Previous chapter Table of Contents Next chapter
THE year 1837 commenced in Kirtland by a movement upon the part of some of its citizens to establish a general banking business. Though this was never church measure, some of the leading men of the church engaged in the enterprise. The fate of this enterprise was an unfortunate one. The financial stringency of 1837, under which many older and better established institutions went down, combined with the opposition urged by the enemies of the church, and probably with some mismanagement, insured its failure. Stories were put afloat that the officers of the bank had stolen the funds. No institution of the kind ever failed without such reports being circulated. In this case where there was so much religious opposition to the stockholders and officers, these reports would, of course, be more likely to obtain. We therefore beg the indulgence of the reader while we give some items regarding this institution, which do not properly come under the head of church history, because of its having been an individual or private enterprise.
A meeting of the Kirtland Safety Society was held at Kirtland, Ohio, on January 2, 1837, of which the following are the minutes:-
"Minutes of a meeting of the Members of the 'Kirtland Safety Society,' held on the 2d day of January, 1837.
"At a special meeting of the 'Kirtland Safety Society,' two thirds of the members being present, S. Rigdon was called to the chair, and W. Parrish chosen secretary.
"The house was called to order, and the object of the meeting explained by the chairman; which was: First, to annul the old Constitution, which was adopted by the Society, on the 2d day of November, 1836; which was, on motion, by the unanimous voice of the meeting, annulled. Second, to adopt articles of agreement, by which the 'Kirtland Safety Society' are to be governed.
"After much discussion and investigation, the following Preamble and Articles of Agreement were adopted by the unanimous voice of the meeting:-
"We, the undersigned subscribers, for the promotion of our temporal interests, and for the better management of our different occupations, which consist in agriculture, mechanical arts, and merchandising, do hereby form ourselves into a firm or company for the before-mentioned objects, by the name of the 'Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company,' and for the proper management of said firm, we individually and jointly enter into and adopt the following articles of agreement:-
"Art. 1. The capital stock of said society or firm shall not be less than four millions of dollars; to be divided into shares of fifty dollars each; and may be increased to any amount, at the discretion of the managers.
"Art. 2. The management of said company shall be under the superintendence of thirty-two managers, to be chosen annually, by, and from among, the members of the same; each member being entitled to one vote for each share, which he, she, or they, may hold in said company; and said votes may be given by proxy, or in propria persona.
"Art. 3. It shall be the duty of said managers, when chosen, to elect from their number, a Treasurer and Secretary. It shall be the further duty of said managers to meet in the upper room of the office of said company, on the first Mondays of November and May, of each year, at nine o'clock, a. m., to inspect the books of said company, and transact such other business as may be deemed necessary.
"Art. 4. It shall be the duty of said managers to choose from among their number, seven men, who shall meet in the upper room of said office on Tuesday of each week, at four
o'clock, p. m., to inquire into and assist in all matters pertaining to said company.
"Art. 5. Each manager shall receive from the company one dollar per day for his services when called together at the annual and semiannual meetings. The Treasurer and Secretary and the seven, the committee of the managers, shall receive a compensation for their services as they shall be agreed by the managers at their semiannual meetings.
"Art. 6. The first election of managers, as set forth in the second article, shall take place at the meeting of the members to adopt this agreement, who shall hold their offices until the first Monday of November, 1837, unless removed by death or misdemeanor, and until others are duly elected. Every annual election of managers shall take place on the first Monday of November in each year. It shall be the duty of the Treasurer and Secretary of said company to receive the votes of the members by ballot, and declare the election.
"Art. 7. The books of the company shall be always open for the inspection of the members.
"Art. 8. It shall be the duty of the managers of the company to declare a dividend once in six months; which dividend shall be apportioned among the members, according to the installments by them paid in.
"Art. 9. All persons subscribing stock in said firm shall pay their first installment at the time of subscribing, and other installments from time to time, as shall be required by the managers.
"Art. 10. The managers shall give thirty days' notice in some public paper, printed in this county, previous to an installment being paid in. All subscribers residing out of the State, shall be required to pay in half the amount of their subscriptions at the time of subscribing; and the remainder, or such part thereof, as shall be required at any time, by the managers, after thirty days' notice.
"Art. 11. The Treasurer shall be empowered to call special meetings of the managers whenever he shall deem it necessary, separate and aside from the annual and semi-annual meetings.
