At the height of these difficulties in Missouri in the summer of 1838, Sidney Rigdon, the first counselor in the First Presidency, gave two influential speeches. One speech targeted internal apostates, the other targeted external mobs. On June 17th, 1838 Rigdon gave what was later termed the “Salt Sermon” and a few weeks later an Independence Day public celebration of the temple cornerstones he gave a July 4th “oration.”
The Salt Sermon emboldened a group of Mormon vigilantes later known as “Danites,” and resulted in Church dissenters and their families being forced to flee Far West in fear. The second sermon, delivered on Independence day under the flag of the United States, breathed out warnings against oppressors with Sidney preaching that “that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination.” When Sidney finished his oration, the crowd of Saints thundered their support with “a shout of hosanna.” The stage was set for war, which would come within a matter of months.
This painting primarily incorporates both sermons. Rigdon points with his left hand over the horizon, as though he is simultaneously casting out dissenters and challenging potential outlying attackers. Behind him on the stand sit Joseph and Hyrum, who with Sidney comprise the First Presidency. They pass each other somewhat hesitant looks about the nature and potential ramifications of President Rigdon’s directives. On the right of the image, just below a temple cornerstone, stands a greyhound dog ready to pursue two deer that stand off on the horizon. This represents an analogy Joseph gave of the apostates bounding over the prairies fleeing from Far West after the Salt Sermon like a deer running away from a hound. In the crowd a man, symbolizing a Danite, raises his left fist in fighting, vigilante approval.
Just a few months later, Joseph, Hyrum, and Sidney would be arrested and imprisoned based on the testimony of dissenters and mobs. While imprisoned, Joseph would write, “We have learned by sad experiance that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men as soon as they get a little authority as they suppose they will imediately begin to [e]xercise unritious dominion.”
This original painting was created for my Repicturing the Restoration project published in 2020 by BYU’s Religious Studies Center & Deseret Book.
“Sidney’s Sermons” 12×16 watercolor and ink on 16×20 illustration board, 2019 (Unframed)
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