One of the Church history topics I find the most fascinating is that of the Nauvoo Expositor and the lead-up to and aftermath of the martyrdom.
My first real exposure to the story of the Expositor was as a sophomore in high school in Utah. An anti-LDS substitute math teacher decided to take it upon himself to lecture us on the evil censorship of the church many of us in the class belonged to. Looking back now, I can see how wildly inappropriate it was for a substitute teacher to bring this up in order to harass and criticize the religious beliefs of a bunch of teenagers who were just trying to learn pre-calculus. But unfortunately, at the time it wasn’t that unusual for us to have teachers who didn’t like the church. It didn’t occur to us that these teachers were crossing way over the line by actually vocalizing that dislike in class.
For those who don’t live here, Utah can be kind of a weird place. People are strongly divided along religious grounds between Latter-day Saints and those who are former or never members. Don’t get me wrong; there’s plenty of crossover between the groups among friends and coworkers, and respectful adults have no problem getting along with one another. But, because there are so many members of the Church living here, those who aren’t tend to push back strongly against the influence the Church has over the culture here. There are unfortunately a lot of people who are very loud, strident, brash critics of the Church, who will bring that opposition up when the opportunity presents itself. Sometimes, you’ll have coworkers or even your boss sit around, bashing the Church during working hours. You’ll go to a party, and in one corner are a bunch of people loudly talking about how the Church isn’t true. You have people who leave the Church, and instead of just leaving quietly like the vast majority outside of Utah, they’ll very publicly start doing all of the things they weren’t “allowed” to do before, showing their rebellion off to anyone who looks in their direction. Sadly, this division includes having a few teachers make the occasional comment against the Church while teaching a bunch of impressionable teenagers.
We weren’t routinely subjected to anti-LDS harangues in the middle of class, of course. It was rare, and this incident with this substitute stands out in my memory as being by far the worst of them. Most of the time, it was just subtle digs here and there.
Anyway, this guy was the first person I heard who really went into detail on the story. Because I like to read so much, I was aware before that class that Joseph Smith had a printing press destroyed shortly before his death, but I didn’t know any of the details beyond that. I didn’t feel comfortable jumping in with the crowd who was arguing with the teacher over it, thinking he was conflating the story with that of the Book of Commandments printing press and somehow casting us as the villains instead of the victims. I knew he wasn’t mixing up his stories, but I didn’t know enough to push back on the exaggerations and falsehoods in his claims. I didn’t know what those falsehoods even were. So, I decided I needed to learn those details I didn’t know. I didn’t ever want to be in that position again, where a critic was flinging accusations at me that I didn’t know how to respond to.
I’m not a trained historian, and I have no doubt there are many people out there who know more of this story and its intricacies than I do. But I do know enough now to hold my ground against people who make false claims, and that’s what I’m going to do here today. Thomas Faulk makes some pretty inaccurate statements in this portion of the Letter For My Wife.
- The Outcome
Polygamy upset many of the early leaders of the Church, including 2nd Councilor in the First Presidency, William Law. Joseph Smith excommunicated William for protesting his attempt to start a romantic relationship with William’s wife, Jane.
No. Jane made the claim that Joseph asked her to be one of his plural wives, something that Joseph denied ever happened. Regardless of who was telling the truth, that is not why William Law was excommunicated.
In order to fully answer this claim, and to answer the ones following it, we need to begin with a discussion of William Law. (Note: unless otherwise stated, the following information and quotes come from the paper William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter by Lyndon Cook.) Law was an Irish immigrant who moved to Canada and joined the Church in 1836. He then moved to Nauvoo 1839, and in 1841, he was called as the Second Counselor in the First Presidency under Joseph Smith. He was also a member of the Nauvoo city council for a time.
Initially, he was a staunch supporter of Joseph and of the Church. Of Joseph, he once stated to a friend that he was “a wonderful man” and “all we could wish a prophet to be.” In another letter to that same friend, he also wrote, “I have carefully watched his movements since I have been here, and I assure you I have found him honest and honourable in all our transactions which have been very considerable. I believe he is an honest upright man, and as to his follies let whoever is guiltless throw the first stone at him, I shan’t do it.”
Reports of him being generous and kind during that time period abound in early Church documentation. He lent Joseph money more than once, particularly during his trip to Washington D.C. to try to get redress for the crimes committed against the Saints in Missouri, and for his hearings in Springfield when the state of Missouri was trying to extradite him. He allowed his property to be used for Church meetings. And in footnote 22 of this paper, Emily Partridge described how, after her father Edward Partridge became ill and died, she and several of her siblings were also ill. Law took the kids in and helped care for them until they could recover enough to go home with the rest of the family. He was also a strong, public critic of the notorious John C. Bennett.
