02 January 2013

Joseph Smith Jr. Smoked Cigars: Probably Not

Inside This Article: The Debate About Joseph Smith Jr. and Cigars

Because Joseph Smith Jr. was the founder of the LDS church and its doctrines, it is important that the facts surrounding this issue are presented in such a way as to show readers the true nature of the situation. This article approaches this as follows:

1. An exploration of the character of Joseph Smith Jr.
2. The Words of Wisdom Revelation, and why it is important to this issue
3. The facts
4. A defense of Joseph Smith Jr.
5. Conclusions


This article stands as a defense to the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith Jr and to him only. Because he was a prophet, and it was through prophecy that the church was founded, the arguments that follow are heavily based on Smith’s revelations. I do accept the fact that the word of wisdom should not be held in the same light as it is today; therefore, I am not comparing the 19th century LDS church to the standards of the LDS church today.

According to my own studies and also my own Mormon biased views and opinions I am persuaded that the claims about the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith smoking cigars are misleading to the character of his "divine" calling of what Mormons consider to be a Prophet of God.

The history and genesis of this story all depend on what one is inclined to believe, and which I will provide evidence for.

Childhood Character of Joseph Smith Jr.

To begin, we must rewind the history and life of Joseph Smith from his childhood to his revelations.

For some, it is clearly evident that the story begins early in the days of Smith’s childhood. As early as eight years old Smith’s reputation was known as not only having a discerning and insightful attitude, but an overly zealous and extreme guardianship for rejecting addictive behavior.

As an eight year old boy Smith was extreme in his views about what was to be taken into the body even to the point of refusing medicinal aid from the world's most renowned and eminent Harvard and New England doctors and medical educators.[i] At the age of 8 years old, he contracted a serious bacterial infection in his leg caused by an abysmal flood of the typhoid fever. The infection was so terrible that a total of 11 doctors decided to surgically remove the infected bone by chipping and drilling away bone fragments.

According to Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, the doctor asked Joseph if he would drink some brandy, [ii] to which Joseph replied, "No, not one drop."[iii]

The doctor then asked, "Will you take some wine? You must take something, or you can never endure the severe operation to which you must be subjected."[iv]

Joseph replied that he would not. According to his mother, he said to the doctor, "I will not touch one particle of liquor."[v]

With the accompaniment of 11 doctors[vi] they "bored first on one side of the bone, which was affected, then on the other side: after which, he broke it off with a pair of pincers; and in this manner, took away large pieces of the bone."[vii]

Having read this unique and undisputed history of Smith,s surgical journey, how could anyone believe that Josephs future "prophetic mantle" would lessen his feelings towards addictive behavior? However, having said this let me provide some biased evidence of why I am convinced that the said Smith never was an advocate nor a campaigner nor at any time a supporter of cigar smoking.

Joseph’s Character As He Grows Into Adulthood As Joseph grew, he grew in maturity and responsibility. There came a time when he was commanded by God to translate the Book of Mormon from the plates found in the hill called Cumorah, but with a strict command not to show the plates to anyone. The study of Joseph's lost 116 manuscripts give us deep insight into the character of Joseph Smith, relating to his strict and prompt obedience to God's instructions. He did not linger about as a slothful servant.

The 116 Lost Manuscripts
Martin Harris
His scribe at the time was Martin Harris who, on bad terms with his wife, greatly desired to look at the plates, but was declined upon the basis of revelation. To this, Martin asked to at least show the translated manuscripts to his wife and others as to pacify their feeling towards the so-called "duped" Martin Harris. After asking God two times, the answer came that Martin was not to take the manuscript. A Lesson Learned the Hard Way Both Joseph and Martin, not being content with the answer, asked a third time. This time the request was granted—but with restrictions. (History of the Church, 1:20–21) And In the end, the manuscripts that were entrusted to Martin were lost! Joseph asked through prayer what he should do, and was severely chastised for having, "...set at naught the counsels of God." (D&C 3:13) Then the Lord in the same revelation rebuked him for also having "...suffered the counsel of thy director to be trampled upon from the beginning." (D&C 3:15) From this experience that came early in his life, and the consequences suffered from his resistance to God’s answer to that first prayer, Joseph quickly learned to obey God’s instruction the first time it is given. Why This Experience is Important This is critical in our study of Joseph’s claimed cigar smoking episode after a revelation counseling him not to use tobacco for smoking. Did Joseph learn to be obedient to the revelations, revealed as a "word of wisdom"? A revelation "not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God." (D&C 89:1-2)

What Smith Learned: The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood
Smith received the revelation called, "The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood" (See the 1832 D&C 84) BEFORE the revelation of the Word of Wisdom. (See the 1833 D&C 89) Because of this fact, let us view Joseph’s revelation about regarding both the councils and words of God—not as council, but as a strict commandment to those who obtain the priesthood. 

