Letter to John Thornton and Others, 25 July 1836

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  • Historical Introduction

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, Geauga County, Ohio,)
July 25, 1836.)
To , Esq., Peter Rogers, Esq., Andrew Robertson, Esq., James T. V. Thompson, Esq., Col. , Doct Woodson J. Moss, James M. Hughs, Esq., , Esq. and , Esq.
We have just perused, with feelings of deep interest, an article in the “Far West,” printed at , Clay County, Mo. containing the proceedings of a public meeting of the citizens of said , upon the subject of an excitement now prevailing among you occasioned, either from false reports against the , or from the fact, that said church is [p. 355] dangerous to the welfare of your country, and will, if suffered among you, cause the ties of peace and friendship, so desirable among all men, to be burst asunder, and bring war and desolation upon your now pleasant homes.
Under existing circumstances, while rumor is afloat with her accustomed cunning, and while public opinion is fast setting, like a flood-tide against the members of said , we cannot but admire the candor with which your preamble and resolutions were clothed, as presented to the meeting of the citizens of , on the 29th of June last. Though, as you expressed in your report to said meeting—“We do not contend that we have the least right, under the constitution and laws of the , to expel them by force,”—yet communities may be, at times, unexpectedly thrown into a situation, when wisdom, prudence, and that first item in nature’s law, self-defence, would dictate that the responsible and influential part should step forward and guide the public mind in a course to save difficulty, preserve rights, and spare the innocent blood from staining that soil so dearly purchased with the fortunes and lives of our fathers. And as you have come forward as “mediators,” to prevent the effusion of blood, and save disasters consequent upon civil war, we take this opportunity to present to you, though strangers, and through you, if you wish, to the people of , our heart-felt gratitude for every kindness rendered our friends in affliction, when driven from their peaceful homes, and to yourselves, also, for the prudent course in the present excited state of your community. But, in doing this, justice to ourselves, as communicants of that church to which our friends belong, and duty towards them as acquaintances and former fellow citizens, require us to say something to exonerate them from the foul charges brought against them, to deprive them of their constitutional privileges, and drive them from the face of society:
They have been charged, in consequence of the whims and vain notions of some few uninformed, with claiming that upper country, and that ere long they were to possess it, at all hazards, and in defiance of all consequences.— This is unjust and far from a foundation, in truth. A thing not expected, not looked for, not desired by this society, as a people, and where the idea could have originated is unknown to us—We do not, neither did we ever insinuate a thing of this kind, or hear it from the leading men of the society, now in your country. There is nothing in all our religious faith to warrant it, but on the contrary, the most strict injunctions to live in obedience to the laws, and follow peace with all men. And we doubt not, but a recurrence to the difficulties, with our friends, will fully satisfy you, that at least, heretofore, such has been the course followed by them. That instead of fighting for their own rights, they have sacrificed them for a season, to wait the redress guaranteed in the law, and so anxiously looked for at a time distant from this. We have been, & are still, clearly under the conviction, that had our friends been disposed, they might have maintained their possessions in . They might have resorted to the same barbarous means with their neighbors, throwing down dwellings, threatening lives, driving innocent women and children from their homes, and thereby have annoyed their enemies equally, at least—But, this to their credit, and which must ever remain upon the pages of time, to their honor, they did not. They had possessions, they had homes, they had sacred rights, and more still, they had helpless harmless innocence, with an approving conscience that they had violated no law of their country or their God, to urge them forward—But, to show to all that they were willing to forego these for the peace of their country, they tamely submitted, and have since been wanderers among strangers, (though hospitable,) without homes. We think these sufficient reasons, to show to your patriotic minds, that our friends, instead of having a wish to expel a community by force of arms, would suffer their rights to be taken from them before shedding blood.
Another charge brought against our friends is that of being dangerous in societies “where slavery is tolerated and practiced.” Without occupying time here, we refer you to the April (1836) No. of the “Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate,” printed at this place, a copy of which we forward to each of you. From the length of [p. 356] time which has transpired since its publication, you can easily see, that it was put forth for no other reason than to correct the public mind generally, without a reference or expectation of an excitement of the nature of the one now in your country. Why we refer you to this publication, particularly, is because many of our friends who are now at the west, were in this place when this paper made its appearance, and from personal observation gave it their decided approbation, and expressed those sentiments to be their own, in the fullest particular.
Another charge of great magnitude is brought against our friends in the west—of “keeping up a constant communication with the Indian tribes on our frontier, with declaring, even from the pulpit, that the Indians are a part of God’s chosen people, and are destined, by heaven, to inherit this land, in common with themselves.” We know of nothing, under the present aspect of our Indian relations, calculated to rouse the fears of the people of the Upper , more than a combination or influence of this nature; and we cannot look upon it other than one of the most subtle purposes of those whose feelings are embittered against our friends, to turn the eye of suspicion upon them from every man who is acquainted with the barbarous cruelty of rude savages. Since a rumor was afloat that the Western Indians were showing signs of war, we have received frequent private letters from our friends, who have not only expressed fears for their own safety, in case the Indians should break out, but a decided determination to be among the first to repel any invasion, and defend the frontier from all hostilities. We mention the last fact, because it was wholly uncalled for on our part, and came previous to any excitement on the part of the people of , against our friends, and must definitively show, that this charge is also untrue.
Another charge against our friends, and one that is urged as a reason why they must immediately leave the county of , is, that they are making or are like to, the same “their permanent home, the center and general rendezvous of their people.” We have never understood such to be the purpose, wish or design of this society; but on the contrary, have ever supposed, that those who resided in , only designed it as a temporary residence, until the law and authority of our should put them in the quiet possession of their homes in . And such as had not possessions there, could purchase to the entire satisfaction and interest of the people of .
