In my ever-expanding quest to try and place Joseph Smith within the larger nineteenth century Romantic movement, I have come upon some very important diverging views among those who can be termed “Romantics”. One of these ideas is a topic which I find as one of Joseph’s most cherished idea’s (at least to me): the role of family, friendship, and community. What follows is a brief excerpt from a larger comparative analysis between who I see as examples of two diverging expressions of American Romantic thought, Joseph Smith and Ralph Waldo Emerson, focusing on their views of community.
Both Smith and Emerson held a deep appreciation for friendship. Emerson once wrote in his journal that he “awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new. Shall I not call God the Beautiful, who daily showeth himself to me in his gifts?” On a similar strain, Joseph once recorded, “How good, and glorious, it has seemed unto me, to find pure and holy friends, who are faithful, just and true…” But beyond the acknowledgement of the general benifits of friendship, Smith and Emerson disagreed on why it was important.
For Smith, it was not to be understood as mere pleasantry. As one writer has put it, friendship “was central, rather than peripheral, to his personal life, his public philosophy, and his deepest theological reflections.” In his mind, frienship was one of the most important elements of the restored gospel, and he once claimed that it was his endeavor “to so organize the Church, that the brethren might eventually be independent of every imcumbrance beneath the celestial kingdom, by bonds and covenants of mutual friendship and mutual love.” Elsewhere he stated that “friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism,” and that it was destined to revolutionize and civilize the world. When Joseph visioned heaven, he pictured it as a continuation of the friendships and relationships already present today. He taught that “that same sociality which exists amongst us here will exist among us there only it will be coupled with eternal glory which we do not enjoy now.” To Smith, friendship was not just meant for comfort; it was an eternal principle which was to last through the eternities.
Emerson, however, was not as willing to enter strong relationships with others. While he relished his aquaintances, and was always expanding his circle of influences, his ever-present principle of self-reliance restricted him from relying on others and allowing others to rely on him. He wrote “the condition which high friendship demands is the ability to do without it,”  meaning that friendship is at its best when both sides can still get along without the other. He believed that “all association must be a compromise, and, what is worst, the very flower and aroma of the flower of each of the beautiful natures disappears as they approach each other.” As one author put it, “Emerson believed that friends were fine as long as one did not depend on them.” When laying out what he believed to be the common beliefs of transcendentalists, he wrote that they believed “it is better to be alone than in bad company.” His idea of self-reliance was perhaps the main reason he never took part in the communitarian attempts of his transcendental associates, as well as the reason Hemmingway noted transcendentalists were more likely to go to strangers for help rather than their friends.
Smith, on the other hand, loved to rely on his friends as well as have his friends rely on him. A journal entry from Smith’s last year gives a good counter-example to Emerson.
Took dinner in the North room. I was remarking to Bro[ther] Phelps what a kind, provident wife I had. That when I wanted a little bread and milk she would load the table with so many good things it would destroy my appetite. At this moment Emma came in and Bro[ther] Phelps in continuation of the conversation said, “You must do as [Napoleon] Bonaparte did [and] have a little table, just large enough for yourself and your order thereon.” Mrs Smith replied, “Mr. Smith is a bigger man than Bonaparte. He can never eat without his friends.” I remarked, “That is the wisest thing I ever heard you say.”
Connected to JS’s view on friendship was his belief in the eternal duration of families. For him, friendship, family, and society were not just help to joy in this life, but they were crucial to exaltation in the next.
Emerson, however, saw no reason for friendship beyond a temporary elevation of the individual. He defined proper friendship as “inspiring each party to become his or her best self–a higher goal than friendship itself, finally to be pursued on one’s own.” He hoped that friendships would help him grow as an individual, but he did not feel growth within a friendship necessary. He desired distance, and backed away from the idea of a tight, personal bond. Perhaps a passage from his essay “Friendship,” explains his views best.
Why insist on rash personal relations with your friend? Why go to his house, or know his mother and brother and sisters? Why be visited by him at your own? Are these material to our covenant? Leave this touching and clawing. Let him be to me a spirit. A message, a thought, a sincerity, a glance from him I want, but not news, not pottage. I can get politics and chat and neighborly conveniences from cheaper companions…To my friend I write a letter and from him I receive a letter. That seems to you a little. It suffices me.
He would later say that “I do then with my friends as I do with my books. I would have them where I can find them, but I seldom use them.”
Emerson feared that by spending too much time with others, it would take away from his own personal growth and development. He compared relationships and conversations to mixing water, explaining that whenever you mix water you end up losing your own individuality. Joseph, in contrast, felt it crucial to mingle and share ideas. He was quoted as saying, “It is my meditation all the day & more than my meat & drink to know how I shall make the saints of God to comprehend the visions that roll like and overflowing surge, before my mind.” To him, it was something to strive over and find a way to connect his intellect with others’. To Emerson, this came at a cost of your own ideas: “I cannot afford to talk with them and study their visions, lest I lost my own.”
While this is not a major point in itself, it gives a glimps to the different ideological frameworks Joseph Smith and Ralph Waldo Emerson exemplified.
 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essential Writings, 203.
 Joseph Smith, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 560.
 Steven Epperson, “‘The Grand, Fundamental Principle’: Joseph Smith and the Virtue of Friendship,” Journal of Mormon History 23, no. 2, 80-81.
 History of the Church 1:269.
 Ehat and Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, 234.
 Ehat and Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, 169.
 Emerson, Essential Writings, 210.
 Emerson, Essential Writings, 205.
 Barry Hankins, The Second Great Awakening and the Transcendentalists, 34.
 Emerson, Essential Writings, 90.
 Joseph Smith, An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, 437-438.
 Lawrence Buell, Emerson, 90. Buell would later note that Emerson “convinced himself that the purpose of relationships was elevation of the respective parties to a plane of existence where live contanct became less necessary, became indeed a hindrance to pursuit of the idea” (168).
 Emerson, Essential Writings, 210-11.
 Emerson, Essential Writings, 213.
 Emerson, Essential Writings, 209.
 Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 196.
 Emerson, Essential Writings, 213.