Letter from James Arlington Bennet, 16 August 1842
, Letter, , New Utrecht, Kings Co., NY, to JS, , Hancock Co., IL, 16 Aug. 1842; handwriting of ; four pages; JS Materials, courtesy of Community of Christ Archives, International Headquarters, Independence, MO. Includes address and dockets.
Bifolium measuring 9⅛ × 7½ inches (23 × 19 cm). A paper mill insignia, embossed in the top left corner of the first leaf recto, reads “D. FELT & Co. | NEW YORK”, encircling an eagle. The document was trifolded twice in letter style, addressed, and sealed with a red adhesive wafer, the wafer remaining on the recto of the second leaf.
, who served as scribe to JS from 1842 to 1844, docketed the document, as did an unidentified scribe. The letter was likely retained by JS and passed down among Smith family descendants. By 1961, the family had donated the letter to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ), and it is now housed in the Community of Christ Library and Archives.
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.
Richard Howard, email to Rachel Killebrew, 5 June 2017, copy in editors’ possession.
On 16 August 1842, , a prominent educator and journalist, wrote a letter to JS detailing his thoughts on various members he had encountered and outlining his position on and the allegations Bennett had made against JS. Although Bennet had not met JS in person, he had become acquainted with the Latter-day Saints earlier in 1842 and had—apparently at John C. Bennett’s instigation—received an honorary degree from the University of Nauvoo; had the “freedom of the city” of , Illinois, conferred upon him; had a street in Nauvoo named after him; and received a commission as inspector general in the . In May 1842, he had proven himself a friend to JS and the Saints by defending them against charges of free love and communalism in a letter he published in the New York Herald under the pseudonym “Cincinnatus.” Bennet’s letter to JS answered one JS had written to him on 30 June 1842, which had delivered to Bennet while in his company from 5 to 7 August.
explained in his 16 August letter that had asked him to help publish an exposé of JS and the church but that he had refused. Bennet believed that , the editor of the New York Herald, planned to publish and promote the book, but Bennet advised JS not to worry about John C. Bennett’s allegations. Bennet was confident that John C. Bennett’s claims would bring greater attention to and interest in the church and that his exposé would not present anything that JS had not already been charged with in various newspapers. James Arlington Bennet also expressed his satisfaction with leaders of the church he had met, including , a church and JS’s scribe; , who presided over the church’s in ; and , who was in New York City.
Although there are no postal markings on the letter, an entry in JS’s journal states that the letter was conveyed to JS by mail and that he received it a few days before 7 September 1842. On 8 September, he dictated a reply.
He however proposed to me to aid him, whether serious or not, in arranging materials for publishing “an exposition of Mormon Secrets & practices”— which I preemptorily refused,— On two grounds. 1th. That I had nothing to do with any quarrel that might arise between you & him as I could not be a judge of the Merits or demerits of the matter— and— 2ly That inasmuch as he himself had proposed to you & your council to confer on me honors which I never sought, yet which I highly prize, it would be the height of ing[r]atitude inme as well as inconsistent with every principle of common honesty & proprity for me to join him in an effort to lower my own honors by attempting to lower in public estimati[o]n the people from whom those honors emenated. He gave of the Herald his commission which I opposed from the very first & you now see by that paper the Sport which that man has made of it. I tell you there is no dependance on the friendship of that when his interest is at issue— I am assured that is going to publish conjointly with on half profit the exposition against you & you[r] people, which is going to contain a great number of scandalous cuts & plates. [p. ]
Bennett announced in his 4 July 1842 letter to the editor of the Sangamo Journal that he intended to publish “a book, to be called ‘The History of the Saints,’” which would convey “most of the actings and doings at Nauvoo for the last two years, of most of their great men, and some of their great women too.” (John C. Bennett, Carthage, IL, 4 July 1842, Letter to the Editor, Sangamo Journal [Springfield, IL], 15 July 1842, .)
JS had earlier lauded James Gordon Bennett for treating the Saints fairly in the press. Like James Arlington Bennet, James Gordon Bennett had the freedom of the city of Nauvoo conferred upon him, received an honorary degree from the University of Nauvoo, and was appointed aide-de-camp in the Nauvoo Legion. However, in the 13 August 1842 issue of the New York Herald, he mocked these honors, stating sarcastically, “I am James Gordon Bennett, Freeman of the Holy City of Nauvoo, L. L. D. of the University of Nauvoo, and aid-de-camp to the Major General and Brigadier General to the Nauvoo Legion, with a fair prospect of being a prophet soon, and a saint in heaven hereafter. Volcanoes and asparagus. What next?” (Nauvoo City Council Minute Book, 18 Dec. 1841, 37; “Rising in the World,” New York Herald, 13 Aug. 1842, .)
The New York Herald described John C. Bennett’s planned book as “a philosophical history of the Mormons, with a variety of engravings, representing their pious ways.” In another article, the work in progress was depicted as being “a full and complete history of the Mormons, public and private—the secrets of their religion, their mode of life at Nauvoo—the celebrated prophet Joe Smith’s secret systems of wives—their mode of warfare—tactics—civil and religious government—with various other curious and perfectly original matters.” (“The Mormons,” New York Herald, 20 Aug. 1842, ; “Arrival Extraordinary,” New York Herald, 12 Aug. 1842, .)