Letter to Edward Partridge, 2 May 1833
JS, Letter, , Geauga Co., OH, to , [, Jackson Co., MO], 2 May 1833. Recipient’s copy, [ca. June 1833]; handwriting of ; one page; JS Collection, CHL. Includes docket and archival marking.One leaf, measuring 12⅛ × 7½ inches (31 × 19 cm). copied this letter on the back of a printed deed for leasing lands in , Missouri. The document was folded in fourths for filing, and Partridge added a filing notation: “Copy of a letter received from | Joseph Smith Jun. June 1833”. Four pinholes align when the leaf is folded along its original filing folds, indicating the document was pinned after being folded. The document was later folded twice more, possibly to fit in a pocket. The original folds are partially broken, with a slight loss of inscription from the resulting separations and holes. The letter has undergone conservation.This letter is a contemporaneous copy made by . It was in the Partridge family’s possession until at least the mid-1880s, sometime after which it came into the possession of the Church Historian’s Office.
Arrington, Leonard J., Feramorz Y. Fox, and Dean L. May. Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation among the Mormons. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976.
Whitney, Orson F. “The Aaronic Priesthood.” Contributor, Apr. 1885, 241–250.
Partridge, Edward, Jr. Genealogical Record. 1878. CHL. MS 1271.
This letter from JS in , Ohio, to in , Missouri, clarified aspects of JS’s nascent economic order, which was based on and . The first revelation concerning these arrangements, dictated on 9 February 1831, directed church members to transfer, or “consecrate,” their property to the church via the bishop and his two assistants, or counselors, by a “ and Deed which cannot be broken.” In addition, a May 1831 revelation directed the bishop to give “a writing” to an individual who consecrated his or her property to the church to “secure unto him his portion that he shall hold it of the Church untill he transgress.” In the writing, the bishop would apportion property (both land and personal items), called an , to individual church members, who would then act as stewards over the property. The amount appropriated to a person was determined by what was deemed “sufficient for him self and family.” Whatever property or money remained after the bishop deeded the stewardships was used for supporting the poor and for “building up of the .” The wording of these revelations was ambiguous regarding who legally owned the stewardships assigned to church members.After relocating to , began to issue property to church members. He initially gave members land by lease, rather than by deed, for their stewardship. Sometime between 28 January and 12 October 1832, Partridge provided deeds of stewardship, which were still, in effect, a type of lease, to faithful members of the church who consecrated money, possessions, or property in , Missouri. The deeds of stewardship stipulated that the land assigned to them was to be considered an inheritance over which they held responsibility as stewards, but not as owners. This agreement also mandated that the steward pay property taxes and that all surplus income generated from the property be given to the bishop. In the case of the steward’s defection or excommunication, the church would retain possession of the inheritance. Thus, the church, not the steward, remained the owner of the property in Missouri.Scholars have argued that ’s use of leases rather than deeds offered at least three advantages. First, he was unsure how many Mormons would settle in , and with leases, he retained control over the properties and could more easily reapportion the inheritances if needed. Second, if the lands were leased and not deeded, then greedy settlers who had no intention of building up the church would be dissuaded from settling in hopes of acquiring free land. And finally, since a land stewardship could be revoked if members were not considered in good standing, Partridge could ensure that the tenants avoided idleness and conformed to the church’s ethical standards.Despite these advantages, this land program as implemented by caused problems for both the bishop and the church in . For instance, some members who withdrew from the church wanted to retain their property despite the program’s requirement that they relinquish their inheritances. Some sued for their leased properties and won in Missouri courts. One case, reported in the July 1833 issue of The Evening and the Morning Star, involved “one Bates from New-London, Ohio,” who won a lawsuit against Partridge for fifty dollars. It appears the same case was reported by Benton Pixley in a 4 March 1833 letter written to the editor of the Cincinnati Journal. Pixley reported that an unnamed plaintiff sued Partridge “to recover certain moneys sent to him [Partridge] . . . for certain objects . . . [that] had not been fulfilled.” The plaintiff complained of coercion, stating that if he and others did not conform to expected church behavior, they risked losing the “poor privilege of living on these lands.” Pixley also noted that “several others on this decision stand ready to make s[i]milar demands on the Bishop.”JS must have been aware of ’s legal problems, which were likely outlined in Partridge’s letter to JS, no longer extant, to which JS here responds. On 21 April 1833, JS wrote to leaders, counseling them to align their interpretation of the law of consecration and stewardship with previous revelations concerning these matters and with Missouri’s laws: “On the subject of giving deeds & receiving contrabutions from brethren &c I have nothing further to say on the subject but to make yourselves acquainted with the of the Lord and the Laws of the State and govern yourselves accordingly.” In the letter featured here, JS further counseled Partridge to grant inheritances by deed. The steward would receive an “everlasting inheritance”—a “private stewardship.” If the steward apostatized or was excommunicated, he or she would retain the property. However, the portion from the steward’s original consecration that was given freely for the poor could not be returned, for legally it was considered a charitable donation. JS also told Partridge that if he allotted land in this manner, “no man can take any advantage of you in law.” No deeds reflecting this change in the implementation of consecration are known. This may be because in late July 1833, less than two months after Partridge received this letter, open hostilities against church members broke out in Missouri, and by the end of the year, the Mormons had been expelled from .
Partridge, Edward. Papers, 1818–1839. CHL. MS 892.
Knight, Joseph, Jr., and Edward Partridge. Deed of Stewardship, 12 Oct. 1832. CHL. MS 5589.
Edward Partridge, Papers, 1818–1839. CHL. MS 892.
Partridge, Edward. Papers, 1818–1839. CHL. MS 892.
The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.
Cincinnati Journal. Cincinnati, OH. 1833–1836.