Motto, circa 16 or 17 March 1838
JS, Motto,Far West, MO, ca. 16 or 17 Mar. 1838; in JS, Journal, Mar.–Sept. 1838, pp. 16–17; handwriting of
Originally called Shoal Creek. Located fifty-five miles northeast of Independence. Surveyed 1823; first settled by whites, 1831. Site purchased, 8 Aug. 1836, before Caldwell Co. was organized for Latter-day Saints in Missouri. William W. Phelps and John Whitmer...More Info
Within a few days of arriving at Far West, Missouri, JS composed a “Motto of the Church of Christ of Latterday Saints.” Regarding the motto’s creation, JS later related to his scribe, George W. Robinson, that he arrived in Far West on 14 March 1838, that his younger brother Samuel arrived two or three days later—which would have been 16 or 17 March—and that “shortly after his [Samuel Smith’s] arrival while walking with him & cirtain other bretheren the following sentements occured to my mind.” The motto was apparently written down during or soon after their walk and then signed by JS and the other men while they were still with him.The date the original document was produced is uncertain, though it was most likely sometime between 16 and 29 March 1838. JS enclosed a copy of the motto with his 29 March letter to the presidency of the church in Kirtland, Ohio. In that letter, JS reported that Robinson had arrived the previous day and that the letter included “the folowing motto of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints Recorded on Pages 16 & 17 of J Smith Jr Scriptory Record Book A.” The motto was indeed inscribed in the Scriptory Book on those pages and is in Robinson’s handwriting, indicating that Robinson copied the motto into the Scriptory Book on 28 or 29 March and then the motto was copied from the Scriptory Book into the letter to the Kirtland presidency, perhaps by Robinson. If the motto had been composed within a few days of Robinson’s arrival, he or JS might have dated the document. Instead, the copy of the motto in the Scriptory Book is introduced with a retrospective narrative, suggesting that the motto was composed closer to the arrival of Samuel Smith, around 16 or 17 March. Robinson’s signature appears at the end of the motto in the Scriptory Book, to the side of the other signatures, suggesting that he added his signature to the others as he was transcribing the original motto into the Scriptory Book.The motto is a patriotic declaration extolling republican virtues and condemning political vices. Following months of persecution, the threat of violence, and legal wrangling in Ohio, JS no doubt hoped that he, as well as the Latter-day Saints collectively, might enjoy the civil, political, and religious rights articulated in the Constitution of the United States. Such desires are reflected in the motto. The motto affirms JS’s commitment to God, to principles of freedom and justice, to the Constitution, and to all “good and wholesome Law’s.” The motto also decries various forms of tyranny, including vexatious lawsuits.