Historical Context and Background of D&C 75

Video Overview

Brief Synopsis by Steven C. Harper

The Church convened quarterly conferences in its early years, including an important one in January 1832 in Amherst, Ohio, the home of several Latter-day Saint families, about fifty miles east of Church headquarters in Kirtland. The Lord had recently revealed that at this conference the elders would learn what he wanted them to do next (see section 73). Joseph’s history says they “seemed anxious for me to inquire of the Lord that they might know his will, or learn what would be most pleasing to Him for them to do.”1 Joseph asked and received two revelations and Sidney Rigdon wrote them down.2 Combined, they now comprise section 75.

Many of the early elders kept journals of their missions or wrote letters to the Church newspaper to report on their service. They intended to document their obedience to the revelations, or, in some cases, justify their disobedience. We can use their records to tell whether they obeyed section 75. When they did, the Lord unfailingly granted them the blessings he promised on conditions of their obedience.

William McLellin started his mission to the South with Luke Johnson but was soon overwhelmed by doubts. The Lord promised him that continual prayer would sustain him, that if William and Luke would pray, then “I will be with them even unto the end.” William said he could not bring himself to pray in faith. He had his eyes on a young lady named Emiline Miller. He quit his mission and took a job so he could marry her, noting, meanwhile, that he was too sick for missionary work.3 “Preferring not to proceed alone,” Luke returned to Hiram, Ohio, where Joseph called Seymour Brunson to replace William. Luke and Seymour filled their call and enjoyed the Lord’s promised blessings on their mission in the “south countries,” Virginia and Kentucky.4

Orson Hyde noted that he and companion Samuel Smith did “one of the most arduous and toilsome missions ever performed in the Church.”5 For eleven months they walked from Ohio to Maine and back. Samuel wrote that they followed the revelation as they “went from house to house” and shook the dust from their feet as a testimony against those who rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ.6

Lyman Johnson and Orson Pratt went east, as commanded, ending up in New England. They baptized many, including a future apostle, and at Charleston, Vermont, twenty-two-year-old Orson Pratt pronounced a priesthood blessing that raised Olive Farr from bed where she had lain invalid for seven years. “Thank God,” she wept, “I’m healed!” Such evidence that the Lord was with the elders, as he said he would be in the revelation, greatly increased their success. They immersed 104 sons and daughters of God for the remission of their sins and organized them into branches before returning to Ohio, after walking nearly 400 miles.7

No known records tell whether Asa Dodds, Calves Wilson, Major Ashely, and Burr Riggs obeyed section 75. Simeon Carter and Emer Harris did with great success, though they each ended up serving with their brothers as companions.8 Ezra Thayre and Thomas Marsh apparently served their mission. Hyrum Smith and Reynolds Cahoon obediently served together, and on his return home, Hyrum set out to obey other instructions in the revelation. He noted that he “went to work with mine hands for the support of my family.”9 Seymour Brunson reported his mission with both Daniel Stanton and Luke Johnson. They baptized fifty-three and organized them into a branch.10

Sylvester Smith and Gideon Carter obeyed the revelation. Sylvester had it in mind the next summer, too, when he went out again “resolved to blow the trumpet of the Gospel.” He knew that if he would the revelation promised that the Lord would be with him. “I trust I shall continue to receive the grace of God to support me even to the end.”11 There is no known evidence that Ruggles Eames and Stephen Burnett obeyed this revelation. Micah Welton and Eden Smith obeyed. Eden’s journal shows that he was especially mindful of the revelation’s instructions to preach and provide for his family as best he could. “Preachd and then returned home and Laboured for the support of my family,” he wrote, echoing the Lord’s instructions.12

1. “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 180, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 6, 2020.

2. Elden J. Watson, Orson Pratt Journals, January 25, 1832; Edson Barney statement reported in St. George, Utah Stake General Minutes, December 23, 1860, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Manuscript copies of Section 75, Newel K. Whitney Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

3. William McLellin to Beloved Relatives, August 4, 1832, typescript, Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri, in Shipps and Welch, The Journals of William E. McLellin(Urbana and Provo: University of Illinois Press and BYU Studies, 1994), 79–86. See Porter, “Man of Diversity,” in Shipps and Welch, 301–02.

