Letter from Elias Higbee, 22 February 1840

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Feb 22d. 1840
Dear Brother
I have just returned from the committee room; the committee being present to day, a Mr. Corwin of , formerly a democratick editor, emtied his budget: which was as great a bundle of nonsense and stuff, as could be thought of; I suppose not what he knew but what gentlemen had told him, for— instance the religious & others. I confess I had hard work to restrain my feelings some of the time; but I did succeed in keeping silence—tolerably well. Himself & summoned all the energies of their mind to impress upon the assembly, that Jo. Smith as he called him, led the people altogether by revelation, in their [p. 111] temporal, civil & political matters, and by this means caused all the Mormons to vote the whole hog ticket on one side, except two persons: but when I got an opportunity of speaking, I observed that Joseph Smith never led any of the in these matters; as we considered him to have no authority, neither did he presume to exercise any, of that nature; that revelations were only concerning spiritual things in the Church, and the Bible being our standard we received no revelations contrary to it. I also observed that we were not such ignoramuses as perhaps as he fain would have people believe us to be, and some other things on this subject. I then told him that every man exercised the right of suffrage according to his better judgment, or without any ecclesiasticle restraint being put upon him; that it was all false about a revelation on voting: And the reason of our voting that ticket, was, in consequence of the democratick principles having been taught us in <​from​> our infancy; That <​they​> ever believed & extended equal rights to all; and that we had been much persecuted previous to that time, many threatenings being made from the Counties round about, as well as among us, who took the lead in political affairs. It was <​true​> we advised our brethren to vote this ticket, telling them we thought that party would protect our rights, and not suffer us to be driven from our lands, as we had hitherto been; believing it to be far the most liberal party; but in that we were mistaken because when it came to the test, there were as many democrats turned against us, as whigs; and indeed less liberality and political freedom was manifested by them, for one whig Paper came out decidedly in our favor. I made these remarks partly from motives, which I may, at another time, explain to you. He laid great stress on the trials at , and a constitution, that he said and others had soon to (who were in good standing in the Mormon <​Church​> at this time) swore to: [p. 112] then went on to relate what it contained, and that it was written by . I flatly denied it flatly saying that no such ever existed, nor was thought of among the Mormons; And I could bring all the Mormons, both men, women & children; besides myself that would swear before all the world, no such thing ever existed among the mormons. He then related some things which he said had told him at the Legislature, in ; which were to the effect, that the Mormons had burnt a number of houses in , and that for himself, if he could not get to Heaven by being an honest man, he would never go there; then, I, speaking of some of the— dissenters told him, was anxious to get in the again; and that it was the fact in— regard to damages having been done, after we had been driven from & , relating the Scrape, and calling of the militia, and the mob’s marching to , and saying they would drive the Mormons from there to , then to hell; their burning our houses; that small parties on both sides were on the alert, and probably done some damages; though I was not personally knowing to as I was not there. I told him Joseph <​Smith held no​> no office in the country, neither was he a military man, and did not take gun in hand in the affair to my knowledge— I then stated that ’s affidavit, which contained some important facts was before them, which facts, I forgot to mention yesterday, importing that he () was convinced we would get no redress in , (he being a member of the Legislature ought to know) I saw the chairman of the committee not long since, who informed me the committee had not come to a final conclusion on this matter as yet. I saw on the walk, who said the first things the committee would do, was to decide whether they would take it up and consider it or not, and if they do [p. 113] take it up according to request, the committee will Senate will grant the committee power to send for persons & papers. The committee made some enquiries, respecting our religion, and I answered them, as a matter of course as well as I could. They enquired very particularly, concerning how much land we had entered there, and how much of it, yet remained unsold; when Mr.Corwin observed that we had never entered much Land there, but were squatters. I then described the size of & Counties, giving an explanation on these matters. I suppose, perhaps on monday or tuesday we shall know something relative to this matter; whether power be given them to send for persons & papers. You may see where they depend to rally their forces, viz, by endeavouring to make us treasonable characters, by the constitution, Sd. to govern us, and that every thing both civil & Political, among us is done by revelation. These points I desire to blow to the four winds, and that you will select a number of firm Bretheren, possessing good understanding; who will tell the truth, and willingly send me their names, when they know they are wanted. Send plenty of them, They will get two dollars per day, and ten cents a mile to and from, expence money. Do not send them untill their subpena’s get there, for they will not draw expence money only for going home
I will suggest af few names—
, , as, they know concerning the scrape, also send others , & others. You will know whom to send better than myself. If the Missourians should send for you, I would say consult God about going
.
P. S. stated to me this evening, if the Mormons could make it appear that they had been wronged; They would use their influence in having them redressed, so the shame should not fall on the whole , but on that which had been guilty. I [p. 114] then observed that there was a minority in the Legislature, much in our favor, which seemed to please him, as they attended several times to it. The cause of my being so particular is to show you the whole ground I have taken in this matter, that there may be no inconsistency. If [I] have erred in this matter it is my head and not my heart
.
<​Note​> This letter should should have been inserted immediately af[ter] the letter of . dated Feb 21st. 1840 [p. 115]

