Secretary John Cook Bennett Of Nauvoo Lodge
by Mervin B. Hogan, M.P.S.
"...He was a slippery, ambitious, egotistical, and completely unscrupulous rogue, a complete stranger to such humdrum qualities as honesty and loyalty …."
- Milo Milton Quaife
A biographer is usually attracted to his subject by the distinctions of an honorable and exemplary career, embellished by an eminent and highly esteemed record. The life of John Cook Bennett provides an example of essentially the opposite parameters. Allowing a wide margin of charity and compassion, his record is still dismal and disheartening as one reads it clearly chiseled on the archway of time.
Bennett proved to be the extremely disruptive and destructive agent in both the Mormon Church and Nauvoo Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. He was also a disappointing and discouraging force with the political leaders of Illinois. He presented the part he played in a tense, self-revealing account which he published as a compilation titled The History of the Saints; or, An Expose of Joe Smith and Mormonism. The volume is also known as Mormonism Exposed.
An acquaintance with Bennett's meteoric rise, as well as his alarming, precipitate fall, in the State of Illinois, the city of Nauvoo, the Mormon Church and Nauvoo Lodge helps to partially understand how and why the inexorable force of devastation so suddenly and pronouncedly struck Carthage and Nauvoo. It is, of course, impossible to appraise the effect on the public mind of Bennett's zealous efforts to destroy Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church. His vigorous activities doubtless served as one of the well placed charges which, at the critical time and place, responded to the vital spark when struck.
From the vantage point of years it is evident Bennett suffered a constitutional inability to grasp the golden opportunity which might well have led to monumental achievement in the Church of his choice and his consequent immortalization. His Mormonism Exposed is of some slight value as a source of a few scattered historical data, but he must have realized it is of extremely limited consequence as an authoritative record.
Bennett was born August 3, 1804 at Fairhaven, Bristol County, Massachusetts, but was taken to Ohio in 1808 by his parents and grew up there. Just what his educational advantages were or under what circumstances he received his education are not known. Interestingly, he apparently impressed most everyone he met with his superficial learning. Just what induced him to move to I1linois in 1838 has never come to light, nor has the means by which he was soon commissioned a brigadier general of the Illinois Invincible Dragoons ever been explained.
Governor Carlin commissioned Bennett Quartermaster General of Illinois in 1840; the same year he joined the Mormon Church. Among the Mormons he experienced an unbelievable, rocket-like rise to power and influence practically overnight in Nauvoo. For a brief period his actual status there appears to have been second only to that of Joseph Smith. Subsequent to his fall at Nauvoo and in Illinois, he joined the small splinter sect of Mormons led by James J. Strang and moved to Wisconsin with the group. Later he located at Plymouth, Massachusetts. In this community he practiced his brand of medicine and dentistry and became widely publicized in the area as a poultry breeder and fancier.
Bennett characteristically assumed the position of initiative and leadership in formulating a petition by the Nauvoo Masons for a lodge in their community. That the petition was favorably received and its request granted by Grand Master Abraham Jonas appears to have been in no manner influenced by or related to Bennett. He had initially approached Bodley Lodge No. 1 at neighboring Quincy, soliciting its recommendation and support. This request was declined with abrupt succinctness. Bodley Lodge was vigorously and openly anti-Mormon and not only refused to endorse or support the petition, but exerted every effort to have it thwarted and rejected.
The Minute Book of Nauvoo Lodge records that Bennett, upon his arrival at Nauvoo, identified himself as a Master Mason in good standing in Friendship Lodge No. 89 of Ohio. Since it was later established that at the time he was an expelled Mason this statement provokes natural speculation and doubt.
Bennett was understandably interested in holding the functional office with intrinsic continuity of service and influence, as well as inherent authority. To that end he succeeded in securing for himself the office of Secretary of Nauvoo Lodge. It was but a short time and a rumor was abroad that Bennett was under the sentence of expulsion from Pickaway Lodge No. 23 at Circleville, Pickaway County, Ohio. It was later learned he had been listed as an Entered Apprentice in Belmont Lodge No. 16 of St. Clairsville, Belmont County, Ohio in 1826.
As a result of persistent rumors and various communications addressed to him personally, Joseph Smith decided at an early date to send George Miller, the Worshipful Master of Nauvoo Lodge, to Ohio to make an investigation of Bennett. Miller's inquiries, interviews and observations during this assignment enabled him to address a comprehensive report to the Prophet. This information was published Friday, July 1, 1842 in the Times and Seasons of Nauvoo:
Accompanying the publication of the above letter was a "Notice," also over George Miller's signature, warning the world generally and Freemasonry particularly of Bennett's status as an expelled Mason. In rapid succession Bennett found himself disfellowshipped by the Church, discharged by the Nauvoo Legion, dismissed from the office of Mayor of Nauvoo and doubly expelled by Nauvoo Lodge. He stood stripped of every vestige of authority, dignity, respect and personal stature.
