Part 23: CES Letter Polygamy & Polyandry Questions [Section D]
by Sarah Allen
There are some heavy, complicated topics on the agenda for today, so I’m just going to dive right in. Again in big red letters, Jeremy Runnells continues:
JOSEPH’S POLYGAMY ALSO INCLUDED:
Dishonesty in public sermons, 1835 D&C 101:4, denials by Joseph Smith that he was practicing polygamy, Joseph’s destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor that exposed his polygamy and which destruction of the printing press initiated the chain of events that led to Joseph’s death.
First, it’s not as simple as just Joseph and some of the other early Church leaders lying, the way Jeremy tries to make it seem.
It’s incredibly difficult to boil down 15 years’ worth of religious, historical, political, and societal events down into something that makes sense for the average person who isn’t familiar with any of it, so I’m not even going to try. But we have to understand the climate these people were living in—they’d been shunned by family members for joining the Church; they’d been prevented from voting; they’d been driven from their homes at gunpoint without anything, more than once; they’d been blamed for all of the local unrest simply because they moved into an area and built a farm or city; they and their friends and family members had been starved, robbed, beaten, raped, and murdered; they were held under siege by the state militia; they’d had an extermination order placed against them; and their current situation was beginning to mirror that of Kirtland and Missouri. They were terrified of what might happen to them next. And Joseph and the Twelve were responsible for keeping all of them safe. They knew that if they publicly announced the plural marriage doctrine before they were in a position of relative safety, the Church would be destroyed—literally. The members would all be massacred and the Church would die out because there was no one left to carry it forward. That’s what they were facing, and they knew it.
In this article, Gregory Smith tries to put it in some context by giving an analogy:
Suppose a Church member is living in Holland in the 1940s. Established laws command the deportation of all Jews to a grisly fate. A Church member might (as many brave Dutch did) decide that such a law has no moral force—indeed, it would be immoral to obey it. The Church member might further decide that he is morally bound to hide a family of Jews in his attic. One day, an SS team arrives, knocks at the door, and demands to know if the Church member knows of the whereabouts of any Jews.
The member has several choices:
- he can decide that “honesty” is the highest moral value, and reveal the location of his Jewish guests
- he can refuse to answer the question, by remaining silent
- he can declare that he is not willing to comply with the request, and will not answer the question
- he can lie to the German SS, and may also have to lie to his friends and neighbors to keep them from revealing the secret
Which is the correct moral choice? It is difficult to see how honesty can trump the lives of the Jews—so, option (1) is out. The SS officer is unlikely to go meekly on his way should one remain silent or verbally refuse to answer, so choosing either (2) or (3) will simply result in the Jews being found and the Church member and his family suffering the consequences of their disobedience to civil law. It seems to me that the most moral option—fulfilling the member’s duty to his Jewish guests, his conscience, and his family—requires that the member lie to the SS.
… It was in exactly this position that some Nauvoo-era members of the Church were placed. They had no ideal choices, and so did their best to follow God despite circumstances beyond their control.
That might seem like an exaggerated example, but when you think it through, it’s not. Joseph was trying to keep the Saints alive, the same way this hypothetical member was trying to keep their Jewish friends alive.
Some are quick to point out that Joseph Smith didn’t just lie to the government or to non-members, but also deceived members of the Church. This objection ignores, of course, the point that to make the announcement publicly to the Church is the same as telling everyone.
The accusation also omits some vital information. Joseph was not trying to simply act as he pleased and keep everyone else in the dark. He was anxious to teach the principle of plural marriage to any who would accept it; Church leaders such as Hyrum Smith and the Twelve were introduced to it. This is strange behavior for a deceiver, since each of these high Church leaders was in a position to denounce and ruin him. (Joseph had ample experience with such scenarios given the earlier departure of such key figures as the Three Witnesses, and many of the original Twelve Apostles during the Kirtland-era apostasy.) One source reports that over one hundred adults were taught the doctrine in Nauvoo before Joseph’s murder.
