Letter to Seymour Brunson and Nauvoo High Council, 7 December 1839

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

, Corner of Missouri & 3d. Street
Dec. 7th. 1839
To , and the honorable of the , Your humble servant Joseph Smith Jr. and again address you for the purpose of informing you of our proceedings here in relation to our business and prospects of success. We deem it unimportant to say any thing in relation to our journey, arrival & and interview with his Excellency the of these ; as they were mentioned in a Letter lately addressed to and the high Council. We mentioned in that letter the appointment of a meeting to <​be​> held by the Delegation to consult upon the best measures of getting our business brot before Congress They met yesterday in one of the committee rooms of the Capitol. All the Delegation except the were present, who is now one of the Representatives in Congress and on account of whose absence the meeting was adjourned untill to day at 11 o’clock: however the subject was partially introduced,— and Mr. [John M.] Robinson took a stand against us so far as concerned our presenting claims to be liquidated by the
We took a stand against him, asserting our constitutional rights— Bro. Joseph maintained the ground in argument against him firmly, and respectfully setting forth the injuries that we have received and the appeals that we have made to to the Judiciary of and also the Govenor: their refusals from time [to] time to do us justice: also the impracticability of doing any thing in the Judiciary Courts of — which tribunal Mr. Robinson thought was the only proper place for our claims, but he finally said, it was his first impression on the subject; not having considered the matter, but would take it into further consideration,
of the Senate made some remarks in our favor, saying he would get the opinion of some of [p. 89] the prominent members of the Senate, who were also Lawyers, and would report to us at the next meeting.
We met this day according to appointment & very friendly feelings were manifested, on the occasion.
Our business were taken up, and stated that he had asked the opinion of Judge [Hugh L.] White Tennssee. of Mr. Wright, and several other members; whose names we do not recollect, but were prominent members of the Senate— They all declined going giving an opinion at present, as it was a matter that they had not considered sufficiently to decide upon at this time, The meeting then after some deliberation decided in our favor, which decision was that a memorial and petition be drawn up in a concise manner, (our Representatives promising so to do,) and present them to the Senate, that they might thereby refer it to the proper committee, with all the accompaning documents, and order the same to be printed,— We want you to assist us now by your prayers; and also to forward us your certificates, that you hold for lands in ; your <​claims to​> preemption claims rig[h]ts, and affidavits to prove that soldiers were quartered on us and in our houses without our consent, or any special act of law for the purpose: contrary to the constitution of the . We think , & others, will recollect the circumstances and facts relative to this matter— You will also recollect the circumstance of Bro, Joseph & others being refused the priviledge of habeas corpus by the authorities of ,
These facts must be authenticated by affidavits— Let any particular transaction of the outrages in that can be sworn to by the sufferers, or those who were eye witnesses to the facts, be sent; specifying the particulars: Have the evidence bonafide to the point, The house of Representatives, is not yet organized: much feeling and confusion have prevailed in the House for a few days past: the house succeeded in electing chairman protem on 5th inst. They have not yet elected their speaker or clerk— The Senate [p. 90] can do nothing of consequence until the House is organized; neither can the s. <​Message​> until then be received— We design taking a paper and forwarding it to you.
Your Brethren in the bonds of the
Jos. Smith Jr.
[p. 91]

Footnotes

  1. 1

    Letter to Hyrum Smith and Nauvoo High Council, 5 Dec. 1839.  

  2. 2

    Reynolds served as governor of Illinois from 1830 to 1834. (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1800.)  

    Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, the Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, inclusive. Edited by Andrew R. Dodge and Betty K. Koed. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005.

  3. 3

    Robinson was a United States senator from Carmi, Illinois, and a Democrat. His statement to JS and Higbee as recorded in this letter, combined with his close political alliance to Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, suggests he was a strong proponent of states’ rights over federal power, a position then at the heart of Democratic Party politics and at odds with the church delegation’s method for seeking redress. (Berry, “Forgotten Statesmen of Illinois: Hon. John M. Robinson,” 77–78.)  

    Berry, Daniel. “Forgotten Statesmen of Illinois: Hon. John M. Robinson.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 7, no. 1 (Apr. 1914): 77–81.

  4. 4

    The church had previously made several appeals for redress to the Missouri courts. In 1834, for example, about a dozen church members were marched to Jackson County, Missouri, under the guard of the state militia in order to testify before a grand jury, but they were informed by the attorney general that the prejudice against the church was too strong in that county for them to receive a fair hearing. (See, for example, the records related to the suits of Partridge v. Lucas et al., Phelps v. Simpson et al., and Allen v. David et al. housed at Jackson County Records Center, Independence, MO; Petition to George Tompkins, between 9 and 15 Mar. 1839; and Letter from William W. Phelps, 27 Feb. 1834.)  

  5. 5

    The Saints had requested aid from two different Missouri governors: Daniel Dunklin and Lilburn W. Boggs. (“To His Excellency, Daniel Dunklin,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Dec. 1833, 114–115; Benjamin Kendrick et al., De Witt, MO, to Lilburn W. Boggs, Petition, 22 Sept. 1838, copy, Mormon War Papers, Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City.)  

