David Whitmer Falls Away

All three witness fall away from the church but never deny their testimony regarding the plates

B) David Whitmer

David was in good standing in the church in June of 1834 when he was made president over the church in Missouri. At the time, he was the president, called with two other presidents and a high council (similar to the pattern seen in a stake organization). He functioned in this high and noble calling until the presidency was released by a general assembly of the saints held at Far West, Missouri on Feb. 4, 1838 (see Essentials in Church History by Joseph F. Smith, p. 206-7).

The rebellion of David Whitmer was based, in part, on jealousy. He had bitter feelings toward Sidney Rigdon and felt slighted that he had been passed over as first assistant to the prophet. He also felt that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet. After he left the church, he moved to Richmond, Missouri where he continued as a leader in the Church of Christ, an offshoot of the church. During this time, David kept one of the original copies of the manuscript of the Book of Mormon. He treasured it as a sacred work and never recanted his story as recorded in "The Testimony of the Three Witnesses." Later in his life, when asked about why he left, he responded as follows:

"He replied that he had never left the Church, that he had continued with the branch of the Church that was originally organized in Richmond and still presided over it. In answer to my questions, he said, in an unqualified, emphatic way, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, but had become a fallen prophet through the influence which Sidney Rigdon exercised over him; that he accepted everything that was revealed to the Prophet down to the year 1835, but rejected everything thereafter because he did not know whether it came from the Lord or from Sidney Rigdon....

"He manifestly had become embittered against Sidney Rigdon due to his promotion to second place in the Church over men like himself who had been with the Prophet from the beginning and who had done so much for the Church. I then concluded, as I now believe, that jealousy and disappointment had soured his soul, but nothing could obliterate his testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon." (Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses, p. 15)

Thomas B. Marsh came across Oliver and David while traveling in the year 1838, the year they were excommunicated. Thomas asked David about his testimony:

"He replied as sure as there is a God in heaven, he saw the angel according to his testimony in that book. I asked him, if so, why he did not stand by Joseph? He answered, in the days when Joseph received the Book of Mormon, and brought it forth, he was a good man and filled with the Holy Ghost, but he considered he had now fallen. I interrogated Oliver Cowdery in the same manner, who answered similarly." (Thomas B. Marsh, "History of Thomas Baldwin Marsh," Millenial Star, 26 (1864):406 as taken from Preston Nibley's Testimony of the Book of Mormon Witnesses)

The charges procured against David Whitmer came two months after he was released from the presidency in Missouri. He was excommunicated on April 13, 1838, the day after Oliver was. The same high council at Far West charged him with the following:

 "First-For not observing the Word of Wisdom. (He continued to use tobacco, tea and coffee)

"Second-For unchristian-like conduct in neglecting to attend meetings, in uniting with and possessing the same spirit as the dissenters.

"Third-In writing letters to the dissenters in Kirtland unfavorable to the cause, and to the character of Joseph Smith, Jun.

"Fourth-In neglecting the duties of his calling, and separating himself from the Church, while he had a name among us.

"Fifth-For signing himself President of the Church of Christ in an insulting letter to the High Council after he had been cut off from the Presidency." (History of the Church, vol. 3, pp. 18-9)

David received these charges on the 9th of April. His court was set for the 13th, but David did not acknowledge the authority or jurisdiction of this high council court. He therefore refused to attend the court. Instead, he sent the council the following letter:

                                                                        "Far West, Mo., April 13, 1838.

"John Murdock:

            "Sir:--I received a line from you bearing date the 9th inst. requesting me as a high priest to appear before the high council and answer to five several charges on this day at 12 o'clock.

"You, sir, with a majority of this church have decided that certain councils were legal by which it is said I have been deprived of my office as one of the presidents of this church.  I have thought, and still think, they were not agreeable [legal] to the revelations of God, which I believe; and by now attending this council, and answering to charges, as a high priest, would be acknowledging the correctness and legality of those former assumed councils--which I shall not do.

"Believing as I verily do, that you and the leaders of the councils have a determination to pursue your unlawful course at all hazards, and to bring others to your standard in violation of the revelations, to spare you any further trouble I hereby withdraw from your fellow-humble, where the revelations of heaven will be observed and the rights of men regarded.

                                                                                                (Signed.) "DAVID WHITMER."

(B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, vol 1, p. 435)


In spite of this bitter departure from the main body of the saints, David, like Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, never denied the testimony contained in the Book of Mormon. B.H. Roberts commented on how this fact supports the truth of their testimonies:

"Had there been any fraud or collusion entered into between Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, I take it that it would have been a very natural thing for men smarting under what they regarded as injustice, to have manifested that fact in one way or another in these communications. Their silence at this critical time of their experience, and in the experience of the Church, constitutes very strong presumptive evidence of the reality of those facts which brought Mormonism into existence." (History of the Church, vol. 3, p. 20)

After excommunication, David Whitmer was more critical of the church as a whole than was Oliver Cowdery, even to the "denouncing of the Latter-day Saints of Utah as an abomination in the sight of the Lord." (Preston Nibley, Testimony of the Book of Mormon Witnesses, p. 157) Though he never returned to the main body of the church, his testimony of the Book of Mormon was solid even until the day he died:

"On Sunday evening at 5:30, January 22, 1888, Mr. Whitmer called his family and some friends to his bedside, and addressing himself to the attending physician, said: 'Dr. Buchanan I want you to say whether or not I am in my right mind, before I give my dying testimony.'

"The doctor answered: 'Yes you are in your right mind for I have just had a conversation with you.'

"He then addressed himself to all around his bedside in these words: 'Now you must all be faithful in Christ. I want to say to you all the Bible and the record of the Nephites (Book of Mormon) is true, so you can say that you have heard me bear my testimony, on my death bed. All be faithful in Christ and your reward will be according to your works. God bless you all. My trust is in Christ forever, world without end.-Amen.'" (Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses, p. 16)