Letter from James Arlington Bennet, 1 September 1842
, Letter, , [New Utrecht, Kings Co., NY], to JS, , Hancock Co., IL, 1 Sept. 1842; handwriting of ; three pages; JS Materials, CCLA. Includes address, postal notation, postal stamp, and dockets.
Bifolium measuring 9⅞ × 8 inches (25 × 20 cm) when folded. The bifolium is ruled with twenty-seven horizontal printed lines. The recto of the first leaf has a circular embossment in the upper left corner containing flowers and leaves. The letter was written on the recto and verso of the first leaf and the recto of the second leaf, trifolded twice in letter style, addressed, sealed with a red wax seal, and postmarked. It contains remnants of the seal and a corresponding tear in the second leaf. The letter was later folded in half, forming a square, and was then folded again diagonally.
The document was docketed by , who served as scribe to JS from 1842 to 1844. Another docket is in unidentified handwriting. The letter was likely retained by JS and passed down among Smith family descendants. At some point before 1961, it was transferred to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ).
Jenson, Andrew. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 4 vols. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901–1936.
On 1 September 1842, wrote a letter from , New York, to JS in , Illinois, regarding ’s recent denunciations in of JS and the Latter-day Saints following Bennett’s acrimonious departure from Nauvoo. Just as Bennet had done in a 16 August letter to JS, he instructed JS to keep the contents of this letter confidential. The 1 September letter was prompted in part by a circa August 1842 letter from to James Arlington Bennet’s wife, Sophia Smith Bennet, as well as by a series of lectures John C. Bennett was giving in New York City. James Arlington Bennet had written an earlier letter to JS after meeting with Bennett and in August 1842. Bennett went to New York City to continue his efforts to cultivate public outrage over JS and the Latter-day Saints, and he evidently hoped to sway Bennet’s opinion of JS and the . While James Arlington Bennet did not ally himself with John C. Bennett’s cause, Bennett found an advocate and supporter in famed evangelical apologist and religious debater Origen Bacheler. Accordingly, during late August and early September 1842, Bennett and Bacheler delivered a series of lectures denouncing JS and the Saints at a church on the corner of Delancey and Chrystie streets in Lower Manhattan. Writing to JS, who was both his commanding officer in the and a personal friend, Bennet reassured him of his continued support for the Saints, despite Bennet’s association with John C. Bennett and the nature of Bennett’s accusations.
also used his letter to alert JS to the New York Herald’s publication of a general order that JS and purportedly issued to the Nauvoo Legion on 4 August 1842. The order called for James Arlington Bennet and New York Herald editor to come to in accordance with their appointed duties with the Nauvoo Legion. According to the order, JS and McFall were activating “the most able and experienced officers” of the legion in response to governor ’s recent request that JS be extradited from in connection with the attempted assassination of . The published order then explained that if Reynolds’s “demand is persisted in, blood must be shed.” Published in the 30 August 1842 issue of the New York Herald, the statement seemed to lend further credence to ’s suggestion that “the strong arm of military power” was necessary to deal with the Latter-day Saints.
The postmark on the letter indicates that mailed it from on 1 September 1842, the same day he wrote it. JS’s journal reports that JS received the letter on 14 September, and copied the letter into the journal around that date. The letter was then “placed in the hands of Genl ,” who wrote a refutation of the order that was published in the New York Herald, arguing that the document was a hoax. McFall’s statement was published in the 24 September 1842 issue of the Wasp. Extant records do not indicate if JS ever responded to Bennet’s letter.
& Bachelor [Origen Bacheler] are now delivering lectures in against you & your doctrines & asserted practices at . told me this forenoon that the seats have been torn to pieces out of his church in Canal St. & that the congregation had to move to another place. I intimated to you in my last that of the Herald was about to publish conjointly with the his Book of Exposures but since have learned that it is about to come out in . He expects to make a fortune out of it & I presume he needs it, but I feel sure that it will only make converts to the Mormon faith. He has borrowed largely from Com Morris’ lacivious poems.
