See the full bibliographic entry for JS Collection, 1827–1844, in the CHL catalog.
On the morning of 8 September 1842, JS dictated to his scribe a letter from , Illinois, to in , New York, updating him on the state of affairs in the wake of ’s public criticisms of JS and the Latter-day Saints. JS wrote the letter in response to James Arlington Bennet’s 16 August 1842 letter, which JS received by 7 September. Although Bennet had started corresponding with John C. Bennett earlier that year, Bennet’s 16 August letter was the first that JS received from him, and the two men had never met in person.
In his 16 August letter, praised the character of several church members whom he had recently met, including , , and . He also gave JS his assessment of and noted that Bennett had approached him about publishing an exposé of JS and the church, a proposition he refused. In his reply, JS added his praise for Richards, Foster, and Bernhisel and asserted that the church was filled with thousands of men of similarly high character. JS also expressed his opinion of John C. Bennett and recounted the persecution he and several other church members experienced because of Bennett’s charges. JS described his and the Saints’ circumstances as inconsistent with the liberties and values celebrated throughout the country. He also conveyed his belief that the persecution would spread to other groups and eventually engulf the world in violence if other Americans did not rise up to protect the Saints’ citizenship rights. Finally, JS explained the difficulty he and others were having with the post office.
JS was hiding at ’s home in when he dictated this letter. Because it lacks addressing and postal markings, the version featured here appears to be a draft of the letter. Around the same time the letter was sent, and copied the text of the letter into JS’s journal. The Sangamo Journal published an excerpt of the letter in its 4 November 1842 issue, stating that the letter had been printed in the 22 October 1842 issue of the New York Herald. According to church member , the letter was read publicly to a congregation in Nauvoo on 11 September 1842. likely received the letter by late September or early October. On 24 October, he wrote a letter to in which he continued his discussion of JS’s challenges in the wake of ’s accusations.
Differences between the draft of the letter that JS dictated to and the version in JS’s journal are noted.
Church leaders had contacted Bennet by mid-April 1842, at which time he was commissioned as an officer in the Nauvoo Legion. (Moses K. Anderson to James Arlington Bennet, Certificate, Springfield, IL, 30 Apr. 1842, Thomas Carlin, Correspondence, Illinois State Archives, Springfield.)
Carlin, Thomas. Correspondence, 1838–1842. In Office of the Governor, Records, 1818–1989. Illinois State Archives, Springfield.
As noted above, JS received Bennet’s 16 August letter in Nauvoo on 7 September. This and other correspondence between the two indicate that mail took about three weeks to travel between Nauvoo and New Utrecht.
of nature, and of self preservation; to think, and act, and say as they please while they maintain a due respect, to the rights, and privileges of all other creatures; infringing upon none. This doctrine, I do most heartily subscribe to, and practise; the testimony of mean men to the contrary, notwithstanding. But Sir, I will assure you, that my soul, soars far above all the mean, and grovelling dispositions of men, that are disposed to abuse me and my character; I therefore shall not dwell upon that subject. In relation to those men the you speak of, referred to above; I will only say, that there are thousands of such men in this ; who, to be <if a man is> found worthy to associate with, will call down the envy of a mean world, because of their high and noble demeanor; and it is with unspeakable delight, that I contemplate them as my friends and brethren. I love them with a perfect love; and I hope they love me, and have no reason to doubt but they do.
The next in consideration, is . I was, his friend, I am yet, his friend, as I feel myself bound to be a friend to all the sons of Adam, wether they are just or unjust; they have a degree of my compassion & sympathy. If he is my enemy, it is his own fault; and the responsibility rests upon his own head, and instead of railing <reigning> his character before you; suffice it to say that his own conduct wherever he goes, will be sufficient to recommend him to an enlightened public, wether for a bad man, or a good man. Therefore, whosever will associate themselves [p. 2]
“The testimony of mean men” may refer to claims made on 4 May 1842 in Edwardsville, Illinois, by former Illinois governor Joseph Duncan, who was the Whig candidate to regain that position. Duncan said that the laws of Nauvoo made the church “a privileged sect over all other religious denominations.” A month later, an editorial in the Times and Seasons stated, “Gov. Duncan knows that the law knows no difference between Mormon citizens and other citizens, and that there is no law in the United States, or in this state to prevent people from worshiping the Almighty God according to the dictates of their conscience;’ that under the broad flag of American liberty the Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Universalists, Friends, or Latter Day Saints, are all one; their religion is unknown they are all citizens of this great republic, and are governed by the same law; and that they all possess equal privileges without distinction.” The editorial further emphasized that Nauvoo had “laws for the suppression of vice: for taking up vagrants or disorderly persons; for defamation of character, &c.; and if in our city a Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Latter Day Saint, or Gov. Duncan was found transgressing these laws, they would be judged by the laws, and not by their religion.” (Times and Seasons, 1 June 1842, 3:806–807.)
During John C. Bennett’s lecture tour in the eastern United States, several newspapers commented negatively on Bennett’s character, though some people still believed much of what he said about JS and the church. For example, a Salem, Massachusetts, newspaper article (reprinted in the Times and Seasons) wrote of Bennett, “His manner does not impress us, as that of one actuated by any very high and noble impulses. Yet, that all he is saying and doing is falsehood and forgery we are not at all inclined to think.” The article went on to say “that his original instigation to what he is doing, is the purest in the world, we must confess we do not believe.” (“Mormonism—Gen. Bennett, &c.,” Times and Seasons, 15 Oct. 1842, 3:955–956.)