Letter to Robert D. Foster, 11 March 1840

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

March 11, 1840.
After I left you, I came to my ’s house in the same day; and there I learned that my was sick, and that he was not expected to live— had called his children together &c. my Bro. had left home for this place the day before I arrived there. But when I arrived here I found him a little better, but was quite low yet. Since that time, he has been much afflicted with the ague, but is now recovering. With that exception we are all well at present; and it is a general time of health here now.
I have delivered two discourses in this place since my return—giveing a brief history of our journy the reception we met with by the &c. and the general feeling towards us in and other places. The effect has been to turn the entire mass of the people, even to an individual, so far as I have learned on the other side of the great political question—
I find that we have lost nothing by our change; but have gained friends and influence. The fact is, we were compelled to change in consequence of seeing a disposition manifest to turn a deaf ear to the cries of suffering innocence. When we can see a disposition in our chief magistrate to sacrifice the rights of the poor at the shrine of popularity, it is high time to cast off such an individual.
After haveing formed an acquaintance with you, and a very intimate one too, for the last 4 months, and I need not say an agreeable one too, I feel quite anxious to see you after a short separation, I hope you can make it convenient to come up and see us soon. I want to get hold of your journal very much.
Our here is prospering, and many are comeing into it. Our is improveing very fast. It is almost incredible to see what amt. of labor has been performed here during the winter [p. [1]] past. There is now every prospect of our haveing a good society, a peaceable habitation and a desirable residence here.
May the Lord prosper our righteous cause, and save us in the day of his comeing!
As ever,
I am Your friend And Brother in the
Joseph Smith Jun.
M. D.
Adams Co
P.S. Our Business in has gone before the <​a​> committee on <​the​> judiciary without a dissenting voice. We have recently received two letters from to this effect. He is well, But yet has the chills and fever.
Our best respects to Bro. Wilbur & family; and to all other friends in that section
As before
J.S. Jun [p. [2]]
[page [3] blank] [p. [3]]
M. D.
Post Office
Adams County
March 13 [p. [4]]


  1. 1

    JS and Foster parted sometime in mid- or late February 1840.  

  2. 2

    William Smith, JS’s brother, moved to Plymouth, Illinois, in 1839. (JS, Journal, 15–17 June 1839.)  

  3. 3

    Joseph Smith Sr. had been ill since fleeing Missouri in winter 1838. Describing his condition in late 1839 and early 1840, Lucy Mack Smith wrote that he “was very feeble his cough increased and he became so weak that I was often under the necessity of lifting [him] from his bed.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 18, [1].)  

  4. 4

    According to a letter JS wrote later that year, spring, fall, and winter were seasons of relative health in the Commerce area. He termed summer “the sickly season,” meaning the time in which residents of the area experienced the most illness. (Letter to Quorum of the Twelve, 15 Dec. 1840.)  

  5. 5

    JS delivered one of these two discourses in the Commerce area on 1 March 1840. In that discourse, JS stated he felt that President Martin Van Buren had “treated them with great disrespect and neglect” and that missionaries in the eastern United States were having great success. It is unknown when JS delivered the other discourse. In letters home in late 1839, JS reported that the church’s delegates to the federal government were well received by many in Congress and that Washington residents listened to them with great interest. (Discourse, 1 Mar. 1840; Letter to Hyrum Smith and Nauvoo High Council, 5 Dec. 1839; Letter to Seymour Brunson and Nauvoo High Council, 7 Dec. 1839.)  

  6. 6

    “The great political question” almost certainly refers to the partisan divide between Democrats and Whigs. Although the two parties’ platforms differed in several key ways, the most pronounced difference was that the Whigs promoted a system of internal improvements sponsored by a strong federal government that balanced power between its three branches, and the Democrats insisted on granting greater power—and the responsibility for internal improvements—to state governments. The Democrats also insisted on states’ rights, which influenced the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s decision not to consider fully the church’s memorial to Congress. Therefore, the turn in political affiliation that JS mentioned here was a switch of a great number of the Latter-day Saints from the Democratic Party to the Whig Party. (See Holt, Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 28–49; and Howe, What Hath God Wrought, 270–271; see also Historical Introduction to Memorial to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, ca. 30 Oct. 1839–27 Jan. 1840.)  

