In publishing the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is felt that a solemn duty is being performed to the Saints and to the world. The events which make up the history of the Church in this age are the most important that history can chronicle. It is due therefore both to the Saints themselves and to the world that a faithful and complete history of the facts in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had its origin, together with the events through which it was subsequently developed, and all the circumstances, experiences and trials through which it passed be made known to mankind. It is important, too, that so far as possible the events which make up the history be related by the persons who witnessed them, since such statements give the reader testimony of the facts at first hand; and there is placed on record at the same time the highest order of historical evidence of the truth of what is stated. It was these considerations which induced the Church authorities, under whose auspices this history is published, to take the narrative of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as found in the manuscript History of the Church—now in the archives of the Historian’s office—for the body of the work, rather than to authorize the writing of a history in the ordinary way. The editors of the work are not oblivious to the fact that to proceed in the manner followed in these volumes has its disadvantages; that it renders it impossible to correlate the facts, and give unity to the work; that it makes the body of the work more of the nature of annals than of history; with the accompanying result that the conclusion of an event, or even a series of events, is frequently postponed indefinitely, and each reader is left to be his own “philosopher of history” while perusing these pages; that is, to form his own conclusions upon the data here presented to him. To overcome, at least in some small degree, the obvious disadvantages of the style in which it has been determined to publish this history, marginal notes relating to important matters are given, which, while it is not claimed that they overcome the difficulties of the annalistic style of the main body of the work, will nevertheless, be of great service to the reader both in this respect and also in here and there enlarging upon the Prophet’s narrative where that narrative does not include all the facts known upon the subject.
From the first the Prophet Joseph Smith had a clear apprehension of the importance of keeping a faithful record of the events connected with the great work which God was bringing forth through his instrumentality; and it is to his appreciation of the importance of that fact, and his never tiring energy respecting it, that we are indebted for the minute completeness of our Church annals. While the very rapidity with which events happened, together with the quickly changing circumstances through which the purposes of God were unfolded in the great Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, necessarily occupied the time of the Prophet, and well nigh made it impossible for him to give all the attention to the making of annals that is necessary to such work, still he quite thoroughly supervised the writing of his history, with the result that more complete historical data have been written and preserved respecting the coming forth of the work of God in these last days than any other great movement whatsoever.
One difficulty the Prophet experienced in writing the annals of the Church, which he usually called his history, was the unfaithfulness of some whom he employed in this service, and the frequent change of historians, owing to the ever shifting conditions surrounding the Church in the early years of its existence. It would be marvelous indeed if under all these circumstances there had been no mistakes made in our annals, no conflict of dates, no errors in the relation of events. But whether these conditions are taken into account or not, the manuscript annals of the Church are astonishingly free from errors of dates, relation of facts, or anachronisms of every description. When the Church historians George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff completed their publication of the History of Joseph Smith, down to the 8th of August, 1844, which history was published in instalments in the Deseret News, Utah, and in the Millennial Star, England, they expressed themselves upon the correctness of what they had published in the following manner:
“The History of Joseph Smith is now before the world, and we are satisfied that a history more correct in its details than this was never published. To have it strictly correct, the greatest possible pains have been taken by the historians and clerks engaged in the work. They were eye and ear witnesses of nearly all the transactions recorded in this history, most of which were reported as they transpired, and, where they were not personally present, they have had access to those who were. Moreover, since the death of the Prophet Joseph, the history has been carefully revised under the strict inspection of President Brigham Young, and approved by him, We, therefore, hereby bear our testimony to all the world, unto whom these words shall come, that the History of Joseph Smith is true, and is one of the most authentic histories ever written.”
Their statement assuredly is true; and yet by a careful revision of the work they did, and the correction of a few errors in dates and other details, the work has been brought to a still higher state of perfection. Where grammatical accuracy was violated in the original record it has been corrected, so far as observed; but no historical or doctrinal statement has been changed. Some changes will be observed in the matter of the biographies of the leading elders of the early days of the Church. When a man of prominence connected himself with the Church, the Prophet Joseph usually gave a biographical sketch of him in his own history, then writing; and sometimes these biographies were long and unduly interrupted the movement of events. To rid the body of the work of this incumbrance it was decided to place all biographical matter in marginal notes; this made it necessary to condense very much those found in the Prophet’s narrative, while severe brevity—after accuracy—has been the aim in those prepared by the annotator.
The most careful attention has been given to this work by those engaged in its preparation. The manuscript has been read to the Church Historian, President Anthon H. Lund, with constant reference to the original manuscript history and all copies of it published in the Times and Seasons and the Millennial Star; and also to various editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Book of Commandments published at Independence, Missouri, in 1833, where the revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith are contained. In the course of this work slight variations in phraseology were discovered in the several editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, that doubtless arose through careless proof reading; and as between the most carefully proof-read editions and the revelations found in the manuscript History of the Church there were some slight differences, which were corrected to agree with the original manuscript; but the corrections were never made until first submitted to the First Presidency, and carefully considered and approved by them. We therefore feel that this great care has resulted in presenting to the Church and to the world the revelations which the Prophet Joseph Smith received in their most perfect form; and that a standard is created for all future publication of these revelations. Speaking of the revelations that appear in this book, it is proper to remark that one of the chief values of this volume of the History of the Church will arise from the fact that the greater number of those revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith is published in it—one hundred and one, out of a hundred and thirty-three found in the Doctrine and Covenants; and as they are published in connection with the circumstances existing when brought forth, the student of the doctrines of the Church will find this volume of almost incalculable benefit to him.
In the Introduction it is believed the reader will find a fitting background from which are projected with majestic boldness the great events and splendid doctrines of the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. That dispensation, of which this history is but the chronicle, bears an important relation to all former dispensations since the world began. It is the ocean into which they as streams flow. It is their complement, and unifying force—it makes them all one; and demonstrates that while things to men appear but in parts, God forever stands in the presence of the whole, and dispenses His providences with reference to His perfect comprehension of the end from the beginning. It is to exhibit this relation of dispensations that the Introduction is written, and the importance of the subject must be the apology for its length.