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Joseph Smith’s Revelations, Doctrine and Covenants 121

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“Doctrine and Covenants 121,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers (2020)

“Doctrine and Covenants 121,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers

Doctrine and Covenants 121

[This section contains passages from two separate letters. Portions of the text not found in Doctrine and Covenants 121 are grayed out.]

Letter to the Church and Edward Partridge, 20 March 1839

Source Note

JS, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin, and Alexander McRae, Letter, Liberty, Clay Co., MO, to the church and Edward Partridge, Quincy, Adams Co., IL, 20 Mar. 1839; handwriting of Alexander McRae and Caleb Baldwin, with insertions by JS; signatures of JS, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin, and Alexander McRae; seventeen pages; Revelations Collection, CHL. Includes redaction and docket. For more information, see the source note on the Joseph Smith Papers website.

Historical Introduction

In the Clay County, Missouri, jail on 20 March 1839, JS dictated a letter addressed to Bishop Edward Partridge; church members in Quincy, Illinois; and the Saints “scattered abroad.” The letter was the second general epistle JS directed to the church while in the jail, with the first missive composed on 16 December 1838.1 As the main body of Latter-day Saints was relocating from Missouri to Illinois and Iowa Territory, JS apparently envisioned writing a series of general epistles in March 1839 to offer guidance and instruction in the wake of the catastrophic changes of the previous year.2 The immediate catalyst for the 20 March letter was the arrival of Latter-day Saint David Rogers the previous evening.3 Rogers brought the prisoners a packet that contained letters from their families and friends, a letter from Illinois land speculator Isaac Galland, and “the documents and papers sent by the authorities at Quincy.”4

Stylistically, the 20 March letter is reminiscent of the apostle Paul’s epistles in the New Testament. Paul frequently named his companions in opening greetings and utilized the first-person plural voice even though he was the primary author of the letters.5 In a similar fashion, the 20 March 1839 letter opens with greetings from JS “in company with his fellow prisoners”; the body of the letter consistently employs the first-person plural—“we,” “our,” and “us”—with the exception of one portion presented in the voice of Deity; and all the prisoners signed the letter. JS was the principal author,6 although conversations with the other prisoners may have contributed to the letter’s ideas and themes.7 It is unknown who acted as scribe for the dictation draft, which is apparently not extant. The version featured here, which contains errors usually associated with copying, was inscribed by Alexander McRae and Caleb Baldwin. After McRae finished copying the last portion of the letter, JS and the other men signed the copy. At some point, JS made minor corrections and additions.8

Following the opening greeting, the epistle contains an extended meditation on the Latter-day Saints’ recent sufferings and the prisoners’ frustrations in jail. This part of the missive includes a prayer in which JS pleads with God to deliver the Saints from their oppressors. The subject of the letter appears to shift with the acknowledgment of receiving letters from Edward Partridge, Don Carlos Smith, and Emma Smith, but this narrative actually continues the meditation on the meaning of persecution, revealing that reading the letters dissolved feelings of bitterness and opened JS’s heart to receive inspiration. Then, the voice of the letter transitions from that of the prisoners to that of the Lord providing an answer to the letter’s earlier prayer, explaining the deeper significance of the Saints’ persecutions and pronouncing judgments against the church’s enemies.

The second part of the letter addresses challenges the church faced in moving forward, such as deciding where the Saints should settle. JS declined to either approve or reject Isaac Galland’s offer to sell land to the church; instead, JS said that church leaders in Quincy should make that decision in future conferences and should forward minutes of the proceedings to JS for approval. The letter also advises the Quincy church leaders to eschew “an aspiring spirit” that had previously prevailed over “milder councils,” causing much suffering and death among the Saints. Additionally, the epistle contains counsel on how to seek revelation and guidance; this counsel is followed by strong affirmation that persecution would not hinder the work of God. Like other missives JS composed in the Clay County jail, this letter incorporates multiple biblical allusions.9 Near the close, the letter signals that another general epistle was forthcoming.

Although the letter’s greeting is directed to the church in general and to Partridge in particular, JS sent the missive to his wife Emma because he wanted her “to have the first reading of it.” In a letter he wrote to her the following day, he informed her, “I have sent an Epistle to the church,” suggesting the epistle had already left the jail.10 The letter was probably carried from the jail by a church member, perhaps Alanson Ripley, who Hyrum Smith noted was visiting the jail on 20 March and was “going to start back this after noon” to Far West, Missouri. Ripley told the prisoners that he could send their letters to Illinois “a mediately by some of the brethren.”11 It remains unclear who transported the missive from Missouri to Illinois or when it arrived in Quincy. On 10 April 1839, Sidney Rigdon and Ripley wrote separate letters to JS and the other prisoners; both messages contain possible allusions to the general epistle, suggesting church members had received and read the epistle by that date.12 On 11 April, Mary Fielding Smith wrote to her husband, Hyrum Smith, stating she had read the epistle and that it was “food to the hungrey.” The 20 March epistle circulated widely among the Latter-day Saints in the months after its arrival in Illinois, as indicated by the extant copies in the handwriting of Partridge and Albert Perry Rockwood. In addition, the Times and Seasons published an edited version in 1840, extending the letter’s circulation to the Saints “scattered abroad.”13

Alexander MccRae

Alexander McRae and letter to the church. During his confinement in the Clay County jail, Joseph Smith wrote three general epistles to the church, offering comfort and prophetic counsel to the displaced Saints. In composing these epistles, Smith relied heavily on his fellow prisoners, particularly Alexander McRae (photographed circa 1880), who transcribed Smith’s dictation, assisted in revising the transcripts, and made polished copies to send to the Saints. Handwriting of Alexander McRae and Caleb Baldwin, with insertions by Joseph Smith. Letter to the Church and Edward Partridge, 20 Mar. 1839, Revelations Collection, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. (McRae image: Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

/14Liberty Jail Clay County Mo March 20th 1839.

