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.
the nomination. A. vote was called and carried. Brother Joseph then called upon to come forward & receive the of high counsellor. After making a few remarks. he came forward, & brother then called upon the Lord in prayer, and then ordained to the said office. Brother then said he wished to be excused from sitting on this , because he had been previously tempted on some matters, and that he had sinned and wished to make a more public confession than he could make here. After some remarks from the counsellors, it was decided that continue in his seat in the council. Brother was appointed to act in the place of , brother Amos Durfee in the place of Sylvester and in the place of . The counsellors were then arranged and the charge read to the council. It was agreed that six counsellors speak on the case before the council The then gave the council their charge in the name of the Lord to act according to truth and righteousness.
Brother testified that the testimony given before a council on the 11th. Inst. was that brother J. Smith Junr. had conducted himself in a proper manner, while journeying to and from ; and that the council considered that had accused brother Joseph, wrongfully and was entirely in the fault. He further considered, that every thing bearing or relating to this affair was had before the council and from this they gave their decision. Brother concurred in the foregoing statement, and he supposed that saw the affair in the same light on the 11th inst. in consequence of his saying that he () said at the time, that he was not previously aware of the spirit that possessed him, at the time when he made his charges against brother Joseph. Brother said that he considered that the evidence given before the council on the 11th. was [p. 60]
According to guidelines for the Kirtlandhigh council, “Whenever any vacancy shall occur by the death, removeal from office, for transgression, or removal from the bounds of this church government of any one of the above named counsellors, it shall be filled by the nomination of the president, or presidents and sanctioned by the voice of a general Council of high priests convened for that purpose to act in the name of the Church.” (Revised Minutes, 18–19 Feb. 1834 [D&C 102:8].)
According to the Kirtlandhigh council guidelines, “Whenever this council convenes to act upon any case; the twelve counsellors shall consider whether it is a difficult one or not; If it is not, two only of the Counsellors shall speak upon it according to the form above written; but if it is thought to be difficult, four shall be appointed, and if more difficult, six: but in no case shall more than six be appointed to speak.” (Revised Minutes, 18–19 Feb. 1834 [D&C 102:13–14].)