Documents, Volume 8: February–November 1841

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The eighth volume of the Documents series, published in May 2019, contains personal correspondence, revelations, discourses, financial documents, meeting minutes, and other documents from February through November 1841. Key texts include minutes from a special conference in August 1841 in which Joseph Smith delegated Church administrative responsibilities to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, documents pertaining to cornerstone ceremonies for the Nauvoo Temple and the Nauvoo House, minutes from the Nauvoo City Council and the Nauvoo Legion illustrating the city’s growth and Joseph Smith’s role in civic matters, and correspondence relating to missionary work by the Quorum of the Twelve and others. The documents show that Joseph Smith’s role as leader of the Latter-day Saints remained firm as he led and managed the growing church, continued to instruct its people, and supported the building up of Nauvoo, Illinois, as the church’s gathering place.

Volume Editors

Brent M. Rogers and Brett D. Dowdle are historians for the Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mason K. Allred is an assistant professor at Brigham Young University Hawaii. Gerrit J. Dirkmaat is an assistant professor of religion at Brigham Young University.

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About This Volume

Nauvoo, Illinois, hummed with activity in early 1841 as Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints worked to develop the newly established city. They were busily engaged in building the civic infrastructure of their city, constructing the Nauvoo temple and a boardinghouse called the Nauvoo House, and managing land transactions as hundreds of immigrating converts to the church flowed into Nauvoo. Even as Joseph Smith was heavily occupied by civic and business affairs, however, he continued to labor for the spiritual welfare of the members of the growing church.

Documents, Volume 8 begins in February 1841, just after the first elections for Nauvoo city government. Minutes from the first meetings of the newly formed city council and Nauvoo Legion, a contingent of the Illinois militia, reveal Joseph Smith as an active participant and leader in these organizations. Perhaps still mindful of the difficulties that plagued the Saints in Missouri, within a month of the council’s organization, Joseph Smith proposed and the council passed a city ordinance guaranteeing religious freedom to all who came to Nauvoo.

Nauvoo had earlier been designated as the church’s gathering place, and a March 1841 revelation confirmed that directive, as did an open letter from Joseph Smith to the Saints in May 1841. The influx of converts into the city occupied much of Joseph Smith’s time as he managed and distributed land and attempted to pay debts accrued by purchasing land in the Nauvoo area. Joseph Smith’s younger brother Don Carlos resorted to writing a letter to communicate with Joseph—though the men lived within a few blocks of each other—because Joseph was so “thronged with business.” Desiring more time for spiritual matters, Joseph Smith delegated church administrative responsibilities to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, charging them with “managing the affairs of the kingdom” during a special conference of the church in August 1841.

Construction on the Nauvoo temple commenced in February 1841, with Saints donating money, goods, and labor in support of the endeavor. On 6 April, Joseph Smith pronounced a benediction on the southeast cornerstone as nearly ten thousand people gathered to witness the cornerstone laying ceremony and celebrate the church’s eleventh anniversary.

Though this volume covers a time of relative calm, optimism, and progress for the church in Nauvoo, it also documents trouble brewing under the surface. Many who attended the cornerstone laying ceremony gave happy reports of the event, but others were disturbed by the display of strength represented by the Nauvoo Legion in full parade at the celebration. Soon after, Thomas C. Sharp, editor of a newspaper in nearby Warsaw, Illinois, began publishing antagonistic articles about the church and organized the Anti-Mormon Convention, a political party directly opposed to the church, in Hancock County, Illinois.

Despite pressure from many demands on his time, Joseph Smith continued to teach and strengthen church members, and Documents, Volume 8 contains several discourses he gave during Sabbath meetings, at church conferences, and at meetings of the Nauvoo lyceum.

The texts presented here, along with their extensive historical annotation, make this volume a crucial resource for those studying the early Nauvoo period as well as Joseph Smith in his roles as prophet of the church and as a leader in city government.

Excerpts

Nauvoo City Council Minutes

1 March 1841

“Be it ordained by the City Council of the City of Nauvoo, That the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-Day Saints, Quakers, Episcopalians Universalits Unitarians, Mahommedans, and all other religious sects and denominations whatever, shall have free toleration and equal Privileges in this City, and should any person be guilty of ridiculing abusing, or otherwise depreciating another in consequence of his religion or of disturbing, or interrupting any religious meeting, within the Limits of this City, he shall on conviction thereof, before the Mayor or Municipal Court be considered a disturber of the public peace, and fined in any Sum not exceeding five hundred Dollars, or imprisoned not exceeding six months.”

Minutes of a Special Conference of the Church

16 August 1841

“President Joseph Smith now arriving proceeded to state to the conference at considerable length, the object of their present meeting, and . . . [he] said that the time had come when the twelve should be called upon to stand in their place next to the first presidency, and attend to the settling of emegrants and the business of the church at the stakes, and assist to bear off the kingdom victorious to the nations; and as they had been faithful and had borne the burden in the heat of the day that it was right that they should have an opportunity of provididing something for themselves and families, and at the same time relieve him so that he might attend to the business of translating.”

Reviews

“This volume shows how things were in Nauvoo in 1841 and Joseph’s leadership of both Nauvoo and the church . . . As always, the annotations and other helpful information in the book make it a worthwhile purchase for those interested in the history of the church and the life of Joseph Smith.”

—Trevor Holyoak, “Book Review: The Joseph Smith Papers Documents, Volume 8: February – November 1841,FairMormon (blog), 3 June 2019, https://www.fairmormon.org/blog/2019/06/03/book-review-the-joseph-smith-papers-documents-volume-8-february-november-1841

The Joseph Smith Papers Documents, Volume 8: February–November 1841 reveal Joseph Smith’s life as he endeavored to build a city and expand the faith that he led . . . Through correspondence, revelations, sermons, financial documents, meeting minutes and other significant documents, Volume 8’s editorial team helps readers to understand the multifaceted growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after its first large-scale transatlantic push and before the introduction of temple liturgy.”

—J Stuart, “Review: Joseph Smith Papers Documents, Volume 8: February – November 1841,Juvenile Instructor (blog), 13 May 2019, https://juvenileinstructor.org/review-joseph-smith-papers-documents-volume-8-february-november-1841/