his enduring patience and charitableness in the face of unkind criticism and even misrepresentation...



      [12]
    ...let me ask the question, "For what ought Dr. Whitsitt be remembered?

    First, his conscientious service to generations of students... his scholarly preparation and devotion to the classroom... his personal conduct which exemplified honesty, openness, faith and Christian charity...



     


    Volume 3.                             Winter, 1996                            Number 2.


    A place for Whitsitt

    By Fred Anderson, Richmond, Va.

    Copyright 1996, Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society
    (reproduction limited to short excerpts only)
    Early on the morning of June 27 [1996], the officers of the Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society journeyed to Hollywood Cemetary in Richmond, Va.... to place a wreath at the grave of our namesake, William Heth Whitsitt...

    The fundamentalists of his day hounded Whitsitt. Ever since Whitsitt's use of the scientific method to investigate history had rubbed against the myths of Baptist beginnings, he had been a marked man...


     
    [3]
    ... For a decade Whitsitt had found a place [in Richmond, Virginia] where he was loved and appreciated and safe. He was a private person; and when he died on January 20, 1911, his funeral was held at the residence with a private burial in Hollywood. The Richmond newspaper reported his death with the headline: "Much Loved Minister Was Strong in Controversy." The word controversy had been attached to his name even in his obituary.

    If you take the Richmond tour and visit Hollywood Cemetary and discover Whitsitt's grave... buried high above the peaceful falls of the James River....

    ...When once by conscience seen.
    And in the book of time, or soon or late,
    Thou shalt be named among the good and great.





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    Wm. H. Whitsitt exam from Southern Baptist Seminary (1886)


    Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

    LOUISVILLE, KY,


    Intermediate Examination, January 6, 1886.


    Polemic Theology


    Prof. WM. H. WHITSITT.


    I. (12.) LITERARY STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK OF MORMON. --

    How many redactions does internal evidence indicate that Mr. Rigdon made of Spaulding's Book of Mormon? What event rendered a second redaction important, and when and where was it performed? Did he make any alteration of the first portion of Spaulding's title of the volume? To what point in the volume did "the abridgment of Mormon" extend, and from what source were the materials which Mormon is given out to have inscribed upon his "plates," said to be derived? In the present Book of Mormon where does one first touch the "abridgment of Mormon?" How should the title page be altered in order to truly describe the contents of the volume? What books are included in the so-called "small plates?" The real secret of the existence of these "small plates?" Why did not Mr. Rigdon prosecute to the end the labor of rewriting Spaulding's Book of Mormon? Why was that section of the "abridgment" that was replaced by Mr. Rigdon's "small plates," and called by Joseph the "sealed portion of the plates," never published? Where did the book entitled "Words of Mormon" originally stand? Why was it removed to its present position? Proofs that Spaulding wrote the Book of Ether before writing the "abridgment of Mormon." Who is the sole author of the Book of Moroni?


    II. (84.) DOCTRINAL SYSTEM OF THE BOOK OF MORMON.

    A. Theology. -- How many Gods does it provide for? Its position regarding anthropomorphism? Argument for the continuance of miracles and all gifts of the spirit, derived from the unchangeableness of God; does it represent God as the Creator of all things? Explanation of the origin of evil and [the] source when this explanation was derived; in what way does it represent the fall of man as a blessing? Is it Arminian or Calvinistic in it attitude towards predestination?

    B. Christology. -- Leading object for which the book is said to be composed, and the source whence that object was obtained; attributes and works ascribed to Christ; his relation to the Father; effect of his resurrection upon the unrighteous dead.

    C. Pneumatology. -- Is the personality of the Holy Spirit assumed? The word alone system" in reference to the operations of the Spirit on the hearts of men, and the source whence it was derived; doctrine of the Trinity. Is the tenet of a duality of persons, in the Godhead which appears in the "Lectures on Faith," anywhere mooted in the Book of Mormon?

    D. Anthropology. -- Is anything hinted regarding the pre-existence of man in a spiritual form? Whence was that notion later derived? How did the presence of the tree of knowledge impart freedom to Adam in his earliest estate?

    E. Soteriology. -- Are the person and work of Christ indispensable to salvation? Doctrine of the book touching Universalism and Restorationism; name by which people who embrace the Saviour must be called in their individual and collective capacity; respectively, and the source whence it was derived; source of Mormon notions regarding the "kingdom" of Christ; two different doctrines touching the ordo salutis, and the five points of the second ordo salutis; reason why a change of the ordo salutis became important. Who added the item of imposition of hands, and when was it done? Was Mr. Rigdon friendly to that change?

    F. Ecclesiology. -- (1). Constitution of the church. Is infant baptism tolerated? What three office bearers does the book provide for? Explanation of the fact that both priests and teachers are provided for; origin of the designation "teacher;" why were not deacons provided for, and who brought them into the Mormon Church? Origin of the designation "stakes" for individual churches? Place where the lost ten tribes were supposed to be concealed and their relation to the Mormon church when they should be found? How often was the church required to meet for worship? Position regarding the exclusion from the worship of the church of such as were not members of the church, and special reason why it was insisted upon.

    (2). Religious Life. -- In what form does the institution of the "fellowship" appear, and whence was it derived? How does the community of Isaac Morley, at Kirtland, account for several injunctions in the second redaction favoring communism? Position regarding the support of the ministry, in connection with the cant word "popular;" position touching polygamy and Masonry: whence was derived the tendency to cultivate dancing and theatres.

    (3). Means of Grace. -- Position ascribed to the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Were any further revelations provided for in the first redaction of the Book of Mormon, and why were they recognized in the second redaction? Number of sacraments; form and design of baptism; design of the supper; whence was derived the difference in respect of the kind and degree of efficacy ascribed to baptism and the supper? Whence comes the weekly communion?

    G. Eschatology. -- Signs of the Millennial craze, and source whence it was derived; the second petition of the Lord's Prayer; how is the "gathering" connected with the Millennial craze? Length of punishment of the wicked; is hell-fire a literal fire? Point out in detail which of the above items were derived from the Disciples of Christ, and show how these demonstrate that no person but Mr. Rigdon could have been the author of the doctrinal system of the Book of Mormon.


    III. (6.) GEOGRAPHY AND HISTORY OF THE BOOK OF MORMON.

    Proof from the Book of Mormon that the Hill Cumorah, where Joseph claimed to discover the "plates," is situated in the vicinity of the Isthmus of Panama, rather than in the vicinity of Lake Ontario. Proof that the geography and history of the Book of Mormon were derived by Mr. Spaulding from William Robertson's History of America.

    Time, 8:30 A. M. to 6 P. M.
    Form of certificate to be added at close of examination papers: -- "I certify that I have neither given nor received any sort of assistance during the progress of this examination."


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    William H. Whitsitt letter to James H. Fairchild (excerpts).
    Original in the James H. Fairchild Papers at the Oberlin College Archives.



    306 E. Chestnut,
    Louisville, Feb. 16, 1886

    My dear Sir,

    After diligent consideration of the subject you are good enough to bring to my attention, I some while ago reached the conclusion that Mr. Sidney Rigdon supplies the right key to Mormon history and theology. In pursuance of that conviction, I have prepared a Biography of Sidney Rigdon, of which 810 pages are now ready for the printer. A few of my chapters which dealt with the Book of Mormon were read before one of my classes and made the topic of my intermediate examination.

    Mr. Rigdon was a Disciple minister at the moment of producing the particular form of the Book of Mormon which we are now familiar with, and I discovered that it contains all the leading tenets and peculiarities of that people. The contents of the volume, at least to my thinking, will supply a demonstration that it could have been prepared by none but a Disciple theologian, and further that it could have been prepared by no Disiciple theologian except Mr. Rigdon. This is what I consider to be my personal contribution to the sum of knowledge on this subject.