To the church of Latterday saints at Quincy Illinois and scattered abroad15 and to Bishop [Edward] Partridge in particular. your humble servant Joseph Smith Jr prisoner for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake and for the saints16 taken and held by the power of mobocracy under the exterminating reign of his excelancy the Governer Lilburn W. Boggs in company with his fellow prisoners and beloved Brethren Caleb Baldwin Lymon [Lyman] Wight. Hyram [Hyrum] Smith and Alexander McRae. Send unto you all greeting. May the grace of God the father and of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ rest upon you all and abide with you for ever.17 May knoledge be multiplied unto you by the meorcy of God.18 And may faith and virtue and knoledge and temperance and pationce and Godliness and Brotherly kindness and charity be in you and abound that you may not be baron in anything nor unfrutefull.19 Forasmuch as we know that the most of you are well acquainted with the rongs and the high toned injustice and cruelty that is practiced upon us whereas we have been taken prisoners charged falsly with evry kind of evil and thrown into prison inclosed with strong walls surrounded with a strong guard who continually watch day and knight as indefatigable as the devil is in tempting and laying snayers for the people of God.20 Therefore dearly and beloved Brethren we are the more ready and willing to lay claim to your fellowship and love. For our curc[p. 1]umstances are calculated to awaken our spirits to a sacred rememberance of evry thing and we think that yours are also and that nothing therefore can seperate us from the love of God,21 and fellowship one with another and that evry species of wickedness and cruelty practised upon us will only tend to bind our harts together and seal them together in love22 we have no need to say to you that we are held in bonds without cause neither is it needfull that you say unto us we are driven from our homes and smitten without cause. We mutually unders[t]and that if the inhabitance of the state of Missouri had let the saints alone and had been as deserable of peace as they ware there would have been nothing but peace and quiatude [quietude] in this <State> unto this day we should not have been in this hell surrounded with demonds if not those who are damned, they are those who shall be damned and where we are compeled to hear nothing but blasphemo[u]s oaths and witness a seen of blasphemy and drunkeness and hypocracy and debaucheries of evry description. And again the cry cries of orphans and widdows would <not> have assended up to God. the blood of inocent women and children yea and of men also would not have cried to God against them <it>23 would <not>24 have stained the soyl of Missouri.25 but oh! the unrelenting hand the inhumanity and murderous disposition of this people it shocks all nature it beggers and defies all discription. it is a tail [tale] of [p. 2] wo a lamentable tail yea a sorrifull tail too much to tell too much for contemplation too much to think of for a moment too much for human beings it cannot be found among the hethans it cannot be found among the nations where Kings and tyrants are inthroned it cannot be found among the savages of the wilderness yea and I think it cannot be found among the wild and ferocious beasts of the forist that a man should be mangled for sport26 women be violated <rob[b]ed> of all that they have their last morsel for subsistance and then be violated27 to gratify the hells <hellish> desires of the mob and finally left to perish with their helpless of[f]spring clinging around their necks but this is not all after a man is dead he must be dug up from his grave and mangled to peaces for no other purpose than to gratify their splean against the religeon of god. They practise <these> things upon the saints who have done them no rong who are inocent and virtuous who loved the Lord their god and were willing to forsaik all things for his <Christ> sake28 these things are awfull to relait [relate] but they are verily true it must needs bee that offences come, but WO! to them by whom they come.29 [1]O God where art thou and where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place30 [2]how long shall thy hand be stayed and thine eye yea thy pure eye behold from from the etearnal heavens the rongs of thy people and of thy servants [p. 3] and thine ear be penetrated with their cyes [cries] [3]yea o Lord how long shall they suffer these rongs and unlawfull oppressions before thine hart shall be softened towards them and thy bowels be moved with compassion to-words them. [4]O Lord God almity maker of heaven earth and seas and of all things that in them is31 and who controleth and subjecteth the devil and the dark and benig[h]ted dominion of shayole. Streach forth thy hand let thine eye pierce let thy pavilion be taken up let thy hiding place no longer be covered32 let thine ear be inclined33 let thine hart be softened and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us [5]let thine anger be kindle against our enemi[e]s and in the fury of thine hart with thy sword avenge us of our rongs [6]remember thy suffering saint oh our God and thy servants will rejoyce in thy name for ever.34 Dearly and beloved Brethren we see that peralas [perilous] times have come as was testified of35 we may look then with most purfect asshurance for the roling in of all those things that have been written and with more confidence than ever before lift up our eyes to the luminary of day and say in our harts soon thou wilt vail thy blushing face he that said let there be light, and there was light36 hath spoken this word, and again thou moon thou dimmer light thou luminary of night shall trurn <turn> to blood37 we see that evry thing is fulfilling and the time shall soon come when the son of man shall [p. 4] descend in the clouds of <heaven,>38 our harts do not shrink neither are our spirits altogether broken at the grievious yoak which is put upon us We know that God will have our oppressors in derision39 that he laf <will laugh> at their calamity and mock when their fear comith40 oh that we could be with you Brethren and unbosome our feeling to you we would tell that we should have been at <liberated> the time Elder [Sidney] Rigdon was on the writ of habeas corpus had not our own lawyers interpreted the law contrary to what it reads against <us,> which prevented us from introducing our evidence before the mock court,41 they have done us much harm <from> the begining they have of late acknoledged that the law was misconstrewed and tantalised our feelings with it and have intirally [entirely?] forsaken us and have forfeited their oaths and their bonds and we have a come back on them for they are co-workers with the mob.42 As nigh as we can learn the publick mind has been for a long time turning in our favor and the majority is now friendly43 and the lawyers can no longer browbeat us by saying that this or that is a matter of publick oppinion for publick oppinion is not willing to brook it for it is begining to look with feelings of indignation against our oppresors and to say that the mormons were not in the fault in the least we think that truth honor and virtue and inocence will eventually come out tryumphant we should have taken a habeas corpus before the high Judge and escaped [p. 5] the mob in a sumerary way but unfortunatly for us the timber of the wall being verry hard our auger handles gave out and hindered us longer than we expected we applied to a friend and a verry slight uncautious act gave rise to some suspition and before we could fully succeed our plan was discovered we had evry thing in readiness but the last stone and we could have made our escape in one minute and should have succeeded admirably had it not been for a little imprudance or over anxiety on the part of our friend.44 The sheriff and jailor45 did not blame us for our attempt it was a fine