Eventually, though, he started to lose faith in Joseph as a prophet like so many other prominent leaders in early Church history had. This all seems to have come to a head between 1843-44. In 1843, he was a defender and advocate of Joseph’s. In 1844, he became a bitter opponent. Cook states:
Although he initially assisted Joseph Smith in avoiding imprisonment and extradition during this period, William later believed that this was wrong. Law’s changing attitude on this matter betrays an essential loss of commitment. In 1842-1843, he recognized Joseph Smith as the Lord’s prophet and as innocent of any wrongdoing, while in 1844, after his disaffection, his anger and disillusionment led him to believe otherwise.
We saw this attitude shift happen repeatedly among Joseph’s close friends between Kirtland and Nauvoo. Some later changed their minds and returned to the Church, while others never did. Almost all continued to believe in the Restoration and the Book of Mormon, but many of them lost faith in Joseph personally, at least for a time. I can’t speak to why that is. Joseph certainly made his fair share of mistakes, like we all do, but I do not believe he was a fallen prophet.
Law, however, did. He came to believe that Joseph being the mayor of Nauvoo, the leader of the Nauvoo Legion, and also the prophet of Christ’s church on Earth represented dangerous levels of power in uniting the government, the military, and the common religion in one person. Honestly, I can see why that might worry someone. There are very, very few people that I’d trust to hold that kind of power. If that was his only grievance and he’d just walked away quietly, I could fully understand his reaction. But when he threw the powder keg of polygamy into the mix, there was no turning back for any of them.
What were some of the issues Law had with Joseph? There was the matter of finances, for one. Law owned property in and around Nauvoo while the Church, through Joseph, owned land near the river. Joseph’s finances and the Church’s were entwined heavily due to laws about what property churches could own. While Joseph’s name was on the land deeds for this property, it actually belonged to the Church. New arrivals to the city were asked to buy up that property so the Church could pay off its debts and finish building the temple.
This inadvertently hurt Law’s finances, because people wouldn’t defy the prophet and buy his property instead. And, once he was excommunicated, he was left with very few people willing to purchase his property at all.
Additionally, because they’d heard rumors of polygamy and “spiritual wifery” swirling around for a while and hadn’t yet been introduced to the doctrine by Joseph, Law along with William Marks and surprisingly, Hyrum Smith, had decided to bring the matter up at an upcoming General Conference in the spring of 1843. They wanted to give Joseph the chance to fully explain himself to the Saints. Hyrum had even spoken out against polygamy to the Saints earlier that spring.
But then Hyrum learned about the plural marriage revelation and immediately changed his mind about having Joseph explain it publicly. He was smart enough to see what persecution openly announcing that doctrine would bring. When Hyrum turned against their plan, Law took issue with it. He was very upset at what he saw as a betrayal. And when he finally learned of the doctrine himself, he was horrified. As mentioned, he’d spoken out publicly against John Bennett only the year before. It doesn’t appear that he believed the distinctions between Bennett’s corruption of the doctrine and Joseph’s revelation from God. He seems to have conflated them all as if they were the same thing.
Even so, he was considering accepting the practice because of the eternal marriage sealing. Other members of the Quorum and First Presidency were all being sealed to their spouses, and he wanted to be sealed to his wife. However, Joseph refused to seal the Laws and stated that he was “forbid” from doing so, which greatly embarrassed Law. The apparent reason for this, which Joseph was reluctant to share with Law’s wife Jane, was that Law had confessed to committing adultery to Hyrum shortly before when he was gravely ill. It seems there wasn’t a full repentance made yet, so the Lord forbade Joseph from sealing them. Whether that story is true or not, though, the fact remains that the Laws only partially agreed with the marriage covenant, and therefore, could not be sealed without very serious eternal consequences. That alone is enough to forbid the sealing.
What happened next depends on who you believe. William and Jane claimed that Joseph then went to Jane and told her she needed to be sealed to him instead, and Jane angrily refused.
Joseph claimed he went to check on her well-being, as William was out of town. Jane threw her arms around him and said that if she couldn’t be sealed to William, she should be sealed to Joseph instead. He refused, which made her angry so she lied to Law and told him that Joseph had tried to propose to her.
