Letterbook 2

JS to Horace Hotchkiss • 13 May 1842

Nauvoo May 13th. 1842
Dr. Sir I proceed without delay to give a hasty  reply to yours of the 12th. ultimo just received. My engagements will not admit  of a lengthy detail of events & circumstances which have transpired to bring  about that state of things which now exists in this place, as before you receive  this you will probably be apprized of the failure of myself and brethren to execute  our designs in paying off our contracts, or in other words that we have been  compelled to pay our debts by the most popular method (IE) by petitioning  for the privileges of General Bankruptcy, a principle so popular at the present  moment throughout the Union.—
A pressure of business has been sufficient excuse for not giving  you earlier notice, although it could been of no real importance <use> to you  yet I wish you to understand our intentions to you and your company, & why  we have taken the course we have. You are aware Sir, in some  measure of the embarassments under which we have labored through  the influence of Mobs and designing men, & the disadvantageous circumstance,  under which we have been compelled to contract debts in order to our existance  both as Individuals & as a society & it is on account of this as well as a pressure  on us for debts absolutely unjust, in themselves, that we have been compelled  to resort to the course we have to make a general settlement & this we deferred  till the last moment, hoping that something would turn in our favor, so  that we might be saved the painful necessity of resorting to such measures  to accomplish which, Justice demanded a very different course, from those  who are justly our debtors but demanded in vain. We have been compelled to the  course we have pursued & you are aware Sir, that all have to face alike in  such cases. But Sir, you have one, yea two things to comfort you. Our faith  in intention & good feeling remain the same to all our creditors, & to none  more than yourself. & 2nd.ly. There is property sufficient in the inventory  to pay every debt and some to spare, according to the testimony of our solicitor  & the good judgement of others, & if the court will allow us some one for  assignee who will do justice to the cause we confidently believe that  yourself and all others will get their compensation in full & we have enough  left, for one loaf more for each of our families, Yes and I have no doubt that  you will yet & in a short time be enabled to have your pay in full in the  way I have before proposed or some other equally advantageous; his money is  out of sight, it might as well be out of mind for it cannot be had.  Rest assured Dr Sir, that no influence or exertion I can yet render [p. 232]
On 27 November 1832, while residing at Kirtland, Ohio, JS wrote a lengthy letter to William W. Phelps at Independence, Missouri. JS’s missive emphasized the importance of record keeping and history writing in the young church. JS began by noting that he wished “to communicate some things which . . . are laying great with weight upon my mind.” He then observed, “Firstly, it is the duty of the lord[’s] clerk whom he has appointed to keep a hystory and a general church reccord of all things that transpire in Zion . . . and also there manner of life and the faith and works.” (Letter to William W. Phelps, 27 Nov. 1832.)
This emphasis on record keeping was not widespread at the time. 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.) During a brief span in the early 1830s, JS and those working under his direction commenced the systematic collecting and recording of critical documents pertaining to church governance and administration. From that time to the end of JS’s life, correspondence-copying, revelation-recording, minute-taking, journal-keeping, and history-writing activities remained imperative commitments.
Items of correspondence were first recorded in what was subsequently designated Letterbook 1. Created from circa November 1832 to circa August 1835, it consisted of ninety-three pages preserving a record of early church-related communications dated 14 June 1829 through 4 August 1835. A second letterbook, featured here, was apparently begun in 1839 and continued to circa summer 1843. It became a repository primarily for letters, but also other items dated from 17 June 1829 through 9 February 1843. Items were copied into the volume, later designated Letterbook 2, by JS-appointed scribes including James Mulholland, Robert B. Thompson, Howard Coray, Willard Richards, William Clayton, John Fullmer, and George Walker. Letterbook 2 contains over 150 items of correspondence and other documents, arranged primarily in chronological order. An index created at the time outlines the contents of the 246 pages of letters and other documents. Previously, the volume had been used as a business ledger for the Rigdon, Smith and Company store in Chester, Ohio.
A title page designates the volume as “Copies of Letters, &c. &c. 1839, AD.” The first entry in the letterbook, labeled “Speech of General Clarke, To the Saints at Far West. 6th. Novr 1838,” contains the text of General John B. Clark’s oration on that occasion. Among its varied contents, the volume includes copies of a letter from JS to Emma Smith in June 1834; four letters written by Emma to JS from 1837 and 1839; three letters from Edward Partridge, Sidney Rigdon, and Elias Higbee, respectively, written in March and April 1839 to JS and other prisoners confined in the jail in Liberty, Missouri; two letters sent by JS and Elias Higbee while in Washington DC in December 1839 to Hyrum Smith and others in Nauvoo, Illinois; a letter sent from England by Brigham Young in May 1840 to JS in Nauvoo; a poignant exchange of letters between William W. Phelps, who had been cut off from the church, and JS in summer 1840; and an exchange in June and July 1842 between JS and Illinois governor Thomas Carlin. The ledger also preserves nine sets of minutes from various meetings, five petitions concerning the Saints’ treatment in Missouri, an 1840 memorial ascribed to JS, and an 1841 inventory of the contents of the Nauvoo House cornerstone, among other miscellaneous documents.
The last document copied into Letterbook 2 appears on manuscript page 245, a letter from JS to Richard M. Young, U.S. senator from Illinois, dated 9 February 1843. Though there are a substantial number of blank pages preceding the index beginning on manuscript page 369, it is not known why the copying of documents into Letterbook 2 ceased. However, the following circumstances regarding JS’s clerks may have been factors: James Mulholland died in December 1839, Robert B. Thompson died in August 1841, and Howard Coray served a mission to Pennsylvania during 1842–1843. Willard Richards and William Clayton began extensive work on Joseph Smith’s history in early 1843 while continuing to perform other clerical and secretarial duties. Documents dated after 9 February 1843 that might have been expected to be copied into the letterbook were, in many instances, recorded in JS’s history. In any event, the record closed with the 9 February 1843 letter, and there is no evidence that a third letterbook was either contemplated or begun.