John C. Bennett was born in Fair Haven, Bristol
County,Massachusetts on August 3,1804 to J. and N. Bennett. He was well
educated and possessed many gifts and accomplishments. He was a physician,
a university professor, and a brigadier-general in the Illinois Militia.
Bennett became aware of the travails of the Latter-day Saints as they were expelled from Missouri and made their mid-winter exodus accross the frozen Mississippi River into western Illinois. On the 27th of July, 1840, he offered his services
to the Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith replied, inviting him to come to Commerce, if he felt so disposed, but warned him at the same time not to expect exaltation "in this generation," from devotion to the cause of truth and a suffering
people; nor worldly riches; only the approval of God. The outcome of the
correspondence was that he joined the Church and rose to prominent positions
among the Saints.
Because of his untiring work in obtaining the city
charter of Nauvoo, he was honored by being elected the first mayor of Nauvoo.
He also rose to prominence in the councils of the Church, and appeared
to be a firm believer in the Gospel, and a staunch friend to the Prophet
Joseph wrote of him: "We are happy to state that
several of the principal men in Illinois, who have listened to the doctrines
we promulgate, have become obedient to the faith, and are rejoicing in
the same; among whom is John C. Bennett, M. D., Quartermaster-General of
Illinois. We mention this gentleman first, because, that during our persecutions
in Missouri, he became acquainted with the violence we were suffering while
in that state, on account of our religion; his sympathy for us was aroused,
and his indignation kindled against our persecutors, for the cruelties
practiced upon us, and their flagrant violation of both the law and the
Constitution. Amidst their heated zeal to put down the truth, he addressed
us a letter, tendering to us his assistance in delivering us out of the
hands of our enemies, and restoring us again to our privileges, and only
required at our hands to point out the way and he would be forthcoming,
with all the forces he could raise for the purpose. He has been one of
the instruments in effecting our safety and deliverance, from the unjust
persecutions and demands of the authorities of Missouri, and also in procuring
the city chapter. He is a man of enterprise, extensive acquirements, and
of independent mind, and is calculated to be a great blessing to our community.
Not many months later, however, Bennett fell into
temptation and became guilty of immoral conduct and lost the spirit of
the Gospel and his love for President Joseph Smith. He refused to repent
and his soul became filled with bitterness. He was forced to resign as
mayor. The first intimation that all was not well with him was made manifest
to the Prophet May 7, 1842, after a drill and sham battle by the Nauvoo
Legion. This event had been under preparation since the previous January.
Bennett was the major general of the legion, and President Joseph Smith
was lieutenant-general. On the day mentioned, in the forenoon there was
a parade of the legion, of some twenty-six companies, comprising about
two thousand troops. Judge Stephen A. Douglas, later to become famed as Abraham Lincoln's antagonist in the notable Lincoln-Douglas debates,who was holding court at
Carthage, adjourned his court and with some leading attorneys went to Nauvoo
to be present at the military maneuvers of the legion. While there they
were guests of President Joseph Smith. The day passed peacefully without
confusion. A large company of spectators and distinguished strangers had
assembled to witness the sham battle. John C. Bennett, as major general
arranged for the Prophet to take command of the first cohort during the
battle, but this the Prophet declined to do. Next Bennett requested him
to take his station in the rear of the cavalry without his staff, while
the engagement was going on; but Captain Albert P. Rockwood, of the Prophet's
body guard, would not consent for some reason and kept close by the Prophet's
side, who chose his own position during the battle. The Spirit of the Lord
whispered to the Prophet that all was not well, and after the day's celebration
was over he said: "And if General Bennett's true feelings toward me are
not made manifest to the world in a very short time, then it may be possible
that the gentle breathings of that Spirit, which whispered to me on parade
that there was mischief concealed in that sham battle, were false; a short
time will determine the point. Let John C. Bennett answer at the day of
judgment, 'Why did you request me to command one of the cohorts, and also
to take my position without my staff, during the sham battle, on the 7th
of May, 1842, where my life might have been the forfeit, and no man have
known who did the deed?'
Bennett's fellowship with the people of God did not
last much longer. Bennett had begun living a life of gross immorality, seducing the innocents of Nauvoo and claiming that such immoral acts were sanctioned by new and secret doctrine revealed to him by Joseph. On the 25th of May, 1842, he was notified that the leaders
of the Church did no longer recognize him as a member, because of his impure
life, and shortly afterwards the Church took action against him. Bennett
made an affidavit in which he said he had never been taught anything in
the least contrary to the principles of strict morality and the principles
of the Gospel, by the Prophet Joseph Smith. This statement was volunteered.
On the 19th of that same month the council of the city met and elected
Joseph Smith to fill the unexpired term as mayor of Nauvoo. At this low point in his life, Bennett attempted to commit suicide but was prevented from so doing by the ministrations of the saints. He was accused before the city council with having said Joseph Smith
taught him to practice immorality. He, Bennett, answered that those who
said such a thing were "infernal liars," for Joseph Smith had always taught
him to be virtuous. He then pled to be forgiven of his wrong doing, and
said he hoped yet to prove by repentance his worthiness to fellowship in
the Church. For the sake of his mother, he prayed that his evil practices
might not be exposed. In this apparently repentant attitude he appeared
before nearly one hundred brethren and cried like a child, saying, "that
he was worthy of the severest chastisement." The brethren gave him the
benefit of being sincere, and the Prophet pled in his behalf for leniency.
His repentance however did not prove to be genuine, for it was not long
afterwards when he was circulating the same reports and teaching others
to be like himself, declaring that such doctrines came from the Prophet
Shortly he became one of the most bitter enemies
of the Church. His slanders, his falsehoods and unscrupulous attacks, which
included perjury and attempted assassination were the means of inflaming
public opinion to such an extent that the tragedy at Carthage became possible.
Why, then, did his name appear, in Revelation, as
that of a trusted assistant of Joseph? John Taylor furnishes the answer
to that question. He says, "Respecting John C. Bennett: I was well acquainted
with him. At one time he was a good man, but fell into adultery, and was
cut off from the Church for his iniquity" (Hist. of the Church, Vol. V.,
p. 81). At this time he was a good man. But he was overcome by the adversary
and made the slave of his carnal desires. The Lord knew him and warned
him. "His reward shall not fail if he receive counsel." "He shall be great
* * * if he do this," etc. Bennett did not heed these warning "ifs"
from Him who knew what was in his heart.
"Bennett lived to be despised by all who knew him.
"For some years before his death he suffered from violent fits; he also
partly lost the use of his limbs and of his tongue, and it was difficult
for him to make himself understood. He dragged out a miserable existence,
without a person scarcely to take the least interest in his fate, and died
without a soul to mourn his departure" (Andrew Jenson, Hist. Rec., p. 496).
This vile creature died a despised traitor to all
that is good and decent on August 5, 1867 in Polk City, Polk County, Iowa.
Despite Grampa Bill's commentary on Bennett, someone has had Temple Ordinances performed for him in the Provo Temple in 1985. The Grampa does not know whether proper authorization from the Brethren was obtained, nor doth he speculate. Perhaps there is hope for the worst of us.