… Joseph persisted, however, in trying to introduce others to “the Principle.” He did make some efforts to teach plural marriage publicly—he seemed willing to accept the risk from non-members if the Church would support him. Heber C. Kimball wrote, in 1882:
On a certain Sabbath morning, previous to the return of the Apostles from Europe, in 1841, [Joseph] astonished his hearers by preaching on the restoration of all things, and said that as it was anciently with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so it would be again, etc.
A contemporary journal describes the reaction:
When the prophet “went to his dinner,” [Joseph Lee] Robinson wrote, “as it might be expected several of the first women of the church collected at the Prophet’s house with his wife [and] said thus to the prophet Joseph O mister Smith you have done it now it will never do it is all but Blassphemy you must take back what you have said to day is it is outrageous it would ruin us as a people.” So in the afternoon session Smith again took the stand, according to Robinson, and said “Brethren and Sisters I take back what we said this morning and leave it as though there had been nothing said.”
Robinson feels that this reaction was not unexpected; yet, Joseph tried anyway. Note that Joseph does not come back in the afternoon and deny the doctrine; he merely withdraws it from public consideration. … Heber also recounted the negative reaction of Emma and others:
He spoke so plainly that his wife, Emma, as well as others were quite excited over it. Seeing the effect his sermon had upon them, he consoled them in the afternoon by saying that the time of which he had spoken might be further off than he anticipated.
George A. Smith alluded to the same or a similar episode based upon records of those present:
The Prophet goes up on the stand, and, after preaching about everything else he could think of in the world, at last hints at the idea of the law of redemption, makes a bare hint at the law of sealing, and it produced such a tremendous excitement that, as soon as he had got his dinner half eaten, he had to go back to the stand, and unpreach all that he had preached, and left the people to guess at the matter. While he was thus preaching he turned to the men sitting in the stand, and who were the men who should have backed him up, for instance, to our good old President Marks, William and Wilson Law, and father Cowles, and a number of other individuals about Nauvoo, for this occurred when the Twelve were in the Eastern portions of the United States, and said, “If I were to reveal the things that God has revealed to me, if I were to reveal to this people the doctrines that I know are for their exaltation, these men would spill my blood.”
I don’t know if that last bit is entirely accurate or not. George A. Smith gave that sermon in 1855, according to the footnote, over a decade after this instance supposedly happened. The people he referred to were the editors of the Expositor, so it’s possible he was misremembering and added that in because they later did help spill Joseph’s blood. Or, it’s possible that every word of that comment was true and was exactly what happened. I don’t know. There aren’t any official records of that sermon of Joseph’s, just some journal entries recorded about it. Some of it might be hearsay and gossip, some of it might be misremembered memories, some of it might be exaggeration, some of it might be true. It’s just not fully clear.
What is clear, though, is that Joseph tried to teach the Saints this doctrine, and they refused to listen. It brings to my mind when the Savior was trying to teach His Apostles about His upcoming execution and they refused to listen to Him, too. There are other similarities I see between Joseph’s situation and Christ’s earthly trouble—the elements of conspiracy against them, the charges of treason, etc.
According to Smith:
Joseph considered the doctrine essential for the Church, and it would seem that he offered the Church members at least one public opportunity to hear about plural marriage, but they refused it. So, Joseph continued to teach the doctrine, but in private. Are other more faithful members to be forbidden knowledge which some refused to receive?
In the last years of his life, Joseph repeatedly bemoaned the fact that all the members would not accept that which he wanted to teach. … Joseph noted in 1843 that “many seal up the door of heaven by saying so far God may reveal and I will believe but no further.”
These factors add a new moral wrinkle to the issue: what is a prophet to do if the majority of people are not yet ready to accept a teaching? Should he announce it publicly anyway, risking the wrath of violent opponents who will seek to prevent him from teaching anything at all? Should he teach nothing, and allow the less-faithful to decide that the more-faithful may not enjoy revelation from God? Or, should he opt for Joseph’s approach—keep the doctrine private, and introduce it as people will accept it?
It’s an interesting question: if the bulk of the Church membership refuses to listen to hard doctrine, and preaching it puts the prophets’ lives at risk, what do they do? Do they preach it publicly anyway, like Abinadi, or do they preach it quietly to those who are willing to listen, like Alma the Elder? Joseph refused to live it or teach it for a while, and was threatened by an angel because of it. What if he’d persisted? Or, what if he’d announced it publicly, considering the anti-Mormon sentiment of the surrounding cities? Would any of the Saints have survived? We simply don’t know.
