Since cinematographer John Leben opened a panel discussion on Strang with the question, “Was Strang a prophet, or a scoundrel?”, delicacy has been thrown to the wind and all many of rude inquiries have been made about the life and work of James Jesse Strang. In order to reduce the number of such questions allowed to simmer in the back of a mind for want of a proper venue, we’ve decided to ask them here and now, and then provide reasonable, if not absolutely certain, answers. We’ll begin by reconsidering John Leben’s intentionally provocative query.
Was Strang a prophet, or a scoundrel? The reasonable answer is neither, which means the truth is somewhere in between. We know he was unfaithful to his wife Mary–before receiving the revelation condoning multiple wives, so he behaved like a scoundrel at times. And it was also true that some of the things he predicted came to pass.
Did Strang forge the letter of appointment from Joe Smith? While many think so, we simply don’t know. But remember, Smith was very impressed with Strang, and the way Strang interpreted the letter’s message probably was not very different from the way Smith felt.
Did Strang fabricate the brass plates? Once again, we don’t know. Statements were made by possible collaborators which indicated that the plates had been hammered out of an old tea kettle, but they aren’t completely trustworthy. In defense of Strang it has been suggested that while Strang may have made the plates and hidden them in the ground, he did this at the command of God and not from any venal effort to aggrandize himself.
Did Strang condone or even order the appropriation of goods of the Gentiles? The odds favor conscription having been considered by Strang as a useful tool for promoting the growth and welfare of his island community–somewhat the way George Bush excused the invasion of Iraq by saying that if we did not fight them there, we would have to fight them here.
Did Strang and George Adams take two loose women to Mackinac for some wild frolicking? Not bloody likely. While Strang may very well have had a lusty constitution, he was an adroit politician who would not have fed the burgeoning criticism of his project by conducting himself in a wanton manner in the base of his enemies.