, Letter, , Philadelphia Co., PA, to JS, , Hancock Co., IL, 5 Apr. 1841. Featured version published in Times and Seasons, 1 May 1841, vol. 2, no. 13, 399–400. For more complete source information, see the source note for Letter to Isaac Galland, 22 Mar. 1839.
spent the early months of 1841 in the eastern handling financial matters and other business for the . While in , Galland wrote to JS in , Illinois, on 5 April 1841; the letter was occasioned by Galland’s learning of the death of United States president William Henry Harrison. The letter briefly mentions Galland’s trip to the East with and their prospects for business in Philadelphia, but his message focuses primarily on Harrison’s death.
’s letter illustrates the political turmoil that followed the 1840 presidential election. That election pitted Harrison, a Whig, against Democratic incumbent . In a time rife with party factionalism and economic depression, the two political parties took sharply divergent positions on economic policy, slavery, and the role of national government, among other issues. Because Van Buren had refused to ask Congress to act on the church’s petitions for redress and reparations after the Saints’ expulsion from , JS and most Latter-day Saints had supported Harrison, a well-educated former military commander and governor of , in the 1840 election. According to a report of an 1840 JS discourse, Van Buren’s actions turned “the Mormons, almost to a man, against Mr. Van Buren” and motivated them to be “equally as unanimous for Gen. Harrison.”
Though the popular vote was close, Harrison won the electoral college handily. On 4 March 1841, Harrison delivered the longest inaugural address ever given by a president. He spoke at length about securing personal liberties for the American people, an issue that mattered a great deal to Latter-day Saints in the wake of their experience. In his address, Harrison spoke about the dangers of stripping people of their liberties, and perhaps church members believed that, unlike his predecessor, he would be willing to lend his influence in helping them obtain redress. The Times and Seasons judged Harrison’s inaugural address “to be one of the best that has ever issued from the presidential chair.”
Unfortunately, JS and the Latter-day Saints were never able to ask Harrison for his assistance. The president had barely begun to appoint new federal officers when he became ill. In late March 1841, according to his doctor’s report, Harrison “was seized with a chill and other symptoms of fever. The next day pneumonia, with congestion of the liver and derangement of the stomach and bowels, was ascertained to exist.” The last words uttered by the president, as heard by his doctor, were, “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the Government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.” Harrison died on 4 April 1841, having served just one month as the nation’s executive.
grieved the loss of Harrison and all the potential he brought to the presidency. His 5 April 1841 letter may provide insight into the feelings of JS and other Latter-day Saints on this occasion. Saints such as mourned Harrison’s death as “a great calamity.” The sympathy of the Latter-day Saints for Harrison made news a few months later when reports circulated from to to that a “Mormon Elder” had an “old soldier” in behalf of the deceased president in accordance with the Latter-day Saint of baptism for the dead.
JS received ’s letter some time before the printing of the 1 May 1841 issue of the Times and Seasons, in which the letter was published. Though Galland may not have intended his letter to receive a public audience, JS must have requested that the Times and Seasons editors include the letter in the paper so that it would have a larger readership. Galland’s original letter is apparently not extant; the Times and Seasons preserves the earliest known version.
“The Inaugural Address of Gen. William Henry Harrison,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington DC), 5 Mar. 1841, . Harrison’s vice president, John Tyler, noted that the president had sought to promote popular rights and liberties. (“The Vice President,” American and Commercial Daily Advertiser [Baltimore], 2 Dec. 1840, .)
Daily National Intelligencer. Washington DC. 1800–1869.
American and Commercial Daily Advertiser. Baltimore. 1802–1853.
“Report of the Physicians,” North American and Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia), 7 Apr. 1841, . Though this diagnosis has been widely accepted, a recent article has suggested that Harrison was more likely taken with enteric or typhoid fever. (McHugh and Mackowiak, “Death in the White House,” 990–995.)
North American and Daily Advertiser. Philadelphia. 1839–1845.
McHugh, Jane, and Philip A. Mackowiak. “Death in the White House: President William Henry Harrison’s Atypical Pneumonia.” Clinical Infectious Diseases 59, no. 7 (1 Oct. 2014): 990–995.
“Baptism for the Dead,” Warsaw (IL) Signal, 14 July 1841, ; “Mormon Purgatory,” Ohio Observer (Hudson), 2 Sept. 1841, ; “Baptism for the Dead,” New-York Tribune, 4 Aug. 1841, .
Warsaw Signal. Warsaw, IL. 1841–1853.
Ohio Observer. Hudson. 1827–1855.
New-York Tribune. New York City. 1841–1842.
April 5th, 1841.
Dear Brother Joseph Smith:
Through the mercies of our Heavenly Father we have been prospered on our journey thus far—we have enjoyed reasonable health on the way, and have succeeded in accomplishing a part of our business.— has labored unremittingly in the word and doctrine on our whole route; he has been joyfully received by the bretheren every where. I trust his labours will be like bread cast upon the waters to be gathered many days hence. We have had the cheerful and valuable co-operation of the services of brothers and , who have aided us in the object of our mission. But amidst the cheering prospects of our present prosperity, it has pleased our Heavenly Father to remove from the scenes of political turmoil and party strife, our beloved [William Henry] Harrison. That the ways of the Almighty are inscrutible to the human mind, his wisdom surpassing our deepest researches, his councils exceeding our most exalted perceptions of pro [p. 399]
The day after Isaac Galland wrote this letter to JS, a churchconference held in Philadelphia and led by Hyrum Smith chose and ordainedWinchester to preside over the Philadelphia branch, which consisted of 214 members. Winchester also published an independent, church-based newspaper, the Gospel Reflector, in Philadelphia in 1841. (See Philadelphia Branch Record Book, 6 Apr. 1841.)
Philadelphia Branch, Record Book, 1840–1854. CCLA.
Though Galland wrote of Harrison’s death on 5 April, news of the death was not reported in Philadelphia newspapers until 6 April 1841. (“President Harrison’s Death” and “The Courts,” North American and Daily Advertiser [Philadelphia], 6 Apr. 1841, .)
North American and Daily Advertiser. Philadelphia. 1839–1845.