Letter to Hyrum Smith and Nauvoo High Council, 5 December 1839
JS and , Letter, , to and Nauvoo high council, [, Hancock Co., IL], 5 Dec. 1839. Featured version copied [between Apr. and June 1840] in JS Letterbook 2, pp. 85–88; handwriting of ; JS Collection, CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for JS Letterbook 2.
On 5 December 1839, JS and wrote to —the remaining member of the in , Illinois—and the to inform them of their safe arrival in a week earlier. JS and Higbee apprised Smith and the high council of their recent efforts to obtain redress from the federal government for the persecutions members experienced in and described their meeting with President , in which the president declined to help the Saints.
JS and , accompanied by representative , went to the President’s House on 29 November seeking a meeting with . In the 1830s, visitors commonly arrived at the President’s House without an appointment. Many Americans, including legislators and office seekers, discussed their business with the president in social settings, and Van Buren frequently met with guests in the parlor outside his office for hours at a time. In this setting, JS and Higbee would have had to compete with other visitors for the president’s attention, which may explain why Reynolds introduced them.
It is unclear what JS and asked to do to support their petitioning efforts. They may have requested an executive order that would result in redress and reparations for church members’ losses, but no documentary evidence exists to support this possibility. It is unlikely that Van Buren would have considered executive action to force , a state led predominantly by Democrats, to restore the Saints’ property rights. Van Buren was a staunch advocate of states’ rights and was at this time widely considered the architect of the Democratic Party, which had elected his predecessor, Andrew Jackson, to two consecutive presidential terms. However, JS and Higbee possibly believed Van Buren was amenable to lending his political influence to the church’s memorial for redress to Congress. Evidence suggests they tried to enlist him to assist in their appeal. In their ongoing correspondence while in , members of the church’s delegation indicated they were awaiting publication of the president’s annual message to Congress, hoping that Van Buren would therein urge Congress to act in the Saints’ behalf.
JS and also described their plan to meet with all the congressional delegates the following day, mentioned the delayed travel of and , and asked and the high council to help expedite financial arrangements for the delegation. They then requested that the Saints continue their efforts to encourage influential men in Illinois and to write letters to Congress in support of the church. After closing by asking that the letter be forwarded to their wives, JS and Higbee included a postscript that criticized the behavior of Congress and recounted more of their travels.
received the letter by 2 January 1840. The original letter is not extant. The version featured here was copied into JS Letterbook 2 by between April and June 1840.
An account of an April 1840 JS discourse states that JS met with Van Buren at the President’s House over two successive days, whereas according to this letter to Hyrum Smith—the earliest extant account of the meeting—and a March 1840 discourse, the parties met at the President’s House only once. All three of these accounts, however, reported the same sentiment in Van Buren’s response. (Discourse, 7 Apr. 1840; Discourse, 1 Mar. 1840.)
Presidents rarely issued executive orders during this period. Van Buren’s seven predecessors in office had issued a combined total of thirty executive orders over forty-three years. Van Buren issued ten executive orders during his term as president. (Peters and Woolley, “Executive Orders,” in American Presidency Project.)
Peters, Gerhard, and John T. Woolley. “Executive Orders.” In The American Presidency Project, 1999–. Hosted by the University of California, Santa Barbara. Accessed 12 Apr. 2017. www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/orders.php.
in electing to their chair protem; but whether they will git their speaker and clerk chosen is yet unknown, as there is a great deal of wind blown off on the occasion each day— There is such an itching disposition to display their oratory on the most trivial occasions and so much etiquett, bowing and scraping, twisting and turning to, make a display of their witticism that it seems to us rather a display of folly and show more than substance & gravity, such as becomes a great nation like ours. (however there are some exceptions) A warm feeling has been manifested in the discussion of the house to day, and it seems as much confusion as though the nation had already began to be vexed— We came with one of the members from Wheeling to this place, who was drunk but once and that however was all <most of> the time; there was but one day but what he could navigate and that day he was keeld. over so he could eat no dinner— The horses ran away with the stage, they ran about 3 miles; several pasengers jumped out and were hurt, bro.r Jos. clum out of the stage— got the lines and stoped the horses, and also saved the life of a lady & child. He was highly commended by the whole company for his great exertions and presence of mind through the whole affair.— jumped out of the stage at a favourable moment, just before they stoped with a view to assist in stop[p]ing them and was but slightly injured— We were not known to the stage company until after our arrival, In our interview with the , He interogated us wherein we differed in our religion from the other religions of the day. Bro, Joseph said we differed in mode of and the by the — We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost, and we deemed it unnecessary to make many words in preaching the Gospel to him— Suffice it to say he has got our testimony— We watch the Post Office like a Turkey Buzzard <watches for> carcase, but have recd no letters from our sections of the Country— Write instantly
Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 26th Cong., 1st Sess., 5 Dec. 1839, 6. The chair pro tem is a placeholder, in this case a person who acted as Speaker of the House of Representatives until the legislative body was fully organized and ready to elect one of its members to that position.
Journal, of the House of Representatives, of the State of Missouri, at the First Session of the Tenth General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Jefferson, on Monday, the Nineteenth Day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Jefferson City, MO: Calvin Gunn, 1839.
This “warm feeling” pertained to the controversy that surrounded the seating of delegates from New Jersey, about which several passionate speeches were made by delegates supporting one side of the conflict or the other. (See Congressional Globe, 26th Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 17–20.)
The Congressional Globe, Containing Sketches of the Debates and Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Congress. Vol. 8. Washington DC: Blair and Rives, 1840.
The four men representing Missouri in the Twenty-Sixth Congress were Senator Thomas Hart Benton, Senator Lewis F. Linn, Representative John Jameson, and Representative John Miller. (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 120, 646, 1324, 1452, 1586.)
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, the Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, inclusive. Edited by Andrew R. Dodge and Betty K. Koed. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005.
Decades later, Robert D. Foster gave a detailed account of this incident to Joseph Smith III, but because Foster was not present during the event, his memory likely came from accounts he heard from JS and Higbee. (Robert D. Foster, Loda, IL, to Joseph Smith III, 14 Feb. 1874, in Saints’ Herald, 14 Apr. 1888, 225–226.)