On 8 May 1838, JS prepared responses to a collection of questions he and other church leaders were asked approximately six months earlier while traveling from , Ohio, to , Missouri. The leaders had embarked on the trip in September 1837 in order to locate new gathering places for the and to organize church affairs in Far West. JS explained that on the journey, they held public meetings and were asked questions “daily and hourly . . . by all classes of people.” Upon his return, JS prepared a list of twenty questions—ranging from how the gold plates were discovered to whether the church practiced polygamy—and then published the list in the November 1837 issue of the Elders’ Journal, promising that the next issue would include answers to the queries. The next issue was not published until July 1838, after JS relocated from to and the periodical was reestablished in Far West.
JS’s journal entry for 8 May 1838 notes that he spent “the after part of the day, in answering the questions proposed.” He may have begun developing answers at the time the questions were asked in late 1837, perhaps in the public meetings the church leaders held in towns and villages in , , and along the way to . JS noted that the meetings “were tended with good success and generally allayed the prejudice and feeling of the people, as we judge from the treatment we received, being kindly and hospitably entertained.” Whatever the tone of JS’s initial oral responses to interested non-Mormons, he adopted a playful attitude in his written answers for the Latter-day Saint audience of the July 1838 issue of the Elders’ Journal. It is unknown whether JS or others continued working on the answers after 8 May 1838. Because the original document is apparently not extant, it remains unclear whether JS wrote the answers himself or relied on a scribe.
was translated, in a hill in , Ontario County New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them, and the with them; by the means of which, I translated the ; and thus came the book of Mormon.
Question 5th. Do you believe Joseph Smith Jr. to be a prophet?
Answer. Yes, and every other man who has the testimony of Jesus. “For the testimony of Jesus, is the spirit of prophecy.”— Rev. 19:10.
Question 6th. Do the Mormons believe in having all things common?
Question 7th. Do the Mormons believe in having more wives than one.
Answer. No, not at the same time. But they believe, that if their companion dies, they have a right to marry again. But we do disapprove of the custom which has gained in the world, and has been practised among us, to our great mortification, of marrying in five or six weeks, or even in two or three months after the death of their companion.
We believe that due respect ought to be had, to the memory of the dead, and the feelings of both friends and children.
Question 8th. Can they raise the dead.
Answer. No, nor any other people that now lives or ever did live. But God can raise the dead through man, as an instrument.
Question 9th. What signs do Jo Smith give of his divine mission.
Answer. The signs which God is pleased to let him give: according as his wisdom thinks best: in order that he may judge the world agreably to his own plan.
Question 10. Was not Jo Smith a money digger.
Answer. Yes, but it was never a very profitable job to him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.
Question 11th. Did not Jo Smith steal his .
Answer. Ask her; she was of age, she can answer for herself.
Question 12th. Do the people have to give up their money, when they join his church.
Answer. No other requirement than to bear their proportion of the expenses of the church, and support the poor.
Question 13th. Are the Mormons abolitionists.
Answer. No, unless delivering the people from , and the priests from the prower of satan, should be considered such.— But we do not believe in setting the Negroes free.
Question 14th. Do they not stir up the Indians to war and to commit depredations.
Answer. No, and those who reported the story, knew it was false when they put it into circulation. These and similar reports, are pawned upon the people by the priests, and this is the reason why we ever thought of answering them.
Question 15th. Do the Mormons in the name of Jo Smith.
Answer. No, but if they did, it would be as valid as the baptism administered by the sectarian priests.
Question 16th. If the Mormon doctrine is true what has become of all those who have died since the days of the apostles.
Answer. All those who have not had an opportunity of hearing the gospel, and being administered to by an inspired man in the flesh, must have it hereafter, before they can be finally judged.
Question 17th. Does not Jo Smith profess to be Jesus Christ.
Answer. No, but he professes to be his brother, as all other saints have done, and now do.— Matthew, 12:49, 50— And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples and said, Behold my mother and my brethren: For whosoever shall do the will of my father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
Question 18th. Is there any thing in the Bible which lisences you to believe in revelation now a days.
Answer. Is there any thing that does not authorize us to believe so; if there is, we have, as yet, not been able to find it.
Question 19th. Is not the cannon of the Scriptures full. [p. 43]
The Book of Mormon describes revelatory stones, or “interpreters,” that could be used to “translate all records that are of ancient date.”a JS recounted finding such instruments with the plates and using them to translate the record on the plates into English.b Extant documents suggest that the biblical term Urim and Thummim was first applied to the interpreters by William W. Phelps in 1833 and that JS adopted the term thereafter.c JS also used other seer stones to translate the plates.d After 1833, JS at times referred to seer stones as Urim and Thummim.e
In nineteenth-century America, relatives were expected to mourn for set periods of time after the death of a spouse, parent, or child; the length of mourning varied depending on a relative’s age, gender, class, region, and relationship to the deceased individual. (Faust, This Republic of Suffering, 148; Hall, Social Customs, 255–264.)
Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York: Knopf, 2008.
Hall, Florence Howe. Social Customs. Boston: Dana Estes, 1887.
Several of JS’s contemporaries recounted his participation in treasure-seeking activities in the 1820s in locations ranging from the area of Manchester, New York, to the area of Harmony, Pennsylvania. (Trial Proceedings, Bainbridge, NY, 20 Mar. 1826, State of New York v. JS [J.P. Ct. 1826], in “The Original Prophet,” Fraser’s Magazine, Feb. 1873, 229–230; “A Document Discovered,” Utah Christian Advocate, Jan. 1886, 1; see also JS History, vol. A-1, 7–8; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 48–52; and Vogel, “Locations of Joseph Smith’s Early Treasure Quests,” 197–231.)