Having partially mentioned the leading objections urged against our friends, we would here add, that it has not been done with a view on our part, to dissuade you from acting in strict conformity with your preamble and resolutions, offered to the people of , on the 29th ult. but from a sense of duty to a people embarrassed, persecuted and afflicted. For you are aware, gentlemen, that in times of excitement, virtues are transformed into vices, acts, which in other cases, and under other circumstances, would be considered upright and honorable, interpreted contrary from their real intent, and made objectional and criminal; and from whom could we look for forbearance and compassion with confidence and assurance, more than from those whose bosoms are warmed with those pure principles of patriotism with which you have been guided in the present instance, to secure the peace of your , and save a persecuted people from further violence, and destruction?
It is said that our friends are poor; that they have but little or nothing to bind their feelings or wishes to , and that in consequence, have a less claim upon that . We do not deny the fact, that our friends are poor; but their persecutions have helped to render them so. While other men were peacefully following their avocations, and extending their interest, they have been deprived of the right of citizenship, prevented from enjoying their own, charged with violating the sacred principles of our constitution and laws; made to feel the keenest aspersions of the tongue of slander, waded through all but death, and, are now suffering under calumnies calculated to excite the indignation and hatred of every people among whom they may dwell, thereby exposing them to destruction and inevitable ruin!
If a people, a community, or a society, can accumulate wealth, increase [p. 357] in worldly fortune, improve in science and arts, rise to eminence in the eyes of the public, surmount these difficulties, so much as to bid defiance to poverty and wretchedness, it must be a new creation, a race of beings super-human. But in all their poverty and want, we have yet to learn, for the first time, that our friends are not industrious, and temperate, and wherein they have not always been the last to retaliate or resent an injury, and the first to overlook and forgive. We do not urge that there are not exceptions to be found: all communities, all societies and associations, are cumbered with disorderly and less virtuous members—members who violate in a greater or less degree the principles of the same. But this can be no just criterion by which to judge a whole society. And further still, where a people are laboring under constant fear of being dispossessed, very little inducement is held out to excite them to be industrious.
We think, gentlemen, that we have pursued this subject far enough, and we here express to you, as we have in a letter accompanying this, to our friends, our decided disapprobation to the idea of shedding blood, if any other course can be followed to avoid it; in which case, and which alone, we have urged upon our friends to desist, only in extreme cases of self-defence; and in this case not to give the offence or provoke their fellow men to acts of violence,—which we have no doubt they will observe, as they ever have. For you may rest assured, gentlemen, that we would be the last to advise our friends to shed the blood of men, or commit one act to endanger the public peace.
We have no doubt but our friends will leave your , sooner or later,—they have not only signified the same to us, but we have advised them so to do, as fast as they can without incurring too much loss. It may be said that they have but little to lose if they lose the whole. But if they have but little, that little is their all, and the imperious demands of the helpless, urge them to make a prudent disposal of the same. And we are highly pleased with a proposition in your preamble, suffering them to remain peaceably till a disposition can be made of their land, &c. which if suffered, our fears are at once hushed, and we have every reason to believe, that during the remaining part of the residence of our friends in your , the same feelings of friendship and kindness will continue to exist, that have heretofore, and that when they leave you, you will have no reflection of sorrow to cast, that they have been sojourners among you.
To what distance or place they will remove, we are unable to say: in this they must be dictated with judgment and prudence. They may explore the Territory of —they may remove there, or they may stop on the other side—of this we are unable to say; but be they where they will, we have this gratifying reflection, that they have never been the first, in an unjust manner, to violate the laws, injure their fellow men, or disturb the tranquility and peace under which any part of our has heretofore reposed. And we cannot but believe, that ere long the public mind must undergo a change, when it will appear to the satisfaction of all that this people have been illy treated and abused without cause, and when, as justice would demand, those who have been the instigators of their sufferings will be regarded as their true characters demand.
Though our religious principles are before the world, ready for the investigation of all men, yet we are aware that the sole foundation of all the persecution against our friends, has arisen in consequence of the calumnies and misconstructions, without foundation in truth, or righteousness, in common with all other religious societies, at their first commencement; and should Providence order that we rise not as others before us, to respectability and esteem, but be trodden down by the ruthless hand of extermination, posterity will do us the justice, when our persecutors are equally low in the dust, with ourselves, to hand down to succeeding generations, the virtuous acts and forbearance of a people, who sacrificed their reputation for their religion, and their earthly fortunes and happiness, to preserve peace, and save this land from being further drenched in blood.
We have no doubt but your very seasonable mediation, in the time of so great an excitement, will accomplish your most sanguine desire, in preventing further disorder; and we hope, [p. 358] gentlemen, that while you reflect upon the fact, that the citizens of are urgent for our friends to leave you, that you will also bear in mind, that by their complying with your request to leave, is surrendering some of the dearest rights and first, among those inherent principles, guaranteed in the constitution of our ; and that human nature can be driven to a certain extent, when it will yield no farther. Therefore, while our friends suffer so much, and forego so many sacred rights, we sincerely hope, and we have every reason to expect it, that a suitable forbearance may be shown by the people of , which if done, the cloud that has been obscuring your horizon, will disperse, and you be left to enjoy peace, harmony and prosperity.
With sentiments of esteem and profound respect, we are, gentlemen, your obedient servants.
. [p. 359]


