Letter to Hyrum Smith and Nauvoo High Council, 5 December 1839

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Corner of Missouri & 3d. Street,
Dec 5th 1839.
Dear . and to the Honorable of the . To whom be fellowship, love and the peace of Almighty God extended and the prayer of faith forever and <​ever​> Amen, Your fellow labourers, Joseph Smith Jr, and , as well as the servants that are sent by you, to perform one of the most arduous and responsible duties, and also to labour in the most honorable cause that <​ever​> graced the pages of human existance; and respectfully show by these lines, that we have taken up our cross thus far— and that we arrived in this on the morning of the 28th. of November, and spent the most of that day in looking up a boarding house which we succeeded in in finding. We found as cheap boarding as can be had in this city.
On friday morning 29th we proceeded <​to​> the house of the — We found a very large and splendid palace, surrounded with a splendid enclosure decorated with all the fineries and elegancies of this world we went to the door and requested to see the ; when we were immediately introduced into an upper apartment where we met the and were introduced into his parlor, where we presented him with our Letters of introductions;— as soon as he had read one of them, he looked upon us with a kind of half frown and said, what can I do? I can do nothing for you,— if I do any thing, I shall come in contact with the whole State of — But we were not to be intimidated, and demanded a hearing and constitutional rights— Before we left him he promised to reconsider what he had said, and observed that he felt to sympathise with us on account of our sufferings,— Now we shall endeavor to express our feelings and views concerning the , as we have been eye witnesses of his Majesty— He is a small man, sandy complexion, and ordinary features; with [p. 85] frowning brow and considerable body but not well proportioned, as his arms and legs— and to use his own words is quite fat— On the whole we think his he is without boddy or parts, as no one part seems to be proportioned to another— therefore instead of saying boddy and parts we say boddy and part, or partyism if you please to call it, and in fine to come directly to the point, he so much a fop or a fool, (for he judged our cause before he knew it,) we could find no place to put truth into him— We do not <​say​> the Saints shall not vote for him, but we do say boldly, (though it need not be published in the streets of , neither among the daughters of the ,) That we do not intend he shall have our votes—
We have spent the remainder of our time in hunting up the Representatives, in order to get our case brought before the house; in giving them Letters of introductions &c, and in getting acquainted— Meeting, of the delegation of the State of , was appointed to day, to consult for bringing our case before Congress. The Gentlemen from Illinois, are worthy men, and have treated <​us​> and have with the greatest kindness, and are ready to do all that is in their power— but you are aware brethren that they with us have all the prejudices, superstition and bigotry of an ignorant generation to contend with, nevertheless we believe our case will be brought before the house, and we will leave the event with God— he is our Judge and the avenger of our wrongs— For a general thing there is but little solidity and honorable deportment among those who are sent here to represent the people; but a great deal of pomposity and show— We left <​and others​> on the road and recd. a Letter this day from them— They were, at the date of a Letter on the 29th. Nov., near Washington of Pa. expecting to stop a day or two at his brothers, on account of his ill health— He has <​occasionally​> a chill yet but is not dangerous— We expect him here soon, and and stand in need of his talents here very much.
We have already commenced forming some very honorable acquaintances— and have thus far been prospered as [p. 86] much as we had anticipated if not more— We have had a pleasing interview with , who proposed to furnish us with expense money—
We can draw on him for funds to publish our book and we want you to raise some more money for us and deposit it in the branch Bank on in to be drawn to the order of .
Send us the amount of the order your deposit, taking a receipt of the same— You need not be afraid to do this, as <​We​> think from the proceeds of the sales of books— We can make it all strait: do therefore be punctual, and attend to this matter; as much depends upon it. We cannot accomplish the things for which we were sent without some funds— You very well know brethren we were contented to start, trusting in God with little or nothing— We have met with but one accident since we started— The lock of our trunk was broken off and Bro. s. petition is missing, but we presume there is a copy of it preserved; if there is you will please forward it immediately, with the name and affidavit affixed to it. For Gods. sake Bretheren be wide awake, and arm us with all the power possible, for now is the time or never— We want you should get all the influential men you can of that section of country of and every other quarter to write letters to the members of Congress, using their influence in our behalf, and to keep their minds constantly upon the subject. Please to forward this to our wives
in the bonds of the ,
Joseph Smith Jr.
Congress has been in session four days and the house of Representatives is not yet organized on account of some seats being contested, in the Delegation. They have this day succeeded [p. 87] in electing to their chair protem; but whether they will git their speaker and clerk chosen is yet unknown, as there is a great deal of wind blown off on the occasion each day— There is such an itching disposition to display their oratory on the most trivial occasions and so much etiquett, bowing and scraping, twisting and turning to, make a display of their witticism that it seems to us rather a display of folly and show more than substance & gravity, such as becomes a great nation like ours. (however there are some exceptions) A warm feeling has been manifested in the discussion of the house to day, and it seems as much confusion as though the nation had already began to be vexed— We came with one of the members from Wheeling to this place, who was drunk but once and that however was all <​most of​> the time; there was but one day but what he could navigate and that day he was keeld. over so he could eat no dinner— The horses ran away with the stage, they ran about 3 miles; several pasengers jumped out and were hurt, bro.r Jos. clum out of the stage— got the lines and stoped the horses, and also saved the life of a lady & child. He was highly commended by the whole company for his great exertions and presence of mind through the whole affair.— jumped out of the stage at a favourable moment, just before they stoped with a view to assist in stop[p]ing them and was but slightly injured— We were not known to the stage company until after our arrival, In our interview with the , He interogated us wherein we differed in our religion from the other religions of the day. Bro, Joseph said we differed in mode of and the by the — We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost, and we deemed it unnecessary to make many words in preaching the Gospel to him— Suffice it to say he has got our testimony— We watch the Post Office like a Turkey Buzzard <​watches for​> carcase, but have recd no letters from our sections of the Country— Write instantly
Yours with respect
J. S Jr.
[p. 88]


