“A.”/“D.,” Interview with JS, , Hancock Co., IL, 3 Nov. 1841. Featured version published in “Mormons and Mormonism,” Daily Missouri Republican (St. Louis), 25 Nov. 1841, vol. 20, . Transcription from a digital color image obtained from the Missouri History Museum Library, St. Louis, Missouri, in 2017.
Each issue of the Daily Missouri Republican featured four pages that measured 24¾ × 18 inches (63 × 46 cm). Each page was divided into seven columns, and each column measured 23 × 2½ inches (58 × 6 cm).
George Knapp and A. B. Chambers edited the newspaper between 1841 and 1842, when the twentieth volume was published. In addition to national news, the newspaper contained news articles, editorials, and advertisements for , Missouri, and its surrounding regions.
Stevens, St. Louis, 1:155–157; Williams, A History of Northwest Missouri, 1:221.
Stevens, Walter B. St. Louis: The Fourth City, 1764–1911. 3 vols. St. Louis, MO: S. J. Clarke Publishing, 1911.
Williams, Walter, ed. A History of Northwest Missouri. 3 vols. Chicago: Lewis, 1915.
On 3 November 1841, an unnamed preacher from , Missouri, reported visiting , Illinois, and interviewing JS. The following day, while apparently still in Nauvoo, the man penned a letter to the Daily Missouri Republican, rehearsing details of the meeting and reporting the substance of the interview. The author identified himself only as “A.” in the interview and as “D.” at the close of his letter. Along with an account of the interview, the letter included a description of the city that provided glimpses into its growth and progress. The author provided some basic facts about Nauvoo and briefly described the ongoing construction of the , as well as the “crowds of people, from ” who were making their way to the city. He stated that he believed most were left to suffer in want and suggested that the name of the was “in bad odor with their neighbors” because some of them were stealing supplies from residents of nearby areas to support themselves in Nauvoo.
In his letter, the author also described the setting for his interview with JS, noting that upon his arrival in , he and a friend sought out JS’s home, hoping to meet briefly with him. Expecting to find “a person of some dignity and reserve” possessing “at least an outside of austere piety,” they found JS “asleep, in his rocking-chair” while and the children took care of some household chores. One or two missionaries, likely members of the who had recently returned from , were also at the house during the visit and interview.
The text of the interview focused on JS’s role and influence within the City Council and the as well as on interpretations of the Bible. The details in the interview, particularly regarding the progress of Nauvoo, suggest that the interviewer likely did visit the city and JS during November 1841. However, the contemporary conventions of recording such accounts suggest that the interview itself likely does not represent a verbatim transcript of JS’s statements on the occasion.
Following the letter’s publication in the 25 November 1841 issue of the Daily Missouri Republican, other American newspapers reprinted it either in whole or in part during December 1841 and January 1842. Only the interview portion of the letter is featured here.
For examples of other depictions of the growth and progress of Nauvoo in 1841, see “Nauvoo,” Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 9 Feb. 1841, ; “Matters and Things in General, and the Mormons in Particular,” North American and Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia), 9 Jan. 1841, ; “Nauvoo—Joe Smith,” Cleveland Daily Herald, 23 June 1841, ; “The Mormons,” New-York Tribune, 27 July 1841, ; and “The Mormons,” New-York Tribune, 29 Sept. 1841, .
Sangamo Journal. Springfield, IL. 1831–1847.
North American and Daily Advertiser. Philadelphia. 1839–1845.
“Mormons and Mormonism,” Daily Missouri Republican (St. Louis), 25 Nov. 1841, . During late 1841 there were several verified cases of theft by Latter-day Saints, resulting in at least five excommunications. The problem was prevalent enough to prompt JS to publish an affidavit denouncing the practice in the Times and Seasons. (Minutes, Ramus, IL, 18 Nov. 1841, in Times and Seasons, 1 Dec. 1841, 3:616; Affidavit, 29 Nov. 1841.)
Daily Missouri Republican. St. Louis. 1822–1869.
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
No corresponding account of the interview has been found in other contemporary documents, nor is it mentioned in JS’s history, making it difficult to determine the accuracy of JS’s recorded statements. Throughout the nineteenth century, published interviews of this kind emerged as an important genre of American journalism and literature. (See Rubery, Novelty of Newspapers, 110–140.)
Rubery, Matthew. The Novelty of Newspapers: Victorian Fiction after the Invention of the News. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
“Mormons and Mormonism,” New-York Spectator, 8 Dec. 1841, ; “Mormons and Mormonism,” Pittsburgh Gazette, 10 Dec. 1841, ; News Item, Raleigh Register and North-Carolina Gazette, 14 Dec. 1841, ; “The Prophet at Home,” Warsaw (IL) Signal, 15 Dec. 1841, ; “A Visit to the Mormon Leader,” Liberator (Boston), 7 Jan. 1842, .