  1. 1

    Church leaders at Kirtland read the report of the proceedings of the 29 June 1836 meeting in Liberty as printed in the newspaper Far West, which they received from Phelps. The proceedings were reprinted alongside the letters to Phelps and Thornton in LDS Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1836, 2:353–361.  

    The Far West. Liberty, MO. 1836.

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

  2. 2

    See “Public Meeting,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1836, 2:353–354; and “Public Meeting,” Far West (Liberty, MO), 30 June 1836.  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

    The Far West. Liberty, MO. 1836.

  3. 3

    The resolutions of the committee expressed the fear that “the horrors and desolations of a civil war” would befall Clay County if Mormons did not stop migrating to the county. (“Public Meeting,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1836, 2:354.)  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

  4. 4

    Speaking of the “excited state” of the Clay County community, Latter-day Saint Drusilla Hendricks, who relocated from Simpson County, Kentucky, in spring 1836, recalled, “Our wagons, some five or six in number, had stirred up the mob spirit for fear the Mormons would come and take away their place and nation.” On 4 July 1836, Clay County citizen Anderson Wilson described the unrest in a letter, stating that the Saints “have been flocking in here faster than ever and making great talk what they would do. . . . We are to Submit to a mormon government or trample under foot the laws of our Co[u]ntry. To go away was to Just give up all for if emigration once Begun none would buy our land but mormons and they would have it at their own price So we were resolved . . . [to] fight by each others Side & die like Ishmael.” (Hendricks, Reminiscences, 17; Anderson Wilson and Emelia Wilson, Clay Co., MO, to Samuel Turrentine, Orange Co., NC, 4 July 1836, Wilson Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.)  

    Hendricks, Drusilla. Reminiscences, ca. 1877. CHL.

