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Mormon Doubletalk & Half-truths

Rich Kelsey



A Short Study For The Family:

This brief work looks into witness testimony from the 1826 trial of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith; as well as quotes from Gordon A. Madsen's work on the trial: Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting.

"Gordon A. Madsen earned B.S. and J.D. degrees from the University of Utah, and, early in his career, served as a deputy district attorney and then, from 1959 to 1964, as assistant Utah attorney general. After 1964, he worked as a lawyer in private practice, also serving from 1969 to 1971 in the Utah House of Representatives. Thereafter, at various times, he has been a member of the Utah State Constitutional Revision Commission, the Utah Judicial Qualifications Commission, and the Judicial Nominating Commission (Third District).

Now retired, he is a co-editor of the business and legal papers in the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Among his important Mormon-related works are 'Joseph Smith’s 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting,' BYU Studies 30/2 (1990) ... " (Mormon Scholars Testify)


Some of us may wonder why the 1826 trial of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith is called a

"Glass Looking Trial."

Because, Judge Albert Neely had written:

"... Joseph Smith the Glass Looker" (see document)

on the 1826 Trial's Bill of Justice.


John S. Reed, Smith's legal counsel during his 1830 trials, remembered that Smith had been arrested

"for the crime of glass looking …" (John S. Reed to Brigham Young, 6 December 1861, p. 1, Brigham Young Collection, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, UT).

Ask the family members:

Does anyone know what

"glass looking"


A close friend of Joseph Smith named Joseph Knight wrote something in his history which sheds light on this question:

"Then he looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History)

Knight was speaking about what Joseph Smith had told him:

"he looked in his glass"

to find out who the right person was to bring with him to obtain the gold plates.

Back in Joseph Smith's day, a "glass" was another way to describe a seer-stone.

Martin Harris spoke of a [seer] stone that Joseph Smith used:

"These plates were found at the north point of a hill two miles north of Manchester village. Joseph had a stone which was dug from the well of Mason Chase, twenty-four feet from the surface. In this stone he could see many things to my certain knowledge." (Joel Tiffany, Interview with Martin Harris, Tiffany's Monthly, 1859, New York, p.163)

Tell the family that Joseph Smith had a history of making money by telling people that he could see treasure underground; and, it got him into trouble at times:

"... a young fellow By the name of Docter Benton in Chenengo County to sware out a warrent against Joseph for as they said pertending to see under ground. A little Clause they found in the york Laws against such things." (Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History)

Then, tell the family what Joseph Smith told Judge Neely in court:

“With some labor and exertion he found the stone, carried it to the creek, washed and wiped it dry, sat down on the bank, placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing-Eye. He arose with a thankful heart, carried his tools to their owner, turned his feet towards the rising sun, and sought with weary limbs his long deserted home.” (Purple account, Joseph Smith Testimony, 1826 trial)

Also, tell the family what Joseph Smith's father told Judge Neely in court:

"He swore that both he and his son were mortified that this wonderful power which God had so miraculously given him should be used only in search of filthy lucre, or its equivalent in earthly treasures..." (Purple account, Joseph Smith Testimony, 1826 trial)

Read to the family what a man working for Mr. Stowell testified to in court:

"Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences [something believed to have magical powers]. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm." (Purple account, Jonathan Thompson Testimony, 1826 Trial)

Explain to the family that it was Joseph Smith who told Mr. Stowell that there was a box of treasure buried on his property; and, it was also Joseph Smith who showed Mr. Stowell the spot where it could be found. Also, explain that if any treasure had been found, the case would have never ended up in court.

Also, mention that it was Mr. Stowell's children and extended family who believed Stowell was wasting his money paying Joseph Smith, along with several other men, to dig for treasure. Yet, Mr. Stowell never lost faith in Joseph Smith; Gordon A. Madsen proves that in his BYU Studies work:

"... he [Josiah Stowell] emphatically denied that he had been deceived or defrauded; on the contrary he positively knew the accused [Joseph Smith] could discern the whereabouts of subterranean objects..." (Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting, BYU Studies, p. 105)

Explain that the words

"subterranean objects"


"things that are underground;"

such as buried treasure.

Then, read one more quote from Gordon A. Madsen:

"The foregoing considerations lead me to conclude that in 1826 Joseph Smith was indeed charged and tried for being a disorderly person and that he was acquitted. Such a conclusion does nothing to 'prove' or disprove the claim that he was reputed to be a 'glass-looker.'" (Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting, BYU Studies, p. 106)


Notice the term "reputed" in the above quote:
past participle: reputed
1. be generally said or believed to do something or to have particular characteristics.

"he was reputed to have a fabulous house"

synonyms: thought, said, reported, rumored, believed, held, considered, regarded, deemed, alleged. (thefreedictionary.com)

How is it possible that Gordon A. Madsen, who is familiar with the charges brought against Joseph Smith, witness testimonies from the 1826 Glass Looking Trial, and even the reason Joseph Smith was acquitted, can have any doubts that Smith was,

"thought, said, reported, rumored, believed, held, considered, regarded, deemed, [or] alleged,"

to be a glass-looker?

Up until this point Madsen had presented fairly well-thought-out and valid points on the trial; but, with this closing argument, it appears Madsen used a technique known as double-talk.

1: "language that appears to be earnest and meaningful but in fact is a mixture of sense and nonsense." (Merriam-Webster.com, dictionary)

Earlier Madsen had said:

"The pivotal testimony, in my view, was that of Josiah Stowell. ... that he positively knew that the prisoner [Joseph Smith] could tell and professed the art of seeing those valuable treasures through the medium of said stone.' ... In short, only Josiah Stowell had any legal basis to complain, and he was not complaining. Hence Purple's concluding comment: 'it is hardly necessary to say that as the testimony of Deacon Stowell could not be impeached, the prisoner was discharged and in a few weeks he left the town.' Indeed Justice Neely had no other choice." (Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial: The Legal Setting, BYU Studies, p. 105)

Explain to the family, that in reality, it was because Josiah Stowell firmly believed in Joseph Smith's ability as a glass-looker that he was discharged.

Note: To imply that because Joseph Smith was discharged, it was not proven that he was a glass-looker, is a half-truth to say the least:

noun: half-truth; plural noun: half-truths
a statement that conveys only part of the truth, esp. one used deliberately in order to deceive someone. (encyclopedia.com)


Taken from the LDS FHE lesson:

          ■   Am I a Seeker of Truth? ... — Rich Kelsey

Other articles of interest:

         ■   Ask a Mormon: Cognitive Dissonance and the LDS Faith  < (accounts of visits with LDS elders and a LDS spokesman)

         ■   Preach My Gospel — A Guide to Missionary Service  < (account of a meeting with LDS elders on the Seattle Temple grounds)

         ■   LDS Golden Plates Stories  < (disturbing early versions of the golden plates accounts)


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