Letter to Editor, 22 January 1840

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Chester Co Pa Jan. 22d 1840
Faith of the on Governments and Laws in general
Mr Editor Sir
For as much as many false rumors are a broad in the world concerning my self and the faith which I profess and that my belief with regard to Earthly governments and laws in general may not be miss interpreted nor miss understood I have thought proper to present for your consideration and for the consideration of the public (if you will do me the favour.) through your valuable and interesting paper my opinions concerning the same
First I believe that goverments were instituted of God for the benefit of man and that he holds men accountable for their their acts in relation to them Either in making laws or administering them for the good and Safety of Society
<​Secondly​> I believe that no goverment can exist in peace except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscince the right and controll of property and the protection of life
<​Third​> <​I​> We believe that all governments necessarily require civel officers and magistrates to inforce the Laws of the Same and that such as will administer the Law <​of the Same​> in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people (if a republick) or the will of the Sovreign
<​Fourth​> I believe that a religion is instiuted instituted of God and that men are ameniable to him <​and to him onley​> onley for the exercise of it unless their religious opinion prompts them to infringe upon the rights and <​libertey​> privalegs <​privaleges​> of others But I do not believe that human Law has a right to interfear in prescribing rules of worship to bind the conciences of men nor dictate forms for public or private devotion That the civel magistrate should restrane crime but never controll conscience should punish guilt but never supress the freedom of the <​soul​> [p. [1]]
<​5​> I believe that all men are bound to sustane and uphold the respective Governments in which they reside while protected in their inherent and in alienable rights by the Laws of such Governments and that Sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every Citizen thus prote[c]ted and should be punished accordingly and that all Governments have a right to enact such laws ass in their own judgements are best calculated to secure the public interest at the same time <​however​> holding sacred the freedom of concience
<​6​> I believe that every man should be honoured in his station Rulers and magistrates as such being plalaced [placed] for the protection of the inocent and the punishment of the guilty and that to the Laws all men owe respect and deference as with out them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and confusion terror human Laws being instituted for the express purposs of regulating our interests as individuals and Nations between— man and man and divine laws given of heaven prescribing rules on spiritual concerns for— faith and worship both to be answered by man to his maker
<​7​> I believe that rulers states and and governments have a right and are bound to enact Laws for the protection of all Citizen in the free exercise of their religious belief But I do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive Citizens of this privalege or proscribe them in their opinions so long as a regard and reverence are is Shown to the Laws and such religious opinions do not justify Sedition nor conspiracy
<​8​> I do not believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offence that murder treason Robbery theft and the breach of the general peace in all respects should be punished according to their criminalty and their tendancy to evil among men by the Laws of that Government in which the offence is committed and for the public peace and tranquility all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing the offenders aggainst good laws to justice punishment
<​9​> I do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civel government whereby one reli [p. [2]]gious Society is fostered and an other proscribed in its spiritual privaleges and the individual rights of its members as citizens denied
<​10​> I believe that all religious Society Societies have a right to deal with its <​their​> members for disorderly conduct according to the rules and regulations of such societies provided that such dealing be for fellowship and good Standing but we <​I​> doo not believe that any religious Society has authority to try men for <​on​> the right of property or life to take away <​from them​> this world’s goods or put them in Jepardy either life or limb neither to inflict any fisical [physical] punishment upon them They can onley excommunicate them from their society and with their with draw their <​from their​> fellowship
<​11​> I believe that men should appeal to the Civel law for redress of all wrongs and grieveences where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of propperty or character infringed where such laws exist as will protect the Same but we <​I​> believe that all men are Justified in defending thems Selves their friends and property and the government from <​the​> unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons in times of exigincies where immediate appeal cannot be— made to the Laws and relief afforded
<​12​> I believe it just to preach the Gospel to the Nations of the Earth and warn the Righteous to Save themselves from the corruptions of the world But I do not believe it right to interfear with bond Servants neither preach the gospel to nor them contrary to the will and wish of their masters nor to meddle with or influence them in the least contrary to the wish to cause them to be dissatisfied with their Sittuations in this life theirby jeopardiseing the lives of men Such interfearence we I believe to be unlawful and unjust and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in Servitude
<​13​> It has been reported by some vicious or de[s]igning characters that the believe in having their pro[p]erty in common and also the leaders of sade church controlls Said propperty— This is a base fabrication without the least the least shadow or collering of any thing to make it out of but on the contrary no persons feelings can be more repugnant to such [p. [3]] a principle than mine Every person in this has a right to controll his own propperty and is not required to do any thing except by his own free voluntary act That he may impart to the poor according to the requirement of the gospel. “Give to him that asketh thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn <​not​> thou not away” I Math 5 chap 42. v.
I believe in liveing a virtuous upright and holy life before God and feel it my duty <​to​> perswad [persuade] all men in my power to do the same: That they may ciase [cease] to do evil and learn to do well and brake off from their Sins by Rigteousness
I close this by subscribing my self yours mo[st] obedient Servent
Joseph Smith Jr— [p. [4]]


