From the Archives: “The Impropriety of the Organization of Bands or Companies”

By December 3, 2007

While in Liberty Jail, Joseph had a lot of time to meditate upon his latest year’s experiences. The Church had been forced from Ohio, some of his closest friends had turned on him, and now his followers were being expelled from the state of Missouri. After spending four months in prison, he reflects on many of these topics in a letter dictated to the rest of the church. Full of emotion, struggle, and comfort, this letter has become famous among LDS circles, and parts of it were extracted to form three revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. However, while going over it again recently, a portion which was not canonized caught my attention

And again I would further sejest the impropriety of the organization of bands or companies by covenant or oaths by penalties or secrecies but let the time past of our experiance and suferings by the wickedness of Doctor Avard suffise and let our covenant be that of the everlasting covenant as is contained in the Holy writ. and the things that God hath revealed unto us. Pure friendship always becomes weakened the verry moment you undertake to make it stronger by penal oaths and secrecy. Your humble servant or servants intend from hence forth to disapprobate every thing that is not in accordance with the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and is not of a bold and frank and an upright nature…[1]

This letter seems to denounce any form of secret societies, probably in specific reference to the Danites, and appears to echo the anti-secret combinations theme of the Book of Mormon. However it also seems to contradict Joseph’s later involvement Masonry and, more significantly, the temple. Was there a point between 1839 and 1842 where Joseph transitioned from his this stance of being “bold and frank” with everything to where he introduced sacred rituals to only a small group of insiders? There is obviously some¬†progression of Joseph’s¬†views from the simple, open nature of the Kirtland Temple to the secret, complex ordinances of Nauvoo.

Or, am I taking this quote out of context, and does it not have anything to do with the secret nature of masonry, the temple, and even perhaps polygamy?


[1] The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 444.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Origins From the Archives


  1. Is this what Quinn uses to suggest that the Danites had oaths and penalties? I forget. Quinn also suggests that the Council of Fifty had oaths and penalties, if I remember right.

    I think the pressure on Smith in Nauvoo was enough to drive a perspective shift. Let’s not forget the School of the Prophets. Though the covenants were different, there was definitely an expectation to keep confidences.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 3, 2007 @ 11:35 pm

  2. “let our covenant be that of the everlasting covenant as is contained in the Holy writ. and the things that God hath revealed unto us.

    Maybe this phrase can accommodate the temple rituals. Maybe Joseph was saying that we should refrain from creating secret bands. If he saw the temple rituals not as his own creation, but as a revelation, then this would make sense.

    Still, his involvement in freemasonry remains. Perhaps it could be attributed to the fact that the early saints believed that freemasonry was a remnant of the ancient temple rituals?

    Comment by JKC — December 4, 2007 @ 10:42 am

  3. Ben, I am curious as to how you (and others) reconcile this statement by Joseph placing blame for the Danites on “the wickedness of Doctor Avard” with the evidence that Joseph both knew about and supported the group and their activities.

    Comment by Christopher — December 4, 2007 @ 11:03 am

  4. I will be going into this sort of discussion in detail throughout my forthcoming book, but let me respond here in broad strokes. Popular Masonic literature from the time of Joseph Smith’s youth typically identified the patriarchs and prophets of old as the Grand Masters of Masonry in their day. Some went so far as to predict a future “restoration,” when “pure Masonry” and “pure religion” would again become one. Therefore, it was quite natural for Joseph to see a “restoration” of “pure masonry” as part of his prophetic role.

    Joseph’s early anti-Masonry should be seen in greater context. There were two strands of anti-Masonic thought following the kidnapping of William Morgan. The more popular and vocal strand denounced Freemasonry as an invention of the devil. Another strand, however, continued to see Freemasonry as a creation of divine origin, which had more lately been corrupted by wicked men. Joseph Smith fell into the latter category, as did several prominent early Mormons who had already been Freemasons.

    During the early history of Mormonism, Joseph made several abortive attempts to create this “Masonic restoration,” among which was the Danite movement. Existing records (some of which, as noted above, are critical) describe initiation ceremonies which are clearly based on Masonic ritual. In addition, individual Danites who dropped from church activity later became involved with a non-Mormon vigilante group, also calling itself “Danites” with full recognition of the earlier Mormon usage. This group is even more readily recognized as Masonic in structure, even to the point of holding its meetings in local Masonic halls.

    Invariably, Joseph’s attempts to “restore” Freemasonry from the ground up ended in embarassment and disaster. In Nauvoo, certain elements aligned to create an opportunity for Joseph to accomplish his task from within the existing structure. Once the Nauvoo Lodge was formed, an aggressive campaign ensued of multiplying Mormon Masons and predominately-Mormon lodges, with the clear purpose of establishing a distinct “Mormon Grand Lodge,” which would become autonomous from established Freemasonry.

    Comment by Nick Literski — December 4, 2007 @ 11:22 am

  5. Nick: I’ve never seen this masonic context applied to the Danites, but I find it fascinating. I look forward to seeing the evidence you adduce for it.

