Discourse, ca. 4 July 1838. Featured version printed [ca. Aug. 1838] as Oration Delivered by Mr. S. Rigdon on the 4th of July, 1838, at Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, Far West, MO: Journal Office, 1838; eleven pages; CHL.
Three bifolia measuring 7¾ × 4⅞ inches (20 × 12 cm). At some point in time, the sheets were sewn together, leaving two needle holes along the fold; later, the sheets were resewn, leaving three holes. The pamphlet was later folded twice, possibly for carrying.
It is unknown when the featured copy of the published oration came into the possession of the Church History Library.
On 4 July 1838, delivered a lengthy discourse—which was possibly prepared with help from JS—celebrating the anniversary of independence, pledging allegiance to the nation, and asserting the right of the Latter-day Saints to defend themselves from persecution. The discourse was not an extemporaneous speech but a carefully prepared declaration responding to the developing circumstances in which the Saints found themselves. The “oration” delivered by Rigdon was the outgrowth of three related developments among the Latter-day Saints in 1838: a new resolve to resist adversaries and fend off legal harassment; a renewed effort to develop , Missouri, as a gathering center; and an assertion of the Saints’ rights to expand into neighboring counties unmolested.
The new resolve to fend off legal harassment grew out of the circumstance of the church community in , Ohio, in 1837, when it was severely challenged by economic difficulties, internal dissent, and considerable opposition from local antagonists, including legal harassment. As , editor of the newspaper in nearby , Ohio, later recounted: “Many of our citizens thought it advisable to take all the legal means within their reach to counteract the progress of so dangerous an enemy in their midst, and many law suits ensued.” Dozens of lawsuits were commenced in 1837 naming JS, , and other church leaders as defendants. This legal persecution contributed to the circumstances under which JS abandoned Kirtland in January 1838 and relocated to , with loyal church members to follow. Upon arriving in , JS composed a church “motto” that condemned all such “vexatious lawsuits.” However, these “vexatious” or petty and malicious lawsuits continued after the relocation to Missouri, as disaffected Mormons there initiated legal proceedings against JS and others and encouraged lawsuits for debt among the Saints generally. At the November 1838 hearing that followed the conflicts between the Saints and their Missouri neighbors, testified that in April 1838 JS and Rigdon “appeared to be vexed on account of troubles & law suits they had had.” Corrill, who had disaffected by the time he made his statement, recounted that the two men said “that they would suffer vexatious law suits no longer, & that they would resist even an officer in the discharge of his duty.” In addition, Circuit Court clerk and dissident Mormon testified at the hearing that JS had instructed him not to issue writs against church leaders in suits that appeared to be “vexatious.” While their biases and the specific details of their memory may be questioned, they do affirm the sentiment expressed in the church motto JS composed upon arriving in Far West.
The second development resulted from the abandonment of . Upon arriving in , JS and other church leaders refocused their efforts on developing the settlement as a new headquarters for the church. In late April 1838, they passed resolutions to construct new church buildings and to reestablish the church press and newspaper. JS also dictated a revelation that designated Far West a city of with a , also known as a temple. The revelation directed that the Saints begin laying the foundation for the sacred edifice on 4 July. The revelation closed by announcing that JS would also direct Mormon settlement in “the regions round about.”
The third development stemmed from anti-Mormon opposition to Mormon settlements outside of . Earlier, following the forced removals of the Saints from and counties in the mid-1830s, the legislature created Caldwell County with the intention that it could be safely settled by the Saints. Many anti-Mormons assumed that Mormon settlement would be confined to Caldwell County, although there is no contemporaneous evidence that church leaders agreed to any such arrangement. In June 1838, church members launched settlement projects in in to the north of Caldwell County and in in Carroll County to the southeast. Both settlements grew rapidly. During the previous year, JS had received information regarding ongoing opposition to the Saints settling in adjoining counties. Perhaps anticipating hostility to these settlements, he reportedly delivered a discourse in late June in which he declared that “if the people would let him alone he would conquer them by the sword of the Spirit, but if they would not he would beat the plow shears into swords & their pruning hooks into spears & conquer them.” At about the time of this speech, Mormon men in Caldwell County founded the Society of the Daughter of Zion (later known as the ), a vigilante group intent on defending the church from external opposition.