breach and cost the county a round sum46 but publick oppinion says that we ought to have been permitted to have made our escape that then the disgrace would have been on us, but now it must come on the state. that there cannot be any charge sustained against us and that the conduct of the mob, the murders committed at hawns mill, and the exterminating order of the Governer,47 and the one sided rascally proceedings of the Legislature has damned the state of Missouri to all eternity I would just name also that Genl. [David R.] Atchison has proved himself to be as contemtible as any of them48 we have tryed for a long time to get our lawyers to draw us some petitions to the supream Judges of this state. but they uterly refused we have examined the law49 and drawn the petitions ourselvs and have obtained abundance of proof to counter act all the testimony [p. 6] that was against us, so that if the supream Judge dose [does] <not grant> us our liberty he has got to act without cause contrary to honor evidence law or justice50 shearly to please the devil but we hope better things and trust that before many days God will so order our case that we shall be set at liberty and take up our habitation with the saints we received some letters last evening one from Emma51 one from Don C[arlos] Smith52 and one from Bishop Partridge53 all breathing a kind and consoling spirit we were much gratified with there contence [contents] we had been a long time without information and when we read those letters they were to our soles <souls>54 as the gentle air, <is> refreshing but our joy was mingled with greaf because of the suffering of the poor and much injured saints and we need not say to you that the flood gates of our harts were hoisted and our eyes were a fountain of tears but those who have not been inclosed in the walls of a prison without cause or provication can have but a little ideah how sweat [sweet] the voice of a friend is one token of friendship from any sorce whatever awakens and calles into action evry simpathetick feeling it brings up in an instant evry thing that is pas[s]ed it sesses [seizes?] the presant with a vivasity of lightning it grasps after the future with the fearsness [fierceness] of a tiger it rhetrogrades from one thing to an other untill finally all enmity malice and hatred and past diferances misunderstandings and mis[p. 7]managements lie slain victoms at the feet of hope and when the hart is sufficiently contrite and <then> the voice of inspiration steals along and whispers [7]my son pease be unto thy soul thine advirsity and thy afflictions shall be but a small moment55 [8]and then if thou indure it well God shall exalts the[e] on high thou shalt tryumph over all they foes [9]thy friends do stand by the[e] and they shall hail the[e] again with warm harts and friendly hands [10]thou art yet not yet as Job thy friends do not contend again[st] the[e] the neither charge the[e] with transgretion as they did Job56 [11]and they <who> do the charge the[e] with transgretion57 there hope shall be blasted and there prospects shall melt away as the hory frost melteth before the burning rays of the rising sun [12]and also that God hath set to his hand and seal to change the times and seasons58 and to blind their minds that they may not understand his marvilos workings59 that he may prove them also and take them in there own craftiness60 [13]also because their harts are corrupt and the thing which they are willing to bring upon others and love to have others suffer may come upon them<selvs> to the verry utmost [14]that they may be disappointed also and their hopes may be cut off61 [15]and not many years hence that they and their pasterity shall be swept from under heaven saith God that not one of them [p. 8] is left to stand by the wall62 [16]cursed are all those that shall lift up the heal63 against mine anointed saith the Lord and cry they have sin[n]ed when they have not sined before me saith the Lord but have done that which was meat in mine eyes and which I commanded them [17]but those who cry transgresion do it becaus they are the servants of sin64 and are the children of disobediance65 themselvs [18]and those who swear false against my servants that they might bring them unto bondage and death. [19]Wo unto them because they have offended my little ones they shall be severed from the ordinances of mine house66 [20]their basket shall not be full their houses and their barnes shall famish and they themselvs shall be dispised by those that flattered them [21]they shall not have right to the priesthood nor their posterity after them from generation to generation [22]it had been better for them that a millstone had been hanged about their necks and they having drownd in the depth of the see67 [23]wo unto all those that discomfort my people and drive and murder and testify against them68 saith the Lord of host a generation of viper69 shall not escape the damnation of hell [24]behold mine eyes seeth and knoweth all their works70 and I have in reserve a swift judgement in the season thereoff for them all [25]for there is a time appointed for <to> evry man [p. 9] according their <as his> work shall be71 and now beloved Brethren we say unto [you?] that in asmuch as good <God> hath said that he would have a tried people that he would purge them as gold72 now we think that this time he has chosen his own crusible wherein we have been tryed and we think if we get through with any degree of safty and shall have keept the faith that it will be a sign to this generation all together sufficient to leave them without excuse73 and we think also that it will be a tryal of our faith equal to that of Abraham and that the antionts [ancients] will not have were off [whereof] to bo[a]st over us in the day of judgment as being called to pass through heavier afflictions that we may hold an even waight in the balances with them but now after having suffered so grate a sacrifis and having pased through so grate a scene of sorrow we trust that a Ram may be caught in the thicket74 speedily to releave the sons and daughters of Abraham from their grate <great>75 anxiety and to light up the lamp of salvation76 upon their countinances that they may hold up <on> now after having gone so far unto everlasting life. Now brethren conserning the places for the location of the saints we cannot counsyl you as we could if we were presant with you and <as> to the things that ware writen heartofore [heretofore] we did not concider them any thing verry binding77 therfore we now say once for all that we think it most proper that the general affairs of the church which are nessisary [p. 10] to be concidered while your humble servant remains in bondage s[h]ould be transacted by a general conferance of the most faithfull and the most respictible of the authorities of the church and a minute of those transactions may be kept and fowarded from time to time to your humble servant and if there should be any corrections by the word of the word of the Lord they shall be f[r]eely transmitted and your humble servant will approve all the things what soever is acciptable unto God if any thing thing should have been sejusted [suggested] by us or any names mentioned ex[ce]pt by commandment or thus saith the Lord we do not concider it binding. therefore our harts shall not be greaved if diferant arraingments should be entered into the nevertheless we would sejest the propriety of being awar[e] of an aspiring spirit which spirit has oftentimes urged men fowards to make foul speaches and influaance the church and to reject milder councils and has eventually by <been> the means been of bringing much death and sorrow upon the church we would say be awar of pride also for well and truly hath the wise man s[a]id that pride goeth before distruction and a haughty spirit before a fall78 /79and Again outward appearance is not always a Criterean for us to Judge our fellow man80 but the lips betray