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Reviewed by:
  • The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, Volume 3, February 1833–March 1834 ed. by Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, et al., and: The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, Volume 4, April 1834–September 1835 ed. by Matthew C. Godfrey, et al.
  • Rodney Hessinger
The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, Volume 3, February 1833–March 1834. Edited by Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Brent M. Rogers, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, and William G. Hartley. (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2014. 627pp. Cloth $54.95, ISBN 13: 978-0-8014-5009-9.)
The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, Volume 4, April 1834–September 1835. Edited by Matthew C. Godfrey, Brenden W. Rensink, Alex D. Smith, Max H. Parkin, and Alexander L. Baugh. (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2016. 667pp. Cloth $54.95, ISBN 13: 978-1-62972-174-3.)

The next two installments of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers maintain the high standard of previous volumes. The larger project, much of which is made easily accessible to students and instructors on its Web site (, will prove to be an invaluable resource for generations to come. It will particularly benefit scholars who are interested in religion, politics, gender, the frontier, and pluralism in the early American republic. These two particular volumes deeply contextualize documents produced by Smith and his LDS partners while they were laying a durable administrative and doctrinal foundation for the church. The Mormons were also installing a literal foundation for Kirtland Temple in Ohio, as well as planning the town of Zion in Missouri. This blueprint work consumed much of Smith’s time and energy and is fully documented here.

Between 1833 and 1835, most Mormon adherents were gathered in Kirtland, Ohio, and in Jackson County, Missouri. Having assembled followers into religiously homogeneous communities, Smith worked to develop some of the distinctive features that would help to further separate (and aggravate) Mormons from their neighbors. The city of Zion was planned in Missouri as a spot where the devoted would gather to receive Christ during his Second Coming. In one of his Covenants received in Ohio, Smith would call on the community to tithe 10 percent of their earnings to the church to support the poor and other causes revealed by God (4:188–91). In these same years, a host [End Page 102] of new offices was designated within the church, such as the Seventy priesthood. There were important theological innovations too, such as Smith’s revelation that humankind had a premortal existence, being spiritually present with God at the time of creation (3:83–91). Forming into distinctive theocratic communities, the Mormons, who initially were not easily distinguished from other revivalist sects, charted a path that would make them a singular religion and people in the early American republic. These two volumes capture this break toward Mormon distinctiveness. They also document the literal and rhetorical violence suffered by Mormon communities on the frontier. Historians who wish to examine the limits of American pluralism will find rich material to explore.

While many of these documents have appeared previously, especially in Smith’s History of the Church, there is much of new value in these volumes. Each document is presented with a carefully constructed introduction, highlighting the actors and settings for the text, an essay often longer than the document itself. In addition, the introductions and the documents are supplemented with extensive footnotes, leading the reader to other relevant documents and background material. The thoroughness of the enterprise can almost be daunting, but the editors worked hard to make the papers accessible. By providing time lines, maps, and charts, they make it easy for the reader to step back and appreciate the larger picture. In addition, they invite the reader to look over Smith’s shoulder by providing many images of the original documents and drawings. These volumes, as well as the Papers more generally, are essential acquisitions for academic libraries. Students and historians alike have been given a rich documentary mine to dig. [End Page 103]

Rodney Hessinger
John Carroll University


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