Footnotes

  1. 1

    Presumably one of several committee rooms in the United States Capitol.  

  2. 2

    “Mr. Corwin” appears to be the friend of Linn and Jameson that Higbee mentioned in two previous letters to JS. (Letter from Elias Higbee, 20 Feb. 1840–A; Letter from Elias Higbee, 21 Feb. 1840.)  

  3. 3

    “Emtied his budget” is possibly an idiomatic phrase based on an archaic definition of the word budget as “a stock or store.” (“Budget,” in American Dictionary [1841], 222.)  

    An American Dictionary of the English Language; First Edition in Octavo, Containing the Whole Vocabulary of the Quarto, with Corrections, Improvements and Several Thousand Additional Words. . . . Edited by Noah Webster. 2nd ed. 2 vols. New Haven: By the author, 1841.

  4. 4

    Clark was in charge of the Missouri militia operations against the Saints in October 1838 and cooperated with civil authorities in the prosecution of JS and other church leaders. (Lilburn W. Boggs, Jefferson City, MO, to John B. Clark, Fayette, MO, 27 Oct. 1838, copy, Mormon War Papers, Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City; “A History, of the Persecution,” Times and Seasons, Sept. 1840, 1:162.)  

    Mormon War Papers, 1838–1841. MSA.

  5. 5

    Prior to an 1838 election for state and county offices in Caldwell County, Missouri, a militant group of church members called the Danites printed a ticket of candidates and then, in an effort to control the election’s outcome, distributed it among church members in the county. According to one newspaper, the election results in Caldwell County were 351 votes for the “Van Buren ticket” and 2 for the “Whig.” (Corrill, Brief History, 33; “Editorial Items,” Quincy [IL] Whig, 25 Aug. 1838, [2].)  

    Quincy Whig. Quincy, IL. 1838–1856.

  6. 6

    The church’s declaration on government, published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, stated that the church did “not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil Government.” (Declaration on Government and Law, ca. Aug. 1835 [D&C 134:9].)  

  7. 7

    In a Washington DC discourse he delivered earlier that month, JS reportedly declared that the Bible was a “sacred volume— In it the Mormon faith is to be found. We teach nothing but what the Bible teaches. We believe nothing but what is to be found in this Book.” (Discourse, 5 Feb. 1840.)  

  8. 8

    The church’s declaration on government advised citizens of republics to seek to elect government officials who would “administer the law in equity and justice” and counseled citizens to uphold such individuals “by the voice of the people.” (Declaration on Government and Law, ca. Aug. 1835 [D&C 134:3].)  