    The question touching the Spaulding manuscript has no direct connection with that result; it stands upon its own merits, just as truly as if no such person as Solomon Spaulding ever existed. I was solicitous to avoid the Spaulding controversy entirely, for the reason that it has no real connection with the business. But having set my hand to compose a biography of Mr. Rigdon, I felt somewhat bound by the nature of the task to express an opinion. Here I have given attention almost exclusively to the only original authority in existence, namely Howe, pp 279-290. Citations have also been made from a pamphlet entitled "Who wrote the Book of Mormon?" by Robert Patterson of Pittsburgh, but with caution, for the reason that he has too much credulity and too little criticism. I am also indebted to a few passages in Hayden's "History of the Disciples on the Western Reserve," and in Mr. Alexander Campbell's "Millennial Harbinger."

    In my treatment I have felt myself impelled to reject a great deal that passes current in the literature of the subject: but I have reluctantly assented to the chief point that Spaulding wrote the Book of Mormon under that title also, and that Mr. Rigdon by some kind of process got possession of it. Nay, I have even gone to the length of suggesting a theory of my own in explanation of that process. That theory is different from any other that has been preached, and I cannot avoid to regard it as the weakest point of my performance; I am too often constrained to have resort to such words as "likely" and "perhaps". . . In a word my demonstration, satisfactory to my [mind?], without any kind of reference to the inquiry whether Rigdon had any connection with the Spaulding Manuscript.

    When I had concurred the point that Mr. Rigdon made use of the Spaulding manuscript of the Book of Mormon, I felt under obligation [of] an industrious inquiry to examine the volume with reference to the question [of] where Mr. Spaulding obtained the materials that he collected in his history. The conclusion which was reached in this quarter is likewise regarded with modesty; it is not conceived to amount to a demonstration.

    I have placed nearly every fact and incident that I have touched in a different setting from any that it ever before received. I hope to do myself the honor to submit my book to your inspection, and I desire to entreat you in advance not to accuse me of any passion for novelty. On the contrary, novelty is for me the "abomination of desolation standing in the place where it ought not." The different light in which I consider the subject is due entirely to the different point of view which I occupy. Will you not kindly investigate and determine whether the new light is a true light before you shall condemn my conclusions?

    I have derived the theology of Mormonism from the Disciples and from the Swedenborgians and from the Restorationists. These excellent people, I foresee would be very much enraged against me, but I do not feel the slightest hostility against them; I am simply exercising the right of every student to prosecute a thorough investigation. Mormonism, I believe, can be understood by no other process than that which I have advocated. If in any way you should ever feel disposed to employ your kind offices to relieve a fellow soldier from undeserved obloquy, it would be accepted as the kindest favor you could bestow. I consider that I am guilty of no offense except what is involved in a more complete and critical use of the inductive method than has been achieved by my predecessors in this field.

    yours very truly,
    Wm. H. Whitsitt


    P. S. Please accept thanks for your kindness in bringing my examination paper to the attention of Prof. Fisher.

    I perceive that I mentioned above nothing but the external sources upon which I relied for evidence that Rigdon got possession of Spaulding's Book of Mormon. There are also internal sources of perhaps more importance derived from the literary structure of the present Book of Mormon which to my way of thinking supply valuable evidence to show that the present Book of Mormon is based upon a work that preceded it. This latter evidence, however, does not certify that it was Mr. Spaulding's Book of Mormon; it might have been some other person's Book of Mormon. That Rigdon acted as editor and not in the character of author I believe will be apparent to any critical inquiry into the structure of the present B. of Mormon.

    I should be thankful for any information that may be in your possession regarding a nest of Mormons that existed in 1832 at Amherst, Lorain Co. How they chanced to obtain a footing there; what church they previously affiliated with; names of prominent persons; names of Mormon elders who perverted them; [these] are some of the points I should write to learn about. If I could get a sight of the autobiography of P. P. Pratt, I should likely not have any need to inquire. Is that work in your library? Have you any other rare books of the early period besides Howe?

    If it will go any distance to promote your inquiries I will add that Warren Smith and his wife Amanda (daughter of Ezekiel and Fanny Barnes) were Amherst Mormons in 1832. The latter was a member of the Disciples' Church and possibly her husband likewise.



    William H. Whitsitt letter to James H. Fairchild (excerpts).
    Original in the James H. Fairchild Papers at the Oberlin College Archives.



    [information from envelope]
    Moore & Warner
    Attorneys at Law
    Clinton, Illinois
    Return if not delivered in ten days

    Professor Whitsitt
    Louisville


    Clinton Ill, May 18 '86    
    Professor Whitsitt
    Louisville Ky,

    Sir
    In reading my "Magazine of Western history," I see that you are writing a history or biography of Sidney Rigdon. I knew him very well while he was in Mentor Kirtland & want one of your books as soon as published. I think the external & internal evidence strong that he had much to do in getting up the theology of the "book of Mormon." It is nearer that held by the 'disciples" than any other. I hope you have been able to find something that will
    [ 2 ]
    show that he knew all about it.

    Rigdon in his quarrel with Taylor Young Kimball and others, immediately after Jo Smith was murdered, threatened(?) them, with telling the whole story, they dare him to do it with dark haunts(?) as the consequences. I have often thought if some shrewd detective could have got hold of Rigdon after he left the Mormons at Nauvoo, he would have told, honestly told, all he knew about the origin of the book of Mormon. So far as I have read he died with out saying a word for or against it. His daughters Nancy & Authalia are yet alive, or were about a year ago.

    The most damaging evidence against Rigdon personally, is that taken before the Judge of the Fifth
    [ 3 ]
    Circuit of Mo on the arrest of Smith and others for treason, and given by W. W. Phelps, a P M in Caldwell Co Mo. The pamphlet was printed by Sharp & Gamble Warsaw Ill in 1841.

    For Rigdons threats please see pages 177, 8 & 9 of "The Mormons" published in London in 1857. When a small boy say from 1826 to the spring of 1831 I knew Rigdon. Have heard him preach often as a "disciple." He joined the Mormons early in the winter of 1830, 31. From that time until he left Kirtland I saw him but little but heard much. I am inclined to the opinion, that the manuscript coming from Honolulu is not the one named by the witnesses who have heard Spauldings manuscript read.
    [ 4 ]
    The scriptural language and the names of "Nephi" & "Lehi" could not be confused with those in that pretended "Manuscript Found." Again the Mormons themselves may have had that "Manuscript Found" written sealed up and afterward sent to the place where this was discovered for the express purpose of disproving our theory of the Mormon religion. They would have more interest in having just such a paper formed and found at the time it was, than any other sect. I don't think Rigdon was or intended to be a bad man. He was vain man, loved to talk, and chafed if(?) muted(?) because he was not in the estimation of the brethren the equal of Thomas Campbell or his son Alexander's.
    Respectfully Yours
    C H Moore


    Note 1: C. H. Moore, Clinton, Illinois, to William Heth Whitsitt, Louisville, Kentucky, 18 May 1886, ALS, Special Collections, Boyce Library, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville. This letter can be found in Whitsitt's Scrapbook, Clippings on Mormonism, in the SBTS Archives. Call number: 286.1081.W617m V.19

    Note 2: Clifton Haswell Moore was born on October 26, 1817 in Kirtland, Ohio, the oldest of eight children to Isaac and Philena Blish Moore. He worked on his father's farm while attending school at the Painesville Academy and the Western Reserve Teachers' Seminary. He moved to Illinois in 1839. He began reading law and was admitted to the bar in 1841. And soon thereafter settled in Clinton Illinois where he established a law office. Eventually his son-in-law Vespasian Warner became his junior partner. Moore became friends with Abraham Lincoln when he was riding the circuit through Dewitt County. They were law associates working together on many cases and opposing each other on many more. Mr. Moore attended the National Convention in 1860 and is said to have done much toward securing Lincoln's nomination for president. Moore died on April 29, 1901 at the age of 83. See: "About C. H. Moore," http://www.chmoorehomestead.org/mrmoore.htm; (accessed June 5, 2006).



