License, , Geauga Co., OH, for , 20 Mar. 1833; handwriting of ; signatures of JS and ; one page; CHL. Includes docket and archival marking.
One leaf, measuring 4⅝–5½ × 7¾ inches (12–14 × 20 cm). The document was folded, possibly for travel, and added a docket on the verso: “License to | F. G. Williams.” later added a date to this docket: “March 20 1833.” The verso also includes a later graphite inscription.
The Church Historian’s Office may have received the license as early as 1864 when ’s son Ezra Granger Williams gave some of his father’s documents and materials to the office. The also may have been received in 1934 when another collection of Frederick G. Williams’s documents was donated to the Historian’s Office.
The ’s foundational “Articles and Covenants” instructed leaders to issue to men to the office of or . This instruction provided precedent for supplying official licenses to other church office holders as well. A license demonstrated to those both inside and outside the church that authority for a particular calling or office had been appropriately granted to the license holder. A February 1831 revelation required that no one “go forth to preach my gospel or to build up my church except they be ordained by some one that hath authority & it is known to the church that he hath authority & have been regularly ordained by the leaders of the church.” A license thus served not only to identify those authorized to proselytize and perform other ministerial activities but also to prevent imposture within the church.
Two days after he had been ordained to the , received a license from JS and . Williams had worked as JS’s scribe for the previous year and as his counselor since January 1833. He and Rigdon were each called to be a president of the high priesthood in a revelation dictated on 8 March 1833. Ten days later, on 18 March, at an assembly of in , Ohio, JS ordained Rigdon and Williams “by the to be equal with him in holding the of the Kingdom and also to the Presidency of the high Priest hood.” Williams’s license, featured here, affirmed his authority and worthiness to perform ministerial duties in connection with his new office. It is the first extant license issued by the church attesting to moral character and providing evidence of spiritual worthiness, a function that would characterize church licenses and certificates from the mid-1830s forward. Whereas this and all earlier licenses were handwritten documents, from February 1834 onward, individuals received licenses that were typically printed forms with blank lines where the issuer would write in his name, the date, and the name of the person receiving the license.
Preachers and ministers in other religious denominations likewise held and carried licenses. Some licenses clarified a person’s standing within a church, while others attested to bearers’ “good moral and religious character” and occasionally to their literary, educational, and theological qualifications. (Ratio Disciplinae, 158; see also, for example, Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, 52, 455; Smith, History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 607–610; Constitution and Discipline of the Methodist Protestant Church, 19; and “License, A Form of,” in Baptist Encyclopedia, 701.)
Ratio Disciplinae, or the Constitution of the Congregational Churches. Portland, ME: Shirley and Hyde, 1829.
Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America from Its Organization A. D. 1789 to A. D. 1820 Inclusive. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, [1847?].
Smith, James. History of the Christian Church, from Its Origin to the Present Times; Compiled from Various Authors. Including a History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Drawn from Authentic Documents. Nashville, TN: Cumberland Presbyterian Office, 1835.
Constitution and Discipline of the Methodist Protestant Church. Baltimore: John J. Harrod, 1830.
The Baptist Encyclopedia. A Dictionary of the Doctrines, Ordinances, Usages, Confessions of Faith, Sufferings, Labors, and Successes, and of the General History of the Baptist Denomination in All Lands. With Numerous Biographical Sketches of Distinguished American and Foreign Baptists, and a Supplement. Edited by William Cathcart. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881.
Kirtland Elders’ Certificates / Kirtland Elders Quorum. “Record of Certificates of Membership and Ordinations of the First Members and Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Dating from March 21st 1836 to June 18th 1838 Kirtland Geauga Co. Ohio,” 1836–1838. CHL. CR 100 401.
A of of the certify that the bearer of this after due examination of his moral character and Christian attainments was found worthy to receive their testamonials from under our hands. We therefore Certify that he has been regularly to the under the hand of Joseph Smith Jr after the holy order of God according to a commandment given the 8th day of March AD 1833 to preside over the affairs of the Church and Kingdom of Jesus Christ as established in these last days.
Given under our hands at Geauga Co Ohio North America the 20th day of March 1833