    The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.

    Mormon War Papers, 1838–1841. MSA.

  6. 6

    White served as a United States senator from Tennessee from 1825 to 1840. He had previously served on the Tennessee Supreme Court, and he ran for president in 1836 as a Whig, finishing third behind Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison. (McBride and Robison, Biographical Directory of the Tennessee General Assembly, 776–778.)  

    McBride, Robert M., and Dan M. Robison. Biographical Directory of the Tennessee General Assembly. 6 vols. Nashville, TN: Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Tennessee Historical Commission, 1975.

  7. 7

    Likely Silas Wright Jr. (Democrat), a lawyer and senator from New York. (Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 120, 2204.)  

    Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, the Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, inclusive. Edited by Andrew R. Dodge and Betty K. Koed. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005.

  8. 8

    In Thompson’s copy of the letter, this parenthetical statement reads: “which our representative Mr Steward promised to do.” “Mr. Steward” is a reference to Representative John Todd Stuart of Illinois. (JS and Elias Higbee, Washington DC, to Seymour Brunson, 7 Dec. 1839, copy, JS Collection, CHL; Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1995.)  

    Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, the Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, inclusive. Edited by Andrew R. Dodge and Betty K. Koed. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2005.

  9. 9

    Before arriving in the capital, the church’s delegation to the federal government had started drafting a memorial to Congress and gathering affidavits from church members that itemized property lost or damaged in Missouri. The delegation hoped the government would print and distribute the memorial with these affidavits. (Historical Introduction to Memorial to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, ca. 30 Oct. 1839–27 Jan. 1840; Letter from Elias Higbee, 24 Mar. 1840.)  

  10. 10

    Preemption rights were a contractual agreement to purchase a tract of public land before it became available for purchase by a person or an entity. The holder of the preemption rights to a piece of property effectively had the first option to buy the property. Because the conflict in Missouri occurred right before the land became available for sale, church members claimed that their attackers sought to take away the Saints’ preemption rights for their own economic advantage. (Affidavit, 20 Jan. 1840; Memorial to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, ca. 30 Oct. 1839–27 Jan. 1840; see also Walker, “Mormon Land Rights,” 4–55.)  

    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.

  11. 11

    The Third Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the quartering of soldiers “in any house, without the consent of the Owner.”  

  12. 12

    As a member of the committee formed in January 1839 to assist poor church members leaving Missouri, Ripley would have been familiar with the specific details surrounding the expulsion of individual church members and the fate of the property they left behind. (“Proceedings of Meeting No 2 Jany 29th 1839,” Far West Committee, Minutes, CHL; see also Dimick B. Huntington, Reminiscences and Journal, 8.)  

    Far West Committee. Minutes, Jan.–Apr. 1839. CHL. MS 2564.

    Huntington, Dimick B. Reminiscences and Journal, 1845–1847. Dimick B. Huntington, Journal, 1845–1859. CHL. MS 1419, fd. 1.

  13. 13

    Article 1, section 9, of the United States Constitution states: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” JS and five others were incarcerated at Liberty, Missouri, from 1 December 1838 to 6 April 1839. They appealed to both a county court and the Missouri Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, but both courts denied their appeals. (Jessee, “‘Walls, Grates, and Screeking Iron Doors’: The Prison Experience of Mormon Leaders in Missouri,” 19–42; Petition to George Tompkins, between 9 and 15 Mar. 1839.)  

    Jessee, Dean C. “‘Walls, Grates and Screeking Iron Doors’: The Prison Experiences of Mormon Leaders in Missouri, 1838–1839.” In New Views of Mormon History: A Collection of Essays in Honor of Leonard J. Arrington, edited by Davis Bitton and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, 19–42. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987.

  14. 14

    In preparation for the church’s appeal to the federal government, Higbee certified dozens of affidavits in his official capacity as a justice of the peace. This may have been the same type of legal care JS and Higbee were urging the high council to take as they continued to build a case against Missouri. Dozens of affidavits regarding lost and damaged property in Missouri were submitted to Congress by JS, Rigdon, and Higbee and by later church delegations sent to the federal government. It is unclear, however, which of these were submitted by the 1839–1840 delegation and which ones were submitted later.  

  15. 15

    The delay in electing a Speaker and a clerk in the House of Representatives was due to contested elections in New Jersey.  

  16. 16

    At this time, the president’s annual message to Congress was a written document and not a speech he delivered in person. On 24 December 1839, Robert D. Foster forwarded to Commerce a published version of the anticipated message. (Congressional Globe, 26th Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix, 1–7; Letter from Robert D. Foster, 24 Dec. 1839; Message from the President of the United States, Senate doc. no. 1, 26th Cong., 1st Sess. [1839].)  

    The Congressional Globe, Containing Sketches of the Debates and Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Congress. Vol. 8. Washington DC: Blair and Rives, 1840.

    Message from the President of the United States, to the Two Houses of Congress, at the Commencement of the First Session of the Twenty-Sixth Congress. December 24, 1839. Senate Doc. no. 1, 26th Cong., 1st Sess. (1839).