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    Wm. H. Whitsitt article from: Jackson, Samuel Macauley, (editor) The Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge and Gazetteer (NYC: 1891; text from 2d. rev. ed., 1899, used here).


    MORMONISM.

    The Book of Mormon is the earliest monument of Mormon history; it is also, in some respects, the most important of the sacred books of the Mormon Church. The study of Mormonism, therefore properly commences with the Book of Mormon. Its literary form is repulsive to the last degree; its thought is low and lacking in interest. Little wonder that it should have been neglected. But whoever desires to comprehend the history, doctrines, and purposes of Mormonism must give his cares first of all to the Book of Mormon. If he shrinks from that ordeal it will be a waste of time and energy to touch the subject at all.


    Structure of the Book of Mormon: Fifteen separate books are contained in the work, as follows: I NEPHI, II NEPHI, JACOB, ENOS, JAROM, OMNI, WORDS OF MORMON, MOSIAH, ALMA, HELAMAN, III NEPHI, IV NEPHI, MORMON, ETHER, MORONI.

    The plan of the work represents that the prophet Mormon composed an abridgment of the previous history of the prophet Nephi which he had taken from the plates of Nephi. In the above list all of the books from I Nephi to IV Nephi are included in the so-called Abridgment of Mormon. The book of Mormon, proper, which stands as 13th in the list, is not a portion of the Abridgment; it was composed as an independent work by the prophet Mormon and affixed as a supplement at the close of the Abridgment.

    The book of Ether is a separate and independent work that has no connection with the Book of Mormon. The prophet Mormon was in no sense the author of it, and it was included because the editor took a fancy to its contents. The Book of Moroni, which stands last in the series, was produced entirely by the editor, and appended to the work for a special purpose. It was an afterthought.

    It therefore appears that the Book of Mormon is composed of three separate and independent sections -- namely, the first thirteen books, which are represented to be the work of the prophet Mormon; the fourteenth book, called Ether, with which Mormon had no connection; and the fifteenth book, that was sent forth by the editor under the name of Moroni, the surviving son of Mormon.

    Returning to the first section, it may be remarked that the Abridgment of Mormon is also divided into two sections. The editor undertook to rewrite and recast the whole of the Abridgment, but his industry failed him at the close of the book of Omni. There he allowed the Abridgment to stand pretty nearly in the language of Mormon, only inserting here and there such preachments and reflections as suited the scope of his enterprise. The first six books that he had rewritten were given the special name of the small plates, the original upon which the so-called plates were founded being retained for future uses; but owing to circumstances that could not be controlled, it was never permitted to see the light. The book called The Words of Mormon, in the original work, stood at the beginning as a sort of preface to the entire Abridgment of Mormon; but when the editor had rewritten the first six books he felt that these were properly his own performance, and the Words of Mormon were assigned a position just in front of the Book of Mosiah, where the Abridgment of Mormon took its real commencement. So much for the handiwork of the editor, who brought the Book of Mormon into shape in which it now appears.


    Editor of the Book of Mormon: The question may now be raised as to who was the editor of the Book of Mormon. That point can be settled in no other way than by means of a critical examination of the doctrinal contents of the work. This examination would require much time and space, and here is not the place to prosecute it; nothing but results can be submitted. The first point that is claimed to be established is that the editor was a divine of the Disciples persuasion. In its theological positions and coloring, the Book of Mormon is a volume of Disciple theology, by which, however, is not meant the Disciples ever taught or practiced polygamy, or any of the errors commonly associated with Mormonism. That conclusion is capable of demonstration beyond any reasonable question. Let notice also be taken of the fact that the Book of Mormon bears traces of two several redactions. It contains in the first redaction that type of doctrine which the Disciples held and proclaimed prior to Nov. 18, 1827, when they had not yet formally embraced what is commonly considered to be the tenet of baptismal remission, a term, it should be remarked, repudiated by the Disciples. It also contains the type of doctrine which the Disciples have been defending since Nov. 18, 1827 under the name of the Ancient Gospel, of which the tenant of so-called baptismal remission is a leading feature.

    All authorities agree that Mr. Smith obtained possession of the work on Sept. 22, 1827, a period of nearly two months before the Disciples concluded to embrace this tenant. The editor felt that the Book of Mormon would be sadly incomplete -- would fail to accomplish the purpose for which he had bestowed his labor upon it- if this notion were not included. Accordingly he found means to communicate with Mr. Smith, and, regaining possession of certain portions of the manuscript, to insert the new item.


    Purpose of the Book of Mormon: The Disciples were continually making the boast that they and they alone spoke where the Scriptures spoke, and kept silent where the Scriptures are silent. The Editor of the Book of Mormon was deeply impressed by that sentiment. He was not even content with the extravagances of the Disciples; he longed to make the boast true of them that where the Scriptures spoke they always spoke, and felt convinced that the so-called Current Reformation would be a failure unless its advocates would consent to adopt also the Ancient Order of Things, touching such items as the gift of speaking in unknown tongues, of working miracles, communing with angles, the gift of inspiration and of revelation. His design was to bring the people with whom he was associated to adopt these changes, and so to fulfill the assertions that they enjoyed so much to repeat with reference to their merits as strict constructionists.


    A Limitation of the Editor of the Book of Mormon: Notwithstanding his almost insane devotion to false literalism, the editor of the Book of Mormon was unwilling to speak where the Old Testament Scriptures speak in relation to polygamy. He introduced into the work special injunctions that the faithful, who should receive it as a divine revelation, must abstain from polygamy.


    Mr. Sidney Rigdon: The above specifications, which may all clearly be demonstrated out of the Book of Mormon, point to Mr. Sidney Rigdon (q.v.) as the theological editor of the book. Rigdon was the only Disciple minister who vigorously and continuously demanded that his brethren should adopt the additional points that have been indicated. He was also the Mormon leader who resolutely opposed polygamy when Mr. Smith received his famous revelation in 1843. His opposition drove him from the counsels and fellowship of that portion of the Saints which remained faithful to Smith and his measures. That Rigdon was a Disciple minister for a short time is conceded by the Disciples themselves, and that he was a convert from Baptist views, having been a Baptist minister previously, explain his zeal in propagating his new views as he understood them.


    Spaulding and the Manuscript Found: Whatever may be true in relation to Solomon Spaulding, the conclusion is inexpugnable that Mr. Rigdon had in his possession the manuscript of the Book of Mormon before it was delivered to Joseph Smith. To suppose that Joseph Smith, whose antecedents were Methodistic, and who at this period had no acquaintance with the Disciples or their sentiments, could have given the work the special theological coloring that it displays, would have been unreasonable. Though none of the actors in the Mormon drama has chosen to reveal the secrets of Rigdon's initiative, the Book of Mormon points to him on almost every page. Its testimony cannot be concealed or denied.

    Nevertheless a measure of truth may be conceded to the stories that are reported concerning Spaulding. Criticism must allow that blunders are found in those stories, and that they cannot be accepted in all their details. For example, it is incorrect to affirm that Spaulding wrote only one Manuscript Found; that was likely a generic title for all his literary effusions. The first writing that he produced under that title is believed to be the document that several years since was recovered in Honolulu.

