License for Frederick G. Williams, 20 March 1833

The Church of Christ

The Book of Mormon related that when Christ set up his church in the Americas, “they which were baptized in the name of Jesus, were called the church of Christ.” The first name used to denote the church JS organized on 6 April 1830 was “the Church of Christ...

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’s foundational “Articles and Covenants” instructed leaders to issue licenses

A document certifying an individual’s office in the church and authorizing him “to perform the duty of his calling.” The “Articles and Covenants” of the church implied that only elders could issue licenses; individuals ordained by a priest to an office in...

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to men ordained

The conferral of power and authority; to appoint, decree, or set apart. Church members, primarily adults, were ordained to ecclesiastical offices and other responsibilities by the laying on of hands by those with the proper authority. Ordinations to priesthood...

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to the office of priest

An ecclesiastical and priesthood office. In the Book of Mormon, priests were described as those who baptized, administered “the flesh and blood of Christ unto the church,” and taught “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” A June 1829 revelation directed...

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or teacher

Generally, one who instructs, but also an ecclesiastical and priesthood office. The Book of Mormon explained that teachers were to be ordained “to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end...

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.1 This instruction provided precedent for supplying official licenses to other church office holders as well. A license demonstrated to those both inside and outside the church that authority for a particular calling or office had been appropriately granted to the license holder. A February 1831 revelation required that no one “go forth to preach my gospel or to build up my church except they be ordained by some one that hath authority & it is known to the church that he hath authority & have been regularly ordained by the leaders of the church.”2

Revelation, 9 Feb. 1831 [D&C 42:11]; see also Minutes, 2 May 1833.  

A license thus served not only to identify those authorized to proselytize and perform other ministerial activities but also to prevent imposture within the church.3

Preachers and ministers in other religious denominations likewise held and carried licenses. Some licenses clarified a person’s standing within a church, while others attested to bearers’ “good moral and religious character” and occasionally to their literary, educational, and theological qualifications. (Ratio Disciplinae, 158; see also, for example, Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 52, 455; Smith, History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 607–610; Constitution and Discipline of the Methodist Protestant Church, 19; and “License, A Form of,” in Baptist Encyclopedia, 701.)  

Two days after he had been ordained to the presidency of the high priesthood

Both the office of the president of the high priesthood and the body comprising the president and his counselors; the presiding body of the church. In November 1831, a revelation directed the appointment of a president of the high priesthood. The individual...

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, Frederick G. Williams

28 Oct. 1787–10 Oct. 1842. Ship’s pilot, teacher, physician, justice of the peace. Born at Suffield, Hartford Co., Connecticut. Son of William Wheeler Williams and Ruth Granger. Moved to Newburg, Cuyahoga Co., Ohio, 1799. Practiced Thomsonian botanical system...

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received a license from JS and Sidney Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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. Williams had worked as JS’s scribe for the previous year and as his counselor since January 1833. He and Rigdon were each called to be a president of the high priesthood in a revelation dictated on 8 March 1833.4 Ten days later, on 18 March, at an assembly of high priests

An ecclesiastical and priesthood office. Christ and many ancient prophets, including Abraham, were described as being high priests. The Book of Mormon used the term high priest to denote one appointed to lead the church. However, the Book of Mormon also discussed...

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in Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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, Ohio, JS ordained Rigdon and Williams “by the Laying on of the hands

A practice in which individuals place their hands upon a person to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, ordain to an office or calling, or confer other power, authority, or blessings, often as part of an ordinance. The Book of Mormon explained that ecclesiastical...

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to be equal with him in holding the Keys

Authority or knowledge of God given to humankind. In the earliest records, the term keys primarily referred to JS’s authority to unlock the “mysteries of the kingdom.” Early revelations declared that both JS and Oliver Cowdery held the keys to bring forth...

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of the Kingdom and also to the Presidency of the high Priest hood.”5 Williams’s license, featured here, affirmed his authority and worthiness to perform ministerial duties in connection with his new office. It is the first extant license issued by the church attesting to moral character and providing evidence of spiritual worthiness, a function that would characterize church licenses and certificates from the mid-1830s forward. Whereas this and all earlier licenses were handwritten documents, from February 1834 onward, individuals received licenses that were typically printed forms with blank lines where the issuer would write in his name, the date, and the name of the person receiving the license.6

By 1834 church licenses were more standardized, providing proof of church membership, certification of ordination to an office or calling, authorization to perform a specific church duty, evidence of moral character and worthiness, and permission to travel and preach. For examples of earlier licenses, see License for John Whitmer, 9 June 1830; License for Christian Whitmer, 9 June 1830; and License for Joseph Smith Sr., 9 June 1830; see also License for Edward Partridge, ca. 4 Aug. 1831–ca. 5 Jan. 1832; License for William Smith, 5 Oct. 1831; License for Frederick G. Williams, 25 Feb. 1834; License for John P. Greene, 25 Feb. 1834; and Elders’ Certificates for JS and Oliver Cowdery, 21 Mar. 1836, Kirtland Elders’ Certificates, 1.