Letter to the Elders of the Church, 2 October 1835
JS, Letter, [, Geauga Co., OH], to “the elders of the church of Latter Day Saints,” [2 Oct. 1835]. Featured version published in “To the Elders of the Church of Latter Day Saints,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Sept. 1835, 1:179–182. For more complete source information, see the source note for Letter to Oliver Cowdery, Dec. 1834.
This letter to the elders of the church was the first in a three-part series of open letters published in the September, November, and December 1835 issues of the church’s newspaper, the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. The letters instructed the church’s increasingly large and sophisticated missionary force, which by that time included apostles and seventies. The three-part missive reminded them of essential doctrine, such as the establishment of and the gathering of Israel, and provided specific direction to help them succeed in spreading the church’s message. Instruction for traveling elders in the form of open letters such as this one appeared occasionally in the church’s periodicals.
In this letter, JS described the revelation that identified , Jackson County, Missouri, as the central gathering place for a latter-day Zion. He acknowledged that this revelation had generated anxiety among Missourians and that the resulting migration of some 1,200 Mormons to western Missouri compounded the unease, culminating in the violent expulsion of Latter-day Saints from in November 1833. JS attempted to clarify the history of the Saints’ settlement in Jackson County and contextualized the revelations and doctrines concerning Zion. He lamented that the Saints’ intentions in settling Jackson County had been distorted by “designing and wicked men” and that the Saints’ own outspoken zealousness regarding the doctrine of gathering had worsened relations in that county. The letter also referred to several New Testament passages to emphasize the duty the elders had to teach the church’s basic doctrines—faith, repentance, remission of sins, and baptism.
JS wrote this first installment on 2 October and submitted it to editor , who published it shortly thereafter in the September issue of the Messenger and Advocate, which was then behind schedule. The original letter is no longer extant. JS dictated the second letter of the series six weeks later, on 16 November 1835.
JS, Journal, 2 Oct. 1835. It appears that in late summer and fall 1835, issues of the Messenger and Advocate were being published about a month later than the dates found in the masthead. For instance, the August issue of the periodical was published sometime after 1 September, since it contained an obituary of Mary Hill stating that she died “on Tuesday, (the 1st of Sept.)” The September issue featured JS’s 2 October letter. The October Messenger and Advocate contained letters dated 6 and 7 November 1835, indicating that issue was not published until after those dates. (Obituary for Mary Hill, LDS Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1835, 1:176; L. T. Coons, 6 Nov. 1835, Letter to the Editor, and Noah Packard, 7 Nov. 1835, Letter to the Editor, LDS Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1835, 2:207, 208.)
Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. Kirtland, OH. Oct. 1834–Sept. 1837.
“Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.”—Isaiah 52:8.
Here we pause for a moment, to make a few remarks upon the idea of to this place. It is well known that there were lands belonging to the government, to be sold to individuals; and it was understood by all, at least we believed so, that we lived in a free country, a land of liberty and of laws, guaranteeing to every man, or any company of men, the right of purchasing lands, and settling, and living upon them: therefore we thought no harm in advising the , or Mormons, as they are reproachfully called, to gather to this place, inasmuch as it was their duty, (and it was well understood so to be,) to purchase, with money, lands, and live upon them—not infringing upon the civil rights of any individual, or community of people: always keeping in view the saying, “Do unto others as you would wish to have others do unto you.” Following also the good injunction: “Deal justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.”
These were our motives in teaching the people, or Latter Day Saints, to gather together, beginning at this place. And inasmuch as there are those who have had different views from this, we feel, that it is a cause of deep regret: For, be it known unto all men, that our principles concerning this thing, have not been such as have been represented by those who, we have every reason to believe, are designing and wicked men, that have said that this was our doctrine:—to infringe upon the rights of a people who inhabit our civil and free country: such as to drive the inhabitants of from their lands, and take possession thereof unlawfully. Far, yea, far be such a principle from our hearts: it never entered into our mind, and we only say, that God shall reward such in that day when he shall come to make up his jewels.
But to return to my subject: after having ascertained the very spot, and having the happiness of seeing quite a number of the families of my brethren, comfortably situated upon the land, I took leave of them, and journeyed back to , and used every influence and argument, that lay in my power, to get those who believe in the , whose circumstances would admit, and whose families were willing to remove to the place which I now designated to be the land of Zion: And thus the sound of the gathering, and of the doctrine, went abroad into the world; and many we have reason to fear, having a zeal not according to knowledge, not understanding the pure principles of the doctrine of the church, have no doubt, in the heat of enthusiasm, taught and said many things which are derogatory to the genuine character and principles of the church, and for these things we are heartily sorry, and would apologize if an apology would do any good.
But we pause here and offer a remark upon the saying which we learn has gone abroad, and has been handled in a manner detrimental to the cause of truth, by saying, “that in preaching the doctrine of gathering, we break up families, and give license for men to leave their families; women their husbands; children their parents, and slaves their masters, thereby deranging the order, and breaking up the harmony and peace of society.” We shall here show our faith, and thereby, as we humbly trust, put an end to these faults, and wicked misrepresentations, which have caused, we have every reason to believe, thousands to think they were doing God’s service, when they were persecuting the children of God: whereas, if they could have enjoyed the true light, and had a just understanding of our principles, they would have embraced them with all their hearts, and been rejoicing in the love of the truth.
And now to show our doctrine on this subject, we shall commence with the first principles of the gospel, which are repentance, and for the remission of sins, and the by the laying on of the hands. This we believe to be our duty, to teach to all mankind the doctrine of repentance, which we shall endeavor to show from the following quotations:
“Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead, the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”—Luke 24:45, 46, 47.
