Letter from James Arlington Bennet, 20 February 1843
, Letter, , [New Utrecht, Kings Co., NY], to JS, , Hancock Co., IL, 20 Feb. 1843; handwriting of ; three pages; JS Materials, CCLA. Includes address, postal stamps, postal notation, endorsement, and docket.
Bifolium measuring 9⅞ × 8 inches (25 × 20 cm) when folded. Each page is ruled with twenty-seven horizontal lines printed in blue ink with header space. Embossed in the upper left corner of the first page is a circular mark enclosing flowers and foliage. The document was trifolded twice in letter style (with the outer edge of the second leaf folded in a triangular pattern to form a seal flap), addressed, and sealed with red wax, the remnants of which are on the second leaf.
The document was endorsed by , who served as JS’s scribe from December 1841 until JS’s death in June 1844 and served as church historian from December 1842 until his own death in March 1854. The document also contains a docket in unidentified handwriting. The letter was likely retained by JS and passed down among Smith family descendants. Sometime before 1961, it was transferred to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ).
On 20 February 1843, wrote a letter from , New York, to JS at , Illinois, regarding recent hearings related to the latest efforts to extradite JS to and JS’s continuing problems with two adversaries, embittered former member and New York Herald editor . JS and James Arlington Bennet had never met, but they had exchanged letters during August and September 1842. Since those exchanges, the two men had not corresponded directly, although between October and December, JS reviewed and approved two letters between , his close friend and personal secretary, and Bennet. Bennet had also written two letters published in the New York Herald defending JS and the Latter-day Saints. In both of these letters, Bennet disclaimed any close connections with John C. Bennett while at the same time expressing his sympathy for and friendship with JS.
In this 20 February letter, which requested remain confidential, Bennet informed JS of his efforts to assist him in his ongoing legal situation, including writing letters on his behalf to both , former governor of , and , former governor of . Bennet evidently also sent a letter to imploring him to stop his defamatory campaign against JS and the church. Further casting himself as a friend and ally of JS, James Arlington Bennet indicated his pleasure at what he perceived to be the financial failure of John C. Bennett’s recently published exposé of JS. Bennet’s sentiments demonstrated his continuing contempt for the man who had first introduced him to JS and the Latter-day Saints. Bennet also expressed his displeasure with , who had recently angered the Latter-day Saint community with derisive comments regarding JS’s extradition hearings in , Illinois.
The postmarks on the letter indicate that mailed it to JS from a week after he wrote it. JS received and read the letter on 15 March 1843 and dictated a response two days later.
must have officers far superior to him at . Well peace be to his Manes— Let him go. His own conscience if he has any will be a sufficient punishm[en]t. I understand that the Book so far as sales & profit are concerned has been a total failure. I should prefer a wide Circulati[o]n as the Book could hardly have been better for your cause <yourselves> if you had directed it yourself. The secret wife system is not believed to exist & the rest of the Book is recommendation. Go a head my dear Sir, the way is now clear. I may join you myself before I die. Surely the system of Religion cannot be bad that reforms bad men & makes them good members of Society & good Christians & this we know to be the result of your Teachings.
You will see by the Herald that continues to make sport of you. He mixes Mormonish up with all the isms and I have had hard work to restrain him from such base behavior, notwithstanding the honors you have so indiscreetly heaped upon him. There never was a greater disgrace cast on a Major General of character, than to appoint this same his Aid-de-Camp. A man that is totally without the least particle of moral principle, who has been whipped, kicked, spit upon & who is held by most all men of charactr in the greatest detestation. A person without the smallest manly property to resist an insult, without destitute of every kind of military knowlege and the degree of LL.D. if it has been granted him at all disgrases your University as he has not the smallest Scientific allowment to predicate it on. Even when tried by a jury for one offence his counsel must warn the Jury not to Convict him for any other offence but to act on the merits of the case before them.