Also, don’t forget that Joseph wouldn’t be the first prophet to lie to spare someone’s life, including his own. Look at Abraham lying about Sarah being his wife. Isaac lied for similar reasons. Moses lied to the Pharaoh about the Hebrews leaving to offer up a sacrifice, when they were actually trying to run away. It’s not something God often commands, but in some cases, He does. Was this one of them? It certainly seems to be, or at the very least, it seems that Joseph and the other early Church leaders believed it was necessary.
We’ll go more into the actual denials later; Jeremy covers several of the major ones in his recap of this bit. I just wanted to explain today that yes, there are reasons for those denials. To end off on this idea, President Oaks gave a fireside about all of this back in 1993:
As far as concerns our own church and culture, the most common allegations of lying for the Lord swirl around the initiation, practice, and discontinuance of polygamy. … The whole experience with polygamy was a fertile field for deception It is not difficult for historians to quote LDS leaders and members in statements justifying, denying, or deploring deception in furtherance of this religious practice.
I do not know what to think of all of this, except I am glad I was not faced with the pressures those good people faced. My heart goes out to them for their bravery and their sacrifices, of which I am a direct beneficiary. I will not judge them. That judgment belongs to the Lord, who knows all of the circumstances and the hearts of the actors, a level of comprehension and wisdom not approached by even the most knowledgeable historians.
Moving on to the Expositor, it’s important to clarify that Jeremy’s phrasing implies that Joseph destroyed the press because it exposed polygamy. This is not the case, as I hope will become clear by the time we’re done with this section. The background on William Law simply won’t fit here, so I put it on another page here.
So, what exactly did the Nauvoo Expositor say, and what led to the destruction of the press? First, here are a few links to the text itself:
- The Prospectus and full text of the Nauvoo Expositor
- The full text of the Prospectus, both a recreation and a copy of the actual page
- A cleaned-up reproduction minus the Prospectus
- FAIR’s transcript with the Prospectus at the end, so you don’t have to zoom way in to read the small print
I’m going to post a brief summary for those who don’t want to read the entire thing, and then I’ll talk about the bomb it dropped on the people of Illinois and its aftermath.
The Prospectus begins by saying the paper will be publishing “the many gross abuses exercised under the pretended authorities of the Nauvoo City Charter,” and the “insupportable OPPRESSIONS of the MINISTERIAL powers in carrying out the Unjust, Illegal, and Unconstitutional Ordinances of the same.” It calls for the unconditional repeal of the city charter in order to “restrain and correct the abuses of the UNIT POWER” and “to ward off the Iron Rod which is held over the devoted heads of the citizens of Nauvoo and the surrounding country,” to advocate “unmitigated DISOBEDIENCE to POLITICAL REVELATIONS,” and to “censure and decry gross moral imperfections wherever found, either in the Plebian, Patrician, or Self-constituted MONARCH.” It goes on to say it champions free speech in Nauvoo, and claims there are ordinances abridging that right; calls for toleration of every man’s religious sentiments (unless, apparently, those include the plural marriage doctrine); states that it opposes any union of church and state, or any step that leads that way; to sustain all in their equal Constitutional rights; to oppose the sacrifice of liberty, property, and happiness because of the “pride and ambition of the few.” It claims the paper will be giving a full statement of the “FACTS, AS THEY REALLY EXIST IN THE CITY OF NAUVOO, fearless of whose particular case the facts may apply.” The editors will be discreet except in cases of “flagrant abuses, or moral delinquencies…when the object is of such high importance that the end will justify the means.” They ask the public for help in telling those stories. It then gives the terms of the paper and discusses other rules that apply regarding national politics and other content.
So, you can see why that raised some eyebrows. The Expositor’s first issue is even worse. It’s insanely long, but I’ll go into some of the more inflammatory statements.