A general Order signed by , agt [adjutant] general and authorized by you has thisday appeared in the Herald ordering me to repair to to take command of the and to bring with me Brig. Gen. , which states that if the requisition be persisted in[,] blood must be shed. I have assured of the Herald that I deem it a hoax but he insists upon it that it is genuine. My reply to <it> has appeard to day in that paper. I have there stated that I have written to for instructions this is not so It is only a ruse. On the whole you will only be made a greater Prophet & a greater man a greater Em[p]eror by the affection & consideration of your good friends. My respects with those of Mrs B. to your
Bennett arrived in New York City on 11 August 1842 to lecture against JS and the Latter-day Saints, after which he evidently met Bacheler, a New York resident and famed religious debater who had previously spoken against the Saints. Bennett may have been trying to generate support for military action against the Saints. Soon after his arrival in the city, he addressed a letter to James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, stating that JS had “perpetrated the blackest deeds of felony” and that “nothing short of an excision of the cancer of Mormonism will effect a cure of that absorbing delusion.” Such an excision, John C. Bennett further stated, could only be performed “at the edge of the sword, point of the bayonet, and mouth of the cannon” by “the strong arm of military power.” By 9 September, he had moved on to Boston, where he continued to lecture against JS and the Saints. (“Arrival Extraordinary,” New York Herald [New York City], 12 Aug. 1842, ; “Late and Important from the Mormon Country,” New York Herald, 30 Aug. 1842, ; “Mormonism Exposed,” Daily Atlas [Boston], 9 Sept. 1842, ; Discussion on the Existence of God, 1–3; “Religious Magazine,” Millennial Harbinger, Apr. 1835, 154.)
New York Herald. New York City. 1835–1924.
Boston Daily Atlas. Boston. 1844–1857.
Discussion on the Existence of God and the Authenticity of the Bible, between Origen Bacheler and Robert Dale Owen. London: J. Watson, 1840.
The New York Herald stated that Bacheler and Bennett were delivering joint lectures to large audiences in New York City concerning “the secret practices of Joseph Smith.” On 30 August, the two addressed “a large assembly” at a church in Manhattan. Bacheler stated that “Mormonism is bloody and treasonous against the United States of Government—a species of American Mahomedanism—that seeks to overthrow the government of the country and the destruction of all who do not embrace it.” He concluded that “there was no other way of subduing the Mormons than by the SWORD!” In his speech, Bennett reiterated many of his earlier accusations against JS that had been published in the Sangamo Journal.Robert D. Foster attended the lecture and wrote that Bennett said JS “was notoriously profane—said that all surplus property must be given up,” and that “all the prisoners in Hancock county and Adams were Mormons, and they were murderers, burglers, and they were committed for all manner of theft.” Two days later, Bennett and Bacheler again lectured in the same church, with Bennett discussing “the secret wive system.” (“The Discussion of General Bennett about Joe Smith and the Mormons,” New York Herald [New York City], 31 Aug. 1842, ; “Extract of a Letter from Robert D. Foster,” Wasp, 24 Sept. 1842, , emphasis in original; “The Mormon Discussion,” New York Herald, 1 Sept. 1842, ; “Anti-Mormon Lecture—The Secret Wive System at Nauvoo,” New York Herald, 4 Sept. 1842, .)
In 1842 the New York Citybranch met at 29 and 31 Canal Street in Lower Manhattan. By the following year, it was meeting at 263 Grand Street. (New York City Directory, for 1842 and 1843, 373; Thomas, “Various Times and Sundry Places,” 1.)
New York City Directory, for 1842 and 1843. Containing Fifty-Five Thousand Names: Together with Other Valuable Information. New York: John Doggett Jr., 1842.
Thomas, Ned P. “Various Times and Sundry Places: Buildings Used by the LDS Church in Manhattan.” New York LDS Historian 3, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 1–2, 5–8.
John C. Bennett’s book, The History of the Saints; or, An Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism, was published in Boston in October 1842 by Leland and Whiting. (“Gen. Bennet’s Mormon Disclosures,” Daily Atlas [Boston], 15 Oct. 1842, .)
James Arlington Bennet’s letter to James Gordon Bennett on 31 August does not seem to indicate any belief that the order was a hoax. It is possible that Bennet had spoken to the newspaper publisher in private or that there was another, now nonextant, letter indicating that belief. The 24 September 1842 issue of the Wasp published a statement by McFall denying that any such order had been issued. McFall wrote, “I take this method of testifying to the public that no such order, or any thing of the kind, has ever proceeded from my mouth or pen, in any shape or manner whatever, and I hereby declare the article alluded to, a base forgery and piece of deception.” (“Military Movements,” New York Herald [New York City], 1 Sept. 1842, ; “Great Hoax,” Wasp, 24 Sept. 1842, .)
It seems that in publishing the purported general order from JS and McFall, James Gordon Bennett believed in the document’s legitimacy. He wrote, “We have the following letter from the head quarters of Joe Smith, the prophet, and second Mahomet himself.” The day after publishing the letter, the Herald featured a short article intimating that he believed the order was legitimate. He queried, “Is General James Arlington Bennet ready to obey the order of his superior, and march to Nauvoo?” and then suggested that he did not personally intend to obey the purported order. (“Late and Important from the Mormon Country,” New York Herald [New York City], 30 Aug. 1842, ; “War,” New York Herald, 31 Aug. 1842, .)