Letter to Hyrum Smith and Nauvoo High Council, 5 December 1839
JS and , Letter, , to and Nauvoo high council, [, Hancock Co., IL], 5 Dec. 1839. Featured version copied [between Apr. and June 1840] in JS Letterbook 2, pp. 85–88; handwriting of ; JS Collection, CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for JS Letterbook 2.
On 5 December 1839, JS and wrote to —the remaining member of the in , Illinois—and the to inform them of their safe arrival in a week earlier. JS and Higbee apprised Smith and the high council of their recent efforts to obtain redress from the federal government for the persecutions members experienced in and described their meeting with President , in which the president declined to help the Saints.
JS and , accompanied by representative , went to the President’s House on 29 November seeking a meeting with . In the 1830s, visitors commonly arrived at the President’s House without an appointment. Many Americans, including legislators and office seekers, discussed their business with the president in social settings, and Van Buren frequently met with guests in the parlor outside his office for hours at a time. In this setting, JS and Higbee would have had to compete with other visitors for the president’s attention, which may explain why Reynolds introduced them.
It is unclear what JS and asked to do to support their petitioning efforts. They may have requested an executive order that would result in redress and reparations for church members’ losses, but no documentary evidence exists to support this possibility. It is unlikely that Van Buren would have considered executive action to force , a state led predominantly by Democrats, to restore the Saints’ property rights. Van Buren was a staunch advocate of states’ rights and was at this time widely considered the architect of the Democratic Party, which had elected his predecessor, Andrew Jackson, to two consecutive presidential terms. However, JS and Higbee possibly believed Van Buren was amenable to lending his political influence to the church’s memorial for redress to Congress. Evidence suggests they tried to enlist him to assist in their appeal. In their ongoing correspondence while in , members of the church’s delegation indicated they were awaiting publication of the president’s annual message to Congress, hoping that Van Buren would therein urge Congress to act in the Saints’ behalf.
JS and also described their plan to meet with all the congressional delegates the following day, mentioned the delayed travel of and , and asked and the high council to help expedite financial arrangements for the delegation. They then requested that the Saints continue their efforts to encourage influential men in Illinois and to write letters to Congress in support of the church. After closing by asking that the letter be forwarded to their wives, JS and Higbee included a postscript that criticized the behavior of Congress and recounted more of their travels.
received the letter by 2 January 1840. The original letter is not extant. The version featured here was copied into JS Letterbook 2 by between April and June 1840.
An account of an April 1840 JS discourse states that JS met with Van Buren at the President’s House over two successive days, whereas according to this letter to Hyrum Smith—the earliest extant account of the meeting—and a March 1840 discourse, the parties met at the President’s House only once. All three of these accounts, however, reported the same sentiment in Van Buren’s response. (Discourse, 7 Apr. 1840; Discourse, 1 Mar. 1840.)
Presidents rarely issued executive orders during this period. Van Buren’s seven predecessors in office had issued a combined total of thirty executive orders over forty-three years. Van Buren issued ten executive orders during his term as president. (Peters and Woolley, “Executive Orders,” in American Presidency Project.)
Peters, Gerhard, and John T. Woolley. “Executive Orders.” In The American Presidency Project, 1999–. Hosted by the University of California, Santa Barbara. Accessed 12 Apr. 2017. www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/orders.php.
