Letter from James Arlington Bennet, 1 September 1842
, Letter, , [New Utrecht, Kings Co., NY], to JS, , Hancock Co., IL, 1 Sept. 1842; handwriting of ; three pages; JS Materials, CCLA. Includes address, postal notation, postal stamp, and dockets.
Bifolium measuring 9⅞ × 8 inches (25 × 20 cm) when folded. The bifolium is ruled with twenty-seven horizontal printed lines. The recto of the first leaf has a circular embossment in the upper left corner containing flowers and leaves. The letter was written on the recto and verso of the first leaf and the recto of the second leaf, trifolded twice in letter style, addressed, sealed with a red wax seal, and postmarked. It contains remnants of the seal and a corresponding tear in the second leaf. The letter was later folded in half, forming a square, and was then folded again diagonally.
The document was docketed by , who served as scribe to JS from 1842 to 1844. Another docket is in unidentified handwriting. The letter was likely retained by JS and passed down among Smith family descendants. At some point before 1961, it was transferred to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ).
Jenson, Andrew. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 4 vols. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901–1936.
On 1 September 1842, wrote a letter from , New York, to JS in , Illinois, regarding ’s recent denunciations in of JS and the Latter-day Saints following Bennett’s acrimonious departure from Nauvoo. Just as Bennet had done in a 16 August letter to JS, he instructed JS to keep the contents of this letter confidential. The 1 September letter was prompted in part by a circa August 1842 letter from to James Arlington Bennet’s wife, Sophia Smith Bennet, as well as by a series of lectures John C. Bennett was giving in New York City. James Arlington Bennet had written an earlier letter to JS after meeting with Bennett and in August 1842. Bennett went to New York City to continue his efforts to cultivate public outrage over JS and the Latter-day Saints, and he evidently hoped to sway Bennet’s opinion of JS and the . While James Arlington Bennet did not ally himself with John C. Bennett’s cause, Bennett found an advocate and supporter in famed evangelical apologist and religious debater Origen Bacheler. Accordingly, during late August and early September 1842, Bennett and Bacheler delivered a series of lectures denouncing JS and the Saints at a church on the corner of Delancey and Chrystie streets in Lower Manhattan. Writing to JS, who was both his commanding officer in the and a personal friend, Bennet reassured him of his continued support for the Saints, despite Bennet’s association with John C. Bennett and the nature of Bennett’s accusations.
also used his letter to alert JS to the New York Herald’s publication of a general order that JS and purportedly issued to the Nauvoo Legion on 4 August 1842. The order called for James Arlington Bennet and New York Herald editor to come to in accordance with their appointed duties with the Nauvoo Legion. According to the order, JS and McFall were activating “the most able and experienced officers” of the legion in response to governor ’s recent request that JS be extradited from in connection with the attempted assassination of . The published order then explained that if Reynolds’s “demand is persisted in, blood must be shed.” Published in the 30 August 1842 issue of the New York Herald, the statement seemed to lend further credence to ’s suggestion that “the strong arm of military power” was necessary to deal with the Latter-day Saints.
The postmark on the letter indicates that mailed it from on 1 September 1842, the same day he wrote it. JS’s journal reports that JS received the letter on 14 September, and copied the letter into the journal around that date. The letter was then “placed in the hands of Genl ,” who wrote a refutation of the order that was published in the New York Herald, arguing that the document was a hoax. McFall’s statement was published in the 24 September 1842 issue of the Wasp. Extant records do not indicate if JS ever responded to Bennet’s letter.
s letter to Mrs. [Sophia Smith] Bennet containing a very lucid account of Dr has been received & the only thing concerning him that I regard of importance, is, that you found it necessary to expose him. I wish most ardently that you had let him depart in peace, because the public generally think no better of either the one party or the other in consequence of the pretended exposures with which the News papers have teamed. But then on the long run you will have the advantage, inasmuch as the universal notoriety which you are now acquiring will be the means of adding to three hundred fold.
That you ought to be given up to the tender mercies of no man in his senses will allow, as you would be convicted on the shadow of evidence when the peoples passions & prejudces are so strongly inlisted against you & under such a state of things how easy it would be to suborn witnesses against you who would seal your fate. Add to this, too, that <the> great difficulty under which an impartial jury, if such could be found, would labour in their attempt to render an honest verdict, being cohersed [coerced] by surrounding public prejudice & malice. And yet as you are now circumstanced it will not do to appose force to force, for your protection, as this in the present case would be treason against the State & would ultimately bring to ruin all those concerned.
<This letter is to be considered strictly Confidential—> [p. 1]
Arlington House was the home of James Arlington Bennet and was situated on a one-hundred-acre estate in New Utrecht, New York, near Brooklyn. By June 1843, the home housed “the Arlington Academy,” which provided education for male students in a variety of subjects. (Bennet, American System of Practical Book-Keeping, 3–7.)
Bennet, James Arlington. The American System of Practical Book-Keeping, Adapted to the Commerce of the United States, in it Domestic and Foreign Relations, Comprehending All the Modern Improvements in the Practice of the Art, and Exemplified in One Set of Books Kept By Double Entry, Embracing Five Different Methods of Keeping a Journal. New York: Collins & Hannay, 1831.
Throughout summer 1842, John C. Bennett published numerous accusations against JS and the Latter-day Saints. Originally published in the Sangamo Journal, Bennett’s letters were disseminated and republished throughout the United States and in Europe. These letters eventually became the basis of Bennett’s 1842 book, The History of the Saints; or, An Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism, referred to later in this letter. Both the letters and the book diminished the public’s opinion of JS’s morality. In response, JS published editorials denouncing Bennett and denying his accusations. James Arlington Bennet evidently felt that both JS and Bennett came out from this exchange looking worse. While agreeing with the accusations against JS, some newspaper editors similarly held a low opinion of Bennett. The New York Spectator described Bennett as being “only not quite so bad” as JS. The New York Herald similarly felt no sense of kindness toward Bennett, referring to him as a “pill-maker for purgatory.” (“Joseph Smith Documents from May through August 1842”; “A Row among the Mormons,” New York Spectator [New York City], 20 July 1842, ; “From Nauvoo and the Mormons,” New York Herald [New York City], 9 Oct. 1842, ; see also Bennett’s letters printed in the 8, 15, and 22 July, 19 August, and 2 September 1842 issues of the Sangamo Journal;Letter to the Church and Others, 23 June 1842; and “John C. Bennett,” Times and Seasons, 1 Aug. 1842, 3:868–869.)