What follows is an adaption of a work by Parley P. Pratt entitled, A Dialogue Between Joseph Smith and the Devil. The original was published on January 1st of 1844 in the New York Herald. As Pratt noted in his journal, “Visiting North Bridge, a short distance from Boston, and having a day’s leisure, I wrote a dialogue entitled ‘Joe Smith and the Devil,’ which was afterwards published in the New York Herald, and in various papers in America and Europe. It was finally published and republished in pamphlet form, and had a wide circulation; few persons knowing or mistrusting who was the author.”
I have attempted to bring the language of the original into a more modern vernacular so as to make reading comprehension easier and more natural. Minor artistic liberties were taken in order to more fully convey the meaning of some antiquated and/or complex phrasing. For all intents and purposes, this adaption is simply a modernized version of the original.
From a historical perspective, this piece is insightful into the kind of personality and character that Joseph’s closest friends saw of him relative to the public eye. In it we see glimpses of Joseph as a forthright and gregarious man, inclined to listening in full before responding to criticism, and ultimately confident in the freeing and salvific power of truth.
[Enter Devil with a bundle of pamphlets, which he is in the act of pasting up]
All the liars, swindlers, thieves, robbers, incendiaries, murderers, cheats, adulterers, harlots, blackguards, gamblers, bogus makers, idlers, busy bodies, pickpockets, vagabonds, filthy persons, and all other infidels and rebellious, disorderly persons, for a crusade against Joe Smith and the Mormons! Be quick, be quick, I say or our cause will be ruined and our kingdom overthrown by the damned fool of an imposter and his associates, for even now all earth and hell is in a stew.
[Joseph Smith happens to be passing and hails his majesty]
Smith: Good morning, Mr. Devil. You sure look busy; what are you up to?
Devil: [Slipping his pamphlets into his pocket with a low bow] Oh! Good morning Mr. Smith; it’s nice to see you. Why, I—I was just out on a little personal business. Or, well, to be honest I was trying to find brave recruits for a war against you and your establishment. After all, you have outraged God-fearing folk of all kinds and you have significantly interfered with the usefulness of religion. To be honest—and I despise anything deceitful—I must tell you to your face that you have made more trouble than any of other the ministers or people in my kingdom in quite a long time.
Smith: Trouble! What trouble have I caused his highness? I have only tried my best to as friendly as possible to you and all other people, even my worst enemies. And I have always aimed to fulfill the Mormon Creed, which is to mind my own business exclusively. Why should this trouble you, Mr. Devil?
Devil: Ah yes, your “own business,” indeed! It’s a complicated thing, you see, because I don’t know what exactly you consider your “own business.” But I know what you have done and what you are aiming to do: you are disturbing the quiet of Christendom!
You’ve overthrown churches and societies; you’ve dared to call into question the truth and usefulness of old and established creeds (which have stood the test of ages); and you’ve even caused tens of thousands to come out in open rebellion, not only against wholesome creeds—established forms and doctrines both well approved and orthodox—but you’ve caused them to come out in open rebellion against some of the most pious, learned, exemplary and honorable clergy whom both myself and all the world love, honor, and esteem.
And this is not all!
You’re causing many people to think who never thought before, and if you get the whole world thinking then where will true religion and devotion to God be? Why, they will have no place among men! If men keep on this terrible business of thinking and reasoning—as they’ve started to do since you commenced your “own business,” as you call it—they’ll stop upholding the good-old way in which they’ve peacefully been getting along for so many ages. And thus, Mr. Smith, you will overthrow my kingdom and leave me not a foot of ground on earth, which is the very thing you seek. But I will here state that I am going to oppose you by all the lawful means which I have in my power.
Smith: I’m impressed, Mr. Devil, your majesty has certainly become very pious of late. I think some of your Christian brethren have seriously misrepresented you. They say that you are opposed to religion, but—
Devil: It is false; there is not a more religious or pious being in the world than myself, nor a being more liberal-minded.
I am all for Christianity of whatever name and nature, as long as they leave out that abominable doctrine which caused me so much trouble in the past, which you have now revived. I mean the doctrine of direct communication with God, by “new revelation.” This teaching is hateful. It is apostate—it is directly opposed to all the divisions and branches of the Christian church, and I can’t bear it.