    Comment by David Grua — December 4, 2007 @ 11:30 am

  6. Nick, I’m glad to hear this is still forthcoming. I had heard it whispered that the effort had been abandoned. I also find your points of great interest.

    Comment by Jared — December 4, 2007 @ 11:43 am

  7. Nick: very interesting. Keep us informed with the book.

    Chris: I am still learning more about the Danite connection (thanks to David for the good blog on it), and I can see Joseph’s connection. I see this letter more as an attempt to distance himself from the group that got him into trouble.

    Perhaps, then, that this is why Joseph would say this and still later join some “secret” groups: this was just merely a public statement to distance himself away from the troubling band. This would then go along with his statements regarding his involvement with polygamy, no?

    Comment by Ben — December 4, 2007 @ 6:20 pm

  8. I am glad to see that you bring out the fact that there were two different groups referred to, when speaking about the Danites… many do not know this. My understanding is that the original groups intention was to protect the prophet — plain and simple, whereas the later became the more destructive overall with their intentions, basically apostates, etc… and thus bring more negative scrutiny to Joseph and the church, of which seems to bring out more investigation today…. is this right or wrong?

    I was fascinated recently as I viewed, on the history channel, a recent program concerning exactly what you have just described. It was based on the symbolism of the U.S. dollar.

    They literally suggested in this program that the majority of the founding fathers can be traced to having connections in Masonry… although the actual records to verify these assumptions were burned during the civil war… ??? Sounds good, right?

    Anyway, it is quite convincing as they bring out the symbolism on our currency and the temple meaning, our government buildings and literally if you google Washington D.C. the layout of the city is ordered in a very particular way… tracing it to ‘masonry’ and then back to early egyptian temple worship..

    Actually, I had never seen quite such good research on a regular t.v. program… as they actually did a respectable report on the pyramid, cornerstone and setting the kingdom in order when this Christ is to come…

    But they also laid out quite a conspiracy theory, that honestly I felt appeared as very passive aggressive toward the church, although they never once mentioned the church. They instead pointed to the masons… but we all know exactly where that leads…

    As they directly pointed to the Masons… they emphasized this new world order, marks, basically a new world economy, i.e. consecration, one ruler… take over the world, temples, signs, sacred but not secret… very very passive aggressive.

    After watching this, I felt it was literally propaganda directly toward the lds church… although never once did they mention the church. Interesting considering we are in the public eye politically at this time???

    Enough rambling. lol

    I look forward to your book, as I believe more members should be informed as to what we as members are most likely looking at in our near futures… We have had a fairly nice season of rest, but I feel things are brewing and the media is quietly stirring a pot, that many do not realize is coming to a slow boil that will literally boil over, before we can get to the stove….

    The adversary is quite masterful is his attempt to destroy and thwart the work of the last days… as this is truly quite artful how he is setting up that which is good… to appear as evil, underhanded and a threat to the safety and freedom of the world as we now know it!

    And who are the bad guys in his plan to ruin and take over the world? Amazing

    Is this not a major twist if we think about the war in heaven? Whoa!

    Fear is our worst enemy and there seems to be more of it out there than we realize.

    Comment by Kathryn — December 4, 2007 @ 7:02 pm

  9. Nick,

    This subject is fascinating to me and I am definitely looking forward to reading your book.

    The following statement is almost like a missing link I have been longing to find; yet I would like to hear comments about my understanding of the outcome of events:

    …Joseph made several abortive attempts to create this ?Masonic restoration,? among which was the Danite movement. Existing records (…) describe initiation ceremonies which are clearly based on Masonic ritual. In addition, individual Danites who dropped from church activity later became involved with a non-Mormon vigilante group, also calling itself ?Danites? with full recognition of the earlier Mormon usage. This group is even more readily recognized as Masonic in structure…

    You are probably familiar with the ongoing speculations among members of the Church that Masons were involved in the death of Joseph Smith because Joseph uttered the Masonic call of distress before being murdered by a mob.

    This is a very rough draft of how I see things in my mind (please criticize and comment, if you may):

    It seems to me that early Church leaders recognized the critical importance of certain moral principles if they were to establish the Kingdom of God at the level that Joseph Smith had envisioned when the church was first formed. Principles such as honor, commitment, brotherhood, and loyalty, among others, are effectively and distinctively taught to Freemasons by Freemasons. As church leaders witnessed and participated of the rites and teachings that instill these principles in Mason apprentices; Church leaders decided to “borrow” the Masonic process so that they too could instill these vital principles among other Church leaders and members, with the solemnity and effectiveness that Freemasons do.

    These rituals/practices may have even been used to give structure to organizations within the church, such as the Danites. Whether the Danites went rogue within the Church, or whether a group of dissenters formed an anti-Mormon group also called Danites; these Mormons/Ex-Mormons perpetuated the Masonic rituals to give structure to their organizations; thus we can say these Mormons/Ex-Mormons defiled the Masonic rite for their own purposes.

    So, an explanation for the ?Masons killed Joseph Smith? hypothesis can be: Vigilante groups of Mormon origin used Masonic rites to give structure to their organizations; thus, these groups could possibly be responsible for vile acts that corroded the reputation of Freemasons, including the murder of Joseph Smith.

