License for John Whitmer, 9 June 1830
“A License Liberty Power & Authority,” License, , Seneca Co., NY, for , 9 June 1830; handwriting of ; signatures of JS and ; one page; Western Americana Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Transcription from digital color image obtained from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 2010. Includes redactions.Single leaf measuring 6⅞–7¼ × 7¾ inches (17–18 × 20 cm) with irregular tear along the bottom of the document. Docket on verso in handwriting of : “John Whitmer | Lisence”. Under this is a mostly illegible pencil notation: “Sa◊◊◊◊ ◊◊◊◊ ◊◊ | ◊◊St ◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊◊”. Additional notation in pencil: “◊◊◊◊◊◊”. Beneath that is a “YALE” stamp in dark ink. And along the bottom verso, a docket in handwriting of John Whitmer, “”, is inscribed in ink.William E. Benjamin, a New York autograph and rare book collector and dealer, likely obtained the license circa late 1899 from Whitmer family member George Schweich when Benjamin obtained the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. William R. Coe obtained the document by the early 1950s at the latest, after which the Coe collection was obtained by the Beinecke Library at Yale University.
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This certified that was an “ of Jesus Christ[,] an of this .” It was penned by at the first of the church on 9 June 1830 and was endorsed by JS and Cowdery, the first and second elders of the church. As called for in “Articles and Covenants,” which was formally accepted by church members at this conference, the newly founded Church of Christ issued certificates to members as a public proclamation of their affiliation with and ordination in the church. Whitmer received his license along with four other elders, three , and two . Three of these licenses—those for John Whitmer, Joseph Smith Sr., and Christian Whitmer—are extant. This apparently initiated the practice of issuing licenses for men holding offices in the church.The Church of Christ had been established two months earlier, on 6 April 1830. stated that “the church was called together and the acknowledged according to the laws of ,” and though no documents of incorporation for the church survive, the procedure followed at the organizational meeting and the wording of these certificates seem to reflect the language and spirit of an 1813 New York law for the “incorporation of religious societies.” Whether the church was formally incorporated or not, ’s certificate implies that church members may have been using the New York law as their guide.The license for certified that he had been according to the “Articles & Covenants,” the church’s founding document, and ordained by JS. The license also declared that Whitmer was both an apostle and an elder. The title “apostle,” however, was later crossed out. Though it is unknown when the redaction was made, it may have been made after were called in 1835 and might thus have been an attempt to reinterpret the license’s meaning in hindsight. Even though a June 1829 revelation foreshadowed the calling of twelve “disciples,” the certificate likely designated as an apostle in the sense of one who was commissioned or sent forth to preach, not one who was to a specific office with the title “apostle.” No one was described as an apostle in official records in this period, including the early minutes of church , which typically listed the office of each male attendee. John Whitmer himself kept many of these records as the first church historian and also wrote a personal daybook after 1832, but he gave himself other titles in these writings and never called himself an apostle. Nonetheless, when John Whitmer was sent to in January 1831, sent him with a letter that read, “Receive him, for he is a brother greatly beloved, and an Apostle of this church,” which again likely referred to Whitmer’s role as a messenger and preacher rather than to an ecclesiastical office.The use of the term elder and the office itself were also developing as the Church of Christ grew. The Book of Mormon described the offices of teacher, priest, and , and by June 1829 drew from these accounts to create a list of duties for each in his “Articles of the Church of Christ.” Articles and Covenants, approved by the church on 9 June 1830, similarly described these offices but provided more detail, and also included the office of elder. Until June 1831, elder was the highest office one could hold in the church.
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