“Lesson 23: The Wentworth Letter, the Book of Abraham, and Increasing Opposition in Illinois,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material (2018)
“Lesson 23,” Latter-day Saint History: 1815–1846 Teacher Material
The Wentworth Letter, the Book of Abraham, and Increasing Opposition in Illinois
Introduction and Timeline
In response to a request by John Wentworth, a Chicago newspaper editor, Joseph Smith oversaw the writing of a letter that outlined the Church’s history and beliefs. That letter, later known as the Wentworth Letter, was published in the March 1, 1842, issue of the Church periodical Times and Seasons. In March and May 1842, Joseph Smith’s translation of the book of Abraham was also published in issues of the Times and Seasons. In May 1842, John C. Bennett was excommunicated from the Church for committing adultery with numerous women. John C. Bennett retaliated against the Church and the Prophet through a series of written attacks, including a false accusation that Joseph Smith had instigated an assassination attempt on former Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs. After Lilburn W. Boggs requested that Joseph Smith be extradited to Missouri, the Prophet was forced to spend several months in hiding to avoid being arrested and taken to Missouri for trial. While in hiding, Joseph Smith wrote two letters to the Saints that included additional instructions regarding baptism for the dead (see D&C 127–28). The Prophet eventually gave himself up to authorities and was discharged from arrest.
The Wentworth Letter was published in the Times and Seasons.
March and May 1842
The book of Abraham was published in the Times and Seasons.
May 6, 1842
An unknown assailant attempted to assassinate former Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs.
May 11, 1842
John C. Bennett was excommunicated for adultery.
Joseph Smith spent time in hiding to avoid arrest on false charges connected to the assassination attempt on Lilburn W. Boggs.
January 6, 1843
Joseph Smith was discharged from arrest.
Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018), chapters 38–39
Note: Although the student readings for this lesson are chapters 38–39 of Saints: Volume 1, this lesson includes information from chapter 37 of Saints: Volume 1.
Suggestions for Teaching
The Prophet Joseph Smith publishes the Wentworth Letter
Display the accompanying image, and explain that it is an image of John Wentworth, who was the editor of the Chicago Democrat newspaper in 1842. John Wentworth requested that Joseph Smith provide him with a sketch or summary of the history and faith of the Latter-day Saints (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 437).
If you were asked to give a summary of the history and faith of the Latter-day Saints, what events and beliefs would you include? Why?
Explain that in answer to John Wentworth’s request, the Prophet Joseph Smith responded with what has come to be known as the Wentworth Letter, which he published in March 1842 in the Church’s newspaper, the Times and Seasons.
Invite a student to read the following two paragraphs aloud. Ask the class to listen for what the Prophet Joseph Smith included in the Wentworth Letter.
“The Wentworth Letter has immense value to Latter-day Saints. It is an original account by Joseph Smith testifying of his sacred call from God, his visions, and his ministry and teachings. It recounts the rise and growth of the Church and the persecutions of the Saints. It contains a prophetic declaration of the Church’s future success in the earth under the protective hand of the Great Jehovah. It also contains several important details not found elsewhere in the Prophet’s teachings, including a description of the gold plates and a sketch of the contents of the Book of Mormon. Significantly, it is the first time that Joseph Smith himself published an account of his First Vision.
“Concluding with the 13 declarations of Church doctrine now called the Articles of Faith, it stands as a powerful witness of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 437).
Explain that the Wentworth Letter is published in full in The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual (2017), which is available in the Gospel Library App.
Invite a student to read aloud the following excerpt from the Wentworth Letter. Ask the class to listen for what Joseph Smith prophesied about the work of the Lord.
“The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 444).
Write the following truth on the board: No unhallowed hand can stop the work of God from progressing.
What do you think it means that “no unhallowed hand” can stop the work of God from progressing? (If necessary, help students understand that the phrase “unhallowed hand” refers to the efforts of individuals who are not appointed or authorized by God.)
What examples from Church history illustrate this truth?
What experiences have helped you come to know that no unhallowed hand can stop the work of God from progressing?
Testify that God’s work of salvation—which is accomplished through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—will continue to progress until it has spread throughout the entire earth.
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s translation of the book of Abraham is published
Display the accompanying image, and explain that it is a photograph of the papyrus fragment from which facsimile number 1 in the book of Abraham was taken. Explain that in 1835, while the Saints were gathered in Kirtland, Ohio, “an entrepreneur named Michael Chandler arrived at Church headquarters … with four mummies and multiple scrolls of papyrus.” At that time, Michael Chandler was “touring with ancient Egyptian artifacts and charging visitors a fee to see them.” (“Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.)
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement from Joseph Smith’s history:
“Some of the Saints at Kirtland, purchased the Mummies and Papyrus … and I, with [W. W.] Phelps and [Oliver] Cowdery, as scribes, commenced … the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham; another the writings of Joseph of Egypt” (Manuscript History of the Church, vol. B-1, p. 596, josephsmithpapers.org).
Why do you think the Saints would have been joyful and excited when these writings were discovered?