the haughty and over barinng immginations of the heart, by his words by <and> his deeds let him be scan[n]ed81 [p. 11] flaterly also is a deadly poison an a frank an <a frank and> open Rebuke provoketh a good man to Emulation and in the hour of trouble he will be your best friend, but on the other-hand it will draw out all the corruption of a corrupt heart And lying and the poison of asps shall be under their tongues82 and they do cause the pure in heart to be cast in to prison because they want them out of thare way, A fanciful and flowely and heated immagination be aware of because the things of God Are of deep import and time and expeariance and car[e]ful and pondurous and solom though[ts] can only find them out. thy mind O Man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation must streach [stretch] as high as the utmost Heavens, and sink sear[c]h in to and contemplate the loest <lowest>83 consideatins [considerations] of the darkest abyss, and Expand upon the broad considerations of Eternal Expance, he must commune with God. how much more dignifide and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vane immagination of the human heart, none but fools, will triful [trifle], with the souls of men, how vane and trifling, have ben our spirits, our Conferencs our Coun[c]ils our— private Meetings our pri[v]ate as well as public Conversations to low to mean to vulgar [p. 12] to condecending, for the dignifide Characters of the Cald and Chosen of God, according to the purposes of his word will from befo[re] the foundation of the world.84 to hold the keys, of the mistres [mysteries] of those things that have ben kept hid from the foundation untill now,85 for <of> which som have tasted a little and which many of them are to be pored down from heaven upon the heads of babes, yea the weak, obscure and dispizable ones of this earth. tharefore We beseath of you bretheren, that bare <you bear>86 with those [w]ho do not feel themselves more worthey than yourselves, while we Exort one another, to a reffermation [reformation?], with one an all. both old and young. teachers and taugt both high and low rich and poor—bond and free. Male and female. let honesty and sobriety, and cander and solemnity, and virtue, and pureness, and Meekness, and simplisity, Crown our heads in every place, and in fine becom as little Children87 without mallice guile or high packrichy Hypokrisy:88 and now Bretheren after your tribulations if you do this— things, and exercise fervent prayer,89 and faith in the sight of God Always, [26]he shall give unto you knowledge [p. 13] /90by his holy spirit yea by the unspeakable gift of the holy-Ghost91 that has not been revealed since the world was untill now [27]which our fathers have wated with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times which their minds were pointed to by the Angels as held in reserve for the fullness of their glory [28]a time to come in the which nothing shall be with held whither there be one god or many god’s92 they shall be manifest [29]all thrones and dominions principalities and powers93 shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have indured valiently for the gospel of Jesus Christ [30]and also if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas or to the dry land or to the sun moon or starrs [31]all the times of their revolutions all their appointed days month and years and all the Days of their days, months and years and all their glories laws and set times shall be reveald94 in the days of the dispensation of the fullness of times95 [32]according to that which was ordaind in the midst of the councyl of the eternal God of all other Gods before this world was96 that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereoff where <when> evry man shall enter into his eternal presants and into his imortal rest97 but I beg leave to say unto you Brethren that ignorance supe[r]stition and bigotry placing itself where it ought not is often times in the way of the prosperity of this church [p. 14] like the torant of rain from the mountains that floods the most pure and christle stream with mire and dirt and filthyness and obscures evry thing that was clear before and all hurls along in one general deluge but time tethers <wethers>98 tide and notwithstanding we are roled in for the time being by the mire of the flood the next surge peradventure as time roles on may bring us to the fountain as clear as cristal and as pure as snow while all the filthiness flood wood and rubbish is left is left and purged out by the way. [33] How long can rowling watters reamin impure what power shall stay the heavens as well might man streach forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri River in its decread cours or to turne it up stream as to hinder the Almighty from pooring down knoledge from <heaven> upon the heads of the Latter day saints what is Boggs or his murderous party but wimbling willows upon the shore to catch the flood wood as will might we argue that watter is not watter because the the mountain torants send down mire and riles the cristle stream altho afterwords ren[d]ers it more pure than before Or that fire is not fire because it is of a quenchable nature by pooing [pouring] on the flood, as to say that our cause is down because runegadoes lyers preasts theavs and murderers who are all alike tenatious of their crafts and creeds have poord [p. 15] down from their spiritual wickednes in hig[h] places and from their strong holds of the divin[e] a flud of dirt and mire and filthiness and vomit upon our heads no God forbid. hell may poor forth its rage like the burning lavy [lava] of mount vesuvias or of Etna or of the most terible of the burning mountains and yet shall mormonism stand. watter, fire, truth, and god are all the same truth is mormonism God is the author of it he is our shield99 it is by him we received our birth, it was by his voice that we were called to in a dispensation of his gospel in the begining of the fullness of tim[e]s it was by him we received the book of mormon and it was by him that we remain unto this day and by him we shall remain if it shall be for our glory and in his almighty name we are determined to indure tribulation100 as good soldiers unto the end but brethren we shall continue to offer further reflections in our next epistle you will learn by the time you have read this and if you do not learn it you may learn it that walls and <iron> doors <and screaking hinges> is only calcu and half scard to death Guards and jailors grining like some damned spirit lest an inocent man should make his escape to bring to light the damnible deeds of a murderous mob is cal[c]ulated in its verry nature to make the sole of an honist man feel stronger than the powers of hell. But we must bring our epistle to a close [p. 16] we send our respects to Fathers, Mothers, wives, and children, Brothers, and Sisters. we hold them in the most sacred rememberance I send this epistle to Emma that She may have the first parusal of it101 we feel to inquire after Elder Rigdon if he has not forgotten us it has not been signified to us by his pen scrawl. Brother George W Robinson also102 and Elder [Reynolds] Cahoon we remember him but would like to jog his memory a little on the fable of the bair and the two friends who mutually agreed to stand by each other103 and prehaps it would not be amis to mention Unkle John [Smith]104 and various others, a word of consolation and a blessing would not come amiss from any body while we are being so closly whispered by the Bair but we feel to excuse evry body and evry thing. Yea the more readily when we contemplate that we are in the hands of a wors than a Bair for a the Bair would not pray upon a dead carcus. Our respects and love and fellowship to all the virtious saints we are your Brethren and fellow sufferers and prisoners of Jesus Christ for the gospels sake105 and for the hope of glory which is in us.106 Amen.