It begins by saying that they’re fearful of the “furious and turbulent storm of persecution” about to come down on them for what they’re going to say, which is incredibly ironic considering what the aftermath was. The editors then begin by asking God to give them strength and protect them from the wrath of, presumably, Joseph, the Twelve, and the city council. They state that they believe the Church, as originally taught, was true, but that Joseph had corrupted it. Joseph and “many other official characters in the Church” taught the honor and glory of God, the salvation of souls, the amelioration of man’s condition, and the virtues of faith, hope, virtue, and charity, but for them, “they are words without any meanings attached—worn as ornaments; exotics nurtured for display…” It states Joseph has “pretensions to righteousness” but was actually “pernicious and diabolical,” and taught “heretical and damnable” doctrines. They claim they’re only doing this for “the salvation of souls we desire and not our own aggrandizement.” This is a tone they take throughout the entire thing, that of the innocent victims trying to protect those in need from a tyrannical dictator and his crew, who were intent on leading the people to Hell. It’s all very self-righteous and holier-than-thou, and tries desperately to paint themselves as the ones suffering for their cause under God’s approval while being attacked by Joseph and the others on the city council. In fact, it’s actually a very similar tone to the one Jeremy takes in this letter.
It states Joseph is “vicious” and practices “abominations and whoredoms” that are “not accordant and consonant with the principles of Jesus Christ and the Apostles.” It claims the editors are “hazarding every earthly blessing, particularly property, and probably life itself, in striking this blow at tyranny and oppression.” The stated goal is to reform the church; they attempted to do that in private and were rebuffed, particularly by Joseph. The editors claim that “wicked and corrupt men are seeking our destruction, by a perversion of sacred things” and that “whoredoms and all manner of abominations are practiced under the cloak of religion.” Joseph was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, “spreading death and devastation among the saints.”
They claim that women were enticed to immigrate to the United States to join the Saints, and then told “under penalty of death” that they had to become Joseph’s spiritual wives and that the “Prophet damns her if she rejects.” This hypothetical everywoman initially was “thunder-struck, faints, recovers, and refuses.” She then, at length, decides she has no choice and gives in and allows herself to be used, only to become pregnant and shipped off somewhere to either have the baby and give it up or have an abortion, it’s not entirely clear. When she comes back, she is frail and defeated, and eventually dies from the sorrow and shame. And this is supposedly a regular occurrence— these girls are referred to as “many orphans” who are the victims of all of this, leading lives of “misery and wretchedness” because of the evil influence of religion. They are “fatherless and motherless, destitute of friends and fortune; and robbed of that which nothing but death can restore.” But the men are happy because they got what they wanted, so there’s that.
It states that Joseph is guilty of political schemes and intrigue, and that “many items of false doctrine are taught by the Church.” To cover this all up, Joseph and “his accomplices” apparently instituted an “inquisitorial department” that was on par with the Spanish Inquisition, committing “injustice, cruelty and oppression.” Joseph Smith had “established an inquisition which, if it is suffered to exist, will prove more formidable and terrible to those who are found opposing the iniquities of Joseph and his associates, than ever the Spanish Inquisition did to heretics as they termed them.” Just a reminder—during the Inquisition, tens of thousands of people were tortured and many were later burned at the stake. And Joseph would be worse than that.
The editors complain again about their excommunication hearings, and then move on to talking about the “false and damnable doctrines” they object to, and then they declare Joseph and Hyrum as apostates. They also claim Joseph was a thief and that he was head of a secret combination in Nauvoo. There are affidavits swearing to plural marriage, and then they call Joseph an “obnoxious,” “self-aggrandizing” “despot” who is “subversive” and “dangerous,” and is leading a political charge to consolidate the government and utterly destroy “the rights of the old citizens of the county.” They call for “a radical reform in the city of Nauvoo, as the departure from moral rectitude, and the abuse of power, have become intolerable.” It also states that the members of the Twelve and Joseph’s inner circle who had been arrested in the past and fled to Nauvoo were guilty of “high crimes committed against the government of the United States.”