Complicating the matter still further, many years later Bathsheba W. Smith—the wife of George A. Smith, Joseph and Hyrum’s cousin—stated that she believed Jane and Joseph may have been sealed to try to smooth over hurt feelings. However, there are no records directly supporting this. There’s just a third-hand account from John Hawley repeating that Wilford Woodruff told him that Brigham Young told him he saw records showing that Joseph was sealed to Jane Law and the wives of Francis Higbee, Robert Foster, and Lyman Wight. Also, during Law’s excommunication hearing, another early Saint named Jack John Scott gave testimony that Joseph did eventually seal the Laws together, also trying to make amends. Again, no records support this.
Cook, the author of the main article used in reconstructing Law’s life, believes that most of it may be true: in 1843, Joseph refused to seal the Laws, Jane threw herself at Joseph, he refused, and then, to smooth things over, sealed them around Christmas. After William was excommunicated alongside Higbee, Foster, and Wight in 1844, Joseph was then sealed to their wives because the excommunications made their sealings void and he was concerned about the wives’ status in the eternities.
Regardless, whatever happened, it seems clear there were hard feelings between Joseph and the Laws over the sealing doctrine.
Law went to Joseph, insisted that plural marriage was of the Devil, and begged Joseph to admit it was false and renounce it. Joseph pleaded with him in return to accept it, because it did come from God and because of that, he couldn’t renounce it. Law refused. After that encounter, Law was removed from his calling with the First Presidency and shortly thereafter, excommunicated.
Law felt mistreated over these removals from calling and church membership. He thought they were illegal, as they didn’t follow the established protocol for removing a member of the First Presidency. Since he was called of God, he didn’t believe anybody could just take that away by voting on it. He requested and eventually received a second hearing, with the same result. Originally, he wanted that second hearing to be done at General Conference, but this was refused because one of Law’s main complaints was against the revelation that would later become D&C 132, which was not public knowledge yet. Instead, they scheduled a second, private hearing. Law claims he was told the wrong date for this hearing; other sources disagree. Either way, he wasn’t at the hearing and didn’t present his case, and was ultimately excommunicated for apostasy as a result.
Again, this is another area where if this was his only objection, I could see him having a point. They didn’tfollow the revealed pattern for removal and he didn’t present his case for why he should be allowed to stay in the Church membership. But there were extenuating circumstances that led to the unusual removal. The very sensitive nature of why he was being removed was a huge part of it. They couldn’t air that dirty laundry publicly at that time.
It seems that Law was hoping for a public trial so that he could expose the plural marriage doctrine to the public, and those who were already engaging in the practice felt the time wasn’t right to declare it openly. Tensions were high in the surrounding area, and we know from the end result exactly how catastrophic it was to announce it prematurely.
When Hyrum and Almon Babbitt met with Law to try to reconcile, his demand was that the church cease teaching plural marriage. They couldn’t agree to that, so they walked away. Sidney Rigdon then took a chance a few weeks later, after Law published the initial Prospectus announcing his paper. Of this meeting, Law later stated:
I told him that if they wanted peace they could have it on the following conditions: that Joseph Smith would acknowledge publicly that he had taught and practiced the doctrine of plurality of wives, that he brought a revelation supporting the doctrine, and that he should own the whole system (revelation and all) to be from Hell.
When Rigdon also refused to agree to that, Law published the Expositor. He was expecting the citizens of Nauvoo to revolt under what they had just learned, but they didn’t. They trusted Joseph and the other leaders, and saw Law as another bitter ex-Mormon who was attacking the Church he once used to belong to.
In the end, after Joseph and Hyrum were killed, Law stated that it was all “very shocking,” but continued:
…[Y]et, as they brought it upon themselves, and I used my influence to prevent any outrage even from the commencement of the excitement, believing that the Civil Law had power to expose iniquity, and punish the wicked. I say consequently I look on calmly and while the wicked slay the wicked I believe I can see the hand of a blasphemed God stretched out in judgement, the cries of innocence and virtue have ascended up before the throne of God, and he has taken sudden vengeance.
To me, this is a very cold response to the murders of people you used to consider close friends, especially when it was your own actions that led to their deaths. I can’t personally fathom having that response to hearing news like that.
“Smith made his visit to his wife in the middle of the night, when he knew her husband to be absent. Joseph had asked her to give him half her love; she was at liberty to keep the other half for her husband.” (Ann Eliza Young, Wife No. 19, 1876, p.61)
Most historians know by now to treat Ann Eliza Young Webb with caution. She was melodramatic and prone to embellishment, she passed along rumor and gossip as fact, and she was factually inaccurate on a myriad of details. That doesn’t mean she’s wrong about everything. She’s not. But we do need to be careful about what we believe from her if we can’t back it up with other sources.