By this we learn, that it behoved Christ to suffer, and to be crucified, and rise again on the third day, for the express purpose that repentance and [p. 180]
In 1828 the U.S. government publicly announced that it would begin selling federal lands in Missouri. Such lands were sold at auction for $1.25 per acre in tracts of at least eighty acres. Purchasers paid the surveyors’ fees up front, filed, and were required to complete payment within three years in order to obtain title to the land. In 1831 the federal government offered for sale the lands it had reserved to benefit public education, including the “Seminary Lands,” which had been set aside to fund higher education in Missouri and which included much of the land in Jackson County. The seminary land was initially offered for sale at $2.00 per acre. (An Act to Provide for the Sale of Seminary Lands [31 Dec. 1830], Laws . . . of the State of Missouri, vol. 2, chap. 155, pp. 209–213.)
Laws of a Public and General Nature of the State of Missouri, Passed between the Years 1824 and 1836, Not Published in the Digest of 1825, Nor in the Digest of 1835. Vol. 2. Jefferson City, MO: W. Lusk and Son, 1842.
Revelations and instructions from church leaders directed church members to acquire lands in Missouri by buying them, not by using violence. William W. Phelps, editor of The Evening and the Morning Star at Independence, was aware of rumors that the Saints sought to acquire land violently, and in 1833 he wrote: “To suppose that we can come up here and take possession of this land by the shedding of blood, would be setting at nought the law of the glorious gospel, and also the word of our great Redeemer: And to suppose that we can take possession of this country, without making regular purchases of the same according to the laws of our nation, would be reproaching this great Republic.” (“The Elders Stationed in Zion to the Churches Abroad, in Love,” The Evening and the Morning Star, July 1833, 110; see also Revelation, 1 Aug. 1831 [D&C 58:51–53]; Revelation, 30 Aug. 1831 [D&C 63:29–31]; and Letter to Church Leaders in Jackson County, MO, 21 Apr. 1833.)
The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.
This may refer to some misrepresentations of the Saints’ efforts to settle in Jackson County. In December 1833, Benton Pixley, a pastor in Jackson County, wrote that the Saints would use “blood and violence” to build up their kingdom and drive the non-Mormons away. In June 1834, Samuel C. Owens, Jackson County clerk and chairman of the committee that negotiated with the exiled Saints in summer 1834, was among those who expressed suspicions about Mormon land purchases in Jackson County. Even though an August 1831 revelation stated that church members were to obtain land only by legal purchase and were “forbidden to shed blood,” Owens asserted that the revelation authorized church members to use violence to obtain land. Two months after Owens’s letter and a year before the letter featured here, the church at Kirtland published “An Appeal” to the public to help dispel the rumors. It said that the Saints sought “only the peaceable possession of our rights and property.” The appeal, signed by church leaders who had suffered in Jackson County, used the text of the August 1831 revelation as evidence. (Benton Pixley, “The Mormonites in Missouri,” Christian Watchman [Boston], 13 Dec. 1833, 2; History of Jackson County, Missouri, 256; “Propositions of the Mormons,” Painesville [OH] Telegraph, 8 Aug. 1834, ; Declaration, 21 June 1834; Revelation, 30 Aug. 1831 [D&C 63:29–31]; “An Appeal,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Aug. 1834, 183–184.)
Christian Watchman. Boston. 1821–1848.
The History of Jackson County, Missouri: Containing a History of the County, Its Cities, Towns, Etc. Kansas City, MO: Union Historical, 1881.
David Whitmer, a church leader who resided in Jackson County in 1833, later said, “There were among us a few ignorant and simple-minded persons who were continually making boasts to the Jackson county people that they intended to possess the entire county, erect a temple, etc. This of course occasioned hard feelings and excited the bitter jealousy of the other religious denominations.” On 12 October 1832, Benton Pixley wrote that the Saints were “most zealous and forward” in their cause. Isaac McCoy, a federal land surveyor and Baptist minister in Jackson County, wrote that the Mormons “have repeated, perhaps, hundreds of times, that this country was theirs, the Almighty had given it to them, and that they would assuredly have entire possession of it in a few years. . . . Such sayings, appeared to the people very near akin to many remarks which were common among them, and unfortunately for the Mormons, these reports were believed to be true, and the effect upon the public mind was accordingly.” (“Mormonism,” Kansas City [MO] Daily Journal, 5 June 1881, ; Benton Pixley, “The Mormonites,” Independent Messenger [Boston], 29 Nov. 1832; “The Disturbances in Jackson County,” Missouri Republican [St. Louis], 20 Dec. 1833, 114; see also “To His Excellency, Daniel Dunklin,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Dec. 1833, .)
Kansas City Daily Journal. Kansas City, MO. 1878–1891.
Independent Messenger. Milford and Boston, MA. 1831; Boston, 1832–1839.
Missouri Republican. St. Louis. 1822–1919.
The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.
Possibly in response to sentiments similar to the one quoted here by JS, church leaders issued a statement on marriage that first appeared in August 1835. It stated in part, “It is not right to persuade a woman to be baptized contrary to the will of her husband, neither is it lawful to influence her to leave her husband. All children are bound by law to obey their parents; and to influence them to embrace any religious faith, or be baptized, or leave their parents without their consent, is unlawful and unjust.” Six months after writing this letter, JS wrote to Oliver Cowdery regarding the proselytizing then occurring in the southern United States. He counseled Cowdery and all members of the church that they were “not to preach at all to slaves, until after their masters are converted.” (Statement on Marriage, ca. Aug. 1835; Letter to Oliver Cowdery, ca. 9 Apr. 1836.)