One of the big con games of the early nineteenth century by the equivalent of used car salesmen was that of land speculation.
The idea of manifest destiny was not so much a noble ideal as the need to keep leveraging unseen lands and selling them to a public desperate to move on to greener pastures.
The Financier of the American Revolution, Robert Morris, his financial empire was brought down in the end after the revolution by land speculation. Demand went down and overseas finances dried up because of Britain’s stake in the Napoleonic wars.
The Bankruptcy Laws passed by Congress as authorized by the new constitution were in fact tailored to release Morris from Debtor’s Prison.
Even the legendary Jim Bowie of Alamo fame was a land speculator who more times than not got into life and death fights over what he said in contracts for land he sold that did not exist or having already been claimed or sold by some other speculators.
The history of early nineteenth century America was not one of pilgrims and immigrants pushing further out west but one of chasing after the crook who sold you non-existent or substandard land and who kept setting up a new shop five valleys over and on a regular basis.
It comes as no surprise to me that a man with a big chuck of Ohio to sell, Solomon Spaulding, would do anything for a sale including write a short story (sales brochure) about treasures or lost Roman manuscripts to be found in hidden places on his land.
I ran into Solomon Spaulding in my youth in a Nelson’s Encyclopedia dated round 1942 and out of the University of Chicago Press. Why I was reading the brief entry I cannot say. I have always been excited since my youth by the esoteric and the exotic. I remember not knowing what Mormon meant and asked my father who said a line or two which I did not understand but his spin had a negative tone so I did not pursue the subject further.
I see on the Internet that comparing Solomon Spaulding’s “manuscript” to the Book of Mormon is a cottage industry on blogs and a deemed singular important BYU college term paper in many cases.
Solomon had attended Dartmouth, practiced as a minister and then more or less gave that up and failed in most every other business or enterprise he set up shop in.
Close to twenty years after he dies, some disgruntled LDS types go about trashing the new church and assemble a whole bunch of documents and affidavits and publish “Mormonism Unvailed”. The original he said-she said gossip book was born. At the end of the book was a claim that the sales brochure for Spaulding’s land was in fact the backbone of a plagiarized Book of Mormon. The irony in all this is that the little, mostly negative, documentation about the early Mormon church, that has not been suppressed, lost or intentionally destroyed, comes from this one gossipy back stabbing book.
Spaulding’s sales brochure disappears for decades and is supposedly found in Hawaii around 1884. Seeing that it is little more than a sales brochure fantasy deal, one of the LDS major branches publishes it to bolster the fact that it, cheese, and the Book of Mormon had little or nothing to do with one another.
Along comes a disgruntled Mormon pup in the late nineteen seventies and early eighties who uses the Mormonism Unvailed book to forge a bunch of documents that fit the he said-she said scenario of the book. In a religious community starved for original documentation, these forgeries became not unlike the RC church and its selling of relics. Every one wants a piece of the beginning, of the original saint etc. The moral to be learned is that selling relics is like selling land. If you try to move onto the relic maker’s or the land salesman’s profitable turf, they may kill you.
Whether the Spaulding land sales brochure was genuine in 1834 or the one re-found and published in 1885 is of little consequence. The original manuscript in Oberlin College in Ohio is valuable as a historic artifact, whether genuine or not.
The thing with relics is that you can sometimes have enough pieces of the true cross to build a house. And wasting tens of thousands of man hours debating on the Spaulding-Smith comparison is perhaps not a waste of time but a question not unlike how many angels dance on the head of a pin.
Trying to deify your beginnings or your past - in terms of faith - takes a great deal away from the present and the future.