JS, Letter, , Geauga Co., OH, to , [, Geauga Co., OH], [ca. 18 Dec. 1835]. Featured version copied [ca. 19 Dec. 1835] in JS, Journal, 1835–1836, pp. 80–87; handwriting of ; JS Collection, CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for JS, Journal, 1835–1836.
Shortly after his dramatic confrontation with his younger brother on 16 December, JS responded to a contrite letter he had received from William. According to his journal, JS had spent the day after the fight at home feeling “quite unwell.” On the following morning, 18 December, visited JS’s , Ohio, home. Hyrum had also received an apologetic letter from William, which he read aloud to JS. Hyrum and JS apparently spent the remainder of the morning discussing their younger brother’s troubling behavior and his future welfare.
The fight deeply wounded the Smith family. When and called on JS the evening of 17 December, they were “sorely afflicted in mind on the account of that occurrence.” felt that JS was justified in rebuking their younger brother, and he felt “wounded to the verry soul, with the conduct of .” Despite the physical injuries that William had inflicted on him, JS expressed concern for his brother’s spiritual welfare and optimism about his capacity to change. After writing to his brother, JS recorded in his journal: “I have had many solemn feelings this day Concerning my Brothe[r] William and have prayed in my heart to fervently that the Lord will not cast him off but he may return to the God of Jacob and magnify his apostleship and calling.”
The following letter to offers the most detailed account of the 16 December fight and provides a glimpse of JS’s feelings, personality, and demeanor. The letter also articulates some of JS’s nascent ideas about the duty of leaders to reprove and counsel those under their stewardship, a teaching he would develop more fully in succeeding years.
The dating of JS’s letter to is unclear. The letter, as it was copied in JS’s journal by , was originally inscribed with an incorrect date of 17 December; Parrish later changed the “7” to an “8” so the date read “Friday Dec. 18th 1835.” The first line of the 19 December journal entry, in Parrish’s handwriting, indicates that JS spent that day at home, where he “wrote the above letter to Br. Wm. Smith.” The corresponding 19 December entry in JS’s history, also penned by Parrish, is slightly different. It reads, “He was at home and wrote the above letter, or rather indited it, to his brother William.” In another, later JS history, copied William’s 18 December letter and JS’s response. Before recording the latter, Richards wrote that JS “gave the following answer the same day” he received William’s letter of 18 December. Given the aforementioned cancellation, insertion, and subsequent recording in JS’s journal and histories, the letter is dated here as circa 18 December to reflect both the ambiguity of the dating and the date given by Parrish when he inscribed the letter into the journal.
JS’s letter to is no longer extant, but JS’s scribes recorded three versions of the letter in various church records. Significant differences between the featured text and the copy in JS’s 1834–1836 history are noted; the copy in JS’s later history has no significant differences.
JS, Journal, 17 Dec. 1835. The adaptation of JS’s journal for his history confirms that his poor health was a result of the injuries he had sustained at William’s hands. The exact nature of the injuries is not recorded. (JS History, 1834–1836, 150, 159.)
Fifteen months after writing this letter, JS explained these responsibilities to a group of church members gathered in the Kirtlandtemple. He told them, “It is also the privilege of the Melchisedec priesthood, to reprove, rebuke and admonish, as well as to receive revelations.” He himself “rebuked and admonished his brethren frequently, and that because he loved them.” “These rebukes and admonitions,” he continued, were “for their temporal as well as spiritual welfare. They actually constituted a part of the duties of his station and calling.” (Discourse, 6 Apr. 1837.)
having received your letter I now procede to answer it, and shall first procede, to give a brief naration of my feelings and motives, since the night I first came to the knowledge, of your having a debating school, which was at the time I happened, in with, his and Mother &c— which was the first that I knew any thing about it, and from that time I took an interest in them, and was delighted with it, and formed a determination, to attend the school for the purpose of obtaining information, and with the idea of imparting the same, through the assistance of the spirit of the Lord, if by any means I should have faith to do so; and with this intent, I went to the school on <last> Wedensday night, not with the idea of braking up the school, neither did it enter into my heart, that there was any wrangling or jealousy’s in your heart, against me;
Notwithstanding previous to my leaving home there were feelings of solemnity, rolling across my breast, which were unaccountable to me, and also these feelings continued by spells to depress my feelings <spirit> and seemed to manifest that all was not right, even after the debate school commenced, and during the debate, yet I strove to believe that all would work together for good; I was pleased with the power of the arguments, that were aduced, and did [p. 80]
Despite JS’s participation in the debating school, he had previously expressed reservations about it. After attending the 18 November session, he noted in his journal, “I discovered in this debate, much warmth displayed, to[o] much zeal for mastery, to[o] much of that enthusiasm that characterises a lawyer at the bar, who is determined to defend his cause right or wrong.” On that occasion, JS felt compelled to “drop a few words upon this subject by way of advise.” He told the participating elders that they should “improve their minds and cultivate their powers of intellect in a proper manner” and “handle sacred things verry sacredly, and with a due deference to the opinions of others and with an eye single to the glory of God.” (JS, Journal, 18 Nov. 1835.)
The 16 December debate focused on whether “it was necessary for God to reveal himself to man, in order for their happiness.” The journal noted that JS argued in favor of the question. (JS, Journal, 12 and 16 Dec. 1835.)