Hilariously, the editors also object to “the hostile spirit and conduct manifested by Joseph Smith and many of his associates towards Missouri,” which is “decidedly at variance with the true spirit of Christianity.” Remember, Law is a man who never lived in Missouri and never went through the persecutions there, but is comfortable claiming that having hard feelings against people who murdered, raped, stole from, and persecuted the Saints until they were driven out of the state at gunpoint is unchristian. In another absurd commentary, they state, “We believe that the Press should not be the medium through which the private character of any individual should be assailed, delineated, or exposed to the public gaze,” and then they proceed to do exactly that. They say, “Let our motto be, ‘Last in attack, but first in defense’; and the result cannot prove otherwise than honorable and satisfactory.” This, despite the entire edition being an attack.
The Expositor states Joseph had indictments against him for fornication, adultery, and perjury (which were taken out by William Law and his brother Wilson). It then says, “It will be perceived that many of the most dark and damnable crimes that ever darkened human character, which have hitherto been to the public, a matter of rumor and suspicion, are now reduced to indisputable facts.” It calls Joseph and his inner circle “heaven-daring, hell-deserving, Godforsaken villains” and “blood-thirsty and murderous,” “demons in human shape who, not satisfied with practicing their dupes upon a credulous and superstitious people, must wreak their vengeance upon any who may dare to come in contact with them.” It claims that Joseph is “an enemy to your government,” and that he hopes “all governments are to be put down and the one established upon its ruins.” Joseph is also labeled “a sycophant, whose attempt for power find no parallel in history” and “one of the blackest and basest scoundrels that has appeared upon the stage of human existence since the days of Nero and Caligula.” Joseph was apparently also “spreading death, devastation and ruin throughout your happy country like a tornado,” and the editors then stated, “Infinite are the gradations which mark this man’s attempt for power.” Joseph would also “light up the lamp of tyranny and oppression in our midst,” and was stated to be “as a man, to the last degree, corrupt in his morals and religion.” The editors hope the paper “can be a means of humbling the haughty miscreant who rules in that city and exposing his rank villainies.” They then beg the readers, “Let us arise in the majesty of our strength and sweep the influence of tyrants and miscreants from the face of the land, as with the breath of heaven.”
As you can see, this paper was libelous. Immediately after its publication, another nearby paper, the Warsaw Signal owned by Thomas C. Sharp, which had already been railing against the Saints for years by this point, began using the Expositor’s “evidence” as reason to gather up a mob and descend on Nauvoo.
Before and during the early 1800s, papers whipping up mob activity and mobs subsequently destroying printing presses were nothing new. It happened many times throughout history, most notably in the case of Elijah Parish Lovejoy in Illinois less than a decade before the Expositor and the Signal did it. Prior to the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868, the First Amendment, most notably freedom of the press, was seen as applying only to federal cases:
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits government interference with the press, applied only to the federal government, not state and local governments, until after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.
Because things were getting very heated and people were being accosted in Nauvoo, the Nauvoo City Council met on June 8 and June 10th, 1844. They consulted lawyers and legal books, and decided that their city charter, which was pretty unique and broad-ranging, gave them the right to declare the Expositor’s press a public nuisance and to remove public nuisances from their city. There were members of that council who were not Latter-day Saints, and they agreed with the rest of the council that this was a very dangerous situation and could not be allowed to continue. So, they decided to destroy the press and Joseph issued a formal proclamation as Mayor.
Manu Padro, a religious anthropologist, stated:
Abolitionists and anti-abolitionists destroyed each other’s printing presses fairly regularly without legal consequences during this time period. They certainly weren’t murdered for it.
… A not-so-well known unsavory fact about Abraham Lincoln (the Congressman of Illinois turned President) is that he systematically endorsed the destruction of printing presses in the North that were sympathetic to the Southern cause. He did this because they were disturbing the peace (and threatening his war effort). Joseph Smith did nothing as the mayor of Nauvoo that Lincoln wouldn’t repeat many, many times over as President of the United States.
Additionally, this was not Joseph Smith’s first rodeo with the destruction of a printing press. In 1833, W.W. Phelps’ LDS printing press in Independence, Missouri, was destroyed by non-Mormon vigilantes to prevent him from printing The Book of Commandments (the precursor for The Doctrine & Covenants). No one ever stood trial for destroying this printing press. No one was murdered for it. I’m sure that when Joseph ordered the destruction of William Law’s Nauvoo Expositor he expected the same legal procedures that the Missourians had received: None at all.
