5 February 1840 (Wednesday Evening). Washington, D.C.

History of the Church, 4:78-80[1]

Washington, 6th February, 1840.

My Dear Mary:—I went last evening to hear "Joe Smith," the celebrated Mormon, expound his doctrine. I, with several others, had a desire to understand his tenets as explained by himself. He is not an educated man; but he is a plain, sensible, strong minded man. Everything he says, is said in a manner to leave an impression that he is sincere. There is no levity, no fanaticism, no want of dignity in his deportment. He is apparently from forty to forty-five years of age, [2] rather above the middle stature, and what you ladies would call a very good looking man. In his garb there are no peculiarities; his dress being that of a plain, unpretending citizen. He is by profession a farmer, but is evidently well read.

He commenced by saying, that he knew the prejudices which were abroad in the world against him, but requested us to pay no respect to the rumors which were in circulation respecting him or his doctrines. He was accompanied by three or four of his followers. He said, "I will state to you our belief, so far as time will permit." "I believe," said he, "that there is a God, possessing all the attributes ascribed to Him by all Christians of all denominations; that He reigns over all things in heaven and on earth, and that all are subject to His power." He then spoke rationally of the attributes of Divinity, such as foreknowledge, mercy &c., &c. He then took up the Bible. "I believe," said he, "in this sacred volume. In it the 'Mormon' faith is to be found. We teach nothing but what the Bible teaches. We believe nothing, but what is to be found in this book. I believe in the fall of man, as recorded in the Bible; I believe that God foreknew everything, but did not foreordain everything; I deny that foreordain and foreknow is the same thing. He foreordained the fall of man; but all merciful as He is, He foreordained at the same time, a plan for redemption for all mankind. I believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that He died for the sins of all men, who in Adam had fallen." He then entered into some details, the result of which tended to show his total unbelief of what is termed original sin. He believes that it is washed away by the blood of Christ, and that it no longer exists. As a necessary consequence, he believes that we are all born pure and undefiled. That all children dying at an early age (say eight years) not knowing good from evil, were incapable of sinning; and that all such assuredly go to heaven. "I believe," said he, "that a man is a moral, responsible, free agent; that although it was foreordained he should fall, and be redeemed, yet after the redemption it was not foreordained that he should again sin. In the Bible a rule of conduct is laid down for him; in the Old and New Testaments the law by which he is to be governed, may be found. If he violates that law, he is to be punished for the deeds done in the body.

I believe that God is eternal. That He had no beginning, and can have no end. Eternity means that which is without beginning or end. I believe that the soul is eternal; and had no beginning; it can have no end. Here he entered into some explanations, which were so brief that I could not perfectly comprehend him. But the idea seemed to be that the soul of man, the spirit, had existed from eternity in the bosom of Divinity; and so far as he was intelligible to me, must ultimately return from whence it came. He said very little of rewards and punishments; but one conclusion, from what he did say, was irresistible—he contended throughout, that everything which had a beginning must have an ending; and consequently if the punishment of man commenced in the next world, it must, according to his logic and belief have an end. [3]

During the whole of his address, and it occupied more than two hours, there was no opinion or belief that he expressed, that was calculated, in the slightest degree, to impair the morals of society, or in any manner to degrade and brutalize the human species. There was much in his precepts, if they were followed, that would soften the asperities of man towards man, and that would tend to make him a more rational being than he is generally found to be. There was no violence, no fury, no denunciation. His religion appears to be the religion of meekness, lowliness, and mild persuasion.

Towards the close of his address, he remarked that he had been represented as pretending to be a Savior, a worker of miracles, etc. All this was false. He made no such pretensions. He was but a man, he said; a plain, untutored man; seeking what he should do to be saved. He performed no miracles. He did not pretend to possess any such power. He closed by referring to the Mormon Bible, which he said, contained nothing inconsistent or conflicting with the Christian Bible, and he again repeated that all who would follow the precepts of the Bible, whether Mormon or not, would assuredly be saved.

Throughout his whole address, he displayed strongly a spirit of charity and forbearance. The Mormon Bible, he said, was communicated to him, direct from heaven. If there was such a thing on earth, as the author of it, then he (Smith) was the author; but the idea that he wished to impress was, that he had penned it as dictated by God.

I have taken some pains to explain this man's belief, as he himself explained it. I have done so because it might satisfy your curiosity, and might be interesting to you, and some of your friends. I have changed my opinion of the Mormons. They are an injured and much-abused people. Of matters of faith, you know I express no opinion.

Affectionately your husband,

M. L. Davis. [4]

Christian Advocate and Journal (6 March 1840) [5]

A delegation of the "Mormons" having been in this city [Washington] some time, to seek remuneration of congress for their Missouri losses, Joseph Smith ("Jo Smith" as known to fame) has held one or two meetings here. I dropped in a little while on the evening of the 4th instant [6] to see and hear. The Prophet, or inspired penman, (whichever title he prefers, for he averred to the meeting that he was inspired to write the golden Bible, or the "Book of Mormon," a copy of which he held in his hand,) is a stout, square-built man of about thirty or thirty-five years of age, of prepossessing manner, and look, and shrewd mind. He has evidently a good English education, and is an energetic, impassioned speaker. The doctrines he professes in Washington are similar to those of the Campbelites of the west, laying great stress on baptism "FOR" the remission of sins. He quotes from the New Testament readily in his addresses. He took good care, as there was an intelligent congregation, including several members of congress, present, to say but little about the "Book of Mormon." He averred, however that nobody wrote it but him, and that it contained nothing contrary to the Bible, or its virtue. In describing the sufferings of his followers in Missouri he was somewhat eloquent, as he has a good voice for the pathetic.

—5 February 1840


[1] Not in Teachings. The original source of the following report is presently unavailable. The letter was undoubtedly published in the New York Enquirer because Davis was the Washington correspondent for that newspaper. It seems highly unlikely that Church historians would have obtained a copy of a private letter from Davis to his wife. Richard L. Anderson has made a thorough search without success, to find this report in the New York Enquirer. But because there are missing numbers during this period, it does not preclude the possibility that the report was published in that paper.

[2] Actually Joseph was only 34 years old.

[3] See discourse dated "Before 8 August 1839 (1)," note 4.

[4] Mathew Livingston Davis (1773-1850) was a journalist. Remembered for his long association with Aaron Burr, Davis was a Washington correspondent for the New York Enquirer at the time the Prophet gave this discourse.

[5] This report is here published for the first time in LDS sources, and we are indebted to Richard L. Anderson for making it available to us. The author of the report is unnamed, but he dated the article, "Washington, D.C., Feb. 20, 1840."

[6] According to the Mathew L. Davis account, the discourse was delivered on the evening of 5 February 1840. Davis's account was written the following day, 6 February, and is undoubtedly more accurate in its dating than the present report which was prepared nearly three weeks later, on 20 February 1840.