JS, Letter, , Hancock Co., IL, to the Quorum of the Twelve, , 15 Dec. 1840; handwriting of ; signature of JS; eight pages; JS Collection, CHL. Includes dockets and notations.
Bifolium measuring 12¼ × 7¾ inches (31 × 20 cm) when folded. The text was cross-written: wrote horizontally on the first three pages and then returned to the first page and began writing up the page at a right angle, continuing this cross-writing through the recto of the second leaf. In other words, six pages of text were inscribed on one and a half leaves of the document. The document was then trifolded in letter style, with the blank fourth page on the outside, thereby creating an address panel in the middle of the fourth page, with flaps above and beneath the panel. Thompson inscribed text on those two flaps (which together constitute page  of the document), then added a postscript and addressing at a right angle over the initial writing (page ). Thompson wrote “To the ‘Twelve’” on the address panel. The document was trifolded again in letter style. Folding and wear indicate this was the sent copy. The letter was refolded for filing twice, and each time a docket was added. The earliest docket was written by ; the second docket was written in an unknown hand. Andrew Jenson inscribed two notations.
The dockets and the inclusion of the document in a later inventory suggest this letter was in the custody of the Church Historian’s Office by the mid-nineteenth century. In 1973 the document was included as part of the JS Collection.
“Index to Papers in the Historian’s Office,” ca. 1904, draft, 5; “Index to Papers in the Historian’s Office,” ca. 1904, 5, Historian’s Office, Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904, CHL. The circa 1904 Historian’s Office inventories listed this item as “President Joseph Smith to the Twelve (published under date of Oct. 19, 1840),” reflecting that the letter had been misdated when transcribed into the multivolume manuscript history of the church and subsequently published under that date in the Deseret News. (See JS History, vol. C-1, 1115–1119; and “History of Joseph Smith,” Deseret News [Salt Lake City], 26 Oct. 1854, .)
Historian’s Office. Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904. CHL. CR 100 130.
Johnson, Register to the Joseph Smith Collection, 8; see also the full bibliographic entry for the JS Collection in the CHL catalog.
Johnson, Jeffery O. Register of the Joseph Smith Collection in the Church Archives, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1973.
On 15 December 1840, JS wrote a letter to the members of the then serving a mission in . At the time of this letter, eight of the eleven apostles then making up the were in Great Britain. Seven—, , , , , , and —departed , Illinois, in 1839, and one——was an apostle in April 1840 while in England. and were expected to pass through Great Britain in the coming months on their mission to the Jews in Europe and Palestine, and considered himself too poor to make the journey.
By the time of this letter, membership in had increased to over thirty-five hundred. Under the apostles’ direction, missionaries had been sent to Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and the East Indies. The apostles had also published a hymnal and several issues of a new monthly periodical, the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star. They additionally had made significant progress toward republishing the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon. Since leaving , the apostles had written several letters to JS and received one known letter from him in return, dated 19 July 1840.
While JS acknowledged the multiple unanswered letters he had received from the Twelve, he seems to have written this 15 December letter in response to a series of questions and posed in a 5 September 1840 letter. JS responded to what he considered the most pertinent questions, particularly those that asked about the timing of the Twelve’s return to , Illinois; the publication of the scriptures in Great Britain; and the migration of British Saints to Nauvoo. Additionally, JS shared local news, reporting on the plans for the Nauvoo , efforts to get the legislature to pass the Nauvoo city charter, the death of , and recent conversions. He also briefly instructed the apostles on for the dead, a practice instituted the previous August and September in Nauvoo, making this the earliest firsthand source from JS to explain this teaching.
The letter is in the handwriting of . The lack of postage markings suggests that it was hand carried rather than mailed to Great Britain. The apostles received the letter by 30 March 1841. A significant excerpt was published in the 1 January 1841 issue of the Times and Seasons and then was reprinted in the Millennial Star in March 1841.
JS first spoke on baptism for the dead on 15 August 1840. The first baptisms for the dead occurred in the Mississippi River as early as 13 September 1840. (Jane Harper Neyman and Vienna Jaques, Statement, 29 Nov. 1854, Historian’s Office, JS History Documents, ca. 1839–1860, CHL; Simon Baker, “15 Aug. 1840 Minutes of Recollection of Joseph Smith’s Sermon,” JS Collection, CHL.)
Historian’s Office. Joseph Smith History Documents, 1839–1860. CHL. CR 100 396.
Smith, Joseph. Collection, 1827–1846. CHL. MS 155.
it is for brethren to dwell together in Unity &c” Let the saints of the most high, ever cultivate this principle, and the most glorious blessings must result, not only to them individually but to the whole — The order of the Kingdom will be maintained,— Its officers respected, and its requirements readily and cheerfully obeyed. Love is one of the leading characteristics of Deity, and ou[gh]t to be manifested by those who aspire to be the Sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the world, anxious to bless the whole of the human family. This has been your feelings and caused you to forego the pleasures of home, that you might be a blessing to others, who are candidates for immortality but and who were strangers to the principals of truth and for so doing I pray that Heaven’s choicest blessings may rest upon you.
Being requested to give my advice respecting the propriety of your returning in the spring, I will do so willingly. I have reflected on the subject some time and am of the opinion that it would be wisdom in you to make preparations to leave the scene of your labors in the spring. Having carried the testimony to that land, and numbers having received it, consequently the leaven can now spread, without your being obliged to stay. Another thing, there has been some whisperings of the spirit; that there will be some agitation, some excitement, and some trouble in the land in which you are now laboring. I would therefore say in the mean time be diligent, organize the churches and let every one stand in his proper place, so that those who cannot come with you in the spring may not be left as sheep without shepherds.
I would likewise observe that inasmuch as this place has been appointed for the of the saints, it is necessary that it should be attended to, in the order which the Lord intended it should; to this end I would say that as there are great numbers of the saints in , who are extremely poor and not accustomed to the farming business, who must have certain preparations made for them before they can support themselves in this , therefore to prevent confusion and disappointment when they arrive here, let those men who are accustomed to making machinery and those [p. ]
In a 17 June 1840 letter to his son, George A. Smith, JS’s uncle John Smith stated: “I would advise you to be very Dilligent to warn that People while it is called to Day for I think the time is short according to the working of the spirit in me perscution will rage in England ere long worse then in Missouri and the saints will have to flee out the best way they can.” (John Smith and Clarissa Lyman Smith, Montrose, Iowa Territory, to George A. Smith, Burslem, England, 17 June 1840, George Albert Smith, Papers, CHL.)
Smith, George Albert. Papers, 1834–1877. CHL. MS 1322.