What he got were trumped-up charges of treason that were unprecedented in American Legal History. I’m not aware of another person in American History being arrested for treason or murdered for destroying a printing press.
Other city governments that had taken similar action in the past received a fine, which is what the Nauvoo City Council was expecting. For example, during the civil trial for the destruction of the printing press in Missouri (as the above quote explained, there was no criminal trial), the defendants were fined one cent. Fines, even hefty ones, were expected. Criminal charges were not. Joseph himself stated:
Concerning the destruction of the press to which you refer, men may differ somewhat in their opinions about it; but can it be supposed that after all the indignities to which we have been subjected outside, that this people could suffer a set of worthless vagabonds to come into our city, and right under our own eyes and protection, vilify and calumniate not only ourselves, but the character of our wives and daughters, as was impudently and unblushingly done in that infamous and filthy sheet? There is not a city in the United States that would have suffered such an indignity for twenty-four hours.
Our whole people were indignant, and loudly called upon our city authorities for redress of their grievances, which, if not attended to they themselves would have taken the matter into their own hands, and have summarily punished the audacious wretches, as they deserved.
The principles of equal rights that have been instilled into our bosoms from our cradles, as American citizens, forbid us submitting to every foul indignity, and succumbing and pandering to wretches so infamous as these. But, independent of this, the course that we pursued we considered to be strictly legal; for, notwithstanding the insult we were anxious to be governed strictly by law, and therefore convened the City Council; and being desirous in our deliberations to abide law, summoned legal counsel to be present on the occasion.
Upon investigating the matter, we found that our City Charter gave us power to remove all nuisances; and, furthermore, upon consulting Blackstone upon what might be considered a nuisance, that distinguished lawyer, who is considered authority, I believe, in all our courts, states, among other things, that a libelous and filthy press may be considered a nuisance, and abated as such.
Here, then one of the most eminent English barristers, whose works are considered standard with us, declares that a libelous press may be considered a nuisance; and our own charter, given us by the legislature of this State, gives us the power to remove nuisances; and by ordering that press abated as a nuisance, we conceived that we were acting strictly in accordance with law. We made that order in our corporate capacity, and the City Marshal carried it out. It is possible there may have been some better way, but I must confess that I could not see it.
So, the press was destroyed. Two days later, a constable came from Carthage to arrest Joseph and the entire city council on charges of disturbing the peace. Due to the city charter’s habeas corpus laws, the matter was referred to the Nauvoo Municipal Court, which discharged the defendants and closed the case. Joseph Bentley explains what happened next:
That same day, the Warsaw Signal called for reprisals and extermination of the LDS leaders.
On the advice of the presiding state judge for that district, the case was completely re-tried on its merits, by Daniel H. Wells, a non-Mormon living just outside of Nauvoo and a well-regarded state judge. All were acquitted after a full-day’s trial. Immediately, Thomas Sharp’s Warsaw Signal urged the extermination of all Mormons in Illinois.
This call to arms triggered a huge reaction. It started with the apostates, was fanned by the media, and was led by many political, religious and business leaders who had lost votes, followers, money or economic control to the Mormons. Old enemies also came over from Missouri, bringing cannon and other arms.
The final winding-up scene was now near. Downstate militia with reinforcements from Missouri began attacking saints in some outlying settlements. They also threatened to invade Nauvoo. Joseph urged Governor Ford to come and help him keep the peace. Meanwhile, he declared martial law in Nauvoo, to preserve some sense of order–a logical but ultimately fatal step.
Finally, Governor Ford did come…but to Carthage, not Nauvoo. He apparently sided with enemies of the Church. He deplored the Expositor suppression, considering the Mormons to be the aggressors and insisting that they disarm or face extermination. (No such demand was laid upon their enemies.) He also insisted that Joseph and the entire City Council come to Carthage for trial–alone and unarmed. Joseph now had few options left to him.
Eventually, as we all know, Joseph surrendered and went to Carthage. On the charge of disorderly conduct they set bail considerably higher than was standard for the charge, believing the Saints wouldn’t be able to pay it. However, they did post bail and were on their way back out of town when Joseph was rearrested. This time, he was tried with treason for calling for martial law and bringing out the Nauvoo Legion to protect the town. This was framed as an insurrection against the state, rather than the city militia protecting its citizens. Treason was a charge without bail, so Joseph would have to be kept in custody until the trial, which was what the conspirators were hoping for.