/107Joseph Smith Jr

Hyrum Smith

Lyman Wight

Caleb Baldwin

Alexander. Mc. Rae. [p. 17]

/108Epistle of Joseph Smith & Others in Liberty Jail to the Church of J. C. L. D. S. in Quincy.

March 20th 1839

E. [p. [18]]

Letter to Edward Partridge and the Church, circa 22 March 1839

Source Note

JS, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin, and Alexander McRae, Letter, [Liberty, Clay Co., MO], to Edward Partridge and the church, Quincy, Adams Co., IL, [ca. 22 Mar. 1839]; handwriting of Alexander McRae, with insertion by JS; signatures of JS, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin, and Alexander McRae; nine pages; Revelations Collection, CHL. Includes address and dockets, with a redaction in graphite. For more information, see the source note on the Joseph Smith Papers website.

Historical Introduction

Around 22 March 1839, JS composed this epistle in the Clay County jail in Liberty, Missouri. Addressed to Bishop Edward Partridge and the church, the letter offered counsel on a range of issues. The epistle was the second letter JS wrote to the church in March 1839, and he evidently planned to write additional general epistles that month, offering guidance and comfort to the church after the devastating setbacks of 1838 and amid church members’ forced removal from Missouri in early 1839. The first epistle, addressed to the church in general and Partridge in particular, was drafted on 20 March 1839 and included meditations on persecution and the church’s divine destiny. At the conclusion of the missive, JS stated that the prisoners’ intent was to “continue to offer further reflections in our next epistle.”109 This undated letter appears to be the promised sequel. JS was the primary author of the epistle, although the other prisoners may have assisted in its composition. Like the 20 March 1839 epistle, the undated letter shifts between three rhetorical perspectives: the first-person plural of all the prisoners, the first-person singular of JS, and the voice of Deity directed to JS. Each prisoner signed the letter.110

Dating the letter presents significant challenges. On 21 March 1839, JS informed Emma Smith, “I have sent an Epistle to the church,” presumably referring to the 20 March letter. He then told her that he intended to “send an other as soon as posible,” likely referring to this undated epistle.111 The undated letter could have been written anytime between 21 March and 6 April, the day the prisoners left Liberty for Gallatin, Missouri, to appear before the Daviess County Circuit Court.112 However, JS likely wrote it around 22 March, the day he composed a letter to land speculator Isaac Galland, who had offered to sell the church land in Illinois and Iowa Territory. In the 20 March 1839 epistle, JS deferred to the judgment of church leaders in Quincy, Illinois, regarding whether to accept Galland’s offer. JS’s thinking evidently changed by the time he wrote the letter to Galland on 22 March. In that letter, JS remarked that “the church would be wise in making the contract” and requested that Galland reserve the land for the Saints.113 JS used similar language in the undated epistle, stating that “the church would do well to secure to themselves” Galland’s land offer.114

