Section 123: Committee on Persecution
See the background material for section 121. The text of section 123 is found in the second part of the correspondence written from Liberty Jail by the Prophet Joseph. Section 123 was also first included in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants at the direction of President Brigham Young.
In this section, based on the principle that “out of the books they will be judged” (D&C 128:8), Joseph recommends making a record which might be used as a testimony against the saints’ persecutors. It would consist of all libelous articles (in newspapers, books, encyclopedias, magazines) written against the Church; affidavits documenting the abuses—both personal and to property—committed against the saints; and the names of all those Missourians who had a hand in their persecution.
D&C 123:12 There are many . . . who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men . . .who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.
1 And again, we would suggest for your consideration the propriety of all the saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them by the people of this State;
2 And also of all the property and amount of damages which they have sustained, both of character and personal injuries, as well as real property;
3 And also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions, as far as they can get hold of them and find them out.
4 And perhaps a committee can be appointed to find out these things, and to take statements and affidavits; and also to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat;
verses 1-4 “gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses” The saints suffered much evil at the hands of the mobs and the Missouri state militia who acted contrary to the laws and constitutions of both the State of Missouri and the United States. It was the responsibility of the saints to seek redress for all they had suffered and lost—no matter how unlikely they might be to find success in that effort. The law of witnesses goes back to Old Testament times (see Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16) and has always been part of the gospel. Even when reparation or satisfaction is unlikely, it is important that a true record of wrongs, libels, and slanders against the Lord’s people be kept. If the mobs, the courts, or the nations will not grant the saints justice, then there will be at least two witnesses, the record kept on earth by the Church and the record kept in heaven (see 3 Nephi 27:23-26), to stand against them at the Day of Judgment.
verse 4 “a committee can be appointed to find out these things” A committee was appointed on May 4, 1839 by a general conference of the Church held in Quincy, Illinois. It was presided over by the prophet Joseph, who by that time had escaped from confinement in Missouri. Almon Babbitt, Erastus Snow, and Robert Thompson were charged with the responsibility of becoming “a traveling committee to gather up and obtain all the libelous reports and publications which have been circulated against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as other historical matter connected with said Church, which they can possibly obtain” (HC, 3:346). Erastus Snow wrote that the committee was also “to insert and refute them in a church history which would be compiled by us after the conference” (Erastus Snow Journal, as quoted in Cook, Revelations, 242). On the following day, the same conference appointed Lyman Wight to collect sworn affidavits verifying crimes against the saints, which were to be sent to the federal government in Washington, D. C. These and other sworn accounts were later used, without success, to petition the governments of Missouri and the United States for redress.
In 1839, church members commenced writing affidavits of their Missouri experiences and swearing to their authenticity before civil authorities, including justices of the peace, clerks of the court, clerks of the circuit court, clerks of county commissioner’s courts, and notary publics in two counties in Iowa and ten counties in Illinois. Thus, the saints took every precaution to send sworn, legal documents authenticated by the seals of local government officials. They even sent documents authenticating the officials themselves. During the ensuing years the Mormons presented these documents to the federal government in an effort to obtain reparation [compensation] for their sufferings in Missouri (Johnson, Mormon Redress Petitions, xix).
Since 1839 the Church has continued to keep a record and collect the writings of anti-Mormons and others who libel or otherwise attack the Church. Today, our church historian’s office has the most nearly-complete existing collection of anti-Mormon materials. It has been intentionally and systematically added to since 1839.
5 And all that are in the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the libelous histories that are published, and are writing, and by whom, and present the whole concatenation [a connected series of events] of diabolical rascality and nefarious and murderous impositions that have been practised upon this people—
verses 6-14 The saints have a claim upon God for his promise to fight their battles for them (see D&C 98:32-37; 105:14). However, that promise and their claim to it come with two conditions. First, the saints must be in the right, or, if they have been in the wrong, they must first repent. Second, the saints must first exhaust all of their own efforts and resources and every avenue of legal appeal without success in getting justice from the world. So, even though it was unlikely that the state or national governments would ever give the saints redress for the wrongs committed against them, it was “an imperative duty” that the whole story be recorded to bear witness before God (see verse 7), to justify the action of the saints and their families (see verse 7), to memorialize those who suffered and were martyred (see verse 9), and to make available to future generations the truth in all its horrid details (see verse 11).
6 That we may not only publish to all the world, but present them to the heads of government in all their dark and hellish hue, as the last effort which is enjoined on us by our Heavenly Father, before we can fully and completely claim that promise which shall call him forth from his hiding place; and also that the whole nation may be left without excuse before he can send forth the power of his mighty arm.
verse 6 “present them to the heads of government” That is, the governments of the responsible state and nation.
