“The Book of the Law of the Lord” is a large, leather-bound blank book made with thick paper. The paper bears a star-shaped watermark in the middle of each leaf and was printed with forty-seven blue horizontal lines on each side. The text block was originally formed with thirty gatherings of eight leaves each. The second gathering, however, has only six leaves. This six-leaf gathering was the result of either a binding error or one sheet coming loose from the binding before the book was inscribed (the book’s inscription and pagination run through this gathering without any missing text or skipped page numbers). The gatherings were sewn all along. Each set of endpapers consisted of a gathering of four leaves of unlined paper, but only two leaves are now extant in the back gathering. The trimmed pages measure 16¼ × 10½ inches (41 × 27 cm). Headbands were sewn onto the text block. The exterior pages of the endpapers are joined to the pasteboards with strips of pink cloth. Marbled papers featuring a shell pattern with green body and veins of red and yellow are glued to the inside covers of the boards and to the exterior page of each gathering of endpapers. The leaf edges are stained green. The text block is bound in ledger style to the boards. The spine was constructed with four false raised bands demarcating five panels. The boards and spine are covered in suede with additional leather strips that cover the top and bottom of the book, including the first and fifth panels of the spine. The suede was blind tooled on the outside covers, the raised bands of the spine, and the turned-in edges on the inside cover. The additional leather strips are embossed with dual lines and vegetal designs along the borders and have gold line filling. The spine is further embossed with the number “6” in 20-point type on the fifth panel. The second and fourth panels have black-painted squares of paper glued to them. These feature gold lining and decoration at the top and bottom. The completed volume measures 17 × 11 × 2¼ inches (43 × 28 × 6 cm) and includes 244 free leaves. A penciled inscription at the inside top corner of page [ii]—the verso of the front marbled flyleaf—gives what appears to be an expensive price for this high-quality blank book: “bth | 10.00”. The book includes inscriptions by five scribes: , , , , and .
The “Law of the Lord” is listed as such in inventories of church records made in Salt Lake City in the 1850s. These show that the volume reposed for a time in the office of church president . At some point, the book was marked on the spine with an archival sticker, which was later removed. The book eventually was housed with the papers of Joseph Fielding Smith, apparently during his tenure as church historian and recorder (1921–1970), and then became part of the First Presidency’s papers when he became church president in 1970. In 2010 the First Presidency gave custody of the book to the CHL. This evidence indicates continuous institutional custody.
On 29 October 1842, JS publicly addressed a group of recent newcomers to , Illinois, at his Nauvoo , explaining procedures for purchasing land in the city. The administrative process of and financial arrangements for purchasing land in Nauvoo had apparently been a source of frustration to several individuals living there. In some instances, this frustration led newly arrived Latter-day Saints to criticize JS and other leaders. Others had become disappointed upon arriving in the city because some of the Saints’ conduct—including that of some city leaders—did not meet their high expectations.
The men and women JS addressed on this occasion were church members who had moved to from and its surrounding areas. and , as well as church member , each addressed the crowd before JS made his remarks. JS urged the new arrivals to carefully follow the established method for purchasing land, attributing much of the dissatisfaction expressed by erstwhile residents to their deviation from the established process. He also implored them to be patient with his imperfections as well as those of other church leaders. recorded an account of the discourse in JS’s journal, presumably that same day. Clayton wrote that JS spoke to the group for a considerable amount of time and that he closed his remarks with a blessing.
Part of the discontent may have been related to the new immigrants’ difficulty in purchasing land due to the lack of wage-labor jobs in the city. In June 1842, JS and other church leaders held a meeting in Nauvoo to discuss the shortage of such employment for the large numbers of church members immigrating to the city from England. As a result, JS and Hyrum Smith wrote to Parley P. Pratt in England advising him to discourage the practice of one family member moving to Nauvoo from England with the plan of earning enough money to bring the rest of the family to the city at a later date. Writing nearly a year after JS delivered the featured discourse, Sally Randall wrote that upon arriving in Nauvoo, her first impression of the city was that “it is a hard place for poor people that have no money to get a living.” She added that “there is so many poor that depend on thare work for a liveing that they can hardley get enoughf to be comfortable.” (Letter to Parley P. Pratt and Others, 12 June 1842; Sally Randall, Nauvoo, IL, to “Dear Friends,” 6 Oct. 1843, typescript, Sally Randall, Letters, CHL.)