In the epistle, JS revisited other major themes of the 20 March 1839 letter and also included new insights. In the earlier epistle, JS reflected on lessons learned from past mistakes; in the undated missive, JS further contemplated previous errors and suggested ways to avert similar problems in the future. The second epistle also contained an extended meditation on the righteous use of priesthood power; during the meditation, the perspective transitioned from the combined voice of JS and his companions addressing a general church audience to the voice of Deity addressing JS with regard to his future influence. After reviewing JS’s recent arrest, forced separation from his family, and incarceration, the divine voice assured JS that his suffering would provide necessary experience. The letter then returned to the voice of JS and his companions, alternating between first-person singular and first-person plural. The epistle also instructed the Saints to prepare affidavits describing their losses in Missouri, to be submitted to government officials. The letter then concluded with an extended affirmation of the inspired nature of the United States Constitution and the principle of religious liberty.115

JS presumably dictated the rough draft of the epistle, which is in the handwriting of Alexander McRae, who acted as scribe for other lengthy documents produced in the jail.116 This draft contains corrections by JS. When it was completed, each of the prisoners signed the epistle before it was folded in letter style and addressed to JS’s wife Emma Smith in Quincy.117 For reasons that remain unclear, McRae then produced a fair copy that incorporated JS’s revisions to the rough draft. After McRae and JS made additional minor corrections to the fair copy, the prisoners signed it, and then it was folded and addressed to Emma Smith. The fair copy is featured here because it appears to be the most complete version of the letter sent to Illinois.118

The undated general epistle may have been among the “package of letters” that church member Alanson Ripley obtained from the jail on 22 March 1839.119 Alternatively, if the letter was not yet completed at the time of Ripley’s visit, other visitors to the jail in late March and early April, including Heber C. Kimball and Theodore Turley, may have been entrusted with the letter.120 The letter was presumably delivered to Emma Smith, as it was addressed to her.121 On 11 April 1839, Hyrum Smith’s wife, Mary Fielding Smith, indicated that both the 20 March 1839 epistle and the undated letter had arrived in Quincy. “We have seen the Epistols to the Church and read them several times,” she wrote to her husband. “They seem like food for the hungrey we have taken great pleasure on perusing them.”122 The undated epistle evidently was circulated widely among church members in Illinois, as indicated by the early copies that Edward Partridge and Albert Perry Rockwood made. An edited version of the letter was published twice in 1840—in church newspapers in Nauvoo, Illinois, and in Liverpool, England—further increasing the letter’s circulation.123


Continued to the church of Latter-day-saints.