    The second of his Manuscripts Found is suspected to have been the Book of Ether, and the third the Book of Mormon. It is affirmed that he continued to drivel a Manuscript Found even after he had quitted Pittsburgh and retired to Amity, Pa., where his death befell in the year 1816.

    It is also a fable which represents that Mr. Rigdon was ever a printer in Pittsburgh. Most probably he obtained the Manuscript Found from the printing office of Butler and Lambdin upon the occasion of their failure in business, a number of years after Spaulding had deposited it with Patterson, Lambdin, who had been their predecessors. He may have purchased it for a mere trifle at their enforced sale (1823?) or, it may have been presented by Mr. Lambdin, who would be pleased to get rid of a bundle of useless rubbish. Most of the stories that have been put forth in the name of Mrs. Spaulding, widow of Solomon Spaulding, are unworthy of credence. This good lady knew almost nothing concerning the literary occupations of her worthless husband, and was hardly prepared to be a witness in the case. Especially the statement that appeared over her signature on April 1, 1839, was improperly obtained, and she was not fairly responsible for it.


    Mr. Joseph Smith: Taking our stand upon the unquestionable testimony of the Book of Mormon to the effect that Mr. Rigdon was its editor, it may be inquired by what process his attention was first directed to Mr. Joseph Smith as a suitable agent to bring the work before the public. Here, it must be conceded, the investigator is much at a loss. No record has been kept of the peculiar fortune by which a minister of religion, residing at the moment in Pittsburgh, Pa., could have had his thoughts first drawn to a smart Yankee Lad of eighteen years, who resided in Manchester, in the northern portion of New York. Happily the question is not or much consequence; nobody can doubt the fact that he did find him.

    The first interview of the pair appears to have occurred on Sept. 21, 1823, when Sidney must have shown himself at the humble home of Joseph and passed a night with him. In subsequent years Mr. Smith liked to adopt a pictorial method in accordance with which Sidney was raised to the dignity of an angel. His mother, however, in a contemporary utterance, gave a description of the pretended angel that would fit the figure of Mr. Rigdon very well. In the earlier years of Mormon history this angel was represented to be the angel Nephi, but upon subsequent consideration his name was changed to Moroni. That would agree well enough with the fact that Rigdon in his own person as editor had added the Book of Moroni at the close of the Book of Mormon.

    Mr. Rigdon had no idea of committing such a precious treasure and such an important enterprise to the providence of a lad of 18 years. Joseph was as yet too young and too giddy to receive the golden plates, but he nursed him assiduously for four years. It is conceivable that upon every return of Sept. 22, down to the year 1827, he went to New York to confer with him; at any rate, Smith annually made a demonstration at the Hill Cumorah when the day returned. He was justly suspicious of him, especially in view of the fact that Mr. Smith had become a trifle addicted to strong drink. Evidences are not wanting of a purpose to obtain a partner for Smith, so that the one might watch over and assist the other. Finally, on Jan. 18, 1827, Mr. Smith eloped and was married to Miss Emma Hale. All thoughts of a different partner were now dismissed, and Sidney resolved at the next anniversary to proceed with his project and deliver the Book of Mormon to his collaborator. . . .

    Mr. Rigdon kept his tryst and fulfilled his promise. After retaining the Book of Mormon for at least four years, during which at odd times he had been employed in the task of impressing on it a system of theology as much as possible in keeping with the scheme of the Disciples, the time was felt ripe to entrust it to one who had undertaken to get it published. The requirement that it should be copied before it was exhibited to the printer was a severe one, but it was felt to be necessary. The sheets were possibly yellow with age, but no printer in the land would concede that they were made of gold. It was indispensable that they should not be examined. Besides it was conceivable that in case they were widely circulated some person might examine them who should recognize the handwriting of Mr. Rigdon....

    (remainder of article not yet transcribed)



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    Sidney S. Rigdon (1793-1876)
    Utah Historical Society photo

    The Untold Story of Mormonism?



    William H. Whittsit's

    Sidney Rigdon,
    The Real Founder of Mormonism


    An Introductory Review by
    Dale R. Broadhurst





    Whitsitt's "Untold Story" of
    Sidney Rigdon, The Mormon Elder


    Introduction:

    In 1980, while working on my Master's degree in Ohio, I was informed by RLDS Elder and historian F. Mark McKiernan, of the existence (among the manuscripts in the Library of Congress) of a lengthy unpublished manuscript biography the early Mormon leader Sidney Rigdon. I procured a microfilm copy of this manuscript and found it to be the same biography cited in Reed C. Durham's 1965 BYU PhD dissertation ("A History of Joseph Smith's Revision of the Bible") as:

    Whitsitt, William H. "Sidney Rigdon, The Real Founder of Mormonism." Unpublished Manuscript, Library of Congress, 1881-5.
    Further investigation into the background of this obscure biography led me to realize that the work had been known to a handful of LDS and RLDS historians since the late 1950s, when Stanley Ivins (the son of Apostle Anthony W. Ivins) had obtained a copy of Whitsitt's work and circulated its contents among a small circle of his associates in Utah.

    Frustrated at not having an easily accessible and legible copy of the Rigdon biography available to me, I printed out the contents of the microfilm in 1980 and constructed a partial typescript. These pages I donated to the Special Collections of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah a couple of years later. Shortly thereafter, Mormon origins researcher Byron Marchant made use of my materials at the University to construct the first lengthy typescript of William H. Whitsitt's "Sidney Rigdon, The Real Founder of Mormonism." This he published in a very limited edition in 1988 (see one of the few surviving copies of that printing in the BYU H. B. Lee Library Special Collections: BX 8670.1 .R44w 1988).

    As of early 2001, three separate Whitsitt research and writing projects are underway. Before the end of 2002 a bibliography of Whitsitt's published and unpublished writings (accompanied by excerpts taken from several of his texts) will likely see completion, along with a graduate thesis documenting the man's life and works. To these major scholarly contributions can be added the scheduled 2002 publication of an annotated edition of the entire Rigdon biography by Metamorphosis Publishing.

    Given this renewed interest in Dr. Whitsitt and his biography of Sidney Rigdon, it now seems timely for me to resurrect and slightly modify the following review, which I first wrote and placed on-line in 1999. After my initial posting of its contents to the web several months ago, I received feedback informing me that some readers felt its contents demonstrated an unscholarly bias and included plethoric remarks censorious of Fawn Brodie and Jerald and Sandra Tanner. These imperfections I have attempted to remove in this April 2001 version of the review.


    01. Rigdon's Connection to the Mormons:

    The Rev. Sidney S. Rigdon (1793-1876) was a very important early convert to the Church of Christ, founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr.  Joining the Church at the end of that same year, Rigdon rose almost immediately to the highest levels of Mormon ecclesiastical authority, displacing Oliver Cowdery as Smith's right hand man. Elder Rigdon was an experienced "Reformed Baptist" clergyman, a capable writer and preacher, a compelling orator, and a visionary in his own right. Through the years of Mormonism he always managed to maintain at least a token presence in the Mormon hierarchy. After the failure of his 1839-40 misison to Washington, D. C. to obtain a Federal redress for Mormon losses in Missouri, Elder Rigdon's star began to fade. Except for his brief rehabiliatation to serve Smith's running mate in the 1844 U.S. Presidential campaign, Rigdon remained a figure of little importance during the Nauvoo period in Mormon history. He was ejected from the Church's membership by Brigham Young and Young's associates shortly after Smith's death in 1844.