Invite a student to read the following two paragraphs aloud:
“Joseph Smith worked on the translation of the book of Abraham during the summer and fall of 1835, by which time he completed at least the first chapter and part of the second chapter. His journal next speaks of translating the papyri in the spring of 1842, after the Saints had relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois” (“Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
“John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff began publishing the prophet’s translation of the book of Abraham in the March 1842 issues of the Times and Seasons. As the Saints read the record, they were thrilled to discover new truths about the creation of the world, the purpose of life, and the eternal destiny of God’s children. They learned that Abraham had possessed a Urim and Thummim and had spoken with the Lord face-to-face. They read that the earth and everything in it had been organized from existing materials to bring about the exaltation of the Father’s spirit children” (Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 , 446).
In what ways does the book of Abraham provide further evidence of Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet of God?
Joseph Smith and the Saints experience increasing opposition in Illinois
Display the accompanying image, and explain that it is an image of John C. Bennett.
Based on your reading of chapters 35 and 38 of Saints: Volume 1, what positions did John C. Bennett hold in Nauvoo? (He was the mayor of Nauvoo and major general of the Nauvoo Legion, a local militia unit. He also served as an Assistant President in the First Presidency.)
Display the following statement by President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency. Invite a student to read it aloud.
“Some people wear masks of decency and outward righteousness but live lives of deception, believing that … they can live a double life and never be found out” (James E. Faust, “The Enemy Within,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 46).
In what ways does this statement relate to the actions of John C. Bennett? (If necessary, remind students that John secretly seduced several women in Nauvoo and committed adultery with them. He manipulated and lied to these women by “calling his practice ‘spiritual wifery’ … [and] assuring them that Joseph [Smith] approved of such behavior” [Saints: Volume 1, 457]).
Explain that on May 11, 1842, John C. Bennett was excommunicated for adultery.
Based on your reading of chapters 38–39 of Saints: Volume 1, what did John C. Bennett do after he was excommunicated? (If necessary, explain that he began writing letters to a popular newspaper in Illinois accusing the Prophet of various crimes and sins.)
Display the accompanying image of former Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs. Explain that in May 1842, he was wounded in an assassination attempt. Enemies of the Prophet, including John C. Bennett, falsely accused Joseph Smith of planning the attack. Lilburn Boggs asked his successor, Missouri governor Thomas Reynolds, to request that Illinois officials arrest the Prophet and extradite him to Missouri to stand trial. Illinois officials complied with the request and sought to arrest Joseph Smith. Believing his life was in danger, the Prophet went into hiding in early August 1842. On August 31, the Prophet came out of hiding temporarily to accompany his wife Emma to a Relief Society gathering.
Invite a student to read the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) aloud. Ask the class to listen for what the Prophet said at the Relief Society gathering about the opposition and persecution he was facing.
“Great exertions have been made on the part of our enemies to carry me to Missouri and destroy my life; but the Lord has hedged up their way, and they have not, as yet, accomplished their purpose. God has enabled me to keep out of their hands. …
“… My feelings at the present time are that, inasmuch as the Lord Almighty has preserved me until today, He will continue to preserve me, by the united faith and prayers of the Saints, until I have fully accomplished my mission in this life, and so firmly established the dispensation of the fullness of the priesthood in the last days, that all the powers of earth and hell can never prevail against it” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 522, 531).
What did the Prophet Joseph Smith teach about why his enemies were unsuccessful?
How does the Prophet’s teaching illustrate the truth that no unhallowed hand can stop the work of God from progressing?
Explain that on September 3, 1842, the Prophet was at home when two armed men and an Illinois sheriff came into his house to arrest him and take him to Missouri. The Prophet escaped unnoticed and hid in the home of his friend Edward Hunter. While in hiding there, Joseph wrote two letters containing instructions on baptism for the dead. These letters are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 127–28.
Write the following scripture reference and questions on the board:
Divide students into groups of two or three. Invite them to read Doctrine and Covenants 128:19, 22 together and discuss their responses to the questions on the board. After sufficient time, invite a few students to report their responses to the class. Students may identify a principle such as the following: Remembering the glorious cause of the gospel can give us courage to move forward in faith during difficult times. Write this principle on the board.)
Invite students to think of experiences from their lives in which remembering the glorious cause of the gospel gave them courage to move forward in faith during difficult times. Invite several students to share their experiences with the class.
Write the following question on the board, and invite students to record their responses in their study journals:
Explain that Joseph Smith knew he could not effectively lead the Church and care for his family while remaining in hiding. In December 1842, he surrendered and was taken to Springfield, Illinois, for trial. After lawyers finished opposing arguments, Judge Nathaniel Pope ruled that there was no evidence that Joseph had been in Missouri at the time of Governor Boggs’s attempted assassination and that Joseph must be released (see “Court Ruling, 5 January 1843,” Appendix 1, Document 11, 127–39, josephsmithpapers.org).
Conclude by bearing testimony of the truths identified in the lesson, and encourage students to act on those truths.
Invite students to prepare for the next class by reading chapters 40–41 of Saints: Volume 1.