Although the declared purpose of his "expose" is solely to castigate and denounce Joseph Smith and the Mormons, Bennett's own portrait is the frontispiece of the volume. Under the picture is his signature and beneath that the printed title "Gen. John C. Bennett. Doctor of Medicine."
Bennett could scarcely have plunged to greater depths of irreligiousity, poor taste and betrayal of a confidence than he does when he derides and belittles his Patriarchal Blessing:
"It will be seen by the foregoing documents, that I was in perfectly good order with the saints and their rulers, in the Holy City, up to the time of my withdrawal from the Church, and even afterwards. So it appears, from the Prophet's own showing, that the Lord was remarkably well pleased with his servant John C. Bennett so long as he was an advocate of the Mormon creed; but when he came out on the pretended man of God, the Lord's Anointed Old White Hat Prophet, Joe contended that he always knew Bennett was a scoundrel. It appears, therefore, that either the Lord, or Joe, was mistaken. Which do you think it was, Christian reader?
"I will now conclude by giving my Patriarchal Blessing, from the Holy Hyrum Smith, the Patriarch of the whole Mormon Church, and Heir Apparent to the Throne.
"A Blessing pronounced on the Head of J.C. Bennett, son of J. and N. Bennett, born in the Town of Fair Haven, Bristol County, Massachusetts, August 3, A.D. 1804, by Hyrum Smith, Patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, September 21, 1840."
One significance of this Patriarchal Blessing at the present time is that it is clearly a warning to Bennett that he is under inspection and not yet fully accepted by the Morman leadership at his own self-value. Instead of "laboring for Zion," he was only laboring for his own selfish interests and never digressed from that path.
It stimulates the imagination to cogitate and speculate on what Bennett's future might have been had he taken seriously and adhered to the implied instructions addressed to him in the Patriarchal Blessing conferred upon him by Hyrum Smith, Senior Warden of Nauvoo Lodge. There is no question that Joseph Smith and his fellow associates of the hierarchy recognized Bennett's talents and wished to provide him the opportunity to apply them constructively and positively. It is equally certain they clearly detected the flaws in his defective constitution and were giving him a trial run, so to speak.
If the recreant Bennett had but had the character and stability to have honestly worked for a place in the hierarchy and supported the leadership of Joseph Smith, how differently some of the pages of history might have been written.
But Jesus, too, had his Judas!
It is but natural to strive to explain away an unhappy associate of Bennett's ilk with the aftermath and harassing experiences related to him. But the fact of life is that, no matter how vigilantly and zealously any group tries to select or choose its membership, in order to protect itself from the disrupting influences and effects of such an unsuitable man, one of these highly undesirable individuals does slip in now and then.
No one has satisfactorily explained how Bennett suddenly appeared in Illinois and almost at once had Governor Thomas Carlin and the noted Stephen Arnold Douglas, Justice of the Supreme Court and presiding Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Illinois, eagerly acquiescing to his requests. Talents of this calibre, regardless how basely they are later directed or misapplied, are always convincingly impressive. No one should be surprised that after more than a decade of persecution rapine, pillage and migration, Joseph Smith would readily accept the proffered support and assistance to his cause which Bennett's apparent and implied skills seemed to promise.
History provides abundant evidence and clearly records how embarrassing Bennett was, and has been ever since, to the State of Illinois, the Mormon Church and Freemasonry as a result of his accomplished deceit and dishonesty. Yet it must be borne in mind that he did not give a unique performance. Others from the same mold had preceded him and others of the same kind have followed him on history's stage. All that is humanly possible, as a means of self-protection, is to scrutinizingly guard well the gate and prevent the admittance of this breed of interloper into one's society.
In later years Bennett left Plymouth, Massachusetts and moved to Polk County, Iowa. He applied himself to sheep, cattle and poultry raising, as well as continuing to practice medicine. His talents as a promoter were again demonstrated in 1861 when he became an instigator in the organization of the Tenth Iowa Infantry, in which he served with the rank of major. He became Surgeon in Field and Staff of the Third U. S. Infantry in 1865. His death occurred August 5, 1867 and he is buried in the Polk City Cemetery.
Source : http://www.mastermason.com/masonicmoroni/Philalethes/secretary_john_cook_bennett_of_n.htm