    While the lives of many other early Mormon notables later became the subjects of intense interest and study, Rigdon's acrimonious excommunication (coupled with his subsequent efforts to build up a Latter Day Saint movement under his own leadership) quickly earned him a position far from the Latter Day Saints' heroic limelight. Non-Mormon authors, starting with Eber D. Howe in 1834, gave Sidney Rigdon a fair amount of exposure in their writings. This early negative publicity came primarily in association with Rigdon's supposed role in composing the Book of Mormon, by redacting and supplementing a certain manuscript allegedly authored by the Rev. Solomon Spalding. But even the most hostile of anti-Mormon writers began to shorten their chapters dedicated to Rigdon after one of Spalding's manuscripts was recovered in Hawaii in 1884. Beginning at about the turn of the century, most investigators of the Spalding claims for Book of Mormon authorship increasingly reported in their books and articles that it seemed unlikely that a Spalding-Rigdon literary connection could have resulted in the production of Smith's "golden bible." Following the appearance of Fawn Brodie's Smith biography in 1945, the reading public lost its previous interest in Sidney Rigdon.


    02. Whitsitt's Unpublished Biography of Elder Rigdon:

    While most of the biographers and historians reporting on Mormonism near the end of the 19th century were relegating Rigdon to the scrap heap of the past, two or three interesting exceptions to this trend managed to gain a brief audience. One such writer was the Rev. Clark Braden, who in 1884 wrote and published a thick book documenting a series of debates he had with RLDS Elder Edmund L. Kelley. Another writer, whose views on Mormon origins closely paralleled those of Braden, was the Rev. William H. Whitsitt, second President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Undaunted by the Spalding literary discovery in Hawaii and subsequent revisionist theories for the origin of Mormonism, Whitsitt relentlessly reinforced and extended Eber D. Howe's original thesis of Sidney Rigdon having been the real author of the Book of Mormon and the principal co-founder of the LDS Church. Whitsitt's extensive research into this subject enabled him to write a hefty biography of Elder Rigdon during the early years of the 1880's. He had nearly completed the work, entitled: "Sidney Rigdon, the Real Founder of Mormonism," when the discovery in Hawaii was made, but the biographer was able to fit the new information into his complex explanations regarding Mormon beginnings and doctrinal evolution. He completed his opus the following year.

    Subsequent events in Whitsitt's life directed his interest away from this particular biography project and he seems to have made no great efforts to get the work ready for a publisher. He tightened up his prose, extracted a section for separate publication, and inserted some new material here and there into the text during the period between 1888 and 1890, but the results remained unpublished. Practically all the publication resulting from Whitsitt's labor in this work is encompassed in a few short pages on Mormonism in John F. Hurst's 1892 Short History of the Christian Church, Samuel M. Jackson's 1891 Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge and Gazetteer, and Whitsitt's own 1888 Origin of the Disciples of Christ. The verbose and uneven manuscript prose resulting from Whitsitt's last attempts in editing the Rigdon biography endure today as a largely forgotten, badly outdated, and lamentably unpolished attempt to "expose" Mormonism. Considering the obvious time, effort. and skillful construction Whitsitt invested in this project, it is a shame that his limited access to primary sources (coupled with an inability to curb self-defeating rhetoric) kept him from delivering the definitive reporting that might have interested a major publisher of his day.

    Even the casual reader of this massive volume will probably come away from its reading with the feeling that the author jumped upon his literary hobby horse and rode off in three different directions all at once. The book attempts to provide a history of Smith's Church of Christ, an innovative explanation of that church's sacred books, and a detailed biography of one of its primary early leaders, all in one text. While Whitsitt's book certainly contains a great deal of insightful exposition and commentary on the Mormons' history and scriptures, it does not consistently elucidate Sidney Rigdon's life well enough to provide the reader with a definitive biography. Even F. Mark McKiernan's thin and problematic 1971 Sidney Rigdon... accomplishes its biographical purpose more effectively than does Whitsitt's heavy tome.

    The writer would have done better had he entitled his work "The Real History of Mormonism," and left out much of the personal information he compiled on Sidney Rigdon and the Book of Mormon. Had he done that, the result would have probably been publishable in the same way that his excerpted section on the Disciples of Christ was publishable as a modest, stand-alone volume in 1888. It is also a pity that Whitsitt did not enlist a knowledgeable editor to carefully partition and revise his manuscript material. Such an exercise of the editorial pen might well have produced a set of shorter and more readable volumes on early Day Saintism. Among that series he could have placed his exposure of Mormon origins and personal explication of the Book of Mormon as serviceable volumes in their own right.

    Whitsitt made passable use of primary and secondary sources available outside of Utah in the 1880's. He inspected documents, conducted interviews, compiled information from most of the major published sources (primarily anti-Mormon works), and delved into the Saints' own publications for certain facts and quotes. But despite his effort at gathering such necessary information, Whitsitt the researcher tended always to swallow anti-Mormon assertions whole, reserving his most strenuous application of critical examination mostly to those things the Mormons themselves had to say. This methodology betrays utilization of a personal double standard on Whitsitt's part, and his reliance upon this subjective bias continually impaired his otherwise often commendable attempts at reporting important information and unique insights.

    Whitsitt's Sidney Rigdon biography is a book built rather like the rotund Rigdon of later years: it is thin at the top and bottom and obese in the middle. The author was unable to compile anything like a trove of revealing facts and stories regarding the young man. Most of Whitsitt's contribution to knowledge in that area comes as a result of his postulating various details in the little-known relationship shared by Sidney Rigdon and the Baptist reformer Alexander Campbell. Some of his speculation regarding Rigdon's equally intriguing (and even less known) friendship with the Pittsburgh printer Jonathan H. Lambdin may eventually prove reliable, but Whitsitt was unable to supply the documentation necessary to demonstrate where such speculation can be accepted as reliable fact. The content of the biography again becomes noticeably thinner following the end of the Missouri period in early Mormonism. Here Whitsitt's inability to put some meat on the bones of his Rigdon chronology is less excusable. He simply runs out of creative steam during Nauvoo era and presents a two dimensional First Counselor in the Church Presidency who lacks both a clear motivation and any real ability to capture the reader's interest. Whitsitt must have found the detailed documentation of Sidney's final years to have been a near-impossible task. Being unable to provide his readers with the final years of the Rigdon story, the biographer simply let his previously energetic reporting peter out into a few sketchily expressed personal opinions at the end. Whitsitt researched and wrote other historical books and their published contents demonstrate that he was not ignorant of the historian's craft. Had he better developed and applied the insight and skill necessary to an accomplished historian, the Louisville professor might well have tied up the loose ends of the story with a better ending than the one offered in his manuscript. Whitsitt essentially leaves Rigdon's long post-Nauvoo life unrecorded and ends the without the enlightening summary the reader might expect in a major historical study. The book is not only an unpublished work; in several respects is also an unfinished one.

    Unfortunately (for Whitsitt) the place of Mormonism in American religious and social history remained largely undefined and unresolved as the 1880's were drawing to a close. The author had the misadventure to discontinue his research and writing just as the denouement of the national battle against Mormon polygamy and the related quest for Utah statehood was beginning to play itself out. Had Whitsitt gone back and finished his manuscript from the personal perspective and historical hindsight available to a writer on Mormonism at the turn of the century, his literary product might have turned out something like William A. Linn's roughly contemporary book on the Saints.

    Even though Linn tried one last time to tell the old anti-Mormon "Mormon History," Sidney Rigdon had died a decade before, forgotten by nearly everyone. Both Rigdon's story and some brief citations of Whitsitt's views concerning him are to be found in Linn's great compilation, but they are the fading ghosts of a fading century. No author would attempt to re-write Linn's span of history for another three generations, and in the meanwhile Fawn Brodie's 1945 book thoroughly quenched any lingering interest the reading public may have had in Joseph Smith's earliest associates in the church leadership he eventually came to dominate.