    Comment by Manuel — December 4, 2007 @ 7:56 pm

  10. Let me throw another quote into the mix, which I discovered while looking into the development of vengeance oaths and prayers for vengeance.

    This dates to March 30, 1836, during the Kirtland Temple dedication. The source claims to come from a Jesse Hitchcock record in Joseph Smith journal.

    The seventies are at liberty to go to Zion if they please or go wheresoever they will and preach the gospel and let the redemption of Zion be our object, and strive to affect it by sending up all the strength of the Lords house whereever we find them, and I want to enter into the following covenant, that if any more of our brethren are slain or driven from their lands in Missouri by the mob that we will give ourselves no rest until we are avenged of our enimies to the uttermost, this covenant was sealed unanimously by a hosanna and Amen.

    Any thought on what connection this might have to Danites or Masonry?

    Comment by Keller — December 5, 2007 @ 1:11 am

  11. Another thought that occurs to me that after Joseph was released from Liberty Jail, there seems to have been an immediate effort to relocate the vengeance motif back into efforts of petitioning the government and God for redress. The October 1839 conference made plans for Joseph, Sidney, and Elias Higbee to make a trip to Washington for that purpose. A formal resolution came out of the following April conference.

    Resolved, 10th. That Joseph Smith Jr., Sidney Rigdon, and Elias Higbee, the delegates appointed by this church, to visit the city of Washington to present our sufferings before the authorities of the nation, accept of the thanks of this meeting, for the prompt and efficient manner in which they have discharged their duty and that they be requested in the behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, throughout the world, to continue to use their endeavors to obtain redress for a suffering people; and if all hope of obtaining satisfaction–for the injuries done us:–be entirely blasted, that they appeal our case to the court of heaven, believing, that the great Jehovah, who rules over the destiny of nations, and who notices the falling sparrow, will undoubtedly redress our wrongs, and ere long avenge us of our adversaries.

    Comment by Keller — December 5, 2007 @ 1:21 am

  12. Oh, one other comment that comes to mind is that Kathryn Daynes in her introductory chapter on Nauvoo proto-polygamy saw the oath bound nature of Joseph’s inner circle in which he first introduced polygamy and temple ordinances to as an outgrowth of Joseph’s quest for greater loyalty in the face of all Missouri betrayals (Hinkle, Phelps, etc.). That observation, if correct, stands in contrast to Liberty Jail sentiments.

    Comment by Keller — December 5, 2007 @ 1:27 am

  13. #9:
    It is certainly true that Freemasons were involved in the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. I do not feel that the evidence supports your theory at this time. Rather, Joseph himself incorporated many elements of Freemasonry into Mormonism—far beyond mere ritual similarities. Joseph’s activities with regard to the Fraternity did create a situation in which angered prominent Freemasons, and was likely perceived as a threat to the Fraternity. As a result, the evidence I have found supports Brigham Young’s 1860 statement that an actual conspiracy, involving prominent Freemasons, was instrumental in carrying out the murders. I presented on this topic at the 2005 John Whitmer Historical Association conference, but the book will be much more detailed than that 20 minute presentation allowed.

    Comment by Nick Literski — December 5, 2007 @ 2:32 am

  14. Nick: Is there any support that one of the reasons the Freemasons were upset was they though Joseph allowed women into the secret rituals?

    Comment by Ben — December 5, 2007 @ 11:01 am

  15. Keller (#10): The quote you provide is in JS’s journal (PJS 2:206). As it is a vengeance oath, I don’t see its immediate connection with either the Masons or the Danites, but rather see it coming out of early Mormon martyrological culture. I’ll let Nick address any specific Masonic connections, but there is no evidence of Danites prior to June 1838.

    (#11) The vengeance motif in Nauvoo was more prevalent than just in the redress narratives. Again, I don’t see a direct connection between Danite blood oaths and vengeance oaths. I may get a post up on vengeance in Nauvoo at some point in the future.

    Comment by David Grua — December 5, 2007 @ 11:22 am

  16. Ben,
    I have found considerable evidence of female Masonry (technically a misnomer, but I’ll use the phrase for simplicity) in Nauvoo. Some of this was associated with the Relief Society, while some was not. What I have not found is any actual evidence of the reactions of non-Mormon Freemasons to this, if they even knew about it. I have the reactions of a dissident Mormon, who was not a Freemason, but that’s as far as it goes. The closest I can get to any non-Mormon reaction would be by implication, as these orders appear to have been introduced in Nauvoo by a very prominent non-Mormon Freemason, who assisted the Nauvoo Lodge with instruction, etc.

    The idea that Freemasons were upset that Joseph administered temple ordinances to women is without support, so far as I have been able to find. For that matter, the idea that Freemasons accused Joseph of using their rituals as a basis for the temple ordinances is also without support. Only later, in Utah, did such accusations arise among Freemasons.

    Comment by Nick Literski — December 5, 2007 @ 11:34 am

  17. Nick: Very interesting. You have made me even more excited for your book.

    Comment by Ben — December 5, 2007 @ 11:43 am


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