    Wilson Family Papers, 1835–1849. Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

  5. 5

    Joseph Thorp, a Clay County resident who was sometimes a friendly employer of the Saints, said, “The poor, deluded mortals, with all their experience in Jackson, began to tell the citizens of Clay the same old tale; that this country was theirs by gift of the Lord, and it was folly for them to improve their lands, they would not enjoy the fruits of their labor; that it would finally fall into the hands of the saints. . . . This kind of talk, with their insolence and impudent behavior, so enraged the citizens that they began to consult about the best course to take to rid themselves of a set of religious fanatics, for they found that their faith was so strong that not only the land was theirs, but the goods and chattels of the ungodly Gentiles was theirs.” This was similar to explanations given for some of the animosity against the Saints in Jackson County. David Whitmer remembered that “there were among us a few ignorant and simple-minded persons who were continually making boasts to the Jackson county people that they intended to possess the entire county.” Similarly, Isaac McCoy, who rode with the mobs in Jackson County, remembered of the earlier conflict, “[The Mormons] grew bolder as they grew stronger, and daily proclaimed to the older settlers that the Lord had given them the whole land of Missouri.” They “had not so much violated law,” said McCoy, as become “arrogant and unbearable.” A JS revelation in 1834 had counseled the Saints to be prudent in the words they used with their Clay County neighbors. (Thorp, Early Days in the West, 79–80; “Mormonism,” Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, 1; History of Jackson County, Missouri, 253, 257; Revelation, 22 June 1834 [D&C 105:23–25]; Letter to Lyman Wight and Others, 16 Aug. 1834; see also “The Other Side,” Kansas City Daily Journal, 24 Apr. 1881, 9.)  

    Thorp, Joseph. Early Days in the West: Along the Missouri One Hundred Years Ago. Liberty, MO: Irving Gilmer, 1924.

    Kansas City Daily Journal. Kansas City, MO. 1878–1891.

    The History of Jackson County, Missouri: Containing a History of the County, Its Cities, Towns, Etc. Kansas City, MO: Union Historical, 1881.

  6. 6

    For JS revelations to this effect, see, for example, Revelation, 6 Aug. 1833 [D&C 98:4–5, 34–35]; Revelation, 16–17 Dec. 1833 [D&C 101:77–80]; and Revelation, 22 June 1834 [D&C 105:38–40].  

  7. 7

    The response of William W. Phelps and the other Missouri Saints to the citizens’ committee similarly stated, “That we (the Mormons so called,) are grateful for the kindness which has been shown to us by the citizens of Clay, since we have resided with them, and being desirous for peace and wishing the good rather than the ill-will of mankind, will use all honorable means to allay the excitement, and so far as we can, remove any foundation for jealousies against us as a people.” (“Public Meeting,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1836, 2:359–360.)  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

  8. 8

    The April 1836 Messenger and Advocate included several articles arguing against abolition, including Letter to Oliver Cowdery, ca. 9 Apr. 1836. On 1 July, William W. Phelps stated, “We have taken no part for or against slavery, but are opposed to the abolitionists, and consider that men have a right to hold slaves or not according to law.” In earlier statements, the church had declared itself as “opposed to abolition,” stating that it disturbed “the peace and harmony of our Constitution and country.” Jackson County residents also considered Mormon views on slavery to be a threat to society in Missouri. (“Public Notice,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1836, 2:360; “Abolition,” Northern Times, 9 Oct. 1835, 2; Letter from John Whitmer, 29 July 1833.)  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

    Northern Times. Kirtland, OH. 1835–[1836?].

  9. 9

    Similar charges of objectionable interaction between Latter-day Saints and American Indians had been made during the conflict in Jackson County. Shortly after the Mormons’ expulsion from Jackson County in 1833, Isaac McCoy, a Baptist missionary who preached among the American Indians in Independence and present-day eastern Kansas in the early 1830s, accused the Mormons of seeking aid from the Indians west of the Missouri River during the Jackson County struggles, of violating federal Indian law, and of possibly tampering with Indians and attempting to ally with them against non-Mormon whites. McCoy explained that he and his white neighbors “strongly suspected” that the Mormons were “secretly tampering with the neighboring Indians, to induce them to aid in the event of open hostility; for myself, I could not resist the belief that they had sought aid from the Indians though I have not ascertained that legal evidence of the fact could be obtained.” (Isaac McCoy, “The Disturbances in Jackson County,” Missouri Republican [St. Louis], 20 Dec. 1833, [2]–[3]; Jennings, “Isaac McCoy and the Mormons,” 62–82.)  

    Missouri Republican. St. Louis. 1822–1919.

    Jennings, Warren A. “Isaac McCoy and the Mormons,” Missouri Historical Review 61, no. 1 (Oct. 1966): 62–82.

  10. 10

    These letters have not been located.  

