In 1841, JS instructed his scribe to begin recording revelations in a large, ledger-style record book that would come to be called the “Book of the Law of the Lord.” The first revelation Thompson inscribed was dictated by JS on 19 January 1841. It designated a new gathering place for the Latter-day Saints and instructed them to build a and a boardinghouse called the . In the church’s April 1841 general conference, read the 19 January revelation from the Book of the Law of the Lord, and both Bennett and JS spoke on the importance of building the Nauvoo House and temple. Thus, from the outset this book and the records copied into it became tied to the temple and the sacrifices the Saints made to complete it.
By creating the Book of the Law of the Lord, JS was likely working to fulfill instructions he had dictated in a November 1832 letter to regarding the importance of keeping such records. In the letter, he explained that “it is the duty of the lord[’s] clerk whom he has appointed to keep a hystory and a general church reccord of all things that transpire in Zion and of all those who consecrate properties and receive inheritances legally from the bishop and also there manner of life and the faith and works.” JS emphasized that the names of faithful Saints should be recorded in “the book of the Law of God” and warned that those whose names were not recorded therein “shall not find an inheritence among th[e] saints.” The letter to Phelps refers to such a record as the “book of the Law” or the “book of the Law of God,” which is likely why nearly nine years later JS titled this record book the Book of the Law of the Lord.
In late January 1841, JS was elected trustee for the church. In this role, he assumed responsibility for the church’s finances and transactions, including donations for the temple. Donations were initially handled by the , but by December 1841, JS had decided to oversee the recording and distribution of donated money and goods. That same month, was appointed the temple recorder and JS’s scribe. He began keeping JS’s journal and recording financial donations concurrently in the Book of the Law of the Lord, alternating sometimes every other page. While both the journal entries and financial records were important components of the Book of the Law of the Lord, the record would eventually come to be primarily used for recording financial contributions. By December 1842, Richards separated his work as JS’s secretary and keeper of JS’s journal from the temple and tithing records overseen by . From that point on, JS’s journal was kept in smaller volumes by Richards, while Clayton and his fellow clerks recorded tithing and donations in tithing daybooks, the Book of the Law of the Lord, and other associated record books. While JS’s journal and donation records may seem disparate to modern sensibilities, JS and the Saints apparently saw them as inextricably intertwined. Both recorded the devotion and commitment of faithful Saints.
Having the names of faithful Saints recorded in the Book of the Law of the Lord for their eternal benefit was a priority for JS. In 1842, while in hiding to avoid extradition to , JS reflected on the sacred purposes of the Book of the Law of the Lord, to record the names and deeds of faithful and loyal Saints who helped him to build the kingdom of God. In journal entries that JS dictated on 16 and 23 August, he clearly expressed this, writing, “But the names of the faithful are what I wish to record in this place.” JS specified that they “love the God that I serve; they love the truths that I promulge; they love those virtuous, and holy doctrines that I cherish in my bosom with the warmest feelings of my heart; and with that zeal which cannot be denied.” In these same journal entries, JS named family and friends—those Saints who had helped him and worked to build the church. He asked God that the name of , who had spent much time with JS in hiding, “be had in everlasting remembrance.” , JS’s brother, was also promised eternal blessings. JS wrote that Hyrum’s name would be recorded in the Book of the Law of the Lord and that his deeds would stand as an example and model for other Saints to follow. JS recounted that in these contemplations, “the still small voice whispered to my soul, these that share your toils with such faithful hearts, shall reigne with you in the kingdom of their God.” JS believed the Book of the Law of the Lord was the designated place to record the Saints’ faithfulness and service; those with their names written inside the book would receive eternal blessings as a result of their good deeds.
Faithfulness and supporting JS and the church were not limited to acts of service but also became equated with paying one’s tithing to support the construction of the temple. JS’s January 1841 revelation, as well as letters written by the , specified that the was to be built by donations and the tithing of the Saints. Individual tithing donations were expected to amount to “one tenth of all any one possessed at the commencement of the building, and one tenth part of all his increase from that time till the completion of the same,” and these were paid in cash, goods, or labor. In October 1840, a conference of church members resolved that men would donate one day in every ten to building the temple, and men in and around Nauvoo began doing so. Over time this practice became more standardized, and the temple recorder assigned a fixed value for this labor at thirty-one dollars a year based on the rate of one dollar a day and one-tenth of the number of days in the year minus Sundays, as Sunday was not a workday. The work was recorded and receipts were issued by captains of wards who oversaw work on the temple, overseers in the stone quarry, or the carpenters. There was also allowance for those who had been traveling on missions, sick, or otherwise unable to work. Their requirement for labor tithing was reduced to what was reasonable given their circumstances.
Those who had paid their tithing and were considered faithful Saints were promised access to the . They initially had access to the baptismal font after its completion in November 1841, though the temple itself remained unfinished. JS consecrated the font for performing baptisms for the dead or baptisms for health. Those who desired to use it received authorization from the temple recorder, , who ensured that the individual had paid the appropriate amounts of tithing in property and labor and then wrote an authorization granting them “the privilege of the Baptismal Font.” In a 7 March 1844 discourse, JS extended this promise of access to the completed temple once it was dedicated, cautioning members to ensure that their donations were recorded in the proper books kept by the clerks of the church so they would be allowed inside at the dedication.