When the prophets and apostles of old were suffered to live with this gift of “new revelation,” they were always trying to expose and slander me—and all other good religious men—calling our deeds and purposes “wicked” though our actions were in reality most zealous and pious. And when we had to resort to killing them for these crimes of dreaming, prophesying, and vision-seeing, they actually claimed to be the ones being persecuted! And so it is with you miserable, deluded Mormons.
Smith: Then your most Christian Majesty is in favor of all other religions but this one, are you?
Devil: Absolutely. I am in support of praying; singing; church-building; bell ringing; going to meeting; preaching; and, what’s more, I have quite a missionary zeal. I also am in favor of long faces, long prayers, long robes, and sophisticated sermons.
Of course I am elated to see people arguing with their neighbor, ignoring the poor, walking fashionably in pride, and serving me with all their heart. But truly nothing makes me happier, Mr. Smith, than to see these same people go to meeting on Sunday with a long religious face on, paying a portion of their ill-gotten gains for the support of a priest, all while he and his hearers say with grieving faces: “Lord, we have left undone the things we ought to have done, and done the things we ought not.” And then, when service is ended, they turn to their wickedness and pursue it greedily all the week and the next Sabbath repeat the same things.
Now, be honest with me, Mr. Smith, don’t you see that these—and all others who have a form of godliness while denying its power—are my good Christian children and that their religion is a help to my cause?
Smith: Oh yes, your reasoning is clear and obvious as to these hypocrites. But I’m sure you’re not pleased with people who get converted at revivals, you know, the kind who put their trust in free grace to save them at those meetings—you’re not opposed to that, are you?
Devil: Why should I have any objections to that kind of religion, Mr. Smith? I don’t care how much they get converted or how much they cry, “Lord! Lord!” or how much they trust to grace to save them, as long as they don’t do the works that their God has commanded them. I am worried about them least of all, for you know all men are to be judged according to their deeds. What does their good old Bible say? Does it not say, “Not every one that saith Lord, Lord, shall enter into my kingdom, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven”? No, no, Mr. Smith, I am not an enemy to religion, and especially to the modern forms of Christianity; so long as they deny the power, they are to help to my cause.
Don’t you see how much discord, division, hatred, envy, strife, lying, contention, blindness, and even error and bloodshed has been produced as the effect of these systems? Why, by these means I gain millions to my dominion while at the same time we enjoy the credit of being called devout Christians.
But you, Mr. Smith, you are my enemy, my open and avowed enemy. You have dared, in a sacrilegious manner, to tear off the veil from all these fine systems and to commence an open attack upon my kingdom. (And this even when I had almost all Christendom together with the clergy and the media in my favor.) How dare you try and commence a revolution—practically a suicide mission—in the midst of the innumerable hosts of my subjects?
Smith: Well, in the first place I knew that I had the truth on my side. And I knew that your systems and forms of Christianity were so obviously corrupt that I only had to lift the veil from your fooleries on one side in order to present plain and reasonable truth on the other, so that the eyes of the people could at once distinguish the difference so clearly that except they chose darkness rather than light, they would leave your ranks and come over to truth.
For instance, it is easy to demonstrate from history that a religion of direct and “new” revelation was the only system ever instituted by the Lord and the only one calculated to benefit mankind. It is also easy to demonstrate that this system saved the church from flood, famine, flames, wars, division, bondage, doubt, and darkness many times, and that it is the legitimate government of God’s own peculiar people in all ages and dispensations.
Devil: To be candid with you, Mr. Smith, I must admit that what you have said neither myself nor my most able ministers have been able to discredit by any argument or fact.
But then you must recollect that tradition and custom—together with fashion, popularity, and progressivism—have in all ages had more effect than plain fact and sound reason. Hence, you see my kingdom is safe so long as we continue to cry from press and pulpit, and in Sunday Schools alike, that things like new revelation are done away and no longer needed. In this way, though God may speak, the people will not hear; angels may minister, and they will not believe; visions may reveal, and they will not be enlightened; prophets may lift their voice, and their warnings pass unheeded.
So you see, we still have them as safe as we had the people in olden times. God can communicate no message to them that will be examined let alone taken seriously. So, despite all the good they get from God, if all communications are cut off, then they might as well be without a God.
Thus, you see, I have full control of the people with something far stronger than argument or reason (and I even teach them that it is a sin to reason, think, question or investigate). No one wants to rock the old, sacred boat of popular tradition, even for a scrap of truth floating by.
