John C. Bennett: Wikis


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John C. Bennett
John C. Bennett engraving.jpg
Engraving of John C. Bennett in a Napoleon-like pose as General of the Nauvoo Legion
Full name John Cook Bennett
Born August 3, 1804(1804-08-03)
Place of birth Fairhaven, Massachusetts
Died August 5, 1867 (aged 63)
Place of death Polk City, Iowa
LDS Church General Authority
Assistant President of the Church
Called by Joseph Smith, Jr.
Start of term April 8, 1841 (aged 36)
End of term May 25, 1842 (aged 37)
End reason Disfellowshipped and removed from position

John Cook Bennett (August 3, 1804 – August 5, 1867) was an American physician and a ranking and influential—but short-lived—leader of the Latter Day Saint movement, who acted as second in command to Joseph Smith, Jr. for a brief period in the early 1840s.

Bennett's involvement in the Latter Day Saint movement came after several encounters with the community that had left him unimpressed. He nevertheless wrote several letters to Joseph Smith, Jr. in Nauvoo, Illinois in which he declared his desire to join the movement.[1] Bennett was essential to the passing of the Nauvoo city charter in the Illinois legislature, the provisions of which he had helped craft. He even garnered praise for his lobbying efforts on behalf of the Mormons from the young Abraham Lincoln.

His efforts on behalf of the Mormons, and the long time he spent living in the Smith mansion in Nauvoo, secured for Bennett the confidence of Joseph Smith. Smith was instrumental in promoting Bennett to ever greater civic and ecclesiastical responsibilities in Nauvoo, Illinois. Bennett became an Assistant President of the Church and Counselor in the First Presidency, the mayor of the city of Nauvoo, General of the Nauvoo Legion, and the chancellor of the University of Nauvoo.

Eventually, however, rumors of adultery, homosexuality, unauthorized polygamy, and the performance of abortions emerged. While Bennett was mayor, he was caught in private sexual relations with women in the city. He told the women that the practice, which he termed "spiritual wifery," was sanctioned of God and Joseph Smith, and that Joseph Smith did the same. When discovered, he privately confessed his crimes, produced an affidavit that Joseph Smith had no part in his adultery and was disciplined accordingly. Although he vowed to change, he continued his scandalous behavior. When he was caught again, his indiscretions were publicly exposed and he was removed from his church positions, excommunicated from the church and stripped of public office.

After Bennett left Nauvoo in May 1842, he claimed he had been the target of an attempted assassination by Nauvoo Danites, who were disguised in drag. He soon became a bitter antagonist of Joseph Smith and the Latter Day Saint church, reportedly even vowing to drink the blood of Joseph Smith, Jr. In 1842, he wrote a scathing exposé of Joseph Smith, entitled History of the Saints, accusing Smith and his church of crimes such as treason, conspiracy to commit murder, prostitution, and adultery.[2] Through his newspaper writings and book, Bennett appeared to encourage Missouri's June 1843 attempt to extradite Smith to stand trial for "treason." Ironically, Smith escaped extradition, albeit narrowly, by virtue of the powerful Nauvoo charter, of which Bennett was a principal author in 1841.

In the fall of 1843 Bennett visited George M. Hinkle, a Mormon who was excommunicated after surrendering Joseph Smith to the Missouri Militia in 1838. Bennett's subsequent letter to the editor of the Hawk-Eye and Iowa Patriot describing the Mormon "Doctrine of Marrying for Eternity" is the first of his writings that discusses eternal marriage, as compared to the free love/spiritual wife doctrine he previously accused Joseph of practicing, where sexual relations weren't in the context of committed marriage.[3] It is unclear whether Bennett learned of eternal marriage from Hinkle or from correspondents inside Nauvoo.

John C. Bennett briefly returned to Nauvoo in December 1843, but the sole record of that visit is a notation in Joseph Smith's Daybook from his General Store showing a payment of the rent Bennett owed for the 39 weeks he lived in the Smith home in 1840-1841. After December 1843 John Bennett is recorded to have lectured only once more against Mormonism during Joseph's life, in Boston, during the spring of 1844. At the 1844 Boston lecture, Bennett was not well received. He was pelted with rotten eggs and chased through Boston by the 'vast assemblage,' who ran over several Boston police officers in the process. After Smith's assassination in Carthage, Illinois on June 27, 1844, Bennett resumed his lectures against polygamy in an attempt to win converts for Strang. Bennett has been accused of having a part in Smith's murder, but, as his biographer Andrew F. Smith states, based on the extant evidence, "Bennett appears to have had no influence on the events that unfolded in Carthage during June 1844"[4]

Following Smith's death, Bennett surprised many by returning briefly to Mormonism and joining forces first with Sidney Rigdon and then with James Strang—one of several Mormons contending for leadership of the movement. Bennett united with the "Strangites," who founded their own Mormon community on Beaver Island in Michigan. With Bennett's enthusiastic support, polygamy was introduced into the Michigan Mormon community. Shortly thereafter, amidst yet more charges of sexual misconduct, Bennett left the Strangite community and Mormonism once and for all.

Bennett is often credited with introducing into Mormonism the term "spiritual wifery." Spiritual wifery was the term Bennett used for both his own practice of "free love" and for the Nauvoo practice of plural marriage (polygyny). The term was occasionally used by Mormon leaders such as Brigham Young, who spoke of the shock he received when introduced by Joseph Smith to "the spiritual wife doctrine," referring to plural marriage. One of Bennett's legacies was the conflation of plural marriage with "free love" in the popular imagination. The term "spiritual wifery," with its mixed connotations of polygyny and promiscuity, was frequently used in the national dialogue against, and in activism against, Mormon polygamy.

Bennett's troubled relationship with the Mormons has overshadowed his other notable activities, including commanding a company for the Union in the Civil War. Bennett was an early champion of the health benefits of the tomato starting in 1835, a pioneer in the use of chloroform as an anesthetic, publishing his findings in 1848, and was the creator of several breeds of chicken, including Plymouth Rock fowl, which he exhibited in Boston in 1849. From 1830 through 1846 Bennett worked to establish institutions of higher learning, many of which were Medical Colleges. Bennett's practice of 'selling diplomas' clouds that achievement, and only one educational institution survived Bennett's connection with it.[5]

Bennett left behind an extensive body of letters and published works on his various endeavors, including two books, "History of the Saints," and "The Poultry Book."[6]


  1. ^ Bennett, John C. (1842). History of the Saints; or, an Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland & Whiting. pp. 5–10. 
  2. ^ Bennett, John C. (1842). History of the Saints; or, an Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland & Whiting. p. 218. 
  3. ^ Smith, Andrew F (1971). The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. p. 138. 
  4. ^ Smith, Andrew F (1971). The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. pp. 138–141. 
  5. ^ Smith, Andrew F (1971). The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. pp. 188–189. 
  6. ^ Smith, Andrew F (1971). The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. pp. 237–244. 


  • Bushman, Richard. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling., Alfred Knopf, 2005, ISBN 1-4000-4270-4
  • Bennett, John C. History of the Saints, (Boston: Leland & Whiting, 1842) [1]
  • Smith, Andrew F. The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett., University of Illinois Press, 1997, ISBN 0-252-02282-3
Preceded by
Mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois
Succeeded by
Joseph Smith, Jr.

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