At the time, many Saints were impoverished and struggling to provide for their families, but their small contributions of tithing and their faithfulness in making an offering were recorded. Entries in the Book of the Law of the Lord, sometimes called , show these individuals or families making a donation to the and having their donation recorded but then returned to them. Such entries were common for widows, poor laborers on the temple, or women who were unable to offer much in tithing because their husbands were away. In some instances, a consecration was recorded as the last tithing paid by an individual who had recently died but desired to contribute to the temple and have his or her name recorded in the Book of the Law of the Lord.
was a cash-poor economy, meaning there was little circulating money, which led residents to use alternative forms of payment. Tithing was often paid in goods in kind, ranging from garden crops to livestock, bedding, books, rifles, jewelry, or handmade goods like clothing or willow baskets. Bartering was a key part of life in Nauvoo, and as such, tithing was often paid through bartering: someone might specify payment in goods or forgive a debt owed them in return for having tithing recorded in their name. Another form of bartering was done through labor tithing. A man could arrange to work on the on behalf of someone else in order to earn money or pay for needs, like room and board or food. Tithing or donations for the temple might also be paid through canceled debts—people could forgive debts the church owed them in exchange for tithing credit. Payments were sometimes made in the form of Nauvoo city treasury orders or stock in the , which was valued at fifty dollars per share. In some instances, the value of a donated amount or item might be split among several individuals. This was often the result of a family or group donating a single significant resource, like a wagon or a cow, and assigning the value of the tithing to several members of the family or group. It was also sometimes a means of repayment, where someone might donate a larger or more valuable good and assign part of the value to someone to whom they owed money as a means of repayment. For instance, when donated land, the entry specified that fifteen should be credited to on tithing, and the line below Grover’s donation in the Book of the Law of the Lord includes an entry for Clark for fifteen dollars.
When entries were made in the Book of the Law of the Lord, most followed a formulaic approach. First the recorder noted the date the money or goods were received, then the name of the person credited for donating it, and then monetary amount contributed or worth of the goods donated. In some instances, the name of the donor might be followed by the phrase “per hand of” followed by the name of the person who brought the goods to for the donor. Missionaries, church leaders, and apostles gathered the tithing of those living outside Nauvoo and transported it to church headquarters. This was also true for Saints living in Great Britain, who gave their tithing to missionaries or presiding elders of the church so the money and goods could be carried to Nauvoo, recorded there, and used to support the . Because of the unreliability of the mail, and even some couriers, money or goods might be lost or stolen in transit, so those paying tithing or making donations were instructed by JS and other church leaders to give tithing or donations only to designated church agents.
When recording tithing and donations in the Book of the Law of the Lord, clerks often left blank spaces for information they did not have, whether that was a name or an amount or a value for a particular good. They usually filled in this information later, but sometimes the information was never recorded, and the blank spaces remain. Sometimes receipts or orders for donations or labor tithing were not given to the temple recorder’s office until months or even years after being written. This means that work performed on the temple or donations made in 1841 or 1842 were sometimes not recorded until 1843 or 1844.
Despite the many challenges of making and recording donations in the early church, the number of donations rapidly outgrew the volume meant to contain it. The Book of the Law of the Lord presented here comprises two large ledger-style record books. The first volume, Book of the Law of the Lord, Book A, includes tithing and donations from December 1841 to 6 May 1844. In May 1844, scribes in the temple recorder’s office, likely acting under , recorded donations on the last page of the Book of the Law of the Lord. They then began a second tithing record, which was identified as “Record B” by Clayton and at some later point had “Record No. 2” inscribed on the spine. Because this second book is a seamless continuation of the initial Book of the Law of the Lord, the two volumes are considered a single record. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has followed William Clayton’s contemporary references and titled the first volume “Book of the Law of the Lord, Book A” and the second volume “Book of the Law of the Lord, Book B.” The second volume contains tithing and donations from 6 May 1844 to 28 January 1846. However, only a portion of the second record book will be published on the Joseph Smith Papers website. After JS was killed on 27 June 1844, it took time to reorganize and appoint new people to the many offices he held. JS remained the official trustee for the church, with William Clayton acting as an agent and trustee pro tem, until August 1844. On 12 August and filed their certificate of appointment as the new trustees for the church. Thus, while the record book contains 758 inscribed pages, only the first 62 pages that pertain to JS’s trusteeship are transcribed and published here, ending on 12 August 1844.
Minutes and Discourse, 3–5 Oct. 1840; Phebe Carter Woodruff, Lee Co., Iowa Territory, to Wilford Woodruff, Manchester, England, 6–19 Oct. 1840, digital scan, Wilford Woodruff, Collection, 1831–1905, CHL; Elias Higbee, “Ecclesiastical,” Times and Seasons, 1 Feb. 1841, 2:296.
Woodruff, Wilford. Collection, 1831–1905. CHL. MS 19509.
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
See, for example, the entries throughout the Book of the Law of the Lord noting donations of thirty-one dollars “being payment in full for 1 years labor Tything.” (Book of the Law of the Lord, Book A, 34.)
While tithing donations were recorded from Saints from all over the United States and the United Kingdom, these consecrations were primarily from those living in Nauvoo or in the surrounding area who needed the goods they donated, either for labor or sustenance.
A notation on the bottom of page 231 reads, “Carried to Record B. Page 551.” Likewise, a notation on page 551 of the second volume reads, “from Record A.” (Book of the Law of the Lord, Book A, 231; Book of the Law of the Lord, Book B, 551.)
Trustee-in-Trust. Tithing and Donation Record, 1844 May–1846 January. CHL.
New trustees Newel K. Whitney and George Miller were elected by church leaders on 9 August, but their appointment was not officially entered into county records until 12 August. (Richards, Journal, 9 Aug. 1844; Newel K. Whitney and George Miller, Appointment as Trustees, 12 Aug. 1844, Nauvoo Trustees Papers, 1844–1848, CHL.)