Purpose of the Revelation
One of the purposes of the revelation was to teach that "every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God," (D&C 84:44) must be adhered. "And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life. For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God." If the revelation on the word of wisdom was not by way of commandment, then surely it fell into the category of a holy directive needing to be observed. Having Smith ride upon his horse smoking a cigar, "immediately afterward," (VIII) seems totally out of character of Joseph’s lessons and revelations to adhere to the revelations not only the first time but as a commandment to, "live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God." Brigham Young once stated that the leaders of the Church were a lot different than what they were in his time as a prophet. He says, "I have frequently thought, what would be the consequence  in this community, were we to be as strict now, as the authorities of the church once were? For it used to be, if a man did not obey counsel after it was given him, he was cut off from the church." (JD Volume 1 page 78)

The Day The Word of Wisdom Was Revealed
After thinking about the brethren’s use of tobacco in their early meetings, Joseph prayed about it. On February 27, 1833, at Kirkland, Ohio, God revealed his answer to Joseph. The answer he received from God is now known as the Word of Wisdom.
Zebedee Coltrin
Zebedee Coltrin can and ought to be used here for Joseph's defense since Mr. Coltrin was not only an active member, but present in the School of the Prophets at the time Smith revealed the revelation on the word of wisdom. He was a devoted General Authority and High Priest until the day of his death.
On October 3, 1883 Zebedee Coltrin participated in a meeting before Presidents John Taylor, and George Q. Cannon, Apostles Erastus Snow, Brigham Young, Francis M. Lyman, and Heber J. Grant. During this meeting, he stated, "When the Word of Wisdom was first presented by the Prophet Joseph, (as he came out of the translating room) and was read to the School, there were twenty out of the twenty-one who used tobacco and they all immediately threw their tobacco and pipes into the fire." (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 3, 1883) 

The Genesis of the Story
Abraham H. Cannon
The genesis of this story stems from a 1895 diary entry made by an active Apostle by the name of Abraham H. Cannon. This entry to Cannon’s diary was made a full 18 years after the death of the accuser, Amasa Lyman. Abraham H. Cannon is the only source stating that Amasa Lyman saw Joseph smoking the cigar. Mr. Cannon states that according to Joseph Smith's councilor in the First Presidency, Amasa Lyman, that he, Joseph Smith, gave a sermon on the Word of Wisdom and,"immediately afterward ... rode through the streets smoking a cigar."[viii] Lyman said Joseph did this to try "the faith of the Saints..."[ix] However, this behavior does not seem congruent and compatible with Smith’s afore-mentioned character. Thus far in his life, there is nothing to indicate that he would be one to flaunt the idea of cigar smoking as being reputable, or ignore the revelation as it was revealed. Because of this, a couple of factual points need to be clarified here:

Important Facts About The Case

Fact One: Amasa Lyman was Excommunicated and Bitter Against the Church
Amasa Lyman
It is important that we ask the question, "Why would Amasa Lyman state that Joseph Smith smoked cigars?" Mr. Lyman was stripped of his Apostleship and position in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for repeatedly teaching false doctrine. After Lyman was excommunicated from the LDS Church he wrote that Joseph Smith smoked cigars.

Fact Two: The Diary of Abraham H. Cannon
 Those who are biased in either destroying the character of Smith or simply to prove a point are the first to use this document as authoritative, since it stems from an active Apostle of the LDS church who served faithfully till the end of his life. There are some factual points to consider here as well:
  • The personal diary of Abraham H. Cannon is... well... exactly that...his personal diary. 
  • Amasa Lyman is somehow "quoted" but with no source as to where Mr. Cannon had either heard or read it. 
  • Mr. Cannon is quoting a bitter excommunicated member of the LDS faith 
  • Mr. Cannon's journal entry was 18 years after the excommunication and death of Amasa Lyman.
Joseph Smith Jr. Files a Complaint
Fact Three: Almon W. Babbitt was Bitter Against the Church
Almon W. Babbit
On the 19th of August 1835, Almon W. Babbitt was brought before the church's high council on three charges. One of the charges was "not keeping the Word of Wisdom." Babbitt stated "that he had taken the liberty to break the Word of Wisdom, from the example of President Joseph Smith,Jun., and others, but acknowledged that it was wrong."[xi] Points for Consideration: After Mr. Babbitt blames Smith for not keeping the word of wisdom Joseph Smith writes a complaint against him for slandering his character. On the 28th of December 1835 Joseph Smith" submitted a complaint before the church's high council that Babbitt had been 'misrepresenting' him to a number of Latter Day Saints."[xii] Joseph writes: "Brethren, Almon Babbitt has been misrepresenting me to certain of the brethren. I therefore prefer a complaint to the council that the subject may be investigated, that my character and influence may be preserved as far as it can in righteousness. Yours in the bonds of the New & everlasting covenant. Joseph Smith Junr."[xiii] A unanimous vote: At the conclusion of the council held against Almon W. Babbitt, the entire council submitted that he, Almon Babbitt,"has spoken things falsely to the injury of J. Smith Junr."[xiv]