    03. Structure and Content of the Whitsitt Manuscript:

    The manuscript biography of Sidney Rigdon, as it now sits on the shelves of the Library of Congress, is comprised of something over 1500 typewritten index cards, affixed two to a page on letter-sized sheets of stationery. The cards run in number from 1 to 1306 (numbers 26-126 range were removed in 1888) with many ancillary cards inserted (upon which Whitsitt appended a series of textual additions bearing alphabetized letters supplemental to the numeric designation of the preceding original card) at various points in the manuscript. Were the book published today as a typical hard cover edition, duplication of its contents would probably require a little over 1000 printed pages. Whitsitt's compilation follows the orthography and structural style of Remy & Brenchley's 1860 work and is divided into five "books," labled as follows:


    Book the First: Birth and Breeding
    Book the Second: The Baptist Period
    Book the Third: Disciple Period
    Book the Fourth: Mormon Period
    Book the Fifth: Sidney's Life After His Expulsion From the Church

    The first book is really nothing more than a short prefix to Book the Second. It consists of five pages of information on Rigdon and his family prior to May of 1817 when Sidney joined the Peter's Creek Baptist church, located in what are now the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA, Whitsitt lacked access to most of the preserved records relating to Rigdon and his family and this fact probably explains the paucity of information set forth in this brief introduction. Whitsitt was unaware of the Rigdon family's English origins and guessed them to be Scotch-Irish. He was also unsure of the religious affiliation of Rigdon's parents. While a glance at the May 1789 "subscription paper" for the construction of the Peter's Creek Baptist church would have told Whitsitt that both Sidney's father, William, and William's brother, Thomas, were Baptists, the professor's researches into such subjects did not reach that level of primary documentary inspection. Also, the biographer's notion that Rigdon did not suffer from "mental derangement" only reflects the state of physiological knowledge in his day. In a modern examination of Rigdon's actions and religious pronouncements, such as that offered by his modern biographer, Richard Van Waggoner, can allow considerable leeway for the probability that he suffered from life-long bouts with mental illness. Whitsitt is no doubt correct in stating that Rigdon did not reside within the city limits of Pittsburgh during his youth. But a more careful examination of the man's interests and associations should have alerted Whitsitt to the likelihood that the youth delighted in frequent trips to the nearby frontier population center. The lure of the city's book shops, schools, churches, libraries, and debating societies must have exerted a strong attraction to the bookish and "lazy" (in terms of devotion to farm labors) young Sidney Rigdon.

    The second book provides Whitsitt's attempt at descripting Rigdon's interactions with the Baptists of western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Here we see the picture of young Rigdon discovering a taste for a literalistic brand of Christian primitivism and a desire for the relative life of ease and comfort ehich might be had in becoming a frontier clergyman of that era. Whitsitt's thesis is that Sidney Rigdon very early fell under the reformist influence of Alexander Campbell, who was then living in the adjacant county and developing the doctrines of the Disciples of Christ religious restoration movement. In Whitsitt's view, Rigdon became something like an undercover Campbellite and a secret agent in promoting Campbell's plans for co-opting or capturing the leadership of Baptist churches in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. The Baptist seminary president's opinion of Alexander Campbell is, if possible, even lower than his frequently expressed hatred for Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, and the Mormons. Perhaps this view is to be expected in Whitsitt, as the congregations he saw being "perverted" into Campbellism and Mormonism were of his own denomination during a period when Baptist orthodoxy and cohesion were under attack "out west. Whitsitt saw Alexander Campbell as a vulgar literalist who preyed upon vulnerable Baptist communities by offering them a return to the original beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians mentioned in the New Testament. Whitsitt spends an inordinate amount of effort in describing the evolution of a certain strain of Christian primitivism from the Glassite Scottish seceders down to the Campbellites, Sidney Rigdon's Ohio congregations, and the first Mormons. In 1888 the writer removed a good deal of this section of his work and saw it published separately as Origin of the Disciples of Christ . . .


    04. Whitsitt's Main Theory

    The third and fourth books of Whitsitt's works deserve chapter-by-chapter summaries and commentaries, the contents of which would necessarily extend far beyond the scope of this limited book review. These two portions of the manuscript comprise well over three-quarters of its total volume and contain just about all of the references used to establish and explicate Whitsitt's central thesis that Sidney Rigdon originated the Mormon Church as an outgrowth of his own peculiar brand of Campbellism.

    Whitsitt's theory is well summarized in the Preface which follows the opening title page to his manuscript book:
    Though the literature of Mormonism is extensive, no author has yet undertaken to investigate the Sacred Books of Mormonism with any degree of patience and system. Laborious and learned students have merely skimmed the surface of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. This is an omission which I have made it my task to supply in the present volume.

    The Sacred Books of Mormonism speak a plain and unvarnished story: they seem to point to Sidney Rigdon as the real founder of Mormon theology. No other person could have been the author of the religious portions of the Book of Mormon: he supplies the only key to a proper comprehension of the subject.

    The sources whence Mormon belief was borrowed are neither very various nor very far too seek. Mr. Rigdon was a minister of the Disciples of Christ when he performed the two redactions of the Book of Mormon by which it was adjusted to his uses. It copies the tenets of the Disciples with singular fidelity, and shows that Mormonism was devised to promote what he considered the best interests of that body of Christians by carrying their doctrines and practices to a point where he fancied they should be consistent and irresistible. Mormonism was originally designed to be an improvement upon the theology and polity of the Disciples: both in its theology and history, therefore, are insoluble mysteries without constant reference to Mr. Rigdon and to them (the Disciples).

    While these points are set forth and insisted upon, no assault has been intended or performed against the Disciples of Christ. It is no fault of mine that the facts are of such a color: it can surely be no crime to record them just as they exist, especially as without them no adequate explanation of Mormonism is possible.
    As an adjunct support to his thesis of the Rigdonite origins of Mormonism, Whitsitt provides a bare-bones recitation of the Spalding Authorship Theory for the Book of Mormon. He informs his readers that he would have rather not had to introduce this problematical element to his biography, but believes that it shows where and how Mr. Rigdon came up with the basic narrative for the Book of Mormon story. Beyond this Whitsitt shows very little interest in Solomon Spalding, his life, ideas, or writings. While Whitsitt had access to the Spalding manuscript discovered in Honolulu by the time he was putting the finishing touches on his Rigdon biography, he had so little interest in and regard for that production that he barely allows himself to add a few short notes regarding its possible relationship with the Book fo Mormon. Whitsitt's book four takes up seemlessly where book three leaves off and there he primarily uses the Kirtland, Missouri, and early Nauvoo Mormon history to demonstrate how he sees the Latter Day Saint church and doctrine developing under the increasing theocratic leadership exercised by Joseph Smith and some decreasing theological input from Rigdon. The final book is a painfully short and inadequate attempt on Whitsitt's part to wrap up his biography and come to something like a conclusion.