This is a story without another source to back it up. Ann Eliza wasn’t born yet when these events supposedly took place, and the Laws didn’t move West with the Saints. The only other accounts I can find repeating these particular details about Jane giving half of her love to Joseph and keeping the other half for Law are sources repeating Ann Eliza’s account. I can’t find any record of Jane actually ever having said that.
After his excommunication William spoke out against Joseph’s practice of taking secret wives while Joseph continued to publicly imply that he had only one wife.
We addressed this a few weeks ago. William Law and his brother Wilson accused Joseph of flaunting an adulterous relationship with Maria Lawrence in public, and to openly admitting that he was committing adultery with her. When Joseph denied having more than one wife, he was responding to these specific allegations. Under Illinois law at the time, if Joseph didn’t admit to committing adultery or engaging in polygamy, and didn’t flaunt it in public, he wasn’t breaking the law.
William Law then started a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor. In print he spoke of the polygamous affairs of Joseph Smith. This led to an emergency session of the Nauvoo city council; of which Joseph was mayor.
Again, these were not affairs, they were sealings. Those are two very, very different things. And that isn’t all the Nauvoo Expositor talked about.
It began by saying that the authors were fearful of the “furious and turbulent storm of persecution” about to come down on them for what they were about to say, which is incredibly ironic considering what the aftermath was. The editors then asked God to give them strength and protect them from the wrath of, presumably, Joseph, the Twelve, and the city council. They added that they believed 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 claimed Joseph had “pretensions to righteousness” but was actually “pernicious and diabolical,” and taught “heretical and damnable” doctrines. The authors claimed they were only doing it for “the salvation of souls we desire and not our own aggrandizement.”
This is a tone they took 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 down to Hell. It’s all very self-righteous, and tries desperately to paint the authors as the ones suffering for their cause under God’s approval while being attacked by Joseph and the others on the city council.
It stated Joseph is “vicious” and practices “abominations and whoredoms” that are “not accordant and consonant with the principles of Jesus Christ and the Apostles.” It claimed the editors were “hazarding every earthly blessing, particularly property, and probably life itself, in striking this blow at tyranny and oppression.” The stated goal was to reform the church; they attempted to do that in private and were rebuffed, particularly by Joseph. The editors claimed 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 claimed 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, decided she had no choice but to give in and allow herself to be used, only to become pregnant and shipped off somewhere to either have the baby or have an abortion, it’s not entirely clear. When she came back, she was frail and defeated, and eventually died from the sorrow and shame. And this was supposedly a regular occurrence—those girls are referred to as “many orphans” who were the victims of all of this, leading lives of “misery and wretchedness” because of the evil influence of religion. They were “fatherless and motherless, destitute of friends and fortune; and robbed of that which nothing but death can restore.”
It stated that Joseph was 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 burned at the stake. And Joseph would be worse than that.
The editors complained again about their excommunication hearings, and then moved on to talking about the “false and damnable doctrines” they objected to. Then, they declared Joseph and Hyrum as apostates. They also claimed Joseph was a thief and that he was head of a secret combination in Nauvoo. There were affidavits swearing to plural marriage, and then they called Joseph an “obnoxious,” “self-aggrandizing” “despot” who was “subversive” and “dangerous,” and was leading a political charge to consolidate the government and utterly destroy “the rights of the old citizens of the county.” They called for “a radical reform in the city of Nauvoo, as the departure from moral rectitude, and the abuse of power, have become intolerable.” They also stated 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 objected to “the hostile spirit and conduct manifested by Joseph Smith and many of his associates towards Missouri,” which was “decidedly at variance with the true spirit of Christianity.” Remember, William Law never lived in Missouri and never went through the persecutions there. Yet, somehow, he comfortable claiming that it was unchristian to have hard feelings against people who murdered, raped, robbed, and persecuted the Saints until they were driven out of the state at gunpoint.
In another absurd commentary, they stated, “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 proceeded to do exactly that. They said, “Let our motto be, ‘Last in attack, but first in defense’; and the result cannot prove otherwise than honorable and satisfactory.”