“The Original Prophet. By a Visitor to Salt Lake City.” Fraser’s Magazine 7, no. 28 (Feb. 1873): 225–235.
Bushman, Richard Lyman. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. With the assistance of Jed Woodworth. New York: Knopf, 2005.
Vogel, Dan. “The Locations of Joseph Smith’s Early Treasure Quests.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27, no. 3 (Fall 1994): 197–231.
Emma Hale was twenty-two years old when she married JS in South Bainbridge (later Afton), New York, on 18 January 1827. Because her father, Isaac Hale, opposed the union, the claim arose that JS “stole” Emma. She stated in a February 1879 interview with her son Joseph Smith III, “I had no intention of marrying when I left home; but, during my visit at Mr. Stowell’s, your father visited me there. My folks were bitterly opposed to him; and, being importuned by your father, aided by Mr. Stowell, who urged me to marry him, and preferring to marry him to any other man I knew, I consented. We went to Squire [Zachariah] Tarbell’s and were married.” (Isaac Hale, Affidavit, Harmony, PA, 20 Mar. 1834, in “Mormonism,” Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian [Montrose, PA], 1 May 1834, ; Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, 289.)
Susquehanna Register, and Northern Pennsylvanian. Montrose, PA. 1831–1836.
In February 1831, a JS revelation outlined the “Laws of the Church of Christ,” which included the principle of consecration, or donation, of personal and real property to the church. Latter-day Saints who consecrated their property were to receive a stewardship over property that met their needs. Consecrated property was intended to be used to support church financial programs and “to administer to the poor and needy.” (Revelation, 9 Feb. 1831 [D&C 42:34]; see also Cook, Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration, 29–42.)
Cook, Lyndon W. Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration. Provo, UT: Grandin Book, 1985.
An American Dictionary of the English Language: Intended to Exhibit, I. the Origin, Affinities and Primary Signification of English Words, as far as They Have Been Ascertained. . . . Edited by Noah Webster. New York: S. Converse, 1828.
Although many early Latter-day Saints came from northern states, where opposition to slavery was gaining ground, church leaders during the mid-1830s tended to favor the status quo on slavery and to oppose abolitionism. This approach partly stemmed from the July 1833 eruption of violence in Jackson County, Missouri, after vigilantes misunderstood an article in the church newspaper The Evening and the Morning Star that addressed the status of free blacks under Missouri law.a Further complicating the church’s relationship with the institution of slavery, missionaries converted hundreds of individuals—including some slave owners—in Kentucky, Tennessee, and other southern states during the 1830s.b The declaration on government and law published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants contained a clause stating that missionaries should not baptize slaves without the master’s consent.c In 1836, in response to a recent lecture by abolitionist John W. Alvord in Kirtland, JS published an editorial in the church periodical Messenger and Advocate disavowing abolitionism and even citing biblical references in defense of the institution of slavery.d
As early as 1831, allegations arose that Latter-day Saint missionaries were seeking to convert Indians and instigate Indian attacks on non-Mormons. These claims were based on Book of Mormon prophecies (echoing language in the biblical book of Micah) that the “remnant of the House of Jacob,” which some Latter-day Saints interpreted as meaning converted Native Americans, would be “as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through, both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.”a In 1832 JS cautioned church members against discussing these prophecies, fearing that people outside of the church would believe that the Latter-day Saints were “putting up the Indians to slay” whites and that this conclusion would endanger “the lives of the Saints evry where.”b Fears that the Saints were “tampering” with Indians contributed to opposition toward Latter-day Saint settlements in Jackson County, Missouri, in 1833 and Clay County, Missouri, in 1836, prompting church leaders to deny having any connection with Native Americans and stating that the Saints feared “the barbarous cruelty of rude savages” as other frontier whites did.c
Passages in the Book of Mormon emphasize that baptism must be administered by proper authority. Soon after the church was organized in April 1830, JS dictated a revelation declaring that “old covenants”—meaning baptisms administered by officials in other churches—were invalid. Converts were therefore instructed to receive baptism into this “last covenant and this church,” which God had caused “to be built up . . . even as in days of old.” (Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., 200–201, 477–478, 479 [Mosiah 21:33–35; 3 Nephi 11:21–22; 12:1]; Revelation, 16 Apr. 1830 [D&C 22:1–3].)
In 1832 JS and Sidney Rigdon reported receiving a vision of the afterlife. In this vision, they saw those “who died with out Law” and “the spirits of men kept in prison whom the son visited and preached the gospel” so that they “might be judged according to men in the flesh,” a reference to 1 Peter 3:18–19 and 4:6. Four years later, JS reported that he received a vision of the “celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof,” wherein he saw his deceased brother Alvin. JS recounted his amazement upon learning that Alvin was in that kingdom, even though Alvin had not been baptized. According to JS’s account of the vision, the Lord declared, “All who have died with[out] a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it, if they had been permited to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.” These visions indicated that salvation would ultimately be made available for all of humanity. (Vision, 16 Feb. 1832 [D&C 76:73]; JS, Journal, 21 Jan. 1836; see also Givens, Wrestling the Angel, 245–255.)
Givens, Terryl L. Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.