We continue to offer further reflections to Bishop [Edward] Partridge and to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints whom we love with a fervent love and do always bear them in mind in all our prayers to the throne of God. It still seems to bear heavy heavily in our minds that the church would do will well to secure to themselves the contract of the Land which is proposed to them by Mr. Isaac Galland and to cultivate the friendly feelings of that gentleman in as much shall as he shall prove himself to be a man of honor humanity and a friend to humanity. We really think that his letter breaths that kind of spirit if we can judge correctly.124 And Isaac Van Allen Esqr. the attorney Gen. of Iawa Territory that peradventure such men may be wrought upon by the providence of God to do good unto his people.125 Governer [Robert] Lucas also. We suggest the ideah of praying fervantly for all men who manifest any degree of sympathy for the suffering children of God. We think that peradventure the united States survayor of the Iowa Territory may be of grate benefeit to the church126 if it be the will of God to this end127 if ritiousness shall should be manifested as the girdle of our loins.128 It seems to be deeply impresed upon our minds that the saints ought to lay hold of evry door shall that shall seem to be opened for unto them129 to obtain foot hold on the Earth and be a make making all the preparation<s> that is within the power of posibles for the terible storms that are now gethering in the heavens with darkness and gloominess and thick darkness as spoken of by the prophets130 which cannot be now of a long time lingering for there seems to be a whispering that the angels of heaven131 who have been intrusted with the council counsel of these matters for the last days have taken council counsel together: and among the rest of the general affairs that have to be transacted in their honorable council counsel they have taken cognisance of the testimony of those who were murdered at Hawns Mills and also those who were martered with D[avid] W. Patten. and else where and132 have passed some [p. 1] decisions peradventure in favour of the saints and133 those who were called to suffer without cause these decisions will be made known in there time and they will take into concideration all those things that offend. We have a fervant desire that in your general conferences that evry thing should be discused with a grate deal of care and propriety lest you grieve the Holy Spirit134 which shall be poured out at all times upon your heads135 when you are exercised with those principals of ritiousness that are agreeable to the mind of God and are properly affected one toward an other and are carefull by all means to remember those <who> are in bondage and in heaviness and in deep affliction for your sakes and if there are any among you who aspire after their own aggrandisement and seek their own oppulance while thier brethren are groaning in poverty and are under sore trials and temptations they can not be benefeited by the intersesion of the Holy Spirit <which> maketh intersesion for us daily day and knight with groning that cannot be uttered.136 We ought at all times to be verry carefull that such high mindedness never have place in our hearts but condesend to men of low estate and with all long suffering bear the infermities of the weak. [34]Behold there are ma[n]y called but few are chosen.137 And why are they not chosen? [35]Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world and aspire to the honors of men that they do not learn this one lesson [36]that the rights of priesthood are inseperably connected with the powers of heaven and that the powers of heaven connot be controled nor handled only upon the principals of rightiousness. [37]That they may be confered upon us it is true but when we undertake to cover our sins138 or to gratify our pride or vain ambition or to exercise controle or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men in any degree of unritiousness behold the heavens withdraw themselves the spirit of the Lord is grieved [p. 2] and when it has withdrawn Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man [38]behold ere he is aware he is left unto himself to kicken against the pricks to persecute the saints and to fight against God.139 [39]We have learned by sad experiance that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men as soon as they get a little authority as they suppose they will imediately begin to [e]xercise140 unritious dominion. [40]hence ma[n]y141 [are]142 called but few are ch[osen.]143 [41][No power or in]f[luence]144 can or ought to be maintained by <[vi]rt[ue]>145 of the Priesthood only by persuasion by long suffering by gentleness and meekness and by love unfaigned146 [42]by kindness by pure knowledge which shall greatly enlarge the soul147 without hypocrisy and without guile [43]reproving be-times with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost and then showing forth afterwords an increas of love toward him whom thou hast reproved lest he esteem the[e] to be his enimy [44]that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death [45]thy bowells also being full of charity towards all men and to the household of faith148 and virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presants of God, and the doctrins of the Priesthood shall destill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven [46]the Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion and thy septer an unchanging septer of ritiousness149 and truth and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion150 and without compulsory means it shall flow [un]to151 thee for ever and ever. The ends of the Earth152 shall [enq]uire153 after thy na[me]154 and fools shall have thee in deri[s]ion155 and hell shall rage against thee while the pure in heart156 and the wise and the noble and the virtious shall seek council counsel and authority and blessings constantly from under thy hand and thy people shall never be turned against thee by the testimony of traitors157 and although their influenance shall cast the[e] into trouble and into bars and walls thou shalt be had in honor and but for a small moment and thy voice shall be more terable in the midst of thine enemies than the fierce Lion because of thy ritiousness and [p. 3] thy God shall stand by the[e] for ever and ever. If thou art called to pass through tribulation. If thou art in perals among fals brethren. If thou art in perals amongst robbers. If thou art in perals by land or by sea.158 If thou art accused with all maner of fals accusations. If thine enimies fall upon the[e]. If they tear the[e] from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and Sisters.159 And if with a drawn sword thine enimies tear the[e] from the bosome of thy Wife and of thine offsprings and thine El[d]er son160 although but six years of age shall cling to thy garments and shall say my Father my Father why cant you stay with us Oh my Father what are the men going to do with you. And if then he shall be thrust from the[e] by the sword161 and thou be draged to prison and thine enimies prowl around the[e] like wolves for blood of the Lamb and if thou shouldest be cast into the pit162 or into the hands of murderers and the sentantce of death pased upon thee.163 If thou be cast into the deep. If the billowing surge conspire against thee.164 If fierce wind become thine enimy. If the heavens gether blackness and all the elements combine to hedge up the way and above all if the verry jaws of hell shall gap open her mouth wide after <thee> know thou my son that all these things shall give thee experiance and shall be for thy good.165 The son of man hath desended below them all art thou greater than he? Therefore hold on thy way and the priesthood shall remain with thee for their bounds are set they cannot pass. Thee Thy days are known and thy years shall not be numbered less. therefore fear not what man can do166 for God shall be with you167 for ever and ever. Now brethren I would suggest for the concidereration of the confererence of its being carefully and wisely understood by the <counsel> or conferences that our brethren scattered abroad168 who understand the spirit of the gethering that [p. 4] they fall into the places of refuge and saf[e]ty that God shall open unto them betwean Kirtland and Far West. Those from the East and from the West and from far country countries let them fall in some where betwean those two boundries in the most safe and quiet places they can find and let this be the presant understanding untill God shall open a more effectual door for us for further conciderations.169 And again we further suggest for the concideration of the counsel that there be no organizations of large bodies upon common stock principals in property170 or of large companies of firms171 untill the Lord shall signify it in a proper manner as it opens such a dreafull [dreadful] field for the averishous and the indolent and corrupt hearted to pray upon the inocent and virtious and honist172 We have reason to believe that many things were introduced