New-York Spectator. New York City. 1804–1867.
Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette. Pittsburgh, PA, July 1786–.
Raleigh Reigster and North-Carolina Gazette. Raleigh, North Carolina. 1825–1848.
Warsaw Signal. Warsaw, IL. 1841–1853.
Liberator. Boston. 1831–1865.
A. “You have the beginning of a great here, Mr. Smith.”
-[Here came in the more prominent objects of the . The expense of the , Mr. Smith thought, would be $200,000 or $300,000. The is 127 feet side, by 88 feet front; and by its plan, which was kindly shown us, will fall short of some of our public buildings. As yet, only the foundations are laid. Mr. Smith then spoke of the “false” reports current about himself, and “supposed we had heard enough of them.”
A. “You know, sir, persecution sometimes drives ‘the wise man mad.’”
Mr. S. (laughing.) “Ah, sir, you must not put me among the wise men; my place is not there. I make no pretensions to piety, either. If you give me credit for any thing, let it be for being a good manager. A good manager I do claim to be.”
A. “You have great influence here, Mr. Smith.”
Mr. S. “Yes; I have. I bought 900 acres here, a few years ago, and they all have their lands of me. My influence, however, is ecclesiastical only; in civil affairs, I am but a common citizen. To be sure, I am a member of the City Council, and Lieutenant General of the . I can command a thousand men to the field, at any moment, to support the laws. I had hard work to make them turn out and form the ‘Legion,’ until I shouldered my musket, and entered the ranks myself. Now, they have nearly all provided themselves with a good uniform, poor as they are. By the way, we had a regular ‘set to’ up here, a day or two since. The City Council ordered a liquor seller to leave the place, when his time was up; and, as he still remained, they directed that his house should be pulled down about his ears. They gave me a hand in the scrape; and I had occasion to knock a man down more than once. They mustered so strong an opposition, that it was either ‘knock down,’ or ‘be knocked down.’ We beat him off, at last; and are determined to have no grog shops in or about our grounds.”
-[The conversation flowed on pleasantly, until my friend, to fill a pause that occurred, referred to my calling as a preacher.]-
Mr. S. “Well I suppose (turning from me) he is one of the craft trained to his creed.”
A. “My creed, sir, is the New Testament.”
Mr. S. “Then, sir, we shall see truth just alike; for the scripture says, ‘They shall see, eye to eye.’ All who are true men, must read the bible alike, must they not?”
A. “True, Mr. Smith; and yet I doubt if they will see it precisely alike. If no two blades of grass are precisely alike, for a higher reason, it seems that no two intellects are.”
Mr. S. (getting warm.) “There—I told you so. You don’t come here to seek truth. You begin with taking the place of opposition. Now, say what I may, you have but to answer, ‘No two men can see alike.’”
A. “Mr. Smith, I said not that no two could see alike; but that no two could see, on the whole, precisely alike.”
Mr. S. “Does not the scripture say, ‘They shall see, eye to eye?’”
A. “Granted, sir; but be good enough to take a case; The words ‘all’ and ‘all things’ were brought up as meaning, at one time, universal creation. And again: ‘One believeth that he may eat all things,’ i.e. any thing, or, as we say, every thing.”
Mr. S. “You may explain away the bible, sir, as much as you please. I ask you, have you ever been ?”
A. “Yes, sir; I think I have.”
Mr. S. “Can you prophesy?”
A. “Well, sir, that depends on the meaning you give the word. I grant that it generally means to foretell; but I believe that it often means, to preach the gospel. In this sense, sir, I can prophesy.”
Mr. S. “You lie, sir; and you know it.”
A. “It is as easy for me to impugn your motives, Mr. Smith, as for you to impugn mine.”
Mr. S. “I tell you, you don’t seek to know the truth. You are a hypocrite: I saw it when you first began to speak.”
A. “It is plain, Mr. Smith, that we differ in opinion. Now, one man’s opinion is as good as another’s, until some third party comes in to strike a balance between them.”
Mr. S. “I want no third party, sir. You are a fool, sir, to talk as you do. Have I not seen twice the years that you have? -[Joseph Smith is 36 years old; the speaker, A., was 10 years younger.]- I say, sir, you are no gentleman. I would’nt trust you with my purse across the street.”