"Art. 12. Two thirds of the managers shall form a quorum to act at the semiannual meetings, and any number of the seven, the committee of the managers, with the Treasurer and Secretary, or either of them, may form a quorum to transact business at the weekly meetings, and in case none of the seven are present at the weekly meetings, the Treasurer and Secretary must transact the business.
"Art. 13. The managers shall have power to enact such by-laws as they may deem necessary from time to time, provided they do not infringe upon these articles of agreement.
"Art. 14. All notes given by said society, shall be signed by the Treasurer and Secretary thereof, and we, the individual members of said firm, hereby hold ourselves bound for the redemption of all such notes.
"Art. 15. The notes given for the benefit of said society shall be given to the Treasurer in the following form: 'Ninety days after date, we jointly, and severally, promise to pay A. B. or order,--dollars and--cents, value received.' A record of which shall be made in the books at the time, of the amount, and by whom given, and when due, and deposited with the files and papers of said society.
"Art. 16. Any article in this agreement may be altered at any time, annulled, added unto, or expunged by the vote of two thirds of the members of said society, except the fourteenth article; that shall remain unaltered during the existence of said company. For the true and faithful fulfillment of the above covenant and agreement, we individually bind ourselves to each other, under the penal sum of one hundred thousand dollars. In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands and seals, the day and date first above written."-Millennial Star, vol. 15, pp. 843, 844.
A close inspection of Article 14 of the foregoing should convince anyone that the purpose of this company was not fraudulent, for they, the members of the firm, held themselves individually responsible for the redemption of every note signed by the Treasurer and Secretary of the society. Men do not usually involve all they have in an effort to defraud.
Again: Article 16 binds them to each other severally and
individually in the sum of one hundred thousand dollars for the true and faithful fulfillment of the covenant and agreement set forth in these articles.
Whatever may have been the subsequent action of individuals, this institution was manifestly founded in good faith, and with no design of fraud.
As early as May, 1837, there was a spirit of speculation in Kirtland, affecting, among others, some of the leading men of the church; and it is possible that under this influence some of them, including some of those connected with the bank, did things of questionable propriety and honesty. This spirit, with its legitimate tendencies, was condemned by Joseph Smith, and by others of high standing. Of this Joseph wrote:-
"At this time the spirit of speculation in lands and property of all kinds, which was so prevalent throughout the whole nation, was taking deep root in the church. As the fruits of this spirit, evil surmisings, faultfinding, disunion, dissension, and apostasy followed in quick succession, and it seemed as though all the powers of earth and hell were combining their influence in an especial manner to overthrow the church at once, and make a final end. Other banking institutions refused the 'Kirtland Safety Society's' notes. The enemy abroad and apostates in our midst united in their schemes, flour and provisions were turned towards other markets, and many became disaffected towards me as though I were the sole cause of those very evils I was most strenuously striving against, and which were actually brought upon us by the brethren not giving heed to my counsel.
"No quorum in the church was entirely exempt from the influence of those false spirits who were striving against me for the mastery; even some of the Twelve were so far lost to their high and responsible calling as to begin to take sides, secretly, with the enemy."-Millennial Star, vol. 16, page 11.
On the date of July 7, 1837, Joseph writes:-
"Some time previous to this I resigned my office in the 'Kirtland Safety Society,' disposed of my interest therein, and withdrew from the institution; being fully aware, after
so long an experiment, that no institution of the kind, established upon just and righteous principles, for a blessing not only to the church but the whole nation, would be suffered to continue its operations in such an age of darkness, speculation, and wickedness. Almost all banks throughout the country, one after the other, suspended specie payment, and gold and silver rose in value in direct ratio with the depreciation of paper currency. The great pressure of the money market is felt in England as well as America., and breadstuffs are everywhere high."-Millennial Star, vol. 16, p. 13.
Notwithstanding the depreciation of Kirtland bank notes, some of these speculators were imposing them upon the uninformed, when Joseph put himself squarely upon record by publishing a warning in the Messenger and Advocate for August, 1837. 1
A letter written by Elder E. L. Kelley from Painesville, Ohio, is valuable to history in this connection. It was written just at the time the church was in court suing for possession of the Kirtland Temple, which would naturally revive the old prejudice and opposition against Joseph Smith and the church. 2
1 In the August number of the Advocate I published the following CAUTION to the brethren and friends of the Church of Latter Day Saints:-
"I am disposed to say a word relative to the bills of the 'Kirtland Safety Society Bank.' I hereby warn them to beware of speculators, renegades, and gamblers, who are duping the unwary and unsuspecting, by palming upon them those bills, which are of no worth here. I discountenance and disapprove of any and all such practices. I know them to be detrimental to the best interests of society, as well as to the principles of religion.
