Volume 3 Chapter 2 | BYU Studies

Volume 3 Chapter 2

 

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Chapter 2

Excommunication Of Oliver Cowdery And David Whitmer—the Work In England.

Arrival of Sidney Rigdon at Far West.

President Rigdon arrived at Far West with his family, Wednesday, April 4th, having had a tedious journey, and his family having suffered many afflictions.

Minutes of a General Conference of the Church at Far West.

Far West, April 6, 1838.

Agreeable to a resolution passed by the High Council of Zion, March 3, 1838, the Saints in Missouri assembled in this place to celebrate the anniversary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to transact Church business, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, presiding.

The meeting was opened by singing, and prayer by David W. Patten, after which President Joseph Smith, Jun., read the order of the day as follows: Doors will be opened at 9 o'clock a. m., and the meeting will commence by singing and prayer. A sexton will then be appointed as a door keeper, and other services in the House of the Lord. Two historians will then be appointed to write and keep the Church history; also a general recorder to keep the records of the whole Church, and to be the clerk of the First Presidency. And a clerk will be appointed for the High Council, and to keep the Church records of this Stake. Three presidents will be appointed to preside over this Church of Zion, after which an address will be delivered by the Presidency. Then an intermission of one hour, when the meeting will again convene, and open by singing and prayer. The Sacrament will then be administered, and the blessing of infants attended to.

The meeting proceeded to business. George Morey was appointed sexton, and Dimick Huntington assistant; John Corrill and Elias Higbee, historians; George W. Robinson, general Church recorder and clerk to the First Presidency; Ebenezer Robinson, Church clerk and recorder for Far West and clerk of the High Council; Thomas B. Marsh, President pro tempore of the Church in Zion, and Brigham Young and David W. Patten, his assistant Presidents.

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After one hour's adjournment, meeting again opened by David W. Patten. The bread and wine were administered, and ninety-five infants were blessed.

Joseph Smith, Jun., President.

Ebenezer Robinson, Clerk.

Minutes of the First Quarterly Conference at Far West.

Agreeable to a resolution of the High Council, March 3, 1838, the general authorities of the Church met, to hold the Quarterly Conference of the Church of Latter-day Saints, at Far West, on the 7th of April, 1838.

President Joseph Smith, Jun., Sidney Rigdon, Thomas B. Marsh, David W. Patten, and Brigham Young, took the stand, after which the several quorums, the High Council, the High Priests, the Seventies, the Elders, the Bishops, the Priests, Teachers and Deacons, were organized by their Presidents.

President Joseph Smith, Jun., made some remarks and also gave some instructions respecting the order of the day. After singing, prayer by Brigham Young, and singing again, President Smith then addressed the congregation at considerable length, followed by President Rigdon.

Adjourned twenty minutes.

Opened by David W. Patten, who also made some remarks respecting the Twelve Apostles. He spoke of Thomas B. Marsh, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Parley P. Pratt, and Orson Pratt, as being men of God, whom he could recommend with cheerfulness and confidence. He spoke somewhat doubtful of William Smith, for something he had heard respecting his faith in the work. He also spoke of William E. McLellin, Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and John F. Boynton, as being men whom he could not recommend to the conference.

President John Murdock represented the High Council. The report was favorable. The seats of Elisha H. Groves, Calvin Bebee, and Lyman Wight were vacant in consequence of their having moved so far away they could not attend the Council.

Thomas B. Marsh nominated Jared Carter, to fill the seat of Elisha H. Groves; John P. Greene that of Calvin Bebee, and George W. Harris that of Lyman Wight; which nominations were severally and unanimously sanctioned.

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George W. Harris was ordained a High Priest.

On motion, conference adjourned to the 8th, 9 o'clock a. m.

Sunday, April 8th, 9 o'clock a. m., conference convened and opened as usual, prayer by Brigham Young.

President Joseph Smith, Jun., made a few remarks respecting the Kirtland Bank. He was followed by Brigham Young, who gave a short history of his travels to Massachusetts and New York.

President Charles C. Rich represented his quorum of High Priests, and read their names. The principal part were in good standing.

President Daniel S. Miles and Levi W. Hancock represented the Seventies.

The quorum of Elders were represented by their President, Harvey Green, numbering one hundred and twenty-four in good standing.

President Joseph Smith, Jun., made a few remarks on the Word of Wisdom, giving the reason of its coming forth, saying it should be observed.

Adjourned for one hour.

Conference convened agreeable to adjournment, and opened as usual, after which Bishop Partridge represented his Council and the Lesser Priesthood, and made a report of receipts and expenditures of Church funds which had passed through his hands.