-[Here my friend interposed, saying: “I don’t believe, Mr. Smith, that this gentleman came to your house to insult you. He had heard all sorts of accounts of your people, and came simply to see with his own eyes.”]-
Mr. S. “I have no ill feelings towards the gentleman. He is welcome to my house; but what I see to be the truth, I must speak out; I flatter no man. I tell you, sir, that man is a hypocrite. You’ll find him out, if you’re long enough with him. I tell you, I would’nt trust him as far as I could see him. What right has he to speak so to me? Am I not the leader of a great people? He, himself, will not blame me for speaking the truth plainly.” [p. ]
Estimates of the total cost of building the temple have generally ranged from $500,000 to $1,000,000; contemporaneous visitors estimated the price as around $800,000. The actual cost of the temple may have been much lower. When the church tried to sell the temple in 1846, the asking price was $200,000. Supposing that the asking price was intended to recoup at least a majority of the temple’s cost, JS’s estimate in this interview may have been an accurate assessment of the church’s financial investment in the building. (“Temple at Nauvoo,” Sun [New York City], 12 Sept. 1845, ; Pratt, Autobiography, 377; “The Nauvoo Temple,” Historical Record, June 1889, 8:872; McBride, House for the Most High, 338, 395.)
Sun. New York City. 1835–1848.
Pratt, Parley P. The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, One of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Embracing His Life, Ministry and Travels, with Extracts, in Prose and Verse, from His Miscellaneous Writings. Edited by Parley P. Pratt Jr. New York: Russell Brothers, 1874.
The Historical Record, a Monthly Periodical, Devoted Exclusively to Historical, Biographical, Chronological and Statistical Matters. Salt Lake City. 1882–1890.
McBride, Matthew. A House for the Most High: The Story of the Original Nauvoo Temple. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007.
Joseph Fielding listed the temple’s dimensions as being “128 feet in length and 88 in breadth, and . . . 150 feet in height.” Although archeologists have discovered slight variations in the dimensions of the foundation, they suggest that 128 feet by 88 feet is the most accurate measurement. Archaeological estimates suggest that the temple’s height measured approximately 160 feet. Comparatively, most urban buildings in America at the time were confined to four or five stories at their tallest. For example, the Planters’ House Hotel had recently opened in St. Louis and, at approximately 70 feet tall, was one of the tallest buildings in the city; the Old St. Louis Cathedral, completed in 1834, measured 136 feet by 84 feet and stood approximately 95 feet high. (Joseph Fielding, “Joseph Fielding’s Letter,” Millennial Star, Aug. 1842, 3:78; Harrington and Harrington, Rediscovery of the Nauvoo Temple, 3, 17; Roth, American Architecture, 191; Hodes, Rising on the River, 334–335, 459; “The Planter’s House,” Daily Missouri Republican [St. Louis], 30 Mar. 1841, ; Whiffen and Koeper, American Architecture, 161, 164; Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri, 1:533.)
Joseph Fielding reported in January 1842 that the temple walls were “not yet quite up to the floor of the building.” William Clayton similarly stated that by the end of 1841, “the walls on the south side of Temple were built up to the water Table and a part of the water Table was also laid. On the North side the walls were only about two feet high.” (Joseph Fielding, “Joseph Fielding’s Letter,” Millennial Star, Aug. 1842, 3:78; Clayton, History of the Nauvoo Temple, 4–5, 13–14.)
Throughout 1841 numerous newspaper reports discussed JS’s involvement in military, political, and economic matters in Nauvoo. One paper claimed that JS was using the Nauvoo Legion to prepare to retake the Saints’ Missouri properties. Such rumors led some to conclude that JS wanted “to organize a military church,” while other papers stated that JS would “yet be ahead of Mahomet with his military religion.” Other newspapers declared that JS claimed to have had a revelation dictating how Latter-day Saints were to vote in elections. Still others asserted that JS was a swindler who manipulated converts out of their money and property. (“The Mormons,” Middlebury [VT] People’s Press, 30 Nov. 1841, ; “More Mormon Troubles,” New-York Tribune, 5 Oct. 1841, ; News Item, Detroit [MI] Free Press, 17 Nov. 1841, ; “The Mormons,” Vermont Telegraph [Brandon], 22 Dec. 1841, 55; “Extraordinary Impositions of the ‘Latter Day Saints,’” Saturday Courier [Philadelphia], 10 July 1841, .)
JS frequently deflected questions regarding his personal piety in this way, maintaining that he “was nothing but a man” and that the Saints must “not expect him to be perfect.” He explained that “many think a propht must be a gre[a]t deal better than any body else,” but he urged the Saints not to think this way. (JS, Journal, 6 Nov. 1835; JS, Journal, 29 Oct. 1842; see also JS, Journal, 21 May 1843.)
