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.
Your only plan I think will be to keep out of the way until this excitement shall have subsided, as from all I can understand even from the himself, there is no evidence on which an honest jury could find against you & this opinion I have expressed to him. I most ardently wish that you had one hundred thousand true men at & that I had the command of them— Times & things would soon alter. I hope to see the day before I die that such an Army will dictate terms from Nauvoo to the enemies of the Mormon people. I say this in the most perfect candor as I have nothing to gain by the Mormons, nor am I a Mormon in creed, yet I regard them in as favourable a light, (& a little more so,) thanI do as I do any other sect. In fact I am a Philosophical Christian & wish to see an entire change in the religious world. I have been long a Mormon in sympathy alone & probably can never be one in any other way, yet I feel that I am the friend of the people as I think them honest & sincere in their faith and those I know as good & honorable men as any other professing Christians.
has been the means of bringing me before your people, you will therefore see that for this act I am in honor bound to say “Peace to his Manes.” To act otherwise would be ungrateful & dishonorable, both of which qualities are strangers to my nature. Nevertheless by leaving him as he is I can still be your friend, for be assured that nothing I have yet seen from his pen has in the least altered my opinion of you. I will know what allowance to make in such cases. [p. ]
Bennet later claimed that he had been “born, baptized, and confirmed in the Protestant Episcopal Church.” Although it is not entirely clear what Bennet meant by “Philosophical Christian” in this context, others derogatorily defined the term as a “Christianity stript of its distinctive peculiarities as a Revelation from Heaven. . . . In other words, Christianity as explained, and received by those, who make their own reason the test, not so much of what God has taught, as of what it would be fit and becoming him to teach.” Philosophical Christianity drew comparisons to deism. Bennet had earlier explained to Willard Richards that he did not believe “in Special Revelation in any period of time” and belonged “to no sect or party.” (Bennet, Hell Demolished, v; Huntington, Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Abigail Waters, 13; “Essay on a Devotional Spirit,” Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine, July 1822, 437; Letter from Willard Richards, 9 Aug. 1842, underlining in original; May, Enlightenment in America, 307–336.)
Bennet, James Arlington. Hell Demolished; Heaven Gained; Science Triumphant; Moses, the Old Jew, on His Back, and the Almighty Vindicated against the Pretentions and Falsehoods of Men. New York: By the Author, 1855.
Huntington, Joshua. Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Abigail Waters; Who Died in Boston, November 22d, 1816, in the 96th Year of Her Age. To Which Is Prefixed, the Sermon Preached on Occasion of Her Death. Boston: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1817.
“Essay on a Devotional Spirit.” Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine 45, no. 7 (July 1822): 436–438.
May, Henry F. The Enlightenment in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
In ancient Roman religion, the “manes” were the “ancestral spirits of the dead,” so this phrase referred to honoring the souls of the departed. Phrases like “peace to his manes” were commonly used in letters, poetry, and literature during the nineteenth century. (“Manes,” in Oxford English Dictionary, 6:114; see also Salzman, “Religious Koine and Religious Dissent,” 115; [John Wilson], “Noctes Ambrosianae. No. LVI,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Apr. 1831, 712; and Gellett, Varieties, 224.)
Oxford English Dictionary. Compact ed. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Salzman, Michele Renee. “Religious Koine and Religious Dissent in the Fourth Century.” In A Companion to Roman Religion, edited by Jörg Rüpke, 109–125. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.
Gellett, Henry. Varieties: Consisting of Select and Interesting Anecdotes, Historical, Personal, and Literary. To Which Are Added Notes, Containing a Dutch Translation of the Most Difficult Words and Phrases. Designed for the Use of Students of the English Language, and as an Aid in Translating English into Dutch. 3rd ed. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Mrs. A. H. Krap, 1843.