    Holt, Michael F. The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    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.

  7. 7

    When the Senate Committee on the Judiciary questioned Higbee about the political affiliation of church members in general, he responded that “there were as many democrats turned against us, as whigs; and indeed less liberality and political freedom was manifested by them [the Democrats], for one whig Paper came out decidedly in our favor.” (Letter from Elias Higbee, 22 Feb. 1840.)  

  8. 8

    The church was denied redress by a Congress led by a Democratic majority, a Senate committee comprising two Democrats and three Whigs, and a Democratic president. However, several Democrats in Illinois and in the United States Congress supported JS, Rigdon, and Higbee in their petitioning efforts. These included James Adams and John B. Weber, who were lobbying the Illinois General Assembly in behalf of the Saints; representatives Zadok Casey and John Reynolds; and senators John M. Robinson and Richard M. Young. (Letter to Hyrum Smith and Nauvoo High Council, 5 Dec. 1839; Letter to Seymour Brunson and Nauvoo High Council, 7 Dec. 1839; Letter from James Adams, 4 Jan. 1840; Letter from John B. Weber, 6 Jan. 1840.)  

  9. 9

    More than three decades later, Foster recounted that Henry Clay “told us that we would never get any redress under that [the Van Buren] administration; that we had better do all we could to get a better administration, then we would get a chance.” (Robert D. Foster, “A Testimony of the Past,” True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, 15 Apr. 1875, 227.)  

    Saints’ Herald. Independence, MO. 1860–.

  10. 10

    JS either had tasked Foster with keeping his journal during their travels throughout the eastern United States or desired to access Foster’s journal in order to record the details of the trip in his own personal record. Years later, the compilers of the manuscript history of the church reported JS declaring, “I depended on Dr Foster to keep my daily journal during this journey but he has failed me.” (Historian’s Office, JS History, Draft Notes, 4 Mar. 1840, 5.)  

  11. 11

    In May 1840, the Salt River Journal reported that there were between two and three thousand people who attended the church’s April general conference. (“Latest from the Mormons,” Salt River Journal [Bowling Green, MO], 16 May 1840, [1].)  

    Salt River Journal. Bowling Green, MO. 1840–1841.

  12. 12

    A few days earlier, Phebe Carter Woodruff wrote to her husband, Wilford Woodruff, that “Commerce is growing verry fast—the lots of land are about all taken up there now.” The Ohio and Dover Advertiser reported in May 1840 that church members had built three hundred homes in the Commerce area. (Phebe Carter Woodruff, Montrose, Iowa Territory, to Wilford Woodruff, Ledbury, England, 8 Mar. 1840, digital scan, Wilford Woodruff, Collection, CHL; “The Mormons,” Ohio Democrat and Dover Advertiser [Canal Dover, OH], 15 May 1840, [2].)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Collection, 1831–1905. CHL. MS 19509.

    Ohio Democrat. Tuscawaras Co., OH. 1839–1925.

  13. 13

    At an October 1839 general conference of the church, JS stated that the Commerce area was “a good place and suited for the saints.” The conference subsequently appointed it “a stake and a place of gathering for the saints.” (Minutes and Discourses, 5–7 Oct. 1839.)  

  14. 14

    On 12 February 1840, the Senate voted to send the church’s memorial to its Committee on the Judiciary. (Journal of the Senate of the United States, 26th Cong., 1st Sess., 12 Feb. 1840, 173.)  

    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.

  15. 15

    Letters from Elias Higbee, 20 Feb. 1840–A and B.  

  16. 16

    Likely the family of Benjamin Wilber, with whom Foster had boarded in Kingston, Illinois, or possibly the family of Melvin Wilbur, who was a member of the Seventy living in the Quincy branch. (Robert D. Foster, “A Testimony of the Past,” True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, 15 Apr. 1875, 225; Quincy, IL, Branch, Record Book, 8.)  

    Saints’ Herald. Independence, MO. 1860–.

    Quincy, IL, Branch, Record Book / “Record of the Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints in Quincy, (Ill),” 1840–1846. CHL. LR 5361 21, fd. 1.

  17. 17

    Notation of eleven cents postage paid.