Joseph Smith, Jr."
-Millennial Star, vol. 15, page 55.
2Pres. J. Smith, Plano, Illinois:-
Dear Sir:-One week ago to-day I arrived in this city, to look after the interests of the Reorganized Church in its action in the State courts, to recover the possession of the Kirtland Temple property, in Lake County. The plaintiff's claim is based upon the grounds that the Reorganized Church is the lawful and legitimate successor of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized by Joseph Smith, Jr., A. D. 1830, at Palmyra, New York, and to which the property in controversy was deeded in the year 1841. The cause was tried to the court, Judge Sherman on the bench, on the 17th inst., and is now held under advisement. Upon the final submission of the case the court referred to the evidence produced, as "showing a very wide departure from the laws and usages of the original church by that body of Mormons in Utah Territory," which make claim to be in the line of succession. Although no decision has been made in the case yet, plaintiff's counsel are confident that -
The following letter of Governor Lucas, who was Governor of Ohio from 1832 to 1836, is of importance in this connection:-
"Burlington, Iowa Territory, April 22,1839.
"To His Excellency, Martin Van Buren, President of the United States.
"Sir:-I have the honor to introduce to your acquaintance,
judgment must be for the Reorganized Church and ordering that they be put in possession of the property.
Since my arrival I have had the pleasure of the acquaintance of many of the leading citizens of the county, and find that among them the most tolerant spirit is manifest toward the members of the original and the Reorganized Church. And now, while I am upon the ground and have every means to ascertain the true character of the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, who resided here from 1830 to 1838, and have been surprised myself with the facts in the case, as so widely differing from what is found in the popular histories of religious denominations of the day and encyclopedias, I have determined to submit to you the result of my candid inquiries.
So far, among the former acquaintances of Joseph Smith, Jr., I have failed to find one who will say that he was not a good citizen and an honest man. "Joe Smith," say they, "was an honorable man and a gentleman In every particular, let the histories say what they may." Now, if these things are true, history greatly belies the man, and in the eternal fitness of things time must correct the false and fickle stories and vindicate his memory. My information is derived from such men as Messrs. Quinn, Storm, Burrows, and Axtell, who are foremost citizens of the county. These parties say that among some of the fanatical and ignorant there is existing great prejudice and hatred against the early Mormons, and I have found in Kirtland two persons who are terribly bitter, but neither of these had any acquaintance with the parties and base their knowledge on the "stories told." One of these is the present pastor of the Methodist Church in Kirtland, and who is now under the charge of being not only a fanatic, but crazy, and his congregation ask his removal; the other, a Mr. Harvey, of Kirtland, a member of the Baptist Church, but ignorant, can neither read nor write, and abuses his own wife for differing from him in religion, and teaches his children to abuse their mother.
As a sample of my testimony I give you my conversation with I. P. Axtell, Esq., a large farmer, and director in the First National Bank of Painesville for many years; a man of energy and experience, and as early as 1844, a member of the Whig convention at Baltimore, which nominated Henry Clay for President. The conversation was as follows:-
Q.-When did you come to this county, Mr. Axtell?
A.-My father moved here with his family in the year 1830. I was but a boy then.
Q.-What was your father's business?
A.-He was a Baptist minister, and kept a hotel then.
Q.-Did you know Joseph Smith?
A.-Yes, Sir. I have seen him many a time; he was often at my father's house; and I with many young people often went to Kirtland to see him and his people. I knew his father also, who at the time I knew him had charge of the Kirtland Temple. He took me with others through the temple at one time; he appeared to be a fine old man.
Q.-When did your father become acquainted with Mr. Smith?
the bearer, Doctor Sidney Rigdon, who was for many years citizen of the State of Ohio, and a firm supporter of the administration of the General Government.
"Doctor Rigdon visits Washington (as I am informed) as
A.-In about six weeks after he came to the county he first met him; he went out of his way one day six miles to see Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. He said he found them in Kirtland Township; they had been there but a short time and occupied a small log house. He found them to be quite intelligent men, and he said pleasant talkers, and quite free to converse upon their religious views, which at that time was known as the "new sect." My father always said Joseph Smith was a conscientious and upright man.