  9. 9

    According to former Latter-day Saint John Corrill, many members of the church thought that the ticket of candidates the Danites distributed was “from head quarters, and that it was the will of God that all should go for it,” but others saw it as “taking an undue advantage of the election, and were extremely dissatisfied; not so much with the ticket itself as with the principle in which it had been got up, for the ticket was democratic, and the Mormons, as individuals, are almost universally of that party.” (Corrill, Brief History, 33.)  

  10. 10

    The “whig Paper” possibly refers to the Quincy Whig, which had published articles in March 1839 supporting church members and condemning the Missourians. (See, for example, Report, Quincy [IL] Whig, 2 Mar. 1839, [2]; and “The Mormons,” Quincy Whig, 16 Mar. 1839, [1].)  

    Quincy Whig. Quincy, IL. 1838–1856.

  11. 11

    “The trials at Richmond” refers to the November 1838 court of inquiry in Richmond before Judge Austin A. King for a group of church members facing a variety of charges, including treason, riot, and murder. (See Document Containing the Correspondence, 149–151; see also Historical Introduction to Letter to Emma Smith, 1 Dec. 1838; Historical Introduction to Petition to George Tompkins, between 9 and 15 Mar. 1839; and LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, chap. 12.)  

    LeSueur, Stephen C. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.

  12. 12

    This sentence refers to the constitution of the Society of the Daughter of Zion (later called Danites), which was a group that sought to support the First Presidency, to defend the church against persecution, and to remove dissenting church members from the Saints’ communities. It is unclear who authored the Danite constitution or how aware church leaders were of the document’s existence. There is no indication that Rigdon authored the constitution. (Introduction to Part 2: 8 July–29 Oct. 1838; Constitution of the “Society of the Daughter of Zion,” in Sampson Avard, Testimony, Richmond, MO, Nov. 1838, pp. [10]–[12], in State of Missouri, “Evidence.”)  

  13. 13

    Higbee was a prominent member of the Danites, serving as captain general within the group. However, he joined the group’s leadership after its constitution was likely drafted and may not have been aware of the document’s existence. (Constitution of the “Society of the Daughter of Zion,” in Sampson Avard, Testimony, Richmond, MO, Nov. 1838, pp. [10]–[12], in State of Missouri, “Evidence”; Reed Peck, Quincy, IL, to “Dear Friends,” 18 Sept. 1839, p. 48, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.)  

    Peck, Reed. Letter, Quincy, IL, to “Dear Friends,” 18 Sept. 1839. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

  14. 14

    Corrill, a former church member and leader, stated that he ultimately defected from the church and testified against JS and Rigdon because church members in Caldwell County, Missouri, mobilized for preemptive strikes against the vigilantes who were preparing to drive the Saints from Daviess County, Missouri. (Historical Introduction to Corrill, Brief History; Corrill, Brief History, 36–37; John Corrill, Testimony, Richmond, MO, Nov. 1838, pp. [29]–[34], State of Missouri v. JS et al. for Treason and Other Crimes [Mo. 5th Jud. Cir. 1838], in State of Missouri, “Evidence.”)  

  15. 15

    A siege and attack on church members in De Witt, Missouri, occurred in early October 1838, causing church members to evacuate the town. (See “A History, of the Persecution,” Times and Seasons, Apr. 1840, 1:82; [Rigdon], Appeal to the American People, 35–41; and Baugh, “Call to Arms,” chap. 6.)  

    Baugh, Alexander L. “A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1996. Also available as A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2000).

  16. 16

    Higbee’s precise whereabouts during the late-October 1838 conflict in Daviess County are unknown, but he was presumably in Caldwell County at the time. (See Baugh, “Call to Arms,” 226–227.)  

    Baugh, Alexander L. “A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1996. Also available as A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2000).

  17. 17

    Even though Corrill had separated himself from the church by this date, he submitted an affidavit to Congress that urged the restoration of church members’ citizenship rights in Missouri and remuneration for their lost and damaged property there. (John Corrill, Petition, Quincy, IL, 9 Jan. 1840, Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives, Washington DC.)  

    Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives / Petitions and Memorials, Resolutions of State Legislatures, and Related Documents Which Were Referred to the Committee on Judiciary during the 27th Congress. Committee on the Judiciary, Petitions and Memorials, 1813–1968. Record Group 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1789–2015. National Archives, Washington DC. The LDS records cited herein are housed in National Archives boxes 40 and 41 of Library of Congress boxes 139–144 in HR27A-G10.1.

  18. 18

    Corrill served one term in the Missouri House of Representatives, having been elected to represent Caldwell County in 1838. (Journal, of the House of Representatives, of the State of Missouri, 2; Historical Introduction to Corrill, Brief History.)  

    Journal, of the House of Representatives, of the State of Missouri, at the First Session of the Tenth General Assembly, Begun and Held at the City of Jefferson, on Monday, the Nineteenth Day of November, in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Eight. Jefferson City, MO: Calvin Gunn, 1839.

  19. 19

    Senator Garret D. Wall. (Journal of the Senate of the United States, 26th Cong., 1st Sess., 16 Dec. 1839, 11.)  

    Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, Being the First Session of the Twenty-Sixth Congress, Begun and Held at the City of Washington, December 2, 1839, and in the Sixty-Fourth Year of the Independence of the Said United States. Washington DC: Blair and Rives, 1839.

  20. 20

    Though the precise acreage is unknown, church members had purchased large quantities of land in Caldwell County and had settled on a vast amount of property in Daviess County in order to claim preemption rights when the federal government made that land available for public sale. (See Walker, “Mormon Land Rights,” 4–55; Gentry, “Land Question at Adam-ondi-Ahman,” 45–56; and Baugh, “Call to Arms,” 31–34; see also LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, 237–239.)  

    Walker, Jeffrey N. “Mormon Land Rights in Caldwell and Daviess Counties and the Mormon Conflict of 1838: New Findings and New Understandings.” BYU Studies 47, no. 1 (2008): 4–55.

    Gentry, Leland H. “The Land Question at Adam-ondi-Ahman.” BYU Studies 26, no. 2 (Spring 1986): 45–56.

    Baugh, Alexander L. “A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1996. Also available as A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2000).

    LeSueur, Stephen C. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987.

  21. 21

    24 or 25 February 1840.  

  22. 22

    Lyman witnessed the immediate aftermath of the October 1838 siege of De Witt as a spy charged with reporting on the growth and movements of the vigilantes throughout the region. Ripley and Higbee were both members of the church militia that was active in Daviess and Caldwell counties during the 1838 conflict and may have been among the group of men who traveled to De Witt with JS to help protect the Saints there. Follett also may have been part of the group that traveled to De Witt with JS. (“Amasa Lyman’s History,” Deseret News [Salt Lake City], 15 Sept. 1858, 121; Baugh, “Call to Arms,” appendix E; Corrill, Brief History, 35.)  

    Deseret News. Salt Lake City. 1850–.

    Baugh, Alexander L. “A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri.” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1996. Also available as A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History (Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2000).

  23. 23

    As members of the church militia, Rich and Brunson were involved in several events related to the Missouri conflict. (Charles C. Rich, Statement, ca. Feb. 1845, Historian’s Office, JS History Documents, ca. 1839–1860, CHL; Reed Peck, Quincy, IL, to “Dear Friends,” 18 Sept. 1839, p. 87, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.)  

    Historian’s Office. Joseph Smith History Documents, 1839–1860. CHL. CR 100 396.

    Peck, Reed. Letter, Quincy, IL, to “Dear Friends,” 18 Sept. 1839. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

  24. 24

    This sentence apparently refers to the possibility that Linn and Jameson might subpoena JS to appear as a witness should the church’s memorial be considered further by a Senate committee.  

  25. 25

    Likely a reference to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, but possibly refers to the Missouri state legislature.