Fact Four: Gary Dean Guthrie’s Master Thesis Quotes Cannon’s Diary Member of the LDS faith, Gary Dean Guthrie wrote his 1969 M.A. Thesis, "Joseph Smith as an Administrator.” In this thesis, Guthrie also wrote that Joseph rode through the streets smoking a cigar. However, Mr. Guthrie is quoting Abraham H. Cannon's hearsay of a bitter excommunicated Apostle named Amasa Lyman. (See above.)

Fact Five: No Indication of Tobacco Use in Carthage Jail In the History of the Church, Vol. 6, page 616 we are given the story of Joseph Smiths last moments in Carthage Jail. The story is as follows:
“Before the jailor came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph [Smith] gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more. The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailor went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as brother and the Doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out.”[xv]

Careful Reading Reveals the Truth
According to the story above Joseph Smith and those with him never partook of smoking tobacco. If you read the account carefully as historians should, Mr. Smith gave a dollar to the guard to get some wine, but the historical account says that guard came back with wine, pipes and tobacco. It does not say that Smith smoked the tobacco. It does say that Richards opened the bottle and presented a glass to Joseph, gave the wine back to the guard who then left.
  • Where does it say that Joseph smoked tobacco? 
  • Could it be that the jailer kept the tobacco for his own use? 
  • What authority is there in this passage that demonstrate that Joseph smoked? 
  • Are insinuations, implications, suggestions, and hintings now established as authoritative historical events?
Bruises in Carthage Jail? If we look once again at the Words of Wisdom, we see in verse 8 that the Lord revealed that tobacco was to be used for bruises, and for cattle. While the men were in Carthage Jail, is it reasonable to assume that they may have had bruises? Might they have applied a poultice to those bruises, according to God’s instruction from the Words of Wisdom?

My Own Conclusion In my biased opinion, Amasa Lyman said this about Smith because Mr. Lyman was stripped of his Apostleship and position in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for repeatedly teaching false doctrine. After Lyman was excommunicated from the LDS Church he wrote that Joseph Smith smoked cigars. This is critical to note:
  • Why didn't Lyman make this statement during the time of his active service in the church? 
  • Why did he reveal this after his excommunication?
    Catholic Harvard professor Krister Stendahl understood the inexorable importance of asking, "the adherents of that religion and not its enemies."[x]
    It is critical to the religion and to yourself that when making judgments and conclusions-- especially about a religion—that an inquiring person fairly formulates his evaluated conclusion based upon active practicing members of that religion and not by a biased enemy who has been released of his former membership practice.

    How to Draw a Fair Conclusion
    • Consider the facts 
    • Consider the quality of the witnesses 
    • A disgruntled witness may be inclined to be dishonest 
    • Examine the evidence. 
    • Is hearsay evidence? 
    • What does the evidence tell us 
    • What does the evidence NOT tell us 
    • Check assumptions for validity
    To make this easier, I have developed and attached an informative graphic representation to aid us in our decisions. (Graphic shown below)

    Draw Your Own Conclusion
    I now invite you to draw your own conclusion based on careful examination of the evidence. Was Smith,or was he not, an advocate of disobedience to his own revelation and the "order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days— ..." [xvi] and did he deny the, "principle of promise,"[xvii] for the sake of "testing the people"?

    [ii] The History of Joseph Smith by his mother Lucy Mack Smith pg. 60
    [iii] The History of Joseph Smith by his mother Lucy Mack Smith pg. 61
    [iv] The History of Joseph Smith by his mother Lucy Mack Smith pg. 61
    [v] The History of Joseph Smith by his mother Lucy Mack Smith pg. 61
    [vi] http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705381677/Joseph-Smiths-doc-only-man-who-could-save-leg.html?pg=all
    [vii] The History of Joseph Smith by his mother Lucy Mack Smith pg. 61
    [viii] Diary of Abraham H. Cannon, vol. XIX (October 1895 entry)
    [ix] Diary of Abraham H. Cannon, vol. XIX (October 1895 entry)
    [x] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krister_Stendahl
    [xi] History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 252.
    [xii] Minutes of December 28, 1835, Kirtland High Council Minutes
    [xiii] Minutes of December 28, 1835, Kirtland High Council Minutes
    [xiv] Minutes of December 28, 1835, Kirtland High Council Minutes
    [xv] History of the Church, Vol. 6, page 616
    [xvi] D&C Section 89:2
    [xvii] D&C Section 89:3
    Location: Mapleton, UT, USA

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