Q.-Did you know any other persons of the new society?
A.-Oh, yes, a great many. I knew Mr. Pratt very well. He was a smart and a square man all around. Those men were neither knaves nor rogues; that is my opinion of them. I suppose some of them may have been. It was just as in all other bodies of the kind, there will be some bad ones, but I don't know of any that were. There were a good many stories circulated about them that I knew to be false. At one time an ox was found in Kirtland Township, killed and skinned; and there was a great to do about the Mormons having killed it. My brother was sheriff at the time, and with others went up to investigate the matter, and he says that there was not the least evidence which showed that the Mormons had any hand in killing the ox. Persons around, however, who hated their religion, would tell that they did.
Q.-How was it that people did not like them? Were they not good citizens?
A.-Yes, they were as good citizens as those of any society. It was the fanatics in religion that tried to drive those men out. There were a great many conservative men in our county at that time who held these fanatics back, and if it had not been for this they would have gone in and killed them all. But our intelligent and honorable citizens prevented this.
Q.-What about the Kirtland Bank swindle? Mr. Axtell, you are a banker, and know how that was, do you not?
A.-Yes, I know about that bank; they started in Kirtland. These parties went into the banking business as a great many others in the State of Ohio and other States. They got considerable money out a first, and their enemies began to circulate all manner of stories against them, and as we had a great many banks then that issued what was known as "wild-cat" money, the people began to get alarmed at so many stories, and would take the other banks' issue instead of the Kirtland; and so much of it was forced in at once that the bank was not able to take it up. Had the people let these people alone there is no reason that I know of why the Kirtland Bank should not have existed to this time and on as stable a basis as other banks.
Q.-Then you think it was the fault of the enemies of the bank that it failed?
A.-Yes, I do; and it was not the only one that failed either by a good many, and with which Smith had nothing to do.
Q.-What then do you consider the prime causes of the expulsion o the Mormons from Kirtland?
A.-The ignorance and fanaticism of their accusers did it; they thought public sentiment would tolerate it and they did it. The same as Roger Williams was driven out and the witches burned in Massachusetts.
the representative of a community of people called Mormons, to solicit from the government of the United States, an investigation into the causes that led to their expulsion from the State of Missouri: together with the various circumstances connected with that extraordinary affair.
"I think it due to that people to state, that they had for a number of years a community established in Ohio, and that while in that State they were (as far as I ever heard) believed to be an industrious, inoffensive people; and I have no recollection of having ever heard of any of them being charged in that State as violators of the laws.
"With sincere respect, I am your obedient servant,
-Millennial Star, vol. 17, p. 151.
My position is that no fanatic, either in religion or politics, should be permitted to hold an office of trust in this country.
The above is a fair average sample of the testimony of those I have met and talked with as to the character of the early Mormons in this county, among those who lived here and knew these people. A gentleman of Willoughby, this county, suggested to me, that another reason was, their persecutors wanted their property, and said he, "They got from them thousands of dollars worth too." After canvassing the sentiment here of these men, I feel a good deal like Col. R. G. Ingersoll when he offered the gold for the evidence of Tom Paine's dying declarations; and I now affirm that if any of the great newspapers of the day, like the Chicago Times, Tribune, or Inter-Ocean wish to test the truth of the statements and publish the facts by a correspondent through their columns, I will undertake the task of accompanying their correspondent and if the general integrity, uprightness, honesty and patriotism, of these men are not maintained by the evidence, I will forfeit to the one so publishing one hundred dollars in gold. A letter will reach me at any time directed, Glenwood, Iowa.
My associate counsel in the case here, J. B. Burrows, Esq., is not only an able attorney but a genial gentleman. He is a brother of Congressman Burrows from Michigan, and I must say that his acquaintance has greatly raised in my estimation the favorable opinion I had already entertained of Michigan's great orator. I find many able and indeed eloquent practitioners at the bar here,-this is one of the oldest towns in the State, as well as the wealthiest in proportion to its population-and, as all well informed attorneys are, these are pleasant and honorable.
Hastily, I am very respectfully yours,
E. L. KELLEY.
Painesville, Ohio, Feb. 19, 1880.
-Saints' Herald, vol. 27, pp. 84, 85.
Previous chapter Table of Contents Next chapter