Letter from Isaac Galland, 5 April 1841

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

April 5th, 1841.
Dear Brother Joseph Smith:
Through the mercies of our Heavenly Father we have been prospered on our journey thus far—we have enjoyed reasonable health on the way, and have succeeded in accomplishing a part of our business.— has labored unremittingly in the word and doctrine on our whole route; he has been joyfully received by the bretheren every where. I trust his labours will be like bread cast upon the waters to be gathered many days hence. We have had the cheerful and valuable co-operation of the services of brothers and , who have aided us in the object of our mission. But amidst the cheering prospects of our present prosperity, it has pleased our Heavenly Father to remove from the scenes of political turmoil and party strife, our beloved [William Henry] Harrison. That the ways of the Almighty are inscrutible to the human mind, his wisdom surpassing our deepest researches, his councils exceeding our most exalted perceptions of pro [p. 399]priety, and his goodness excelling our most sanguine expectations, will not admit of a single doubt; we are however still left to trust to that inscrutible wisdom, and Almighty power, to turn this most melancholly and disastrous event to our good—whether we have not sinned as a nation by idolizing that worthy and long to be lamented patriot and father of the West. by looking to him as a source of relief in our present calamities, instead of relying upon that God in whose hands is the fate of all the kingdoms and empires of the earth, is worthy of our serious consideration. It would seem that the wickedness of the present generation is so superlatively great, that the Father of mercies has condescended in his infinite wisdom and benevolence to afford to the present nations of the earth, one of the most striking examples of the mutability of all earthly glory, honor and excellence. For it is asserted, and that too with great propriety, that the office of Chief Magistrate of the , filled as it is by the voice of the people (which is the voice of God) is surrounded with a halo of human glory, and earthly grandeur, unparallelled in excellence by all the hereditary Monarchies, Royalties, Aristocracies, or mixed Republics of the earth. Hence the individual whose sudden and unexpected death this nation is now called to mourn, has been called from the very pinicle of human aggrandizement, after filling, for the brief period of thirty days, the highest and most exalted station upon this earth, to the peaceful slumbers of the tomb, and joyful repose in the paradise of God. Though he is hereby taken from the “evil to come,” yet we are admonished thereby that “in the midst of life we are in death.’ O, what a lesson is this to a sinful world!— But I tremble for my country when I reflect that God has taken from us the individual who was so pre-eminently qualified to restore again the tranquility and prosperity of our nation. While we are surrounded with menaces from abroad, and threatened with ruptures and disunion from within, it has pleased the Almighty Father, for some wise purpose, known only to himself, to deprive us of the aid and influence of that amiable person to whom all eyes were turned. We are again loosed from our anchorage and cast forth upon a boisterous political sea, to toil and strive with adverse winds of political speculation, with the blustering gales of human passion and the mis-leading ignis fatuus of political demagogues. Vain, therefore it would seem, is the help of man; we can only rely with assurance of success upon the Lord for help. For the credit of human nature, I wish I could say that this national bereavement was duly appreciated by all our citizens, but alas! how mortifying the reflection to know that there are some who would even wish to be regarded as respectable citizens, who are so destitute of every redeeming virtue, and so puffed with the malignity of party rancor, that they cannot suppress their infernal and fiend-like howlings of exultations until the solemnities of the occasion are ended. O! what a comment on human depravity—it would seem as though this generation was labouring under a depravity which could only be the result of the fall of a second Adam.
But I cannot dwell on a subject which is a reproach to my species, and makes me blush that I am a man. May God protect our nation, and grant that this signal judgment of his providence may cause our people to learn wisdom and practice virtue.
I am most sincerely yours in the bonds of the everlasting gospel,
P. S. President Harrison breathed his last at 35 minutes past 12 o’clock on the morning of the 4th inst, (yesterday morning.)
[p. 400]


  1. 1

    Galland and Hyrum Smith were in the eastern United States to settle financial affairs dealing with land transactions and exchanges, to sell stock to support the construction of the Nauvoo House, and to engage in other financial and church matters. (See Authorization for Hyrum Smith and Isaac Galland, 15 Feb. 1841; see also Isaac Galland, Philadelphia, to Edward Hunter, [West Nantmeal Township, PA], 27 July 1841, Edward Hunter, Collection, CHL.)  

    Hunter, Edward. Collection, ca. 1798–1965. Photocopy and typescript. CHL.

  2. 2

    See Ecclesiastes 11:1.  

  3. 3

    Almon Babbitt had been appointed “to preside over the church in Kirtland” and also served on a committee to appoint new stakes between Nauvoo and Kirtland. At this time, Babbitt was apparently in Philadelphia serving as an agent for Oliver Granger to liquidate “some judgements against p[r]operty” in Kirtland. Galland and Hyrum Smith apparently advised Babbitt to conduct this business in their names. (Minutes and Discourse, 3–5 Oct. 1840; Letter from Almon Babbitt, 19 Oct. 1841.)  

