Letter to Edward Partridge and the Church, circa 22 March 1839
JS, , , , and , Letter, [, Clay Co., MO], to and the church, , Adams Co., IL, [ca. 22 Mar. 1839]; handwriting of , with insertion by JS; signatures of JS, , , , and ; nine pages; Revelations Collection, CHL. Includes address and dockets, with a redaction in graphite.
Three bifolia measuring 12½ × 7¾ inches (32 × 20 cm). The document was trifolded twice in letter style for mailing and was then addressed. The final leaf has marked soiling, and there is separation at the folds, with some loss of paper. Likely after being damaged at the folds, the bifolia were fastened with staples; subsequently, the staples were removed. The document has undergone conservation more than once. When cellophane tape was removed, the paper was damaged, reducing the legibility of portions of the document. Mold and then bleaching to remove the mold have caused the ink to fade, further reducing legibility.
The Times and Seasons published an edited version of the letter in July 1840. Church clerk copied the letter into JS’s multivolume manuscript history in 1845. The letter was included in inventories for the Church Historian’s Office in about 1904, and it was cataloged in the Revelations Collection in 1983, indicating continuous institutional custody.
See “Index to Papers. in the Historians Office,” ca. 1904, p. 3; “Letters to and from the Prophet,” ca. 1904, p. 1, Historian’s Office, Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904, CHL; and the full bibliographic entry for the Revelations Collection in the CHL catalog.
Historian’s Office. Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904. CHL. CR 100 130.
Around 22 March 1839, JS composed this epistle in the in , Missouri. Addressed to and the , the letter offered counsel on a range of issues. The epistle was the second letter JS wrote to the church in March 1839, and he evidently planned to write additional general epistles that month, offering guidance and comfort to the church after the devastating setbacks of 1838 and amid church members’ forced removal from in early 1839. The first epistle, addressed to the church in general and Partridge in particular, was drafted on 20 March 1839 and included meditations on persecution and the church’s divine destiny. At the conclusion of the missive, JS stated that the prisoners’ intent was to “continue to offer further reflections in our next epistle.” This undated letter appears to be the promised sequel. JS was the primary author of the epistle, although the other prisoners may have assisted in its composition. Like the 20 March 1839 epistle, the undated letter shifts between three rhetorical perspectives: the first-person plural of all the prisoners, the first-person singular of JS, and the voice of Deity directed to JS. Each prisoner signed the letter.
Dating the letter presents significant challenges. On 21 March 1839, JS informed , “I have sent an Epistle to the church,” presumably referring to the 20 March letter. He then told her that he intended to “send an other as soon as posible,” likely referring to this undated epistle. The undated letter could have been written anytime between 21 March and 6 April, the day the prisoners left for , Missouri, to appear before the Circuit Court. However, JS likely wrote it around 22 March, the day he composed a letter to land speculator , who had offered to sell the church land in and . In the 20 March 1839 epistle, JS deferred to the judgment of church leaders in , Illinois, regarding whether to accept Galland’s offer. JS’s thinking evidently changed by the time he wrote the letter to Galland on 22 March. In that letter, JS remarked that “the church would be wise in making the contract” and requested that Galland reserve the land for the Saints. JS used similar language in the undated epistle, stating that “the church would do well to secure to themselves” Galland’s land offer.
In the epistle, JS revisited other major themes of the 20 March 1839 letter and also included new insights. In the earlier epistle, JS reflected on lessons learned from past mistakes; in the undated missive, JS further contemplated previous errors and suggested ways to avert similar problems in the future. The second epistle also contained an extended meditation on the righteous use of power; during the meditation, the perspective transitioned from the combined voice of JS and his companions addressing a general church audience to the voice of Deity addressing JS with regard to his future influence. After reviewing JS’s recent arrest, forced separation from his family, and incarceration, the divine voice assured JS that his suffering would provide necessary experience. The letter then returned to the voice of JS and his companions, alternating between first-person singular and first-person plural. The epistle also instructed the Saints to prepare affidavits describing their losses in , to be submitted to government officials. The letter then concluded with an extended affirmation of the inspired nature of the Constitution and the principle of religious liberty.
JS presumably dictated the rough draft of the epistle, which is in the handwriting of , who acted as scribe for other lengthy documents produced in the jail. This draft contains corrections by JS. When it was completed, each of the prisoners signed the epistle before it was folded in letter style and addressed to JS’s wife in . For reasons that remain unclear, McRae then produced a fair copy that incorporated JS’s revisions to the rough draft. After McRae and JS made additional minor corrections to the fair copy, the prisoners signed it, and then it was folded and addressed to Emma Smith. The fair copy is featured here because it appears to be the most complete version of the letter sent to .
The undated general epistle may have been among the “package of letters” that church member obtained from the on 22 March 1839. Alternatively, if the letter was not yet completed at the time of Ripley’s visit, other visitors to the jail in late March and early April, including and , may have been entrusted with the letter. The letter was presumably delivered to , as it was addressed to her. On 11 April 1839, ’s wife, , indicated that both the 20 March 1839 epistle and the undated letter had arrived in . “We have seen the Epistols to the Church and read them several times,” she wrote to her husband. “They seem like food for the hungrey we have taken great pleasure on perusing them.” The undated epistle evidently was circulated widely among church members in Illinois, as indicated by the early copies that and made. An edited version of the letter was published twice in 1840—in church newspapers in , Illinois, and in , England—further increasing the letter’s circulation.