among the saints before God had signified the times and not withstanding the principles and plans may have <been> good yet aspiring men or in other word men <who> had not the substance of Godliness173 about them perhaps undertook to handle edg tools children you know are fond of tools while they are not yet able to use them. Time and experiance however is the only safe remidy against such evils there are many teachers but perhaps not many Fathers.174 There are times comming when God will signify many things which are expediant for the well being of the saints but the times have not yet come but will come as fast as there can be found place and reseptions for them. And again we would suggest for your concideration the propriety of all the saints gethering up the <a> knowledge of <all> the facts and suffering and abuses put upon them by the people of this state and also of all the property and amount of damages which they have sustained both of character and personal <Injuries as will as real property> property and also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions as far as they can get hold of them and find them out. and perhaps a committe can be appointed to find out these [p. 5] things and to take statements and affidafets and also to gether up the libilous publications that are afloat and all that are in the magazines and in the Insiclopedias [encyclopedias] and all the libillious history histories that are published and that <are> writing and by whom and present the whole concatination of diabolical rascality and nefarious and murderous impositions that have been practised upon this people that we may not only publish to all the world but present them to the heads of the government in all there dark and hellish175 hugh [hue?] as the last effort which is injoined on us by our heavenly. Father before we can fully and completely claim that promise which shall call him forth from his hiding place and also the whole nation may be left without excuse176 before he can send forth the power of his mighty arm.177 It is an imperious duty that we owe to God to angels with whom we shall be brought to stand and also to ourselves to our wives and our children who have been made to bow down with grief sorrow and care under the most damning hand of murder tyranny and oppression supported and urged on and upheld by the influance of that spirit which hath so strongly rivited the creeds of the fathers178 who have inherited lies179 upon the harts of the children180 and filled the world with confusion and has been growing stronger and stronger and is now the verry mein main spring of all corruption and the whole Earth grones under the wait of its iniquity.181 it is an iron yoke182 it is a strong band183 they are the verry hand cuffs and chains and shackles and fetters of hell Therefore it is an imperious duty that we owe not only to our own wives and children but to the widdows and fatherless whose husbands and fathers have been murdered under its iron hand which dark and blackning deeds are enough to make hell itself shudder and to stand aghast and pale and the hands of the verry devil tremble and palsy and also it is an imper[p. 6]ious duty that we owe to all the rising generation and to all the pure in heart which there <are> many yet on the Earth among all sects parties and de[no]minations who are blinded by the suttle craftiness of men whereby they ly in wait to decieve184 and only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it therefore that we should waist and ware out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness185 wherein we know them and they are truly manifest from heaven. These should then be attended to with greate earnestness let no man counts them as small things for there is much which lieth in futurity pertaining to the saint which depends upon these things you know brethren that a verry large ship is benefeited verry much by a verry small helm in the time of a storm by being kept work ways with the wind and the waves Therefore dearly beloved beloved brethren let us cheerfully do all things <that> lieth in our power and then may we stand still with the utmost asurance to see the salvation of God186 and for his arm to be revealed.187 And again I would further suggest the impropriety of the organization of bands or companies by covenant or oaths by penalties <or secrecy secrecies> but let the time past of our experiance and sufferings by the wickedness of Doctor [Sampson] Avard suffise188 and let our covenant be that of the everlasting covenant as is contained in the Holy writ189 and the things that God hath revealed unto us. Pure friendship always becomes weakened the verry moment you undertake to make it stronger by penal oaths and secrecy. Your humble servant or servants intend from henceforth to disapprobate every thing that is not in accordance with the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ190 and is not of a bold and frank and an upright nature they will not hold their peace as in times past when they see iniquity begining to rear its head for fear of traitors or the concequences that shall flow <follow>191 by reproving those who creap in unawares that they may get something to distroy the flock. We believe that the experiance of the saints in times past has been sufficient that they will from [p. 7] henceforth be always ready to obey the truth without having mens persons in admiration because of advantage it is expediant that we should be aware of such things. And we should ought always to be aware of those prejudices which sometimes so strangly presented themselves and are so congenial to human nature against our nieghbors friends and brethren of the world who choose to differ with us in opinion and in matters of faith. Our religeon is betwean us and our God. Their religeon is betwean them and their God. There is a ty192 from God that should be exercised towards those of our faith who walk uprightly which is peculiar to itself but it is without prejudice but gives scope to the mind which inables us to conduct ourselves with grater liberality to-wards all others that are not of our faith193 than what they exercise towards one another these principals approximate nearer to the mind of God because it is like God or God like. There is a principal also which we are bound to be exercised with that is in common with all men such as governments and laws and regulations in the civil conserns of life This principal guarentees to all parties sects and denominations and classes of religeon equal coherant and indefeasible rights they are things that pertain to this life therefore all are alike interested they make our responcibilities one towards another in matters of corruptible things while the former principals do not distroy the latter but bind us stronger and make our responcibilities not only one to another but unto God194 also hence we say that the constitution of the unitid States is a glorious standard it is founded in the wisdom of God.195 it is a heavenly banner it is to all those who are privilaged with the sweats of its liberty like the cooling shades and refreshing watters of a greate rock in a thirsty and a weary land196 it is like a greate [p. 8] tree under whose branches men from evry clime can be shielded from the burning rays of an inclemant sun. We bretheren are deprived of the protection of this glorious principal by the cruelty of the cruel by those who only look for the time being for pasterage like the beasts of the field only to fill themselves and forget that the mormons as well as the presbitarians and those of evry other class and description have equal rights to partake of the fruite of the greate tree of our national liberty197 but notwithstanding we see what we see and we feel what we feel and know what we know. Yet that fruite is no less presious and delisious to our taist we cannot be weaned from the milk neither can we be drawn from the breast neither will we deny our religeon because of the hand of oppresion but we will hold on untill death we say say that God is true that the constitution of the united States is true that the bible is true that the book of mormon is true <that> the book <of> covenants198 are true that Christ is true that the ministering angels sent forth from God are true and that we know that we have an house not made with hands eternal in the heavens199 whose building builder and maker is God200 a consolation which our oppressors cannot feel when fortune or fate shall lay its iron hand on them as it has on us. Now we ask what is man?201 Remember brethren that time <and> chance hapeneth to all men.202 We shall continue our reflections in our next.203 We subscribe ourselves your sinsear [sincere] friends and brethe[r]en204 in the bonds of the everlasting gospel205 prisoners of Jesus Christ206 for the sake of the gospel207 and the saints. We pronounce the blessing of heaven208 upon the heads of the saints who seek to serve God with an undevided hearts209 in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

210Joseph Smith Jr

Hyrum Smith

Lyman Wight

Caleb Baldwin

Alexander. Mc.Rae. [p. 9]


Mrs. Emma Smith

Quincy Ill. [p. [10]]