For example, Thomas Margretts left England for Nauvoo in February 1841. He and his family struggled financially in the weeks after their arrival and became critical of JS for the way land was sold to new arrivals. They left the church and returned to England by September 1841. Margretts reported to a newspaper there that “the legal title of the apostle [JS] to the land he was vending to his followers was very questionable” and that “they expected his right to the possession of Nauvoo would soon be disputed.” In a letter to church members in North America published in October 1841, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles clarified the nature of the church’s land dealings in and around Nauvoo and refuted claims that JS was enriching himself through the land dealings he conducted as sole trustee-in-trust. (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Quarterly Abstracts of Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New Orleans, reel 2, 16 Apr. 1842, entry for “Ship Echo”; “The ‘Latter-day Saint’ Swindle,” Preston [England] Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser, 18 Sept. 1841, , italics in original; Brigham Young et al., “An Epistle of the Twelve,” Times and Seasons, 15 Oct. 1841, 2:567–570.)
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Quarterly Abstracts of Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New Orleans, 1820–1875. 17 rolls. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC.
Preston Chronicle and Lancashire Advertiser. Preston, England. 1831–1893.
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
In May 1841, the Warsaw Signal reported that “great dissatisfaction exists at Nauvoo, amongst those who have lately arrived from England,” and that “some have left both the City and the Church—not believing, on the one hand, in the mission of the Prophet, and on the other, dissatisfied with the temporal government which is exercised over them.” In June 1841, the Times and Seasons responded to this report: “There may be individuals who feel dissatisfied, but it is far from being general. Those who have come expecting to find gold in our streets, and all the luxuries of an old country, will find themselves disappointed, but those who have maturely considered the advantages and disadvantages, are perfectly satisfied and contented, and cheerfully engage in cultivating the beautiful and wide spread prairie of the County.” (“The Mormons,” Warsaw [IL] Signal, 19 May 1841, ; “The Warsaw Signal,” Times and Seasons, 1 June 1841, 2:432.)
Warsaw Signal. Warsaw, IL. 1841–1853.
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
President Joseph spoke to them considerable, showing them the proper course to pursue and how to act in regard to making purchases of land &c. He showed them that it was generally in consequence of the brethren disobeying or disregarding council, that they became dissatisfied and murmered; and many when they arrived here were dissatisfied with the conduct of some of the saints because every thing was not done perfectly right, and they get mad and thus the devil gets advantage over them to destroy them. He said he was but a man and they must not expect him to be perfect; if they expected perfection from him, he should expect it from them, but if they would bear with his infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, he would likewise bear with their infirmities. He said, it was likely he would have again to hide up in the woods, but they must not be discouraged but roll on the , the &c. When his enemies took away his rights he would bear it and keep out of the way but “if they take away your rights I will fight for you.” [p. 208]
In an 1841 proclamation directing the Saints to gather to Nauvoo, the First Presidency encouraged those who would soon travel to the city to temper their expectations. They urged them “to understand that, when they come here they must not expect to find perfection, or that all will be harmony, peace and love; if they indulge these ideas, they will undoubtedly be deceived for here there are persons, not only from different States, but from different nations, who, although they feel a great attachment to the cause of truth, have their prejudices of ed[u]cation, and consequently it requires some time before these things can be overcome.” (Proclamation, 15 Jan. 1841.)
Earlier that month, JS hid at the home of James Taylor, approximately thirty miles northeast of Nauvoo, to avoid being arrested and extradited to Missouri. (JS, Journal, 7 Oct. 1842; Henderson Co., IL, Deeds, 1841–1893, vol. 1, p. 490, 17 Mar. 1844, microfilm 1,392,775, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL.)
In a 15 August 1842 letter to JS, Nauvoo Legion major general Wilson Law wrote, “Our commonrights and peace is all we ask and we will use every peaceable means in our power to enjoy these, but our rightswemusthave, peace we must have if we have to fight for them.” In his reply to Law the following day, JS wrote, “If I [k]new that they would oppress me alone, and let the rest of you dwell peaceably and quietly, I think It would be the wisest plan to absent myself for a little season if by that means we can prevent the profusion of blood.” (Letter from Wilson Law, 15 Aug. 1842, underlining in original; Letter to Wilson Law, 16 Aug. 1842.)