Minute Book 1

observed in this church to the present. It was understood in ancient  days, that if one man could stay in council another could, and if  the president could spend his time, the members could also. But in our  councils, generally, one would be uneasy, another asleep, one praying  another not; one’s mind on the business of the council and another think ing on something else &c. Our acts are recorded, and at a future  day they will be laid before us, and if we should fail to judge right  and injure our fellow beings, they may there perhaps condemn us; thus  they are of great consequence; and to me the consequence appears to  be of force beyond any thing which I am able to express &c. Ask  yourselves, brethren, how much you have exercised yourselves in prayer  since you heard of this council; and if you are now prepared to  sit in judgment upon the soul of your brother.— Bro Joseph then  went on to give us a relation of his situation at the time he obtained  the record, the persecution he met with &c. He also told us of his transgression,  at the time he was translateing the Book of Mormon. He also proph ecied that he should stand and shine like the sun in the firmament  when his enemies and the gainsayers of his testimony should be put  down and cut off and their names blotted out from among men.  After the council had received much good instruction from Bro.  Joseph. The case of Bro. Martin Harris against whom certain  charges were preferred by bro. Sidney Rigdon. One was that he told Esqr  A[lpheus] C. Russell that Joseph drank too much liquor when he was translating  the Book of Mormon and that he wrestled with many men and  threw them &c. Another charge was, that he exalted himself above  bro. Joseph, in that he said bro. Joseph knew not the contents of the  book of Mormon until it was translated. Bro. Martin but that he  himself knew all about it before it was translated. Bro. Martin said  he did not tell Esqr Russell that bro. Joseph drank too much liquor  while translating the book of Mormon, but this thing took place  before the book of Mormon was translated. He confessed that  his mind was darkened and that he had said many things inad vertently calculateid to wound the feelings of his brethren and  promised to do better. The council forgave him and gave him much [p. 28]
On 12 February 1834 JS held a council meeting with high priests and elders at his home in Kirtland, Ohio. To those gathered he observed, “I shall now endeavor to set forth before this council, the dignity of the office which has been conferred upon me by the ministering of the Angel of God, by his own will and by the voice of this church. I have never set before any council in all the order in which a council ought to be conducted, which, perhaps, has deprived the councils of some, or many blessings.” Along with other instructions, JS related that “in ancient days, councils were conducted with such strict propriety, that no one was allowed to whisper, be weary, leave the room, or get uneasy in the least, until the voice of the Lord, by revelation, or the voice of the council by the spirit was obtained; which has not been observed in this church to the present.” (Minute Book 1, 12 Feb. 1834, 27–29.)
The record of this occasion is one of many found in Minute Book 1, also known as the “Kirtland Council Minute Book” or the “Kirtland High Council Minutes.” This and its companion, Minute Book 2 (also known as the “Far West Record”), are now published as part of the Administrative Records series on the Joseph Smith Papers website. These volumes illuminate many of the principles and practices that ordered early church governance and administration. They illustrate the early Saints’ determination to respond to revelation and divine guidance while simultaneously acknowledging the doctrine of common consent. Furthermore, these records demonstrate JS’s personal endorsement of and participation in a conference or council system of church government.
Entries for various conferences and councils recorded in Minute Book 1 stand as witness to several seminal events in early church history. Among these were the receipt of the revelation known as the “Olive Leaf” in late December 1832 and early January 1833; the organization of the School of the Prophets on 22–23 January 1833; the ordination of Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams as presidents of the high priesthood on 18 March 1833; revelations concerning construction of the Kirtland House of the Lord; the organization of the first standing high council in February 1834; church courts held in the aftermath of the Camp of Israel (Zion’s Camp) march in August 1834; the calling, ordination, and blessing of the Twelve Apostles and the Seventies in February 1835; the acceptance by the church of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants in August of that year; preparation for the dedication of the Kirtland House of the Lord in winter and early spring 1836; and events related to the Kirtland Safety Society, its demise, and the concomitant dissension within the Kirtland stake of Zion in 1837. Some of these minutes, especially those where JS was a participant in the meeting, will also appear with individual introductions in the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers.
In the texts of the various minute entries, and occasionally in separate entries alongside them, the register records ordinations, blessings, disciplinary councils, testimonies, Pentecostal outpourings, callings and releases, missionary appointments, and fund-raising activities. Thus, Minute Book 1 provides a rich survey of JS’s interactions with associates and others during many dramatic, and often challenging, episodes beginning in October 1832 and concluding in November 1837. Sixteen different clerks took original minutes that were later copied into the volume by Frederick G. Williams, Orson Hyde, Oliver Cowdery, Warren Cowdery, Marcellus Cowdery, George W. Robinson, Phineas Richards, and Harlow Redfield.
Minute Book 1 was initiated during a remarkable upsurge in record keeping, beginning with the calling of Oliver Cowdery and later John Whitmer as church historians in 1830 and 1831. Revelations and commandments recorded in Revelation Book 1 were sent to Missouri to be published on the church’s first press in late 1831, and Revelation Book 2 was in use in Kirtland by February 1832. Sometime in 1832, probably between July and September, JS and Frederick G. Williams worked together on a brief history of JS’s early visionary experiences. JS purchased the small volume that contains his first journal in November 1832 and began penning entries that same month. That fall another record, containing retained copies of early church correspondence and now designated Letterbook 1, was commenced. In January of the following year, in an epistle recorded in Letterbook 1, JS wrote to William W. Phelps encouraging him as editor of the church’s first periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star, then printed in Jackson County, Missouri, to set “forth the rise and progress and faith of the church,” that is, to begin publishing items on the history of the church.
This upwelling was quite unusual for the time. As scholar Dean C. Jessee has observed, “So primitive were some aspects of record keeping in nineteenth-century America that much of the early Latter-day Saint experience was a pioneering effort. . . . Although Mormon record keeping was inaugurated by [an] 1830 revelation, details for carrying out that commandment were largely hammered out on the anvil of experience in the years that followed.” (Dean C. Jessee, “The Reliability of Joseph Smith’s History,” Journal of Mormon History 3 [1976]: 27.) Thus, during a brief span in the early 1830s, JS, along with those working under his direction, commenced the systematic collection and recording of critical documents pertaining to church governance and administration. Throughout the remainder of JS’s lifetime minute-taking, revelation-recording, correspondence-copying, journal-keeping, and history-writing activities would remain imperative commitments.