Mr. Smith, you must be extremely ignorant of human nature, as well as of the history of the past, to presume that “reason” and “truth” would have much effect with people. Why, sir, look how effectively we repelled the truth at Ephesus when Paul attempted to address them in the theatre. It’s strange that with all these examples before you, you should even venture to raise the hue and cry which has so often been defeated. And this with no better weapons on your side than “reason” and “truth”!
Well, you’ve touched my Christian spirit of forbearance seeing that you’ve escaped so far without being tied to the rack; but take care for the future, I may not always be so mild.
Smith: Why is your majesty so riled up about me and my personal business if, as you say, you have the people perfectly safe under your control? And why are you so enraged and so fearful of the effect of my weapons of truth and reason if you call them weak and powerless? I think if you were honest, you would not underestimate me as you have.
That said, it is a sad fact that you have the people heavily under your influence at the moment and that truths can seldom reach them. So why not be content then and leave me to pursue my calling in peace? After all, I can hardly win any to the cause of truth but the few who do think, question, and reason—which few have only ever been useless in your ranks.
Devil: True, but then you are—in spite of all my efforts and that of my fellows—daily thinning our ranks by adding to the number of those who “think, question, and reason.” And when such thinking is kept up, we are often exposed in some of our most undesireable places. It puts us in an awkward predicament. Who knows what disgrace or dishonor may befall the pious cause of religion if you are suffered to continue your rebellious course.
Smith: But, Mr. Devil, why, with all these other advantages on your side, do you resort to such mean, weak, and silly fabrications as the “Spaulding Story”? You profess to be a gentlemen, a Christian, and a clergyman, and you ought—for your own sake and for the sake of your cause—to keep up outward appearances of honor and fairness. And now, Mr. Devil, tell the truth for once; you know perfectly well that your Spaulding story—in which you represent me as an impostor in connection with Sidney Rigdon, that we were engaged in palming Solomon Spauldings novel upon the world as the Book of Mormon—is a lie, a base fabrication, without a shadow of truth. You know that I found the original records of the Nephites and I translated and published the Book of Mormon from them, without ever having heard of the existence of Spaulding, or his novel, or of Sidney Rigdon either. Now, Mr. Devil, this was a mean, disgraceful, no-good, underhanded trick, and one of which you have reason to be ashamed.
Devil: Well, Mr. Smith, to be candid, I acknowledge that what you say is true, and that it was not the most honorable cause in the world. But it was you who started the war by publishing that terrible Book of Mormon in the first place, which we quickly recognized was a complete exposé of the falsehood and corruption of our Christianity. The book did not even keep back the fact that we had continued, during the dark ages, to rob the Bible of its plainness!
Well, because of that we acted instinctively and called a hasty council of the clergy and the media (and other rascals in Painesville, Ohio). And since all is fair in love and war, we invented the Spaulding story and palmed it off on the poor printer, Howe of Painesville. (Although, thanks to my aid, Dr. Hurlburt was its real author.)
But Mr. Smith, please note that my men were not so devoid of a conscience so as to initially publish this Spaulding story as though it was a cold, hard fact; we only published it as a conjecture, a mere possibility that the Book of Mormon was related to it. And this you know we had a right to do, not realizing of the amount of evil it would eventually accomplish against you.
It has been some of my unfortunate clergymen, who—more reckless, hardened, and unprincipled than myself—have ventured to add to each edition of this story, till at last, without my aid or consent, they have set it down for a positive fact that Solomon Spaulding, Sidney Rigdon, and yourself have made up the Book of Mormon out of a piece of fiction.
Now, Mr. Smith, I am glad of this interview with you, as it gives me the opportunity of clearing up my character. I acknowledge with shame that I was guilty of a mean act in helping to hatch up and publish the Spaulding story—though only as a probability!—and that I associated with rascals far beneath my dignity either as a sovereign prince or a religious minister (or even as an old honorable and experienced Devil). And for this I beg your pardon.
But really I must deny the charge of having assisted in making the addition which has appeared in the later editions of that story, in which my probabilities and mean conjectures are set down for positive facts. No, Mr. Smith, I had no hand in a trick so low and mean! I despise it as the work of priests and the media alone, without my aid or suggestion, and I don’t believe that even the meanest young devils in our dominion would have stooped to such an act.