It was then moved, seconded and carried, that the First Presidency be appointed to sign the licenses of the official members of the Church.

Conference adjourned until the first Friday in July next.

Joseph Smith, Jun., President.

Ebenezer Robinson, Clerk.

Demand on John Whitmer for the Church Records.

The following letter was sent to John Whitmer, in consequence of his withholding the records of the Church in the city of Far West when called for by the clerk.

Mr. John Whitmer, Sir

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Your humble servants,

Joseph Smith, Jun.,

Sidney Rigdon,

Presidents of the whole Church of Latter-day Saints.

Attest: Ebenezer Robinson, Clerk.

Charges Against Oliver Cowdery.

Wednesday, April 11,—Elder Seymour Brunson preferred the following charges against Oliver Cowdery, to the High Council at Far West: 1

To the Bishop and Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I prefer the following charges against President Oliver Cowdery.

"First—For persecuting the brethren by urging on vexatious law suits against them, and thus distressing the innocent.

"Second—For seeking to destroy the character of President Joseph Smith, Jun., by falsely insinuating that he was guilty of adultery.

"Third—For treating the Church with contempt by not attending meetings.

"Fourth—For virtually denying the faith by declaring that he would not be governed by any ecclesiastical authority or revelations whatever, in his temporal affairs.

"Fifth—For selling his lands in Jackson county, contrary to the revelations.

"Sixth—For writing and sending an insulting letter to President Thomas B. Marsh, while the latter was on the High Council, attending to the duties of his office as President of the Council, and by insulting the High Council with the contents of said letter.

"Seventh—For leaving his calling to which God had appointed him by revelation, for the sake of filthy lucre, and turning to the practice of law.

Eighth—For disgracing the Church by being connected in the bogus business, as common report says.

"Ninth—For dishonestly retaining notes after they had been paid; and finally, for leaving and forsaking the cause of God, and returning to the beggarly elements of the world, and neglecting his high and holy calling, according to his profession."

Trial of Oliver Cowdery.

The Bishop and High Council assembled at the Bishop's office, April 12, 1838. After the organization of the Council, the above charges of the 11th instant were read, also a letter from Oliver Cowdery, as will be found recorded in the Church record of the city of Far West, Book A. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th, and 9th charges were sustained. The 4th and 5th charges were rejected, and the 6th was withdrawn. Consequently he (Oliver Cowdery) was considered no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2 Also voted by the High Council that Oliver Cowdery be no longer a committee to select locations for the gathering of the Saints.

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Charges against David Whitmer.

April 13.—The following charges were preferred against David Whitmer, before the High Council at Far West, in council assembled.

"First—For not observing the Word of Wisdom.

"Second—For unchristian-like conduct in neglecting to attend meetings, in uniting with and possessing the same spirit as the dissenters.

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"Third—In writing letters to the dissenters in Kirtland unfavorable to the cause, and to the character of Joseph Smith, Jun.

"Fourth—In neglecting the duties of his calling, and separating himself from the Church, while he had a name among us.

"Fifth—For signing himself President of the Church of Christ in an insulting letter to the High Council after he had been cut off from the Presidency."

After reading the above charges, together with a letter sent to the President of said Council, 3 the Council held that the charges were sustained, and consequently considered David Whitmer no longer a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints.

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Charges against Lyman E. Johnson.

The same day three charges were preferred against Lyman E. Johnson, which were read, together with a letter from him, in answer to the one recorded in Far West Record. 4 The charges were sustained, and he was cut off from the Church.

The Word in England—Conference in Preston.

The work continued to prosper in England, and Elders Richards and Russell having previously been called to Preston, to prepare for their return to America, a general conference was held in the Temperance Hall, (Cock Pit) Preston, on Sunday, April 1st, for the purpose of setting in order the churches, etc. Brother Joseph Fielding was chosen President over the whole Church in England, and Willard Richards and William Clayton 5 were chosen his Counselors, and were ordained to the High Priesthood and to the Presidency. This was the first notice given Elder Richards that he would be required to continue in England. At this conference eight Elders were ordained, among whom was Thomas Webster, and several Priests, Teachers and Deacons; about forty were confirmed, who had previously been baptized; about sixty children were blessed, and twenty baptized that day. Conference continued without intermission from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. About fifty official members met in council in the evening.

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Farewell Meetings with the Saints.