    05. Whitsitt's Book of Mormon Theory:

    Looking briefly back at book four of the Rigdon biography, we can see there developed and reported Whitsitt's thesis that an original Spalding narrative was re-worked, abridged, supplemented, and redacted into a radical Campbellite document which provided a new scriptural basis for Rigdon's departure from the latter day miracle-denying doctrines of Alexander Campbell. From his study of the Mormon texts (primarily the Book of Mormon and early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, Whitsitt attempts to methodically explain both a hidden portion of Rigdon's personal life and the true origin of the earliest Mormon practices and teachings. Rather than get into a point-by-point examination of what Whitsitt has to say on these matters, I'll provide an excerpt from his own summary of this portion of his book. The following was printed in the 1891 edition of Jackson, Samuel M. Jackson's Concise Dictionary of Religious Knowledge and Gazetteer:
    The Book of Mormon:

    The Book of Mormon is the earliest monument of Mormon history; it is also, in some respects, the most important of the sacred books of the Mormon Church. The study of Mormonism, therefore properly commences with the Book of Mormon. Its literary form is repulsive to the last degree; its thought is low and lacking in interest. Little wonder that it should have been neglected. But whoever desires to comprehend the history, doctrines, and purposes of Mormonism must give his cares first of all to the Book of Mormon. If he shrinks from that ordeal it will be a waste of time and energy to touch the subject at all.


    Structure of the Book of Mormon:

    Fifteen separate books are contained in the work, as follows: I NEPHI, II NEPHI, JACOB, ENOS, JAROM, OMNI, WORDS OF MORMON, MOSIAH, ALMA, HELAMAN, III NEPHI, IV NEPHI, MORMON, ETHER, MORONI.

    The plan of the work represents that the prophet Mormon composed an abridgment of the previous history of the prophet Nephi which he had taken from the plates of Nephi. In the above list all of the books from I Nephi to IV Nephi are included in the so-called Abridgment of Mormon. The book of Mormon, proper, which stands as 13th in the list, is not a portion of the Abridgment; it was composed as an independent work by the prophet Mormon and affixed as a supplement at the close of the Abridgment. The book of Ether is a separate and independent work that has no connection with the Book of Mormon. The prophet Mormon was in no sense the author of it, and it was included because the editor took a fancy to its contents. The Book of Moroni, which stands last in the series, was produced entirely by the editor, and appended to the work for a special purpose. It was an afterthought.

    It therefore appears that the Book of Mormon is composed of three separate and independent sections -- namely, the first thirteen books, which are represented to be the work of the prophet Mormon; the fourteenth book, called Ether, with which Mormon had no connection; and the fifteenth book, that was sent forth by the editor under the name of Moroni, the surviving son of Mormon.

    Returning to the first section, it may be remarked that the Abridgment of Mormon is also divided into two sections. The editor undertook to rewrite and recast the whole of the Abridgment, but his industry failed him at the close of the book of Omni. There he allowed the Abridgment to stand pretty nearly in the language of Mormon, only inserting here and there such preachments and reflections as suited the scope of his enterprise.

    The first six books that he had rewritten were given the special name of the small plates, the original upon which the so-called plates were founded being retained for future uses; but owing to circumstances that could not be controlled, it was never permitted to see the light. The book called The Words of Mormon, in the original work, stood at the beginning as a sort of preface to the entire Abridgment of Mormon; but when the editor had rewritten the first six books he felt that these were properly his own performance, and the Words of Mormon were assigned a position just in front of the Book of Mosiah, where the Abridgment of Mormon took its real commencement. So much for the handiwork of the editor, who brought the Book of Mormon into shape in which it now appears.


    Editor of the Book of Mormon:

    The question may now be raised as to who was the editor of the Book of Mormon. That point can be settled in no other way than by means of a critical examination of the doctrinal contents of the work. This examination would require much time and space, and here is not the place to prosecute it; nothing but results can be submitted. The first point that is claimed to be established is that the editor was a divine of the Disciples persuasion. In its theological positions and coloring, the Book of Mormon is a volume of Disciple theology, by which, however, is not meant the Disciples ever taught or practiced polygamy, or any of the errors commonly associated with Mormonism. That conclusion is capable of demonstration beyond any reasonable question. Let notice also be taken of the fact that the Book of Mormon bears traces of two several redactions. It contains in the first redaction that type of doctrine which the Disciples held and proclaimed prior to Nov. 18, 1827, when they had not yet formally embraced what is commonly considered to be the tenant of baptismal remission, a term, it should be remarked, repudiated by the Disciples. It also contains the type of doctrine which the Disciples have been defending since Nov. 18, 1827 under the name of the Ancient Gospel, of which the tenant of so-called baptismal remission is a leading feature.

    All authorities agree that Mr. Smith obtained possession of the work on Sept. 22, 1827, a period of nearly two months before the Disciples concluded to embrace this tenant. The editor felt that the Book of Mormon would be sadly incomplete -- would fail to accomplish the purpose for which he had bestowed his labor upon it- if this notion were not included. Accordingly he found means to communicate with Mr. Smith, and, regaining possession of certain portions of the manuscript, to insert the new item.


    Purpose of the Book of Mormon:

    The Disciples were continually making the boast that they and they alone spoke where the Scriptures spoke, and kept silent where the Scriptures are silent. The Editor of the Book of Mormon was deeply impressed by that sentiment. He was not even content with the extravagances of the Disciples; he longed to make the boast true of them that where the Scriptures spoke they always spoke, and felt convinced that the so-called Current Reformation would be a failure unless its advocates would consent to adopt also the Ancient Order of Things, touching such items as the gift of speaking in unknown tongues, of working miracles, communing with angles, the gift of inspiration and of revelation. His design was to bring the people with whom he was associated to adopt these changes, and so to fulfill the assertions that they enjoyed so much to repeat with reference to their merits as strict constructionists.


    A Limitation of the Editor of the Book of Mormon:

    Not withstanding his almost insane devotion to false literalism, the editor of the Book of Mormon was unwilling to speak where the Old Testament Scriptures speak in relation to polygamy. He introduced into the work special injunctions that the faithful, who should receive it as a divine revelation, must abstain from polygamy.


    Mr. Sidney Rigdon:

    The above specifications, which may all clearly be demonstrated out of the Book of Mormon, point to Mr. Sidney Rigdon (q.v.) as the theological editor of the book. Rigdon was the only Disciple minister who vigorously and continuously demanded that his brethren should adopt the additional points that have been indicated. He was also the Mormon leader who resolutely opposed polygamy when Mr. Smith received his famous revelation in 1843. His opposition drove him from the counsels and fellowship of that portion of the Saints which remained faithful to Smith and his measures. That Rigdon was a Disciple minister for a short time is conceded by the Disciples themselves, and that he was a convert from Baptist views, having been a Baptist minister previously, explain his zeal in propagating his new views as he understood them.


    Spaulding and the Manuscript Found:

    Whatever may be true in relation to Solomon Spaulding, the conclusion is inexpugnable that Mr. Rigdon had in his possession the manuscript of the Book of Mormon before it was delivered to Joseph Smith. To suppose that Joseph Smith, whose antecedents were Methodistic, and who at this period had no acquaintance with the Disciples or their sentiments, could have given the work the special theological coloring that it displays, would have been unreasonable. Though none of the actors in the Mormon drama has chosen to reveal the secrets of Rigdon's initiative, the Book of Mormon points to him on almost every page. Its testimony cannot be concealed or denied.

    Nevertheless a measure of truth may be conceded to the stories that are reported concerning Spaulding. Criticism must allow that blunders are found in those stories, and that they cannot be accepted in all their details. For example, it is incorrect to affirm that Spaulding wrote only one Manuscript Found; that was likely a generic title for all his literary effusions. The first writing that he produced under that title is believed to be the document that several years since was recovered in Honolulu.

    The second of his Manuscripts Found is suspected to have been the Book of Ether, and the third the Book of Mormon. It is affirmed that he continued to drivel a Manuscript Found even after he had quitted Pittsburgh and retired to Amity, Pa., where his death befell in the year 1816.

