The dramatic events and adversity attending the translation of the Book of Mormon are known to Church members generally. Perhaps fewer are acquainted with the opposition that confronted the Prophet Joseph Smith and his associates in getting the book published once the translation was complete, details of which are recounted in an article in this Church News issue.
For one thing, persuading a printer to do the job was difficult, due to public prejudice. Egbert B. Grandin, a publisher in Palmyra, N.Y., who eventually took on the project, refused at first, objecting to the Book of Mormon on religious grounds but more particularly because he doubted the ability of the Brethren to pay him. Two publishers in neighboring Rochester were approached. The first refused. Only after the second man offered terms did Grandin relent and agree to print 5,000 copies at a cost of $3,000, persuaded by assurances from Martin Harris, then a prosperous farmer.
In an atmosphere of threats and persecution, Joseph and his companions took wise precautions: Under Oliver Cowdery's supervision, a transcription of the manuscript was made. Only one copy of the manuscript at a time was to be taken to and from the printing office, a sheet at a time as needed, so that there would be a safe copy in case one was stolen or destroyed. To protect the manuscript, a guard was to attend Oliver at all times going to and from the printing office. And a guard was posted day and night at the house to protect the manuscript against any intruders.
Even so, enemies endeavored to hinder or thwart publication of the book.
Abner Cole, under the pseudonym Obadiah Dogberry, published portions in his Palmyra newspaper, The Reflector, thinking to capitalize on the sensation surrounding the book's pending publication. Having access to the Grandin shop, he found printed sheets and from these secretly worked in the evenings and on Sundays when the press was unoccupied. Stubborn and belligerent, Cole refused to cease publishing the stolen writings until Joseph Smith asserted his copyright, threatened to sue and eventually prevailed in arbitration. It is not difficult to see what might have happened: With the book's content already published in the profane and snide setting of Cole's newspaper, the public might have been dissuaded from purchasing the book itself, thus preventing the soon-to-be-organized Church from recouping its cost and printing more copies.
Later, an organized group of Palmyra citizens mounted what we today would characterize as a boycott, declaring in advance their refusal to purchase the book once it was published. This action intimidated Grandin into refusing to carry forth the publication until Joseph Smith further assured him of payment.
Earlier, it had been necessary for Martin Harris to mortgage his farm to assuage the printer's fears. As it turned out, Martin eventually was obliged to sell 151 acres of his farm to meet the costs.
Though he apparently wavered in his resolve (as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 19:26, the Lord commanded him not to "covet" his own property, "but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon") Martin ultimately met the test of consecration in this instance.
One hundred seventy-five years later, his sacrifice — and that of other early Church members — inspires us as we strive to accomplish what President Ezra Taft Benson urged at the April 1987 general conference, to "flood the earth" with the Book of Mormon. Considering the difficulties they surmounted, do we exhibit comparable commitment as we study its verses, proclaim its teachings to our families and other Church members and share it with our friends and acquaintances?
Today, as in the beginning, the Book of Mormon is energetically opposed by self-appointed adversaries. They seek to discredit its authenticity, or they try to persuade individuals not to apply the promise in Moroni 10:3-5 whereby a sincere seeker can come to know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the book is true. In bringing the book to the world and testifying of it, we enlist in the age-old struggle of truth vs. error.
The Lord said His ancient prophets and disciples prayed and had faith that the Nephite record would come forth in the latter days (see Doctrine and Covenants 10:46-52). Early in this dispensation, Latter-day Saints struggled and sacrificed so that those prayers would be fulfilled. In our efforts to teach and proclaim the Book of Mormon, ought we to do any less?