  4. 4

    The day after Isaac Galland wrote this letter to JS, a church conference held in Philadelphia and led by Hyrum Smith chose and ordained Winchester to preside over the Philadelphia branch, which consisted of 214 members. Winchester also published an independent, church-based newspaper, the Gospel Reflector, in Philadelphia in 1841. (See Philadelphia Branch Record Book, 6 Apr. 1841.)  

    Philadelphia Branch, Record Book, 1840–1854. CCLA.

  5. 5

    Though Galland wrote of Harrison’s death on 5 April, news of the death was not reported in Philadelphia newspapers until 6 April 1841. (“President Harrison’s Death” and “The Courts,” North American and Daily Advertiser [Philadelphia], 6 Apr. 1841, [2].)  

    North American and Daily Advertiser. Philadelphia. 1839–1845.

  6. 6

    See Romans 8:28.  

  7. 7

    Harrison served as a military leader and commander of Fort Washington (near present-day Cincinnati, Ohio) in the Northwest Territory. After Indiana Territory was created in 1800, Harrison became that territory’s first governor; he served in that role for the next twelve years. Harrison later battled Native peoples on the Indiana western frontier during the War of 1812. He was particularly known for leading the American forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. (See Owens, Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer, chap. 3; and Jortner, Gods of Prophetstown, 62–65, 79, 191–195.)  

    Owens, Robert M. Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.

    Jortner, Adam. The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

  8. 8

    A 19 January 1841 revelation encouraged JS to send a proclamation to the “President Elect.” It is likely that the calamities referred to by Galland involved the financial situation of the church resulting from the Missouri experience. The Latter-day Saints had been rebuffed in their earlier attempt to gain assistance from President Martin Van Buren and likely would have approached Harrison for aid in obtaining redress for losses sustained in Missouri. JS and others estimated that property losses alone amounted to $2 million. (See Revelation, 19 Jan. 1841 [D&C 124:3]; and Memorial to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, ca. 30 Oct. 1839–27 Jan. 1840.)  

  9. 9

    See 2 Corinthians 1:3.  

  10. 10

    See Isaiah 57:1.  

  11. 11

    This phrase is found in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer in the section on burial services. (Book of Common Prayer, 182.)  

    The Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments, and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the Use of the United Church of England and Ireland: Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, Pointed as They Are to Be Sung or Said in Churches. Oxford: Clarendon, 1825.

  12. 12

    Galland’s language here is similar to language in other, later newspaper reports of Harrison’s death. The Philadelphia North American and Daily Advertiser printed an article stating, “The mysteries of that high and inscrutable Providence which has so suddenly cut off this distinguished, good and patriotic individual, leaving to his constitutional successor the chair of the Chief Magistracy of this nation, in just one month after his accession, are yet to be unfolded in the events of the future.” John Tyler similarly stated, “While standing at the threshold of this great work, he has, by the dispensation of an all-wise Providence, been removed from amongst us, and by the provisions of the Constitution the efforts to be directed to the accomplishing of this vitally important task have devolved upon myself.” (“President Harrison’s Death,” North American and Daily Advertiser [Philadelphia], 6 Apr. 1841, [2]; John Tyler, Washington DC, to “the People of the United States,” 9 Apr. 1841, in Daily National Intelligencer [Washington DC], 10 Apr. 1841, [3]; see also Howe, What Hath God Wrought, 589.)  

    North American and Daily Advertiser. Philadelphia. 1839–1845.

    Daily National Intelligencer. Washington DC. 1800–1869.

    Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848. The Oxford History of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

  13. 13

    Latin for “foolish fire,” meaning something deceptive or deluding. (“Ignis fatuus,” in Oxford English Dictionary, 5:31.)  

    Oxford English Dictionary. Compact ed. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

  14. 14

    The party strife and political turmoil accompanying the 1840 election resurfaced with Harrison’s death. (See “To the Whigs of Virginia,” Richmond [VA] Whig and Public Advertiser, 6 Apr. 1841, [2]; “Death of the President,” New York Herald, 6 Apr. 1841, [2]; and “The Change of Administration,” Emancipator [New York City], 8 Apr. 1841, 198.)  

    Richmond Whig and Public Advertiser. Richmond, VA. 1833–1867.

    New York Herald. New York City. 1835–1924.

    Emancipator. New York City. 1835–1841.

  15. 15

    According to a 4 April 1841 letter from Daniel Webster and other presidential cabinet members to vice president John Tyler, “This distressing event took place this day, at the President’s Mansion in this city, at thirty minutes before one in the morning.” (Daniel Webster et al., Washington DC, to John Tyler, 4 Apr. 1841, in Daily National Intelligencer [Washington DC], 5 Apr. 1841, [3].)  

    Daily National Intelligencer. Washington DC. 1800–1869.