    It is also a fable which represents that Mr. Rigdon was ever a printer in Pittsburgh. Most probably he obtained the Manuscript Found from the printing office of Butler and Lambdin upon the occasion of their failure in business, a number of years after Spaulding had deposited it with Patterson, Lambdin, who had been their predecessors. He may have purchased it for a mere trifle at their enforced sale (1823?) or, it may have been presented by Mr. Lambdin, who would be pleased to get rid of a bundle of useless rubbish. Most of the stories that have been put forth in the name of Mrs. Spaulding, widow of Solomon Spaulding, are unworthy of credence. This good lady knew almost nothing concerning the literary occupations of her worthless husband, and was hardly prepared to be a witness in the case. Especially the statement that appeared over her signature on April 1, 1839, was improperly obtained, and she was not fairly responsible for it.


    Mr. Joseph Smith:

    Taking our stand upon the unquestionable testimony of the Book of Mormon to the effect that Mr. Rigdon was its editor, it may be inquired by what process his attention was first directed to Mr. Joseph Smith as a suitable agent to bring the work before the public. Here, it must be conceded, the investigator is much at a loss. No record has been kept of the peculiar fortune by which a minister of religion, residing at the moment in Pittsburgh, Pa., could have had his thoughts first drawn to a smart Yankee Lad of eighteen years, who resided in Manchester, in the northern portion of New York. Happily the question is not or much consequence; nobody can doubt the fact that he did find him.

    The first interview of the pair appears to have occurred on Sept. 21, 1823, when Sidney must have shown himself at the humble home of Joseph and passed a night with him. In subsequent years Mr. Smith liked to adopt a pictorial method in accordance with which Sidney was raised to the dignity of an angel. His mother, however, in a contemporary utterance, gave a description of the pretended angel that would fit the figure of Mr. Rigdon very well. In the earlier years of Mormon history this angel was represented to be the angel Nephi, but upon subsequent consideration his name was changed to Moroni. That would agree well enough with the fact that Rigdon in his own person as editor had added the Book of Moroni at the close of the Book of Mormon.

    Mr. Rigdon had no idea of committing such a precious treasure and such an important enterprise to the providence of a lad of 18 years. Joseph was as yet too young and too giddy to receive the golden plates, but he nursed him assiduously for four years. It is conceivable that upon every return of Sept. 22, down to the year 1827, he went to New York to confer with him; at any rate, Smith annually made a demonstration at the Hill Cumorah when the day returned. He was justly suspicious of him, especially in view of the fact that Mr. Smith had become a trifle addicted to strong drink. Evidences are not wanting of a purpose to obtain a partner for Smith, so that the one might watch over and assist the other. Finally, on Jan. 18, 1827, Mr. Smith eloped and was married to Miss Emma Hale. All thoughts of a different partner were now dismissed, and Sidney resolved at the next anniversary to proceed with his project and deliver the Book of Mormon to his collaborator...

    Mr. Rigdon kept his tryst and fulfilled his promise. After retaining the Book of Mormon for at least four years, during which at odd times he had been employed in the task of impressing on it a system of theology as much as possible in keeping with the scheme of the Disciples, the time was felt ripe to entrust it to one who had undertaken to get it published. The requirement that it should be copied before it was exhibited to the printer was a severe one, but it was felt to be necessary. The sheets were possibly yellow with age, but no printer in the land would concede that they were made of gold. It was indispensable that they should not be examined. Besides it was conceivable that in case they were widely circulated some person might examine them who should recognize the handwriting of Mr. Rigdon. . . .

    06. Whitsitt's Anti-Mormon Bias:

    Whitsitt generally provides the appearance of having attempted to write scholarly history. However, the patina of seeming objectivity does nothing to conceal the rock-hard prejudice evident on nearly every page of his attempt at writing Mormon history and biography. Consciously or unconsciously Whitsitt appears to be attempting to outdo Howe, in casting epithets of derision upon Joseph Smith, jr., Sidney Rigdon, and the other early Latter Day Saints. The erudite Southern Baptist gentleman sometimes defeats his own purposes and ends up writing a story that induces more sympathy for the Vermont Yankees (the Smiths), turncoat apostates (Rigdon's Disciples), and some uninvited carpetbaggers (the Mormons in Missouri) than they do the righteous indignation Whitsitt wished to arouse. Curiously he extends this name-calling to Solomon Spalding and others, whose stories Whitsitt barely knew. He clearly thought that writer Ellen E. Dickinson was out of her league in trying to write history in a man's world. Clearly the seminary president was living in a world of his own imagining, where only he himself and perhaps a few educated co-religionists had the intellect and proper spiritual training to discern vulgar, non-Baptist delusion from sublime Whitsittite truth.

    Many other anti-Mormon books of this period were also written in the same hostile and derogatory language Whitsitt employs. What makes his defamatory derision particularly noticeable is his attempt to marry personal prejudice with scholarly methods and graduate-level vocabulary. The result is a sad and incongrous setting of interesting historical fragments in a matrix of disagreable finger-pointing and condemnation. Even if a few of Whitsitt's singular explanations regarding Rigdon, Smith, the Saints, and their holy book are partly true, the writer is never able to let go of his own petty prejudices long enough to produce the sort of objective, scholarly reporting which might significantly further our understanding of Mormon origins. The manuscript for his book is now almost entirely out-dated and languishes on the back shelves of a Library of Congress storeroom, unnoticed and unread.


    07. The Value of Whitsitt's Work:

    This "untold story" of Sidney Rigdon and Book of Mormon origins includes a number of detailed, singular explanations for motives, events, and outcomes during the founding and early spread of Mormonism. Once these conjectures have been at least partially severed from Whitsitt's pervading sarcasm and derision, their contents probably deserve more attention from the academics than they has received to date. Both F. Mark McKiernan and Richard S. Van Wagoner made some minor use of Whitsitt in compiling their own biographies of Sidney Rigdon, but practically no one has written on the topic of the seminary president's unique research and theories.

    Whitsitt's statements on form and source criticism represent some of the most meticulous theorizing regarding Book of Mormon origins ever set down on paper. Whether they are right or wrong, they might have provided a useful point of departure for further investigation and discussion of these topics. But, since Whitsitt was unable to find a publisher for his sadly flawed work, both the loyal defenders of Lehite historicity and the hostile critics of the Mormon book have missed discovering this extensive mother-load of semi-scholarly speculation on Mormon scriptures.

    At the very least the Book of Mormon form and source critical-analyses set forth by Whitsitt should be addressed by some competant scholars of that book and of historical-critical scriptural studies in general. No doubt some of Whitsitt's purported findings in this area could be easily refuted by properly educated investigators and commentators. But, beyond study for the purposes of refining Mormon apologetics, Whitsitt might also be studied to see if his findings offer any real insight into has the Book of Mormon text is structured and how the internal relationships of that literary structure may have come about.

    Finally, Whitsitt deserves a chapter in any future study of anti-Mormon writings and publications. Because his work has lain unnoticed for so many years, its contents probably had very little influence upon the anti-Mormon works of the 19th and 20th centuries. However, given some much-needed editing and updating, the Rigdon biography may significantly impact the 21st century writings set forth to oppose prevailing views on Mormon origins. Some attendees of the October 1998 LDS General Conference were confronted with handbills touting the merits of Whitsitt's history. At the same time, in similar hand-bills distributed in Salt Lake City, well-known anti-Mormon writers Jerald and Sandra Tanner were being accused of ignoring Whitsitt's contributions to the anti-Mormon movement. It would be rather ironic if Whitsitt's lasting legacy is that of being an object of contention among the attackers of the Latter Day Saints and their religion. But, even if that becomes his only significant contribution to 21st century Latter Day Saint studies, we should all probably take a look at what he had to say over a century ago.

    (additional comments forthcoming)



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