  1. 1

    The letter is dated 25 January 1840 in the Register and Examiner. (“The Latter Day Saints,” Register and Examiner [Chester Co., PA], 11 Feb. 1840, [1].)  

    Register and Examiner. West Chester, PA. 1836–1851.

  2. 2

    The published version of the letter replaces “for your consideration and for the consideration of the public (if you will do me the favour.) through your valuable and interesting paper” with “at the close of this volume,” matching the language in the introductory paragraph to “Of Governments and Laws in General” in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. (“The Latter Day Saints,” Register and Examiner [Chester Co., PA], 11 Feb. 1840, [1]; Declaration on Government and Law, ca. Aug. 1835 [D&C 134].)  

    Register and Examiner. West Chester, PA. 1836–1851.

  3. 3

    See Revelation, 16–17 Dec. 1833 [D&C 101:76–88]; and Revelation, 22 June 1834 [D&C 105:25].  

  4. 4

    In July 1838, Sidney Rigdon declared that “in times of war” the Saints should “meet our foes sword in hand, and defend our rights, at the expense of life.” In fall 1838, the Saints took actions—both preemptive and defensive—against Missourians in an effort to maintain their rights in the state. (Oration Delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon, on the 4th of July, 1838, 5; see also Baugh, “Call to Arms,” chaps. 5–10.)  

    Baugh, Alexander L. “A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1996. Also available as A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2000).

  5. 5

    The text from here to the end of the letter is not present in the statement “Of Governments and Laws in General” included in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. (Declaration on Government and Law, ca. Aug. 1835 [D&C 134].)  

  6. 6

    JS’s statements here probably refer to accusations such as those made by La Roy Sunderland, who had written a pamphlet that Methodists in the Chester County area used to counteract the efforts of Mormon missionaries. Among other things, the pamphlet contained a section titled “Mormonism Is a System of Money-Making.” This section stated that “all who submit to Mormon dictation must yield up all their earthly property which they do not need for their support.” The pamphlet claimed that once church members handed over their property, church leaders would continue to hold it even if members wanted to leave the church. Members did consecrate property when they were attempting to establish the city of Zion in Jackson County, Missouri, from 1831 to 1833. This consecration was in accordance with a February 1831 revelation that directed members to donate their money, goods, and land to the church, after which they would receive back an inheritance, or stewardship, based on their circumstances, needs, and wants. Bishops were to administer the law of consecration by receiving consecrated properties, determining stewardships, and managing surplus property in church storehouses. In May 1833, JS informed Edward Partridge, bishop in Missouri, that even if someone was cut off from the church, “his inheritance is his still,” although whatever property had been “consecrated to the poor, for their benefit, & inheritance, & stewardship, he cannot obtain again by the law of the Lord.” A July 1838 revelation eliminated the requirement of an initial consecration of property but instructed church members to give all “their surplus property” to the bishop and then a “tenth of all their interest annually” thereafter. (Sunderland, Mormonism Exposed and Refuted, 22, 33; see also Lorenzo Barnes, Wilmington, DE, 8 Sept. 1839, Letter to the Editor, Times and Seasons, Dec. 1839, 1:27–28; Revelation, 9 Feb. 1831 [D&C 42:30–34]; “Let Every Man Learn His Duty,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Jan. 1833, [5]; Revelation, 20 May 1831 [D&C 51:3–4]; Letter to Edward Partridge, 2 May 1833; and Revelation, 8 July 1838–C [D&C 119:1, 4].)  

    Sunderland, La Roy. Mormonism Exposed and Refuted. New York City: Piercy and Reed, 1838.

    Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

  7. 7

    See Isaiah 1:16–17.  

  8. 8

    See Daniel 4:27.  

  9. new scribe logo

    Signature of JS.