  1. 1

    JS and Higbee composed the letter at the boardinghouse in which they were staying on the corner of Missouri Avenue and Third Street in Washington DC, which was approximately four miles from the President’s House.  

  2. 2

    See James 5:15.  

  3. 3

    See Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; 10:21; and Luke 9:23.  

  4. 4

    Van Buren was criticized by several of his political rivals for the opulent way in which he remodeled and decorated the President’s House during the early part of his term in office. (Seale, President’s House, 214–215, 221–224.)  

    Seale, William. The President’s House: A History. Vol. 1. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

  5. 5

    The meeting most likely occurred in an upper-floor room adjacent to the president’s office where the president regularly received large groups of visitors. According to architectural plans of the President’s House, that room was called the Audience Room at the time. (Phillips-Schrock, White House, 157–161.)  

    Phillips-Schrock, Patrick. The White House: An Illustrated Architectural History. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013.

  6. 6

    See Historical Introduction to Letter of Introduction from Sidney Rigdon, 9 Nov. 1839.  

  7. 7

    “Come in contact with” was an idiom meaning to contradict or to disagree with. (See “Contact,” in Oxford English Dictionary, 2:889.)  

    Oxford English Dictionary. Compact ed. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

  8. 8

    See 2 Peter 1:16.  

  9. 9

    This sentence appears to be a humorous reference to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which states, “There is but one only, living, and true God . . . a most pure Spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions.” (Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament Sitting at Westminster, concerning a Confession of Faith, 5.)  

    The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament Sitting at Westminster, concerning a Confession of Faith: With the Quotations and Texts of Scripture Annexed. Presented by Them Lately to Both Houses of Parliament. Edinburgh: Evan Tyler, 1647.

  10. 10

    The church’s critics in Missouri frequently claimed that church members represented a sizeable voting bloc that could sway elections in the direction church leaders desired. While in Indiana on his return trip to Commerce, JS reportedly announced his support of the leading Whig presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison. (“A Glance at the Mormons,” Alexandria [VA] Gazette, 11 July 1840, [2]; Corrill, Brief History, 33; Letter from Elias Higbee, 24 Mar. 1840.)  

    Alexandria Gazette. Alexandria, VA. 1834–1877.

  11. 11

    In December 1839, the Illinois delegation to the United States Congress consisted of representatives Zadok Casey (Democrat), John Reynolds (Democrat), and John Todd Stuart (Whig); and senators John M. Robinson (Democrat) and Richard M. Young (Democrat). (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 119, 797, 1800, 1823, 1995, 2214.)  

    Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, the Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, inclusive. Edited by Andrew R. Dodge and Betty K. Koed. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005.

  12. 12

    JS and Higbee parted company with Rigdon and Robert D. Foster while en route to Washington DC because Rigdon’s illness was slowing down the group. (Historical Introduction to Letter of Introduction from Sidney Rigdon, 9 Nov. 1839.)  

  13. 13

    Washington, Pennsylvania, is a town in the southwestern part of the state. In 1840 the town had a population of over four thousand and was a prominent stop on the National Road. (Compendium of the Enumeration of the Inhabitants and Statistics of the United States, 24–26; Raitz, National Road, 17, 113.)  

    Compendium of the Enumeration of the Inhabitants and Statistics of the United States, as Obtained at the Department of State, from the Returns of the Fifth Census. . . . Washington: Thomas Allen, 1831.

    Raitz, Karl. The National Road. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

  14. 14

    Rigdon stayed with his brother Carvel, a member of the church who resided in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, which bordered Washington County and was near Rigdon’s childhood home. (“Records of Early Church Families,” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 27 [Oct. 1936]: 156–158; “History of Luke Johnson,” [2], Historian’s Office, Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861, CHL; 1840 U.S. Census, Upper St. Clair Township, Allegheny Co., PA, 128.)  

    “Records of Early Church Families.” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 27 (Oct. 1936): 156–162.

    Historian’s Office. Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861. CHL. CR 100 93.

    Census (U.S.) / U.S. Bureau of the Census. Population Schedules. Microfilm. FHL.

  15. 15

    Rigdon’s peers celebrated him as a particularly gifted orator. In 1838 Edmund Flagg described Rigdon as having “a full face of fire, a fine tenour voice, and a mild and persuasive eloquence of speech.” Amos S. Hayden recalled decades later that Rigdon’s language was “copious, fluent in utterance, with articulation clear and musical.” ([Flagg], Far West, 2:113; Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, 192.)  