In a letter to the governor while in custody, Joseph wrote the following:
Governor Ford, you, sir, as Governor of this State, are aware of the prosecutions and persecutions that I have endured. You know well that our course has been peaceable and law-abiding, for I have furnished this State, ever since our settlement here, with sufficient evidence of my pacific intentions, and those of the people with whom I am associated, by the endurance of every conceivable indignity and lawless outrage perpetrated upon me and upon this people since our settlement here, and you yourself know that I have kept you well posted in relation to all matters associated with the late difficulties. If you have not got some of my communications, it has not been my fault.
Agreeably to your orders, I assembled the Nauvoo Legion for the protection of Nauvoo and the surrounding country against an armed band of marauders, and ever since they have been mustered I have almost daily communicated with you in regard to all the leading events that have transpired; and whether in the capacity of mayor of the city; or lieutenant-general of the Nauvoo Legion, I have striven to preserve the peace and administer even-handed justice to all; but my motives are impugned, my acts are misconstrued, and I am grossly and wickedly misrepresented. I suppose I am indebted for my incarceration here to the oath of a worthless man that was arraigned before me and fined for abusing and maltreating his lame, helpless brother.
That I should be charged by you, sir, who know better, of acting contrary to law, is to me a matter of surprise. Was it the Mormons or our enemies who first commenced these difficulties? You know well it was not us; and when this turbulent, outrageous people commenced their insurrectionary movements, I made you acquainted with them, officially, and asked your advice, and have followed strictly your counsel in every particular.
Who ordered out the Nauvoo Legion? I did, under your direction. For what purpose? To suppress these insurrectionary movements. It was at your instance, sir, that I issued a proclamation calling upon the Nauvoo Legion to be in readiness, at a moment’s warning, to guard against the incursions of mobs, and gave an order to Jonathan Dunham acting major-general, to that effect. Am I then to be charged for the acts of others; and because lawlessness and mobocracy abound, am I when carrying out your instructions, to be charged with not abiding the law? Why is it that I must be held accountable for other men’s acts? If there is trouble in the country, neither I nor my people made it, and all that we have ever done, after much endurance on our part, is to maintain and uphold the Constitution and institutions of our country, and to protect an injured, innocent, and persecuted people against misrule and mob violence.
He was acting on the governor’s own orders when he called out the Nauvoo Legion and declared martial law, and he was tried for treason because of it. Then they deliberately held him without bail so that they could gather up a mob, storm the jail, and kill him. An excellent book on these events and the subsequent trial and acquittal of the mob leaders was written by our own President Oaks, Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith. I highly recommend it if you want to learn more about all of this.
As I stated above—and this might just be me extrapolating things I shouldn’t be—I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Joseph was charged with treason the same way that our Savior was, or that there was a conspiracy in place to kill both of them. No, I am not putting Joseph on the same level as Jesus Christ, not by a long shot. But it is striking to me that the prophet of the Restoration was charged with the same crime as the God whose church he was helping to restore, and that those in power conspired against both of them to have them murdered. I think that in this instance, Joseph was set up as a type for Christ, much in the same way that Abraham was a type for God the Father when he was being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac (definition 4A of the word here).
Anyway, there’s not room for the Fanny Alger situation this week, so we’ll do that next week. Yet another recap of everything is coming, too. Jeremy does love to repeat himself, since sarcastic repetition reinforces his claims in your mind. And, after all of those repeated accusations, including some “helpful” charts and graphs, the section wraps up.
Before we jump into all of that, though, I just wanted to say again I know these topics are complicated and messy. Obviously. There’s not any one answer that will work for everybody. There were a lot of historical, personal and political dynamics at play, and mistakes were made. Things are difficult to fully understand when looking back from our vantage point 175 years later. But I do promise that if you get on your knees and ask for enlightenment and understanding, it will come. It may not be today, or tomorrow, or even next week. It may be a few years from now, but God will give you an answer. He did it for me, and He’ll do it for you.
Sources in this entry:
Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.