From the 1st to the 8th of April Presidents Kimball and Hyde visited the churches a short distance from Preston, and on the 8th attended meeting in the "Cock Pit." After preaching by Elder Richards, they bore their farewell testimony to the truth of the work. After they had closed, and while Elder Russell was speaking, the enemy severed the gas pipes which lighted the house, and threw the assembly into darkness in an instant. The damage was soon repaired, and the design of breaking up the meeting frustrated.

On Tuesday, the 10th of April, at 12 o'clock, Elders Kimball and Hyde left Preston by coach for Liverpool.

While the Elders were in Liverpool they wrote as follows:

A Prophecy.

Liverpool, Good Friday, April 13, 1838.

Dear Brothers And Sisters In Preston:—It seemeth good unto us, and also to the Holy Spirit, to write you a few words which cause pain in our hearts, and will also pain you when they are fulfilled before you, yet you shall have joy in the end. Brother Thomas Webster will not abide in the Spirit of the Lord, but will reject the truth, and become the enemy of the people of God, and expose the mysteries that have been committed to him, that a righteous judgment may be executed upon him, unless he speedily repent. When this sorrowful prediction shall be fulfilled, this letter shall be read to the Church, and it shall prove a solemn warning to all to beware.

Farewell in the Lord,

Heber C. Kimball,

Orson Hyde.

The foregoing letter was written and sealed in the presence of Presidents Joseph Fielding and Willard Richards, who had gone to Liverpool to witness the brethren sail, and, by the writers, committed to their special charge, that no one should know the contents until the fulfillment thereof.

American Slanders Reach England.

Previous to this period, very few of the foolish and wicked stories which filled the weekly journals and pamphlets in America concerning the "Mormons," as the Saints were termed, had found their way into the English prints; but immediately after Elders Kimball and Hyde left Preston, on or about the 15th of April, one Livesey (a Methodist Priest who had previously spent some years in America, and said he heard nothing about the Saints in America) came out with a pamphlet, made up of forged letters, apostate lies, and "walk on the water" stories, he found in old American papers, which he had picked up while in America. But he stopped the circulation of his own pamphlet by stating to a public congregation, that he had accidentally found the contents of his pamphlet in old papers in his trunk, which was quite providential, to stop such abominable work as the Saints were engaged in; and in the same lecture said he "wished the people to purchase his pamphlet, as he had been at a great expense to procure the materials for writing it!" His hearers retired.

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On the 20th of April Elders Kimball and Hyde sailed from Liverpool on the ship Garrick.

Chapter 2 Notes

1. The charges were drawn up and dated the 7th of April, and handed to Bishop Partridge.

2. The following letter from Oliver Cowdery respecting his difficulties at this time in the Church, is copied from the Far West Record of the High Council, and is an interesting document for several reasons: First, it shows the spirit of Oliver Cowdery at that time, also his misapprehensions of the policy of the authorities in the government of the Church, for it is to be noted that the two principal points covered in this letter, numbers four and five of Elder Brunson's charges, were rejected by the Council as not being proper to be considered, and the sixth charge also is withdrawn, so that Oliver Cowdery was not disfellowshipped from the Church on the points raised in his letter at all, but on the first, second, third, seventh, eighth and ninth charges in Elder Brunson's formal accusation, and since these charges were sustained upon testimony of witnesses, as the minutes of the High Council proceedings in the Far West Record clearly show, it is to be believed that the Church had sufficient cause for rejecting him.

Elder Cowdery's Letter.

Far West, Missouri, April 12, 1838.

Dear Sir:—I received your note of the 9th inst., on the day of its date, containing a copy of nine charges preferred before yourself and Council against me, by Elder Seymour Brunson.

I could have wished that those charges might have been deferred until after my interview with President Smith; but as they are not, I must waive the anticipated pleasure with which I had flattered myself of an understanding on those points which are grounds of different opinions on some Church regulations, and others which personally interest myself.

The fifth charge reads as follows: "For selling his lands in Jackson County contrary to the revelations." So much of this charge, "for selling his lands in Jackson County," I acknowledge to be true, and believe that a large majority of this Church have already spent their judgment on that act, and pronounced it sufficient to warrant a disfellowship; and also that you have concurred in its correctness, consequently, have no good reason for supposing you would give any decision contrary.

Now, sir, the lands in our country are allodial in the strictest construction of that term, and have not the least shadow of feudal tenures attached to them, consequently, they may be disposed of by deeds of conveyance without the consent or even approbation of a superior.

The fourth charge is in the following words, "For virtually denying the faith by declaring that he would not be governed by any ecclesiastical authority nor revelation whatever in his temporal affairs."