Smith: Well I must give your majesty some credit for once at least, if what you say is true. But how can you justify your conduct in dishonoring yourself in stooping to the level of the hireling clergy and their followers in still making use of this humbug story (which you claim to disown) in order to still blind the eyes of the people in regard to the origin of the Book of Mormon?
Devil: Oh! Mr. Smith, the story is so popular among the devout of all sects that it seems a pity to spoil the fun, and I cannot resist the temptation of carrying out the joke since it is now so well rooted in their minds. And you can’t think how we devils get a good laugh when we’re up in the gallery in some fine church and we put on our long faces, assist in singing and in the chanting, and then hear the Spaulding story gravely told from the pulpit, while the pious old clergyman wears a face as long as that of Balaam’s beast! The whole thing is swallowed down as solid truth by the gaping multitude, while we hang our heads behind the screen and laugh and wink at each other. Oh, ha, ha—how it does make me laugh just thinking of it. Of course we do all this in silence since we don’t want to disturb their worship, and, as bad as I am, I never wish to disturb such worship, which decency requires us to respect. So, you see, Mr. Smith, we have our fun to ourselves at your expense; but after all we do not mean any hurt by it (although I must acknowledge it does happen to serve our purposes).
Smith: Well, we will drop this subject, as I want to ask about some of your other stories which have become popular by the handiwork of the media and your priests.
For instance, there is the story of my attempting to walk on the water and getting drowned; the numerous stories of my attempting to raise the dead, as a mere trick, and getting caught; and the stories of my attempting to appear as an angel, and getting caught in that too…. Now, you old hypocrite, you know that none of these things ever happened.
What’s more, you know that I deny the principle of a man working miracles, either real or pretended, as a proof of his mission; I contend that when miracles have happened, they happened for merciful purposes—to help the saints when they couldn’t help themselves—and not to convince the unbeliever.
Why, then, do you resort to misrepresenting me with such silly stories, seeing that you have many other better tools at your disposal? Not that I would complain of such weak opposition. It’s almost as if you were not so much trying to harm my reputation as you were trying to injure your own by demonstrating your weakness, idiocy, and nastiness.
Devil: Ha, ha, ha, eh, eh! Oh, Mr. Smith! I just put out these stories for a joke, in order to have my own fun. I didn’t think that any being on earth would really be so silly as to actually believe them. But you can guess my surprise and joy when I found the priests, the media, and the people so ready to latch onto anything against their “common enemy,” as they call you. Yes, I was blown away by the fact that these playful stories of ours were actually received by their credulous craniums as the most solemn of truths. And then, what’s more, they took these stories and passed them around far and wide, swallowed by the multitude as greedily as a young robin swallows a worm when it is dropped into gaping beak while its eyes are shut.
So you see Mr. Smith, without meaning any particular harm to you, I have my fun, and I am, besides, so fortunate as to reap unexpected rewards. So I hope you will at least bear my “idiocy” and have no hard feelings where no malice was intended. You know we devils are poor, miserable creatures at best, and were it not for our fun, and our gambling, and our religious experiences, we would have nothing with which to kill time.
Smith: Well I see plainly you will have to make excuses some how or other rather than own up to the disgrace and stigma which your conduct would seem to deserve. But forgetting the past, let me inquire whether this warfare between you and me will drag on. If so, what are you planning as your next move?
You know my plan. I have long since taken the field at the head of a mere handful of brave patriots, who are true as the North Star, and firm as the Rock of Gibralter. They laugh at and despise your silly stories, and with nothing but a few plain, simple weapons of truth and reason, aided by revelation, we boldly undertake our own business, which as it so happens will make war upon your whole dominion. From that perspective, you should know then that I will never quit the field—even if I am dead—till my friends and I win the battle, and deprive you of every foot of ground you possess.
Although your enemy, I am bold and generous enough to declare my strategy. So you see, I am not for taking any sly advantage, notwithstanding all your churchy tricks upon me and the public.
Devil: Mr. Smith, I am too much of a gentleman not to admire your generous frankness and your boldness, and I am too much of a Christian not to appreciate your honesty. But, since you are the one who started this war and I initially only acted on the defensive with the pure motive of saving my kingdom, I think this ought to—in some degree at least—excuse the means I have resorted to so far.