The cause of this mans abuse of “ expose” was not from any friendly feeling to you but to be revenged of s conduct in breaking the bargain for publishing the work on half halves what was made in my presence & what I advised you of at the time. And his sole object in publishing your Articles from the Times & Seasons, was as he assured me [p. ]
In ancient Roman religion, the “manes” were the “ancestral spirits of the dead,” so this phrase referred to honoring the souls of the departed. Phrases like “peace to his manes” were commonly used in letters, poetry, and literature during the nineteenth century. (“Manes,” in Oxford English Dictionary, 6:114; see also Salzman, “Religious Koine and Religious Dissent,” 115; [John Wilson], “Noctes Ambrosianae. No. LVI,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Apr. 1831, 712; and Gellett, Varieties, 224.)
Oxford English Dictionary. Compact ed. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Salzman, Michele Renee. “Religious Koine and Religious Dissent in the Fourth Century.” In A Companion to Roman Religion, edited by Jörg Rüpke, 109–125. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.
Gellett, Henry. Varieties: Consisting of Select and Interesting Anecdotes, Historical, Personal, and Literary. To Which Are Added Notes, Containing a Dutch Translation of the Most Difficult Words and Phrases. Designed for the Use of Students of the English Language, and as an Aid in Translating English into Dutch. 3rd ed. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Mrs. A. H. Krap, 1843.
Reactions to The History of the Saints were mixed. The editors of both the New York Herald and the Boston Post were unimpressed with Bennett’s book, seeing it as a “heap of monstrosities.” Other newspaper editors saw the book as an important contribution and predicted it would sell well. It is unclear how well the book sold and what profits Bennett garnered from it. However, the book went through three printings, and Bennett reportedly lived on the royalties of the book and his lecture fees for two years. (Smith, Saintly Scoundrel, 126–127.)
Smith, Andrew F. The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
When he first learned of John C. Bennett’s plans to publish a book, James Arlington Bennet wrote to JS and encouraged him not to be concerned: “You will recieve no injury whatever from any thing that any man or set of men may Lay against you.” He told him that he believed that “the whole of this muss is only extending you[r] fame & will increase your numbers ten fold.” (Letter from James Arlington Bennet, 16 Aug. 1842, underlining in original.)
John C. Bennett gave a highly embellished and exaggerated account of plural marriage in Nauvoo. He stated that some of Nauvoo’s women were “set apart and consecrated to the use and benefit of particular individuals, as secret, spiritual wives.” Bennett described a three-tiered harem of spiritual wives and concubines available to different ranks of priesthood officers. (Bennett, History of the Saints, 223, italics in original.)
Bennett, John C. The History of the Saints; or, an Exposé of Joe Smith and Mormonism. Boston: Leland and Whiting, 1842.
New York Herald editor James Gordon Bennett occasionally lampooned JS and the Latter-day Saints in his newspaper. (See “Joe Smith in Town,” New York Herald [New York City], 12 Nov. 1842, ; and “Joe Smith in Trouble,” New York Herald, 16 Jan. 1843, .)
In April 1842, the University of the City of Nauvoo conferred the “honorary degree of L. L. D.” upon James Gordon Bennett, and the Nauvoo City Council approved a resolution granting him and other notable individuals “the FREEDOM OF THE CITY.” A month later, Bennett was commissioned as a brigadier general in the Nauvoo Legion. (“Honorary Degree,” Wasp, 28 May 1842, ; “Freedom of the City,” Wasp, 30 Apr. 1842, , emphasis in original; James Gordon Bennett, “Rising in the World,” New York Herald [New York City], 13 Aug. 1842, .)
In August 1842, Wilson Law was elected major general in the Nauvoo Legion, filling the place of John C. Bennett, who had been cashiered from the post. James Gordon Bennett’s earlier commission had appointed him as the aide-de-camp to the major general. (Nauvoo Legion, “Election for Major General,” 13 Aug. 1842, Nauvoo Legion Records, CHL; James Gordon Bennett, “Rising in the World,” New York Herald [New York City], 13 Aug. 1842, .)
In August 1842, James Arlington Bennet wrote to JS stating that John C. Bennett had “proposed to me to aid him . . . in arranging materials for publishing ‘an exposition of Mormon Secrets & practices.’” James Arlington Bennet stated that he had “preemptorily refused” the offer, following which John C. Bennett made a similar offer to James Gordon Bennett, who agreed to “publish conjointly with J. C. B. on half profit the exposition” against JS and the Latter-day Saints. (Letter from James Arlington Bennet, 16 Aug. 1842.)