In discussing the immigration of British Saints, some eastern United States newspapers wrote that the converts believed they were “coming over to this country, to live, as they suppose, very comfortably on JOE SMITH’S large farm,” suggesting that at least some may have believed land would be provided for them when they arrived in Nauvoo. Perhaps operating under this belief, one family returned to England disillusioned and reported that JS and other church leaders had tried to persuade emigrants to purchase “large plots of land” from them. When Nauvoo was established, most of the church’s lands had been purchased in JS’s name and then gradually sold to members of the church. JS and other leaders spent much of 1841 attempting to obtain funds to make the required payments on these lands. Because of the misconception that the church had promised to give lands to immigrating Saints, some interpreted the efforts to sell lands as a fraudulent scheme to get money from the Saints gathering to Nauvoo. (News Item, Sunbury [PA] American and Shamokin Journal, 11 Sept. 1841, ; “Mormonism,” New-York Spectator, 8 Sept. 1841, ; Historical Introduction to Agreement with George W. Robinson, 30 Apr. 1839; Historical Introduction to Bond from Horace Hotchkiss, 12 Aug. 1839–A; Letter from John M. Bernhisel, 12 July 1841; Authorization for Hyrum Smith and Isaac Galland, 15 Feb. 1841; Letter from Horace Hotchkiss, 24 July 1841; Letter from Smith Tuttle, ca. 15 Sept. 1841; “The ‘Latter-day Saint’ Swindle,” Preston [England] Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser, 18 Sept. 1841, .)
Sunbury American and Shamokin Journal. Sunbury, PA. 1840–1848.
New-York Spectator. New York City. 1804–1867.
Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser. Preston, England. 1831–1893.
In April 1841 the Quincy Whig estimated that the Nauvoo Legion consisted of approximately 650 men. At the end of December 1841, the Times and Seasons reported that the Legion comprised “1490 . . . pretty well disciplined troops.” (“Proceedings at Nauvoo,” Quincy [IL] Whig, 24 Apr. 1841, ; “Nauvoo Legion,” Times and Seasons, 1 Jan. 1842, 3:654.)
Quincy Whig. Quincy, IL. 1838–1856.
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
The early minutes of the Nauvoo Legion suggest that some members of the militia were reluctant to attend the legion’s courts-martial. In March 1841, in an effort to resolve the problem, JS “ordered that no one be permitted to leave the company . . . without notifying his Captain and receiving his permission.” Later that month, JS “ordered that a fine of 25 dollars, and imprisonment if necessary, be assessed against all persons refusing to obey orders.” (“Record of the ‘Nauvoo Legion,’” 4–5, Nauvoo Legion Records, CHL.)
Record of the Nauvoo Legion. Nauvoo Legion, Records, 1841–1845. CHL. MS 3430.
While military dress was apparently common apparel in Nauvoo in 1841, the uniforms were generally mismatching, with members of the legion wearing whatever uniforms they could afford. In a September 1843 description of the legion, Nauvoo resident Charlotte Haven wrote that “every officer and private consulted his own individual taste” so that “no two [uniforms] were alike.” (“The Mormons,” Jeffersonian Republican [Stroudsburg, PA], 11 Aug. 1841, ; Charlotte Haven, Nauvoo, IL, to “Dear Friends at Home,” 8 Sept. 1843, in “A Girl’s Letters from Nauvoo,” 636; see also Allaman, “Uniforms and Equipment of the Black Hawk War and the Mormon War,” 5–18; and Leonard, “Picturing the Nauvoo Legion,” 95–135.)
Jeffersonian Republican. Jefferson City, MO. 1831–1844.
Among the first ordinances passed by the Nauvoo City Council was an act intended to limit the operation of taverns by prohibiting the sale of liquor in small quantities. On 23 October 1841, JS introduced a resolution to the Nauvoo City Council that “a certain House near the Temple & other Old Houses on Kimbles Ground, be deemed Nuisances.” Nauvoo mayor John C. Bennett charged that the house in question was “infringing upon the Laws, by Selling Spirituous Liquors,” and the council adopted a resolution to remove the house by 25 October, with “other Houses” to be removed a week later. On 30 October 1841, Bennett ordered two companies of the Nauvoo Legion to remove a grog shop owned by Pulaski Cahoon. (Nauvoo City Council Rough Minute Book, 15 Feb. 1841, 5; 23 and 30 Oct. 1841, 25, 26–27, 30; JS History, vol. C-1, 1242.)
It is possible the interviewer misunderstood or misquoted JS’s response to the interviewer’s statements about prophecy. JS had made earlier statements that largely accorded with the view of prophecy expressed by the interviewer. While JS frequently used the term to speak of coming events, his definition of prophecy was not limited to the idea of foretelling. When asked in 1838 whether Latter-day Saints believed JS to be a prophet, JS responded, “Yes, and every other man who has the testimony of Jesus. ‘For the testimony of Jesus, is the spirit of prophecy.’— Rev. 19: 10.” A year later, JS further explained his expansive view of the term, stating, “No man is a minister of Jesus Christ. without being a Prophet. No man can be the minister of Jesus Christ, except he has the testimony of Jesus & this is the Spirit of Prophesy. Whenever Sa[l]vation has been administered it has been by Testimony.” (Questions and Answers, 8 May 1838; Discourse, between ca. 26 June and ca. 4 Aug. 1839–A.)