Oliver Cowdery (one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon) letter regarding his excommunication

Oliver Cowdery (one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon) letter regarding his excommunication

There are two sides to every story. The story that follows is rarely discussed. It deals with the circumstances surrounding the excommunication of Oliver Cowdery (one of the 3 witnesses to the “gold plates” and scribe for most of the Book of Mormon) from the Mormon Church in 1838. The first section is how the official “History of the Church” (volume 3) records the charges against Oliver Cowdery. The second section contains the full text of Oliver Cowdery’s letter responding to the charges (which was referred to but omitted from the history). It should be noted that charge number two was true. What Oliver called “adultery” was dubbed by the church (years later) to be a “celestial marriage” even though there is no evidence of a ceremony being performed and Emma knew nothing about it–contradicting Joseph Smith’s later revelation (D&C 132) that said that the first wife must give consent.

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.

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 record 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. Also voted by the High Council that Oliver Cowdery be no longer a committee to select locations for the gathering of the Saints.

Far West, Missouri, April 12, 1838

Dear Sir: (Rev. Edward Partridge, Bishop of the Church of Latter-day Saints)

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,’ I acknowledge to be true, and believe that a large majority of this Church have already spent their judgement on that act, and pronounced it sufficient to warrant a disfellowship; and also that you have concurred 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 fuedal tenures attached to them, consequentaly, they may be disposed of by deeds of conveyence 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 judgement 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 judgement, 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 judgement.’

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 the 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 the 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 a difference does exist, which I sincerely regret.

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