Minutes, , Geauga Co., OH, 28–29 Aug. 1834. Featured version copied [not before 25 Feb. 1836] in Minute Book 1, pp. 58–72, 73; handwriting of ; CHL. For more complete source information, see the source note for Minute Book 1.
On 28 August 1834, , in , Ohio, convened the Kirtland to try for “violating the laws of the church of the latter day saints.” Smith, a participant, had accused JS of “criminal conduct” on the expedition, but the Kirtland council that investigated the charges on 11 August 1834 found JS innocent of any wrongdoing. The council required Sylvester Smith to recant his charges publicly, which he agreed to do, and appointed a committee to write an article clearing JS’s name, to be published in The Evening and the Morning Star. On 23 August 1834, another council approved the article for publication, but Sylvester Smith then “objected against abiding by the decision of the former council, and proceeded to Justify himself in his former conduct.” The council decided that Sylvester Smith was “guilty of a misdemeanor unbecoming a man in his high station” and “disqualified” him from acting in his church office until “a trial before the bishop assisted by twelve [could] be had.”
That same day, made formal charges against and requested to call the high council to investigate the charges. Whitney did so on 28 August, and the council met for the next two days, hearing testimony about what had transpired at the 11 August council and on the Camp of Israel expedition. The high council ultimately mandated that Sylvester Smith publish a confession in order to remain a member of the church, stating that he “willfully and maliciously lied” in making his accusations against JS. The confession was published in the October 1834 issue of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, and Sylvester Smith retained his membership and his high priest office, though he was removed from the high council in September 1834. However, Smith may not have been satisfied with the decision of the council. Although he signed a statement acknowledging the justness of the council’s decisions, someone—likely Sylvester Smith himself, as the handwriting resembles his—later crossed out his name and wrote under it, “The above was signed for fear of punishment.” This may have occurred in 1836 when Smith was temporarily serving as JS’s scribe.
The high council, which tried , was established in February 1834 in part to adjudicate difficult issues in the church. According to the constitution of the high council, the president of the high council, JS, was supposed to preside, assisted by two other presidents—at the time, and . However, Bishop actually presided over the high council at this 28–29 August meeting. Since JS was the subject of Smith’s charges, he may have recused himself from the presiding role. If so, it is unclear why Rigdon or Williams did not then act as the presiding authority, especially since guidelines for the high council clearly state that in the absence of the president, “the other presidents have power to preside in his stead, both or either of them.” It may have been because Whitney had already presided over the 11 August council that originally investigated Smith’s charges. Or perhaps it was because the 23 August council specifically stated that Smith needed to be tried by “the bishop assisted by twelve high priests,” or a . However, the minutes themselves specifically refer to the body addressing these charges as the high council, not as a bishop’s court. A third possibility is that the council was functioning in accordance with instructions in a November 1831 revelation that stated if the was in transgression, the president (JS) should be tried before a court chaired by the bishop, or common judge, assisted by “twelve counsellors of the .” Even though JS was not on trial, the high council did address Smith’s charges against JS, which, as Rigdon stated in his complaint, meant that the case “affect[ed] the presidency” of the church. Whatever the reason, Whitney assumed the same roles that the president of the high council typically filled, serving as moderator throughout the trial, delivering the decision in the case, and calling on the high counselors for their sanction of the decision.
and served as clerks of the meeting and kept the minutes. The minutes featured here include ’s formal complaint against , ’s notification to Smith of the charges, and Smith’s statement acknowledging the decision of the council. later copied these documents and the minutes into Minute Book 1.
This day the of the assembled according to direction of of this church to try brother who has been charged with a misdemeanor. complainent
The following is a copy of the complaint.
To , bishop of the church of the Latter Day Saints in , Sir, I prefer the following charges against , a of said Church.
First, He has refused to submit to the decision of a council of the high priests and of this church held in this place on the eleventh of this month given in a case of difficulty, between said and Joseph Smith Junr.
Second: He continues to charge said Joseph, contrary to the decision of the before mentioned council with improper conduct in his proceedings as of the church of the Latter-Day, Saints during his journey the past season, to the state of . As these things are exceedingly grievous to many of the Saints in , and very prejudicial to the cause of truth in general, I therefore require that you summon the high council of this church, to investigate this case that a final may be had upon the same. I say the high council, because it is a case [p. 58]