Mercy Otis Warren and the Standard of Liberty in the Book of Mormon: Evidence of Plagiarism?
by Jeff Lindsay
list of works that Joseph Smith allegedly plagiarized or drew upon to
produce the Book of Mormon continues to grow.
addition to the old standards such as Ethan Smith's View of the
Hebrews, Shakespeare, Solomon Spalding's writings, the sermons and
essays of various preachers, and James Adair's A
History of the American Indians, many
more works have been identified by critics in recent years such as an
obscure book on the War of 1812 (The
Late War Against the United States)
and E.T.A. Hoffmann's The
(for some details, see my
LDSFAQ page on plagiarism).
this the smoking gun for Book of Mormon plagiarism?
there may be no evidence that Joseph ever saw this book and, like
many favorite candidates for Book of Mormon plagiarism, it does not
appear to have been among the
books in the Manchester Library
where Joseph theoretically could have borrowed books during his
translation of the Book of Mormon, it was still possible
for Joseph to have encountered it.
does Warren's work succeed in explaining the origins of the Book of
Mormon? It may be difficult to see a connection if you just read her
book. That’s the approach of a novice. It takes skillful
sifting to find the threads that can be woven together (or rather
glued together) to fabricate this particular tale of plagiarism and
Latter-day Saint thinker quite familiar with the details of parallels
between texts explains that Donofrio actually greatly underestimates
the number of parallels between the Book of Mormon and Mercy Otis
Warren's lengthy work. In fact, there are thousands of parallels,
many more than Donofrio's short list provides.
so it seems at first glance, until you do some actual analysis and
explore the statistics with other texts as well, and then see that
this is nothing unusual at all.
words and short phrases that are the building blocks of language will
be used and repeated by speaker, writers, and translators, inevitably
leading to numerous random parallels between texts in the same
language, especially when writing about related topics such as war.
strings of words scattered in the text and claiming this as proof of
pilfering is an exercise one can do with almost any two works, most
easily with lengthy works like Warren's three-volume book.
an example of erroneous "proof" of Book of Mormon
plagiarism, see my old satirical but I think instructive analysis
of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass,
which I suggest offers far stronger and more numerous parallels than
anything Donofrio has conjured up with his sifting of texts.
you can come up with better parallels than those random parallels,
finding a few frequently used English locutions shared by Warren and
the Book of Mormon is not particularly meaningful.
recently, Donofrio has authored "Book
of Mormon Tories"
(the link takes you to a hostile "post-Mormon" website)
which attempts to partially explain the Book of Mormon as a
derivative of Warren's book. (Wish it had been entitled, "No Man
Knows His Tories." Missed opportunity — oh well.)
that article and the dramatic response from some of the guffawing
critics made me shake my head. These people are impressed with
parallels such as "safety and welfare," "[his or our]
little army," "power and gain," "flock to their
standard" and "the cause of liberty"?
if people haven't been writing for millennia about safety, welfare,
war, the use of standards and ensigns to gather and organize troops,
and the too-frequent need to defend oneself from captivity?
lead example Donofrio gives particularly left me wondering. Joseph
Smith apparently had to draw upon this little gem from page 623 of
Warren's massive book:
were responsible for all the additional blood that had been spilt by
the addition of their weight in the scale of the enemy…
order to somehow regurgitate a fragment of Alma 60:16:
it not for these king-men, who caused so much blood shed among
Joseph Smith-style just looks like an awful lot of work, whereas
simply blaming someone for a tragedy is the kind of thing anyone can
do without having to dig through volumes of other books to get one
fragment of a verse at a time. In fact, it's something that has been
done for millennia.
fragment on page 623 gives nothing close to a plausible explanation
for anything in Alma 60.
find it puzzling, even bizarre, that a muddled parallel for part of
Alma 60:16 would be the lead example when, with a bit of
perseverance, Donofrio surely could have come up with much more
interesting and even unsettling parallels similar to those that I
have shown from a truly impossible Book of Mormon source, Walt
The many parallels I found illustrate the kind of things that happen
due to luck and a touch of creativity from a persistent critic.
really, you could have made your Tories piece much more interesting.
I suggest you contact Ben McGuire for assistance in using electronic
tools to create heftier and more impressive but equally meaningless
list of parallels.
people might find Donofrio's parallel "the standard of liberty"
to be especially meaningful, since that is a fairly well-known Book
of Mormon term that we sometimes feel is "owned" by the
Book of Mormon. Finding it in Warren's book should be unsettling, no?
You can find it in numerous sources in Joseph Smith's day. In the
English language, the phrase "standard of liberty" shows
widespread use for many settings other than the Revolutionary War.
See for yourself searching Google Books with a time range of, say,
1400 to 1830.
are used in war to rally, gather, and organize. Having people gather
to a standard or to an ensign is hardly a modern innovation, and
rallying to protect one's liberty from invaders or rebels is also not
a modern notion. Liberty
is also something one finds in the Bible and numerous other sources,
not just the Revolutionary War.
are many examples of this phrase being used in diverse settings
because it's a part of the English language and a useful term to
describe a widespread phenomenon, that of stirring people up to
defend themselves from captivity. Though the words in the translation
are modern, the usage is not.
and his Tories tell us nothing about the origins of the Book of
Mormon, no more than random parallels in Whitman’s writings do.
Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his
LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on
the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton,
Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra.
He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.
He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent
Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.
Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering
Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).
Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US
patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications.
Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.