The letter’s closing indicates that JS and his companions were still prisoners. The letter does not reference leaving the Clay Countyjail, meaning the letter was likely written before the prisoners departed Liberty on 6 April 1839. It is possible, though not likely, that it was written toward the end of their stay in Liberty rather than around 22 March. Hyrum Smith generally noted in his journal when correspondence arrived and was sent out. He did not write in his journal between 20 and 29 March, and his journal entries from 30 March to 6 April do not mention JS composing a general epistle to the church. When church clerks copied the undated letter into JS’s manuscript history in 1845, they inserted the epistle between entries for 25 March and 4 April 1839, dates associated with the departure of Heber C. Kimball and Theodore Turley from Liberty for Jefferson City, Missouri, and their later return to Liberty. (Hyrum Smith, Diary, 30 Mar.–6 Apr. 1839; Historian’s Office, JS History, Draft Notes, 25 Mar.–4 Apr. 1839; see also Historical Introduction to Petition to George Tompkins, between 9 and 15 Mar. 1839.)
Smith, Hyrum. Diary, Mar.–Apr. 1839, Oct. 1840. CHL. MS 2945.
Portions of the undated epistle were subsequently canonized in sections 121–123 of the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
The Doctrine and Covenants, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Containing the Revelations Given to Joseph Smith, Jun., the Prophet, for the Building Up of the Kingdom of God in the Last Days. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Office, 1876.
Parley P. Pratt recalled that when JS dictated documents, “each sentence was uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each, sufficiently long for it to be recorded, by an ordinary writer, in long hand.” McRae’s script in the rough draft is notably looser than in other documents he inscribed for JS in the jail, especially the fair copy of the letter, and may be the result of dictation. Although both the rough draft and the fair copy were written on paper of the same size, the relative tightness of McRae’s script in the fair copy enabled him to fit an additional two to three words per line, reducing the length of the document by two pages. This draft contains the type of error commonly made by scribes who mishear similar-sounding words. For example, McRae wrote “thine elder one.” When correcting the manuscript, JS canceled “one” and inserted “son.” (Pratt, Autobiography, 48; JS et al., [Liberty, MO], to Edward Partridge and the Church, Quincy, IL, [ca. 22 Mar. 1839], Revelations Collection, CHL.)
Pratt, Parley P. The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, One of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Embracing His Life, Ministry and Travels, with Extracts, in Prose and Verse, from His Miscellaneous Writings. Edited by Parley P. Pratt Jr. New York: Russell Brothers, 1874.
Revelations Collection, 1831–ca. 1844, 1847, 1861, ca. 1876. CHL. MS 4583.
See JS, Liberty, MO, to the Church and Edward Partridge, Quincy, IL, 20–25 Mar. 1839, copy, CHL; JS et al., Liberty, MO, to the Church and Edward Partridge, Quincy, IL, 20 Mar. 1839, copy, Albert Perry Rockwood, Mormon Letters and Sermons, 1838–1839, Western Americana Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT; “An Extract of a Letter Written to Bishop Partridge,” Times and Seasons, July 1840, 1:131–134; and “Letter from Elder Jos. Smith,” LDS Millennial Star, Dec. 1840, 195–199.
Smith, Joseph. Letter, Liberty, MO, to the Church and Edward Partridge, Quincy, IL, 20–25 Mar. 1839. Copy. CHL.
Rockwood, Albert Perry. Mormon Letters and Sermons, 1838–1839. Western Americana Collection. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT.
Times and Seasons. Commerce/Nauvoo, IL. Nov. 1839–Feb. 1846.
decisions peradventure in favour of the saints and those who were called to suffer without cause these decisions will be made known in there time and they will take into concideration all those things that offend. We have a fervant desire that in your general that evry thing should be discused with a grate deal of care and propriety lest you grieve the Holy Spirit which shall be poured out at all times upon your heads when you are exercised with those principals of ritiousness that are agreeable to the mind of God and are properly affected one toward an other and are carefull by all means to remember those <who> are in bondage and in heaviness and in deep affliction for your sakes and if there are any among you who aspire after their own aggrandisement and seek their own oppulance while thier brethren are groaning in poverty and are under sore trials and temptations they can not be benefeited by the intersesion of the Holy Spirit <which> maketh intersesion for us daily day and knight with groning that cannot be uttered. We ought at all times to be verry carefull that such high mindedness never have place in our hearts but condesend to men of low estate and with all long suffering bear the infermities of the weak. Behold there are ma[n]y called but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world and aspire to the honors of men that they do not learn this one lesson that the rights of are inseperably connected with the powers of heaven and that the powers of heaven connot be controled nor handled only upon the principals of rightiousness. That they may be confered upon us it is true but when we undertake to cover our sins or to gratify our pride or vain ambition or to exercise controle or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men in any degree of unritiousness behold the heavens withdraw themselves the spirit of the Lord is grieved [p. 2]