Now, that you may have no reason to complain down the road, I will fully open to you the plans for my future campaign. Here…
[The devil pulls out his bundle of handbills]
This is what I was doing this morning when by chance we met, and by reading it you will see my plan. Up until now I have been trying to throw contempt upon your course in hopes to smother it and to keep it under, as something beneath the notice of us well-informed Christians. This is why I have generally caused you to be represented as a very ignorant, silly man, and that your followers were made up of the unthinking and vulgar—hardly worthy of being noticed. But the fact is, you have been noticed, and you have made such rapid strides and have poured forth such a torrent of intelligence and gathered such a host of talented and thinking men around you that I can no longer conceal these facts under a bushel of burning lies. So I am now changing my purpose and my manner of attack.
I shall endeavor to magnify you and your success from this time forward in the eyes of your followers and make you appear larger than life—I will set the bar of their expectations higher than you or any man can reach. If my former course has excited contempt and caused you to be despised and thus kept you out of notice, my future course will be to make men jealous of you, then to fear and be alarmed by you, till all the world is ready to arise and crush you as though you were a legion of backbiting scapegoats commanded by Napoleon. This I think will be more successful in putting you down than the ignoble course I have heretofore taken, so prepare for the worst.
Smith: I care as little for your magnifying powers as I do for your efforts to heap contempt upon my back. In fact, I will endeavor to go forward and meet the challenge of your plan to the degree that what you will say in regard to my great influence and power, though intended by you to be a lie, shall prove to be true. By so doing I shall be prepared to receive those whom you may excite against me, and I will give them so warm a reception that they will never realize what you were trying to do in the first place. They will instead find all your representations of my greatness to be a reality—so do your worst. I defy you.
Devil: Well, time will tell whether the earth is to be governed by a prophet and under the sway of truth, or whether myself and my Christian friends will still prevail; but remember, Smith, remember, I beseech you, for your own good, beware what you are doing. I have the priests and the media, with very few exceptions, under my control together with wealth, popularity, and honor. Count well the cost before you again plunge into this warfare. Goodbye, Mr. Smith, I must be away to raise my recruits and prepare for a campaign.
Smith: Goodbye, your Majesty.
[They both tip their hats toward each other and turn away]
Devil: [Recollecting himself and suddenly turning back] Oh! say, Mr. Smith, one word more if you please, [in low and confidential tone, with his mouth to his ear] after all, what is the use of parting as enemies? The fact is, you go in for the wheat and I for the tares. Both must be harvested. Are we not fellow laborers? I can make no use of the wheat, nor you of the tares even if we had them. So I say we each claim our own, I for the burning, you for the barn. Come then, give the poor old Devil his due, and let’s be friends.
Smith: Agreed; I neither want yours, nor you mine—a man free from prejudice will give the Devil his due. Come, here is the right hand of fellowship, you to the tares, and I to the wheat.
[They shake hands cordially]
Devil: Well, Mr. Smith, we have talked a long while, and are agreed at last. You are a noble and generous fellow, and would not bring a railing accusation against even a poor old Devil, nor cheat him one cent. Come, it is a warm day, and I feel as though it is my treat. Let us go down to Mammy Brewer’s cellar and take something to drink.
Smith: Agreed, Mr. Devil. That is very generous of you to offer.
[They enter the cellar together]
Devil: Good morning, Mrs. Brewer. Please meet my good friend, Mr. Smith, the prophet.
Landlady: Why Mr. Devil, is that really you? Sit down, you’re tired. Is this Mr. Smith the same Mr. Smith that is your mortal enemy? I am shocked. Well, what will you have, gentlemen, for if you can drink together, I think all the world ought to be friends.
Devil: As we are both temperance men and ministers, I think perhaps a glass of spruce beer each will be alright; what say you, Mr. Smith?
Smith: As you please, your majesty.
[They take the beer]
Devil: [Holding up glass] Come, Mr. Smith, to your good health. I propose we offer a toast.
Smith: Well proceed.
Devil: Here’s to my good friend, Joe Smith: may all sorts of ill-luck befall him, and may he never be suffered to enter my kingdom, either in time or eternity, for he would almost make me forget that I am a devil, and make a gentleman of me, while he gently overthrows my government at the same time that he wins my friendship.
Smith: Here’s to his Satanic Majesty; may he be driven from the earth and be forced to sea in a stone canoe with an iron paddle, and may the canoe sink, and a shark swallow the canoe and an alligator swallow the shark, and may the alligator be bound in the northwest corner of hell, the door locked, the key lost, and a blind man sent hunting for it.