  11. 11

    William W. Phelps and a committee of Saints also responded to this accusation: “We deny holding any communications with the Indians, & mean to hold ourselves as ready to defend our country against their barbarous ravages as any other people.” (“Public Meeting,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1836, 2:360.)  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

  12. 12

    Preliminary studies identify more than 3,600 acres purchased by the Saints in Clay County, usually in 40- or 80-acre parcels. Of the approximately 250 Latter-day Saint families that resided in the county through 1836, about a third of them owned land. The rest rented, squatted on government land, or lived on the land of other Saints. Most of the land owned by the Saints was located within three miles of the main east-west road that passed through the southern part of the county. Examples are Newel Knight’s forty acres, the holdings of the Colesville branch at the southwest corner of the county, Edward Partridge’s rented land two miles south of Liberty, Lyman Wight’s 130 acres near the Fishing River in the eastern part of the county, and John Cooper’s eighty acres on the eastern edge of the county. (Lewis, “Mormon Land Ownership,” 25–28; Parkin, “History of the Latter-day Saints in Clay County,” 318–319; Berrett, Sacred Places, 4:161–190; Clay Co., MO, Deed Records, 1822–1890, vol. D, pp. 197, 256, microfilm 955,264; vol. E, pp. 170, 399, microfilm 955,265, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; Eliza Partridge Lyman, Journal, 10; Young, “What I Remember,” 13.)  

    Lewis, Wayne J. “Mormon Land Ownership as a Factor in Evaluating the Extent of Mormon Settlements and Influence in Missouri, 1831–1841.” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1981.

    Parkin, Max H. “A History of the Latter-day Saints in Clay County, Missouri, from 1833 to 1837.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1976.

    Berrett, LaMar C., ed. Sacred Places: A Comprehensive Guide to Early LDS Historical Sites. 6 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999–2007.

    U.S. and Canada Record Collection. FHL.

    Lyman, Eliza Maria Partridge. Journal, 1846–1885. CHL. MS 1527.

    Young, Emily Dow Partridge. “What I Remember,” 1884. Typescript. CHL. MS 5718.

  13. 13

    Church leaders continued to encourage Saints to gather to Missouri until their numbers were sufficient to reclaim their lands in Jackson County. Though considered a temporary home, Clay County had become the main Missouri gathering place for the Saints. Following the endowment in the Kirtland House of the Lord, church leaders set in motion greater proselytizing and fund-raising efforts to purchase lands in Missouri as part of their greater focus on redeeming Zion. (Minutes, 30 Mar. 1836; Minutes, 2 Apr. 1836; JS, Journal, 2 Apr. 1836.)  

  14. 14

    Of the Saints in Clay County, Joseph Thorp wrote, “The Mormons, in the main, were industrious, good workers, and gave general satisfaction to their employers, and could live on less than any people I ever knew. . . . They had the knack of economizing in the larder, which was a great help to the men, as they had mostly to earn their bread and butter by day’s work.” (Thorp, Early Days in the West, 76.)  

    Thorp, Joseph. Early Days in the West: Along the Missouri One Hundred Years Ago. Liberty, MO: Irving Gilmer, 1924.

  15. 15

    An August 1833 revelation counseled the Saints to bear repeated offenses from their enemies. (Revelation, 6 Aug. 1833 [D&C 98:39–45].)  

  16. 16

    On instructions to the Saints regarding self-defense, see Letter to William W. Phelps and Others, 25 July 1836; and Revelation, 6 Aug. 1833 [D&C 98:23–31].  

  17. 17

    See Letter to William W. Phelps and Others, 25 July 1836.  

  18. 18

    The United States Congress passed an act establishing Wisconsin Territory on 20 April 1836, which took effect on 4 July 1836. The Clay County citizens’ committee recommended that the Saints investigate and remove to Wisconsin, “which is peculiarly suited to their conditions and their wants.” The Clay County committee further said of Wisconsin, “It is almost entirely unsettled; they [the Mormons] can there procure large bodies of land together, where there are no settlements, and none to interfere with them. . . . We therefore, in a spirit of frank and friendly kindness, do advise them to seek a home where they may obtain large and separate bodies of land, and have a community of their own.” A short time later, a resident of Wisconsin Territory wrote, “Gentleman Mormons, we pray you to be assured, that your ‘promised land’ is not in Wisconsin.” (“Public Notice,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1836, 354; An Act Establishing the Territorial Government of Wisconsin [20 Apr. 1836], Public Statutes at Large, 24th Cong., 1st Sess., chap. 54, p. 10; “The Mormons—Unparallelled Impudence,” Far West [Liberty, MO], 18 Aug. 1836, 1.)  

    Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.

    The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845. . . . Edited by Richard Peters. 8 vols. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1846–1867.

    The Far West. Liberty, MO. 1836.