4. Millennial Star 26 (December 31, 1864): 835.

5. Orson Hyde, “History of Orson Hyde,” Millennial Star 26 (3 December 1864): 776.

6. Events in the Life of Samuel Harrison Smith Including His Missionary Journal for the Year 1832, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

7. Breck England, The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985), 29–31, 306.

8. The Evening and the Morning Star volume 1 (February 1833): 69–70, (March 1833): 84; volume 2 (May 1834): 156; Mark B. Nelson and Steven C. Harper, “The Imprisonment of Martin Harris in 1833,” BYU Studies 45:4 (2006): 113–15

9. Hyrum Smith diary, 1831–1835, Church History Library, page 27.

10. The Evening and the Morning Star 2 (June 1833): 100.

11. Sylvester Smith to Dear Brother, May 16, 1833, The Evening and the Morning Star 2:14 (July 1833): 107.

12. Eden Smith, Journal, typescript, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

Additional Context by Casey Paul Griffiths

From Doctrine and Covenants Minute

On January 25, 1832, a general conference of the Church was held near Amherst, Ohio. The conference was attended by “between 70 and 80 official characters” from various locations.1 At the conference, several important events took place. First, Orson Pratt was appointed as president of the elders. Next, Joseph Smith was ordained as the “President of the High Priesthood,” heeding the instructions given in revelation a few months prior that “one be appointed of the high priesthood to preside over the priesthood of the Church.”2

There are no known minutes of this conference, but a later account in Joseph Smith’s History recorded, “At this conference much harmony prevailed, and considerable business was done to advance the kingdom and promulgate the gospel to the inhabitants of the surrounding Country. The Elders seemed anxious for me to enquire of the Lord, that they might know his will, or learn what would be most pleasing to him, for them to do, in order to bring men to a sense of their condition: for, as it was written, all men had gone out of the way, so that none doth good; no, not one. I enquired and received the following [D&C 75].”

This section, section 75, is made up of two separate revelations given at the conference, comprising verses 1–22 and 23–36. A copy of the of revelations kept by Newel K. Whitney and written in Sidney Rigdon’s handwriting records it as two different revelations. Another collection of revelations kept by Samuel Smith and Orson Hyde, however, includes only the first revelation.3 Church Historian John Whitmer recorded both as separate revelations given on the same day in Revelation Book 1.4 When the revelations were published in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, they were combined into one section, and have been combined as such ever since.5

At least one of the revelations was received in the presence of the entire conference. Orson Pratt said that the revelation was received “in the presence of the whole assembly.”6 Another attendee of the conference, Edson Barney, said that Sidney Rigdon wrote the revelation as it was dictated by Joseph Smith.7 This was one of many occasions during which groups of people witnessed Joseph Smith receiving a revelation (see commentary for D&C 50).

“Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 25 January 1832–A [D&C 75:1–22]

“Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 25 January 1832–A [D&C 75:23–36]

1. William E. McLellin, Independence, MO, to “Beloved Relatives,” Carthage, TN, 4 August 1832, photocopy, CHL.   

2. Revelation, 11 November 1831–B [D&C 107 (partial)].

3. Revelation, 25 January 1832–A, Newel K. Whitney, Papers, BYU [D&C 75]; Hyde and Smith, Notebook, [28]–[30]. 

4. Revelation Book 1, p. 131, JSP.

5. Doctrine and Covenants, 1835, Section LXXXVII, p. 221, JSP.

6. “History of Orson Pratt,” 12, Historian’s Office, Histories of the Twelve, ca. 1858–1880, CHL.

7. “Prophet Joseph’s Birthday,” Saint George Utah Stake, General Minutes, 23 December 1880. It is possible that Barney’s memory was faulty and that Frederick G. Williams initially inscribed the revelation.