John C. Bennett played a pivotal role in the history of the church, initially as a leader, but later as an instigator of persecution and suffering. He had held a variety of careers in his lifetime and added several more after becoming a Mormon.
Bennett had been a doctor and a minister, had founded and headed a college, and had been a quartermaster in Illinois. He had been very successful in the state headquarters and seemed to have great influence there. He arrived in Nauvoo in 1840. He said he was single, but it was later learned that he had actually abandoned his wife and child. His arrival coincided with discussions about the type of government to form in Nauvoo, the town organized for the Mormons who had settled there.
Bennett had written to Joseph Smith claiming to consider the persecution the Mormons had received in Missouri to be an outrage and had offered to help the Mormons find better conditions in Illinois. When he arrived, he was soon baptized and, given his connections in the state capital, assigned to assist the church in gaining a charter government. The charter Bennett and others won for them was very generous and gave them permission to establish a court, a militia, and a university. This seemed to offer them protection from religious persecution. Bennett quickly settled into the community and became a recognized community and church leader. He was even chosen to be the first mayor of the city.
It was not long after he became a member of the church that Bennett tried to have Joseph Smith killed. He organized a mock or practice battle and tried to convince Joseph to take certain positions. However, Joseph Smith felt prompted that there was danger and chose a safer position with his lifeguard. Joseph later came to understand the plan was to have him killed during the confusion of the battle, when it would be impossible to know who carried it out.
In 1841, Joseph Smith learned about Bennett’s wife and child and asked him about it. Bennett responded by taking poison, presumably trying to kill himself or to appear sorry enough to do so, although he did not die. At about the same time, it was discovered he was misusing the doctrine of plural marriage. He was involving women in immoral relationships, convincing them they were spiritually married to him, even though they were not legally married at all. He and his friends convinced these women Joseph Smith had approved their immoral relationship.
John C. Bennett was excommunicated for this behavior and was relieved of his church positions and his role as the mayor. Angry over his loss of power, he left Nauvoo, saying the Mormons were beneath him, and set out to write a book in which he claimed to “expose” the Mormons in an effort at retaliation. The book was serialized and then published, but never gained popularity. He devoted a great deal of time trying to undermine the religion and Joseph Smith and in trying to get Joseph Smith arrested for murder and other spurious charges he invented.
Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants, Lynn F. Price, published by Cedar Fort, 2007.
Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.