It was within the broad context of these three developments that the church planned its first formally sponsored Independence Day celebration. By the 1830s, many American communities commemorated independence from the British empire with festivities on 4 July. At these events, ministers, politicians, and other local leaders gave speeches that were frequently prepared in advance and then published. A “committee of arrangements” was appointed to prepare for the 1838 Independence Day celebration in . The committee appointed JS “president of the day”; , JS’s second counselor in the First Presidency, was appointed “vice president”; and , JS’s first counselor in the First Presidency, was named “orator” and invited to give the speech.
Mormon preachers in the 1830s did not normally prepare their sermons beforehand, preferring instead to rely on the Holy Ghost to direct their preaching. However, the text of the Independence Day oration was reportedly prepared in advance. , the church’s printer, recounted decades later that the oration “was a carefully prepared document, previously written, and well understood by the First Presidency.” Although it seems that Robinson meant that the document was prepared in advance and that its contents were understood by the entire First Presidency prior to Rigdon’s delivery, it is possible that Robinson also meant to imply that members of the First Presidency worked together in preparing the document. Rigdon, who was considered a learned and skilled orator, likely composed much or all of the text that he would deliver, but JS or Hyrum Smith may have collaborated in its composition, as the First Presidency had done in the past. It is also possible that JS provided general direction or advice on its content prior to its composition. Ultimately, it is unknown whether the oration was prepared by Rigdon on his own, by the First Presidency generally, or in another way.
The prepared oration was lengthy, amounting to over ten pages when printed. The opening section pledges allegiance to the nation and expresses deep patriotic sentiment. It rehearses the birth of the nation, venerates the founding fathers, and extols the political principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the , especially freedom of religion. It also recounts the history of persecutions endured by the Saints and the violations of their constitutional rights. The subject then shifts to the purpose and function of the they planned to build as a place of both religious and secular education. The secular education obtained therein would contribute to the national project of producing a literate citizenry that, through informed voting, could preserve American freedom. The conclusion of the speech returns to the violations of American freedom suffered by the Saints. Invoking the right to defend themselves, the oration declares the firm resolve of the Saints to resist any future physical threats or vexatious lawsuits. It threatened any mob who attacked them that they would fight back with deadly force and wage a “war of extermination.” This phrase was commonly used in the nineteenth century to describe intractable conflicts such as the violent struggles between European American settlers and Native American peoples. While adamant and somewhat threatening in tone, the oration clarifies that the Saints would never be the aggressors and would never violate the rights of others.
The discourse apparently drew on an 1833 JS revelation that provided guidance for how the Saints were to respond to future mob violence. If any man were to “smite” or otherwise attack them, the Saints were to “bear it patiently.” However, following an opponent’s third offense, the revelation instructed that the Saints were to “warn him in my [God’s] name that he come no more upon you.” If the antagonist persisted, the Saints were informed: “thine enemy is in thine hands and if thou reward him according to his works thou art Justified.” Similarly, the 1838 Independence Day oration featured here recounted how the Saints were “wearied of being smitten” and that they had endured this abuse “with patience.” The sermon further stated: “we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more,” proceeding then to declare that persecution would provoke a “war of extermination.” The close parallels between the two texts strongly suggest that the oration was deliberately formulated to comply with the requirements of the 1833 revelation. As First Presidency scribe wrote in JS’s journal, the discourse represented the church’s “decleration of Independance from all mobs and persecutions which have been inflicted upon us time after time untill we could bear it no longer.” Hereafter, all enemies had been duly warned and the Saints were justified in fighting back.