With regard to this, I think I am warranted in saying, the judgment is also passed as on the matter of the fifth charge, consequently, I have no disposition to contend with the Council; this charge covers simply the doctrine of the fifth, and if I were to be controlled by other than my own judgment, in a compulsory manner, in my temporal interests, of course, could not buy or sell without the consent of some real or supposed authority. Whether that clause contains the precise words, I am not certain—I think however they were these, "I will not be influenced, governed, or controlled, in my temporal interests by any ecclesiastical authority or pretended revelation whatever, contrary to my own judgment." Such being still my opinion shall only remark that the three great principles of English liberty, as laid down in the books, are "the right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right of private property." My venerable ancestor was among the little band, who landed on the rocks of Plymouth in 1620—with him he brought those maxims, and a body of those laws which were the result and experience of many centuries, on the basis of which now stands our great and happy government; and they are so interwoven in my nature, have so long been inculcated into my mind by a liberal and intelligent ancestry that I am wholly unwilling to exchange them for anything less liberal, less benevolent, or less free.

The very principle of which I conceive to be couched in an attempt to set up a kind of petty government, controlled and dictated by ecclesiastical influence, in the midst of this national and state government. You will, no doubt, say this is not correct; but the bare notice of these charges, over which you assume a right to decide, is, in my opinion, a direct attempt to make the secular power subservient to Church direction—to the correctness of which I cannot in conscience subscribe—I believe that principle never did fail to produce anarchy and confusion.

This attempt to control me in my temporal interests, I conceive to be a disposition to take from me a portion of my Constitutional privileges and inherent right—I only, respectfully, ask leave, therefore, to withdraw from a society assuming they have such right.

So far as relates to the other seven charges, I shall lay them carefully away, and take such a course with regard to them, as I may feel bound by my honor, to answer to my rising posterity.

I beg you, sir, to take no view of the foregoing remarks, other than my belief in the outward government of this Church. I do not charge you, or any other person who differs with me on these points, of not being sincere, but such difference does exist, which I sincerely regret.

With considerations of the highest respect, I am, your obedient servant,

[signed.] Oliver Cowdery.

Rev. Edward Partridge, Bishop of the Church of Latter-day Saints.

3. The letter referred to is to be found in the Far West Record. It is as follows

"Far West, Mo., April 13, 1838.

"John Murdock:

"Sir:—I received a line from you bearing date the 9th inst., requesting me as a High Priest to appear before the High Council and answer to five several charges on this day at 12 o'clock.

"You, sir, with a majority of this Church have decided that certain councils were legal by which it is said I have been deprived of my office as one of the Presidents of this Church. I have thought, and still think, they were not agreeable to the revelations of God, which I believe; and by now attending this Council, and answering to charges, as a High Priest, would be acknowledging the correctness and legality of those former assumed councils, which I shall not do.

"Believing as I verily do, that you and the leaders of the councils have a determination to pursue your unlawful course at all hazards, and bring others to your standard in violation of the revelations, to spare you any further trouble I hereby withdraw from your fellowship and communion—choosing to seek a place among the meek and humble, where the revelations of heaven will be observed and the rights of men regarded.

"David Whitmer."

In the minutes of the council in which this letter was read appear also the following paragraphs:

"After the reading of the above letter it was not considered necessary to investigate the case, as he [Whitmer] had offered contempt to the Council by writing the above letter, but it was decided to let the councilors speak what they had to say upon the case, and pass decision.

"The councilors then made a few remarks in which they spoke warmly of the contempt offered to the Council in the above letter, therefore, thought he [Whitmer] was not worthy a membership in the Church.

"Whereupon President Marsh made a few remarks, and decided that David Whitmer be no longer considered a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

The Council sustained the decision of President Marsh and David Whitmer was excommunicated. The letters of both Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer to the High Council, setting forth their position respecting matters involved, are here presented that I might call attention to this fact: neither of them deny or even slight the great facts in which Mormonism had its origin—the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the ministration of the angels of heaven to both Joseph Smith and themselves. Had there been any fraud or collusion entered into between Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, I take it that it would have been a very natural thing for men smarting under what they regarded as injustice, to have manifested that fact in one way or another in these communications. Their silence at this critical time of their experience, and in the experience of the Church, constitutes very strong presumptive evidence of the reality of those facts which brought Mormonism into existence.

4. A copy of which may be found in Far West Record, Book A, p. 128.

5. William Clayton was born in Penworthan, Lancashire, England, July 17, 1814. He was baptized soon after the arrival of the Mormon Elders in England in 1837. Soon after his ordination to the Holy Priesthood and Presidency of the British mission he abandoned all other business and gave himself to the ministry, in which he was remarkably successful.