frowning brow and considerable body but not well proportioned, as his arms and legs— and to use his own words is quite fat— On the whole we think his he is without boddy or parts, as no one part seems to be proportioned to another— therefore instead of saying boddy and parts we say boddy and part, or partyism if you please to call it, and in fine to come directly to the point, he so much a fop or a fool, (for he judged our cause before he knew it,) we could find no place to put truth into him— We do not <say> the Saints shall not vote for him, but we do say boldly, (though it need not be published in the streets of , neither among the daughters of the ,) That we do not intend he shall have our votes—
We have spent the remainder of our time in hunting up the Representatives, in order to get our case brought before the house; in giving them Letters of introductions &c, and in getting acquainted— Meeting, of the delegation of the State of , was appointed to day, to consult for bringing our case before Congress. The Gentlemen from Illinois, are worthy men, and have treated <us> and have with the greatest kindness, and are ready to do all that is in their power— but you are aware brethren that they with us have all the prejudices, superstition and bigotry of an ignorant generation to contend with, nevertheless we believe our case will be brought before the house, and we will leave the event with God— he is our Judge and the avenger of our wrongs— For a general thing there is but little solidity and honorable deportment among those who are sent here to represent the people; but a great deal of pomposity and show— We left <and others> on the road and recd. a Letter this day from them— They were, at the date of a Letter on the 29th. Nov., near Washington of Pa.— expecting to stop a day or two at his brothers, on account of his ill health— He has <occasionally> a chill yet but is not dangerous— We expect him here soon, and and stand in need of his talents here very much.
We have already commenced forming some very honorable acquaintances— and have thus far been prospered as [p. 86]
This sentence appears to be a humorous reference to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which states, “There is but one only, living, and true God . . . a most pure Spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions.” (Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament Sitting at Westminster, concerning a Confession of Faith, 5.)
The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament Sitting at Westminster, concerning a Confession of Faith: With the Quotations and Texts of Scripture Annexed. Presented by Them Lately to Both Houses of Parliament. Edinburgh: Evan Tyler, 1647.
The church’s critics in Missouri frequently claimed that church members represented a sizeable voting bloc that could sway elections in the direction church leaders desired. While in Indiana on his return trip to Commerce, JS reportedly announced his support of the leading Whig presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison. (“A Glance at the Mormons,” Alexandria [VA] Gazette, 11 July 1840, ; Corrill, Brief History, 33; Letter from Elias Higbee, 24 Mar. 1840.)
In December 1839, the Illinois delegation to the United States Congress consisted of representatives Zadok Casey (Democrat), John Reynolds (Democrat), and John Todd Stuart (Whig); and senators John M. Robinson (Democrat) and Richard M. Young (Democrat). (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 119, 797, 1800, 1823, 1995, 2214.)
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, the Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, inclusive. Edited by Andrew R. Dodge and Betty K. Koed. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005.
Washington, Pennsylvania, is a town in the southwestern part of the state. In 1840 the town had a population of over four thousand and was a prominent stop on the National Road. (Compendium of the Enumeration of the Inhabitants and Statistics of the United States, 24–26; Raitz, National Road, 17, 113.)
Compendium of the Enumeration of the Inhabitants and Statistics of the United States, as Obtained at the Department of State, from the Returns of the Fifth Census. . . . Washington: Thomas Allen, 1831.
Raitz, Karl. The National Road. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
Rigdon stayed with his brother Carvel, a member of the church who resided in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, which bordered Washington County and was near Rigdon’s childhood home. (“Records of Early Church Families,” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 27 [Oct. 1936]: 156–158; “History of Luke Johnson,” , Historian’s Office, Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861, CHL; 1840 U.S. Census, Upper St. Clair Township, Allegheny Co., PA, 128.)
“Records of Early Church Families.” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 27 (Oct. 1936): 156–162.
Historian’s Office. Histories of the Twelve, 1856–1858, 1861. CHL. CR 100 93.
Census (U.S.) / U.S. Bureau of the Census. Population Schedules. Microfilm. FHL.
Rigdon’s peers celebrated him as a particularly gifted orator. In 1838 Edmund Flagg described Rigdon as having “a full face of fire, a fine tenour voice, and a mild and persuasive eloquence of speech.” Amos S. Hayden recalled decades later that Rigdon’s language was “copious, fluent in utterance, with articulation clear and musical.” ([Flagg], Far West, 2:113; Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, 192.)
[Flagg, Edmund]. The Far West; or, A Tour beyond the Mountains. Embracing Outlines of Western Life and Scenery; Sketches of the Prairies, Rivers, Ancient Mounds, Early Settlements of the French, Etc., Etc. 2 vols. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1838.
Hayden, Amos Sutton. Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio; with Biographical Sketches of the Principal Agents in Their Religious Movement. Cincinnati: Chase and Hall, 1875.