delivered the oration to a large audience. Recounting the events of the day in JS’s journal, estimated that there had been “several thousands of spectators” who gathered for the celebration, which was held at the public square in the center of . JS presided over the celebration. recalled that “a stand was erected for the officers and orator of the day, large enough also to seat several distinguished visitors.” This stand was erected on the north side of the public square. It was likely situated near the , in the northeast corner of the public square, where the presidency would oversee the ceremonial laying of the temple cornerstones. The celebration began at ten o’clock in the morning with a parade in which both the regiment of the state militia and the Danite society marched, as well as several church leaders and the temple architects. After the procession formed around the temple excavation, JS offered a prayer and the band played a number. Various church officers then participated in the ceremonial laying of the cornerstones for the temple that the Saints planned to build in their burgeoning community—a symbol that they intended to build a religiously oriented city and that they were building to stay. The procession of military and civilian officers then formed again around the stand, where the festivities culminated with Rigdon’s delivery of the oration. According to George W. Robinson, Rigdon delivered the discourse “under the hoisted flagg representing the Liberty and independence of these .” Following Rigdon’s emphatic conclusion that the Saints would no longer withstand persecution without fighting back, the assembled crowd responded with “a shout of hosanna.” The First Presidency then descended from the stand and “marched to the south side of the public square,” where the assembled troops “passed in review before them.” This demonstration of military preparedness brought the celebration to a close.
Efforts were soon made to publish the oration, perhaps as an attempt to further comply with the 1833 revelation’s injunction to warn the Saints’ opponents not to attack them. The text of the sermon was shared with attorney and newspaper editor Peter H. Burnett of , Missouri, who printed it in his paper, the Far West. Copies of this newspaper version of the oration are apparently not extant. The discourse was also published in pamphlet form by the church printing office in . Although the manuscript of the oration is not extant, church printer occasionally supplied clarifying information in brackets in the printed text, indicating that he was attempting to accurately reproduce the text of the manuscript he had been given. At the same time, however, Robinson introduced a few minor typographical errors. The August 1838 issue of the Elders’ Journal included an editorial by JS in which he encouraged church members to obtain copies of the pamphlet for its history of the church’s persecution and its expression of their “fixed determinations” that they would not “be mobed any more without taking vengeance.” Although the sermon struck a defensive posture and was intended as a declaration of freedom from further persecution, anti-Mormon vigilantes and newspapers regularly cited it in subsequent months as evidence that the Saints meant to defy the law and wage war against other Missouri citizens. For both the Latter-day Saints and their opponents in Missouri, the oration set the tone for the conflict that followed.
See Madsen, “Tabulating the Impact of Litigation on the Kirtland Economy,” 227–246.
Madsen, Gordon A. “Tabulating the Impact of Litigation on the Kirtland Economy.” In Sustaining the Law: Joseph Smith’s Legal Encounters, edited by Gordon A. Madsen, Jeffrey N. Walker, and John W. Welch, 227–246. Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2014.
See Motto, ca. 16 or 17 Mar. 1838. An influential nineteenth-century law dictionary defined a “vexatious suit” as “one which has been instituted maliciously, and without probable cause, whereby a damage has ensued to the defendant.” (“Vexatious Suit,” in Bouvier, Law Dictionary, 2:472.)
Bouvier, John. A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America, and of the Several States of the American Union; With References to the Civil and Other Systems of Foreign Law. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Deacon and Peterson, 1854.
Jackson, Brian. “‘As a Musician Would His Violin’: The Oratory of the Great Basin Prophets.” In A New History of the Sermon: The Nineteenth Century, edited by Robert H. Ellison, 489–520. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2010.
Ebenezer Robinson, “Items of Personal History of the Editor,” Return, Oct. 1889, 148. The contemporaneous report of the celebration published in the church newspaper also spoke of “the stand, where the oration was to be delivered.” (Celebration of the 4th of July, Aug. 1838.)
The Return. Davis City, IA, 1889–1891; Richmond, MO, 1892–1893; Davis City, 1895–1896; Denver, 1898; Independence, MO, 1899–1900.
Ebenezer Robinson, “Items of Personal History of the Editor,” Return, Nov. 1889, 171. The pamphlet’s title page named the “Journal Office” as the publisher. This was the church printing office that published the Elders’ Journal, the official church newspaper edited by JS.
The Return. Davis City, IA, 1889–1891; Richmond, MO, 1892–1893; Davis City, 1895–1896; Denver, 1898; Independence, MO, 1899–1900.
