Calling Joseph Smith "one of the grossest and most infamous impostors that ever appeared upon the face of the earth," John Cook Bennett exposes a viper's nest of bitterness and corruption in his inflammatory "History of the Saints", which appeared in 1842. Issuing dire warnings of a Mormon conspiracy to overthrow the government, Bennett catalogs the "Mormon Monster's career of imposture, iniquity, and treason" while presenting testimonies to his own unsullied character. Castigating the church and everyone associated with it, he describes the elaborate "seraglio" - the hierarchy of females at the disposal of men of power - and the Mormons' military and civic organization, as well as their secret societies, including the Danites, an elite group of spies and informers who purportedly dressed as women while engaged in their dark schemes. This same John Bennett had been Joseph Smith's assistant president and close confidant, as well as the mayor of the city of Nauvoo, a major general of its militia, and a chancellor of its university. Andrew F.
Smith's introduction examines this enigmatic character, putting Bennett's disavowal of the church and his near-fanatical crusade into perspective. He sketches Bennett's Barnumesque adult life and his initial embracing of Mormonism, as well as the events that turned him against it. He also discusses the book's publication history, its reception by the Mormons and the press, and Bennett's habit of editing himself out of accounts of Mormon misdeeds in which he was involved. Although generally dismissed by Mormon scholars as the work either of a true believer who went astray or of an opportunist masquerading as a devout religious convert, "Bennett's History" did correctly report on Smith's polygamy and predict the rise of a Mormon theocracy, though not in the location he expected. Wherever the truth lies, History of the Saints is a titillating concoction of indignation, revelation, and vituperation.show more