    [Flagg, Edmund]. The Far West; or, A Tour beyond the Mountains. Embracing Outlines of Western Life and Scenery; Sketches of the Prairies, Rivers, Ancient Mounds, Early Settlements of the French, Etc., Etc. 2 vols. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1838.

    Hayden, Amos Sutton. Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio; with Biographical Sketches of the Principal Agents in Their Religious Movement. Cincinnati: Chase and Hall, 1875.

  16. 16

    Likely An Appeal to the American People, which was approved for publication by a 1 November 1839 conference at Quincy, Illinois. ([Rigdon], Appeal to the American People, [2].)  

  17. 17

    Likely the Quincy branch of the State Bank of Illinois. (Richard M. Young, Washington DC, to Elias Higbee, 9 Apr. 1840, in JS Letterbook 2, pp. 133–134.)  

  18. 18

    Hyrum Smith subsequently deposited $300 with merchants in Quincy, which JS and Higbee could then withdraw in Washington DC. (Letter from Hyrum Smith, 2 Jan. 1840.)  

  19. 19

    Wight wrote his petition pursuant to JS’s request that the Saints gather “a knowledge of all the facts and suffering and abuses put upon them by the people of this state [Missouri].” There are two petitions authored by Wight to which this letter may be referring, though there are only minor textual differences between the two documents. (Letter to Edward Partridge and the Church, ca. 22 Mar. 1839 [D&C 123:1]; Lyman Wight, Petition, ca. 1839, microfilm, Martin Van Buren, Correspondence, 1839–1844, CHL; Lyman Wight, Petition, ca. 1839, CHL.)  

    Van Buren, Martin. Correspondence, 1839–1844. Photocopies. CHL. MS 12809. Original at Library of Congress, Washington DC.

    Wight, Lyman. Petition, Liberty, MO, 15 Mar. 1839. CHL. MS 24547.

  20. 20

    As the Twenty-Sixth Congress commenced, two separate delegations from New Jersey—one Whig, one Democrat—arrived at the United States Capitol, each claiming to be that state’s duly elected delegation to the House of Representatives. Of the six seats New Jersey held in the House, five were contested due to actions of local elections officials. Because of the strong partisan divide within the House of Representatives (which contained 119 Democrats and 118 Whigs, not including the contested New Jersey seats), the question of which New Jersey delegates to seat elicited a heated and prolonged debate that prevented the House from formally organizing and conducting legislative business for fourteen days. The House ultimately decided to seat the Democratic representatives. (Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 26th Cong., 1st Sess., 2–16 Dec. 1839, 3–80; 10 Mar. 1840, 569–578; Alexander Johnston, “Broad Seal War,” in Lalor, Cyclopaedia of Political Science, 309.)  

    Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, Being the First Session of the Twenty-Sixth Congress, Begun and Held at the City of Washington, December 2, 1839, and in the Sixty-Fourth Year of the Independence of the Said United States. Washington DC: Blair and Rives, 1839.

    Lalor, John J. Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States, by the Best American and European Writers. Vol. 1, Abdication–Duty. Chicago: Melbert B. Carey, 1883.

  21. 21

    Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 26th Cong., 1st Sess., 5 Dec. 1839, 6. The chair pro tem is a placeholder, in this case a person who acted as Speaker of the House of Representatives until the legislative body was fully organized and ready to elect one of its members to that position.  

    Journal, of the House of Representatives, of the State of Missouri, at the First Session of the Tenth General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Jefferson, on Monday, the Nineteenth Day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Jefferson City, MO: Calvin Gunn, 1839.

  22. 22

    This “warm feeling” pertained to the controversy that surrounded the seating of delegates from New Jersey, about which several passionate speeches were made by delegates supporting one side of the conflict or the other. (See Congressional Globe, 26th Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 17–20.)  

    The Congressional Globe, Containing Sketches of the Debates and Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Congress. Vol. 8. Washington DC: Blair and Rives, 1840.

  23. 23

    See Revelation, 16–17 Dec. 1833 [D&C 101:89].  

  24. 24

    The four men representing Missouri in the Twenty-Sixth Congress were Senator Thomas Hart Benton, Senator Lewis F. Linn, Representative John Jameson, and Representative John Miller. (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 120, 646, 1324, 1452, 1586.)  

    Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, the Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, inclusive. Edited by Andrew R. Dodge and Betty K. Koed. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005.

  25. 25

    Wheeling, Virginia (later in West Virginia), was a town through which the National Road passed. (Raitz, National Road, 7, 113–114.)  

    Raitz, Karl. The National Road. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

  26. 26

    Decades later, Robert D. Foster gave a detailed account of this incident to Joseph Smith III, but because Foster was not present during the event, his memory likely came from accounts he heard from JS and Higbee. (Robert D. Foster, Loda, IL, to Joseph Smith III, 14 Feb. 1874, in Saints’ Herald, 14 Apr. 1888, 225–226.)  

    Saints’ Herald. Independence, MO. 1860–.