On 12 September 1838, anti-Mormons in Daviess County and Livingston County stated in a letter to Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs that “for several weeks past the Mormons have been making formidable preparation for a civil war—and one which they are pleased to call a war of extermination,” doubtless a reference to the 4 July 1838 oration. The editor of the Western Star, a newspaper based in Liberty, Missouri, asserted on 14 September that the 4 July speech contained “the essence of, if not treason itself” and that Rigdon’s declaration that vexatious lawsuits would not be tolerated was “a manifestation of a disposition to prevent the force of law.” (“Citizens of Daviess and Livingston Counties,” Daviess Co., MO, to Lilburn W. Boggs, 12 Sept. 1838, copy, Mormon War Papers, MSA; “The Mormons,” Missouri Argus [St. Louis], 27 Sept. 1838, .)
Mormon War Papers, 1838–1841. MSA.
Missouri Argus. St. Louis. 1835–1841.
enjoy the privileges, which, as saints of the living God, we enjoy in this land of liberty and freedom, where our most sacred rights, even that of worshiping our God according to his will, is secured unto us by law, and our religious rights so identified with the existence of the nation, that to deprive us of them, will be to doom the nation to ruin, and the Union to dissolution.
It is now three score and two years, since the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, caused the proclamation to go forth among the people of the continents, that the people of this nation should be free, and that over them, “kings should not rule, and princes decree authority;” and all this, preparatory to the great work which he had designed to accomplish in the last days, in the face of all people, in order, that the Son of God, the Savior of the world, should come down from heaven, and reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously; according to the testimony of all the holy prophets, since the world began. And it is eight years, two months, and twenty eight days, since this church of the last days was orgaaized, by the revelations of that same Jesus, who is coming to reign before his ancients gloriously: then consisting of six members only.
At its first appearance, excitement began to prevail among the people where it made its appearance, and as it increased in numbers, the excitement increased. The first attact made upon it, by its enemies, was by false representation and foul slander. By this engine it was assailed from every quarter, and by all classes of men, religious and unreligious: misrepresentation followed misrepresentation, falsehood after falsehood, followed each other in rapid succession, until there must have been multitudes of them created in a minute, by those employed in it, or else they could not have gotten so many put in circulation. This scheme not succeeding, the enemies had recourse to prosecutions, which were multiplied continually, apparently with determination, to destroy every person who united to aid and assist in bringing forth the work of the Lord. But all this not succeeding, according to the expectations of the persecutors; they united to all this power, that of mobs, driving men, women, and children, from their houses, draging them out in the dead hours of the night, out of their beds, whipping, tarring and feathering, and otherwise shamefully treating them.
Nor were those means the only ones resorted to in this work of persecution, but being determined to put an end to the church forever; they added to all the rest of the means used, stealing the property of the saints, also burning houses and charging it on their -[the saints]- heads, in order to raise public indignation against them; as also false swearing, and indeed we may add, all other means which the adversary had in his power to use, nothing seems to be left undone, that could be done, by men and demons, in order that the purposes of God might fail; but still the object, so much desired [p. 6]
On early anti-Mormonism in the press, see Norton, “Comparative Images.”
Norton, Walter A. “Comparative Images: Mormonism and Contemporary Religions as Seen by Village Newspapermen in Western New York and Northeastern Ohio, 1820–1833.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1972.
Prior to 1838, JS was a defendant in dozens of lawsuits that he and other early Latter-day Saints viewed as being motivated by religious prejudice. (See Firmage and Mangrum, Zion in the Courts, chaps. 3–4; and Madsen, et al., Sustaining the Law, chaps. 4, 7, 9–10.)
Firmage, Edwin Brown, and Richard Collin Mangrum. Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1890. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.
Madsen, Gordon A., Jeffrey N. Walker, and John W. Welch, eds. Sustaining the Law: Joseph Smith’s Legal Encounters. Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2014.
JS History / Smith, Joseph, et al. History, 1838–1856. Vols. A-1–F-1 (original), A-2–E-2 (fair copy). Historian’s Office, History of the Church, 1839–ca. 1882. CHL. CR 100 102, boxes 1–7. The history for the period after 5 Aug. 1838 was composed after the death of Joseph Smith.