“that the whole nation may be left without excuse” If the two conditions described in the commentary above for verses 6-14 are met, then the nation is left without excuse.
7 It is an imperative duty that we owe to God, to angels, with whom we shall be brought to stand, and also to ourselves, to our wives and children, who have been made to bow down with grief, sorrow, and care, under the most damning hand of murder, tyranny, and oppression, supported and urged on and upheld by the influence of that spirit which hath so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers, who have inherited lies, upon the hearts of the children, and filled the world with confusion, and has been growing stronger and stronger, and is now the very mainspring of all corruption, and the whole earth groans under the weight of its iniquity.
verse 7 A remarkably eloquent and long, single sentence!
8 It is an iron yoke, it is a strong band; they are the very handcuffs, and chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell.
verses 7-8 The false notions that are handed down from one generation to the next and which are “supported and urged on” by Satan, are “the very mainspring of all corruption, and the whole earth groans under the weight of its iniquity.” These false traditions are “the very handcuffs, and chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell.” This doctrine has supporting scripture, particularly in the Book of Mormon (for example, see Alma 12:9-11; also Moses 7:26).
9 Therefore it is an imperative duty that we owe, not only to our own wives and children, but to the widows and fatherless, whose husbands and fathers have been murdered under its iron hand;
10 Which dark and blackening deeds are enough to make hell itself shudder, and to stand aghast and pale, and the hands of the very devil to tremble and palsy.
11 And also it is an imperative duty that we owe to all the rising generation, and to all the pure in heart—
12 For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—
verse 12 This verse does not merely reflect a shallow concern over image, “spin,” or public relations. Rather, it contains the essential rationale for our doing missionary work today. God has charged the saints with breaking down the prejudices and misconceptions that people hold about the Church by correctly representing themselves to the world individually as the ambassadors of Jesus Christ and collectively as the kingdom of God upon the earth. This task requires a correct representation of our history as well as of our theology.
13 Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—
14 These should then be attended to with great earnestness.
15 Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things.
16 You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves.
verses 15-16 “Let no man count them as small things” One may well ask whether or not the project suggested in section 123 was worthwhile and pertinent at the time it was written. After all, the saints at that time were having trouble even supplying themselves with the necessities for survival. Why expend time and effort doing tedious historical research or writing a detailed history? It is because the saints documented the actions of the mobs and the suffering of the saints, that the truth concerning the persecutions of the Missouri period has been preserved for generations and the judgment of history has, for the most part, been that the saints were innocent victims of the state-sponsored persecutions.
verse 16 “Workways” is an unusual word that seems to mean “properly alligned.”
17 Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.
verse 17 “let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power” This is a foundational principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ on both the temporal and the spiritual level. In temporal things, if the saints first exhaust all their own resources to support their families or to magnify their callings and assignments but are unsuccessful, then the faithful may turn to the Church for additional aid and resources. In spiritual things, if the saints commit themselves to the Lord unreservedly but still remain imperfect—and this, of course, applies to all of us—then we may turn to the Lord to provide through the atonement of Jesus Christ the perfection and celestial worthiness we seek (see Moroni 10:32-33; D&C 76:68-69; Philippians 3:9). Whether temporally or spiritually, the Lord expects us cheerfully to accomplish all that we can do (see 2 Nephi 25:23; Alma 24:11). Then, with faith in him, we may confidently stand back and trust him to do what we cannot yet do, and ultimately we will see the salvation and power of God, not only in our personal lives but also in the Church and in world history.
One bit of wisdom in Joseph’s letter from Liberty Jail, that was not included in section 123 by Orson Pratt, is so choice that I must include it here. In referring to precious gospel principles that some unhallowed men are not yet mature enough to handle, Joseph said, “Children, you know, are fond of tools, while they are not yet able to use them.”
Another bit of counsel from the Prophet’s letter that did not make it into the canon, but is of interest, is the following: “I would further suggest the impropriety of the organization of bands or companies, by covenant or oaths, by penalties or secrecies. . . . Pure friendship always becomes weakened the very moment you undertake to make it stronger by penal oaths and secrecy.”
In April 1839, the prisoners were removed from Liberty Jail and taken to Daviess County for trial. Fearing they would not receive a fair trial in Daviess County, they asked for a change of venue to another county. They were granted a change to Boone County. Hence, the prisoners, in the custody of a sheriff and four additional, men started for Boone County with a two-horse team and wagon. Passing through Diahman, the prisoners were allowed to purchase two horses from one of the guards in exchange for some clothing and a promissory note. The prisoners then were told by the sheriff of the authorities’ plan to allow the prisoners to escape. Hence, when the sheriff and three of the guards were drunk, the brethren mounted the two horses (the one sober guard assisted them in doing so), and ten days later they arrived among the saints in Illinois.
- Michael J. Preece