JS, Letter, [, Hancock Co., IL], to , , Adams Co., IL, 11 Mar. 1840; unidentified handwriting; two pages; JS Collection, CHL. Includes address, postmark, and dockets.
Bifolium measuring 12¼ × 7⅝ inches (31 × 19 cm) when folded. The first two pages contain the body of the letter, and an address is written on the final page. The letter was trifolded in letter style for mailing. At a later time, it was folded twice horizontally and docketed for filing. apparently retained possession of the letter until it was filed with JS’s office sometime between 1842 and 1846. The document was cataloged in the JS Collection in 1973. The nineteenth-century docket and twentieth-century cataloging suggest continuous institutional custody.
Johnson, Register of the Joseph Smith Collection, 8.
Johnson, Jeffery O. Register of the Joseph Smith Collection in the Church Archives, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973.
On 11 March 1840, JS wrote a letter from the , Illinois, area to in , Illinois, in which he updated Foster on his activities since returning to Commerce from his four-month trip to the eastern . Foster, a physician who had recently joined the , was a late addition to the group that traveled with JS. In October 1839, JS, , , and stopped in , Illinois—approximately thirty miles from Foster’s home in Beverly—to attend to pressing business related to their plans to petition the federal government for redress and reparations. At that time, JS invited Foster to travel with the group and care for Rigdon, who was suffering from malaria. JS and Foster departed together for home from sometime in late January or early February 1840, leaving Higbee in the capital and a still-ailing Rigdon in .
In his letter, JS informed that he had visited his ill father, , and had delivered discourses in which he recounted the trip to the eastern . He also updated Foster on ’s growth and development, ’s efforts before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the general shift in church members’ political allegiances from Democratic to Whig, and the status of ’s health. Finally, he requested that Foster come to the Commerce area to visit him.
The letter was written in an unidentified hand. The notation of postage paid indicates the letter was mailed. apparently received it because it was given to , the church historian, within a few years. It is not known when Foster received the letter, if he wrote back, or if he visited JS.
Letter of Introduction from Sidney Rigdon, 9 Nov. 1839. Recalling JS’s invitation more than three decades later, Foster wrote: “I was told by Joseph Smith, the Prophet, that if I was willing to obey the will of God and be obedient to his commandments, I must quit my practice and start the next day with them to the city of Washington, to aid them in their mission and minister to ElderSydney Rigdon, who was very sick at that time. So, in obedience to this mandate, I suddenly closed my practice, and started the next morning, in company with these gentlemen, to visit the chief magistrate of the Union at the federal city.” (Robert D. Foster, “A Testimony of the Past,” True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, 15 Apr. 1875, 225.)
After I left you, I came to my ’s house in the same day; and there I learned that my was sick, and that he was not expected to live— had called his children together &c. my Bro. had left home for this place the day before I arrived there. But when I arrived here I found him a little better, but was quite low yet. Since that time, he has been much afflicted with the ague, but is now recovering. With that exception we are all well at present; and it is a general time of health here now.
I have delivered two discourses in this place since my return—giveing a brief history of our journy the reception we met with by the &c. and the general feeling towards us in and other places. The effect has been to turn the entire mass of the people, even to an individual, so far as I have learned on the other side of the great political question—
I find that we have lost nothing by our change; but have gained friends and influence. The fact is, we were compelled to change in consequence of seeing a disposition manifest to turn a deaf ear to the cries of suffering innocence. When we can see a disposition in our chief magistrate to sacrifice the rights of the poor at the shrine of popularity, it is high time to cast off such an individual.
After haveing formed an acquaintance with you, and a very intimate one too, for the last 4 months, and I need not say an agreeable one too, I feel quite anxious to see you after a short separation, I hope you can make it convenient to come up and see us soon. I want to get hold of your journal very much.
Our here is prospering, and many are comeing into it. Our is improveing very fast. It is almost incredible to see what amt. of labor has been performed here during the winter [p. ]
According to a letter JS wrote later that year, spring, fall, and winter were seasons of relative health in the Commerce area. He termed summer “the sickly season,” meaning the time in which residents of the area experienced the most illness. (Letter to Quorum of the Twelve, 15 Dec. 1840.)
“The great political question” almost certainly refers to the partisan divide between Democrats and Whigs. Although the two parties’ platforms differed in several key ways, the most pronounced difference was that the Whigs promoted a system of internal improvements sponsored by a strong federal government that balanced power between its three branches, and the Democrats insisted on granting greater power—and the responsibility for internal improvements—to state governments. The Democrats also insisted on states’ rights, which influenced the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s decision not to consider fully the church’s memorial to Congress. Therefore, the turn in political affiliation that JS mentioned here was a switch of a great number of the Latter-day Saints from the Democratic Party to the Whig Party. (See Holt, Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 28–49; and Howe, What Hath God Wrought, 270–271; see also Historical Introduction to Memorial to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, ca. 30 Oct. 1839–27 Jan. 1840.)
Holt, Michael F. The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848. The Oxford History of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
When the Senate Committee on the Judiciary questioned Higbee about the political affiliation of church members in general, he responded that “there were as many democrats turned against us, as whigs; and indeed less liberality and political freedom was manifested by them [the Democrats], for one whig Paper came out decidedly in our favor.” (Letter from Elias Higbee, 22 Feb. 1840.)
More than three decades later, Foster recounted that Henry Clay “told us that we would never get any redress under that [the Van Buren] administration; that we had better do all we could to get a better administration, then we would get a chance.” (Robert D. Foster, “A Testimony of the Past,” True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, 15 Apr. 1875, 227.)
JS either had tasked Foster with keeping his journal during their travels throughout the eastern United States or desired to access Foster’s journal in order to record the details of the trip in his own personal record. Years later, the compilers of the manuscript history of the church reported JS declaring, “I depended on Dr Foster to keep my daily journal during this journey but he has failed me.” (Historian’s Office, JS History, Draft Notes, 4 Mar. 1840, 5.)
In May 1840, the Salt River Journal reported that there were between two and three thousand people who attended the church’s April general conference. (“Latest from the Mormons,” Salt River Journal [Bowling Green, MO], 16 May 1840, .)