The Expositor stated that Joseph had indictments against him for fornication, adultery, and perjury. The editors conveniently omitted admitting that they were the ones charging him with those crimes in the first place. It then said, “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 called 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 claimed that Joseph was “an enemy to your government,” and that he hoped “all governments are to be put down and the one established upon its ruins.” Joseph was 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 hoped the paper could “be a means of humbling the haughty miscreant who rules in that city and exposing his rank villainies.” The editors begged 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 hyperbolic and libelous. Immediately after its publication, another nearby paper, the Warsaw Signal owned by notorious anti-Mormon Thomas C. Sharp, which had already been railing against the Saints for years by this point, began using the Expositor “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 press a public nuisance and to remove public nuisances from their city.
There were three members of that council who were not Latter-day Saints, and two of them agreed with the rest of the council that this was a very dangerous situation and could not be allowed to continue. One, Sylvester Emmons, was one of the editors of the Expositor, so he obviously wasn’t at the meetings. The other two, Daniel Wells and Benjamin Warrington, were each present for both meetings.
The next day, Saturday, Joseph called a meeting of the City Council to investigate the Expositor and determine what action should be taken concerning it. All but one of the Council members who were in the city (several were away on missions or other Church business) attended this day-long meeting, including Daniel H. Wells and another non-Mormon member, Benjamin Warrington. Sylvester Emmons was absent, to no one’s surprise, as his name was listed on the Expositor’s front page as its editor. The Council immediately ordered that Emmons, who was not Mormon, be suspended until he could be investigated for slandering the City Council. The headed session did not end until after six in the evening, but no action was decided upon. As the next day was the Sabbath and not to be profaned by politics, the Council agreed to consider the matter further at its regular Monday meeting.
On Monday, June 10, the Council deliberated most of the day. Members heard many sworn witnesses testify to the immoral and criminal activities of those connected to the Expositor. The paper’s prospectus and some of the first issue were read into the record, and Council members and citizens spoke at length about their personal knowledge of the Laws, Fosters, Higbees, and others who had turned against the Church. Daniel did not speak; he saw no need after listening to fourteen of his colleagues make points that he agreed with, but he voted with the majority (only Councilor Warrington dissented) when a resolution was finally passed.
Warrington dissented, but only on the nature of the punishment:
One councilor, Benjamin Warrington, argued against the destruction, feeling a fine of $500 would suffice.
In this session Joseph ordered the printing press be destroyed.
“To the Marshal of said City, greeting.
You are here commanded to destroy the printing press from whence issues the Nauvoo Expositor, and pi the type of said printing establishment in the street, and burn all the Expositors and libelous handbills found in said establishment; and if resistance be offered to your execution of this order by the owners or others, demolish the house; and if anyone threatens you or the Mayor or the officers of the city, arrest those who threaten you, and fail not to execute this order without delay, and make due return hereon.
By order of the City Council, Joseph Smith, Mayor” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol.6, p.448)
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 expected. 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.
In his book, Carthage Conspiracy, Elder Dallin H. Oaks recounts the events of Joseph’s executive order.
“Joseph Smith, acting as mayor, ordered the city marshal to destroy the newspaper and press without delay and instructed the major general of the Nauvoo legion to have the militia assist. (Dallin H. Oaks, Carthage Conspiracy, p.15)
Yes. Great book, one I highly recommend. But don’t think it’s not obvious what Faulk is doing, trying to use the words of President Oaks in support of his argument against Joseph Smith. President Oaks wrote this book in defense of Joseph’s actions.
At 8pm that night the Nauvoo militia burned the Nauvoo Expositor to the ground.
No, this is disingenuous. No buildings were “burned to the ground.” The marshal and militia went to the building, removed the press and printing materials, took it into the street, destroyed it with a sledgehammer, and then burned it. The printing office was left alone.
“[Governor] Ford wrote Smith on the next day, denouncing the city’s proceedings as unlawful and demanding that those involved in the move against the ‘Expositor’ submit to the processes of the law at Carthage.” (Dallin H. Oaks, Carthage Conspiracy, p.16)
Yep. 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, according to Bentley, his bail was twice the maximum normal fee in order to keep in him town. He posted bail anyway and was on his way back out of town when he was rearrested and tried with treason. This was for calling for martial law and bringing out the Nauvoo Legion to protect the town. It 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.
Members have been taught that the times Joseph Smith spent incarcerated in jails were because Satan stirred up the hearts of men to falsely imprison him, yet nothing is ever said of actual crimes committed by Joseph and his followers.
Joseph didn’t commit any actual crimes in this regard. Polygamy was only illegal in Illinois if it was lived publicly or was publicly admitted to, which was not the case here. Destroying the printing press was legal, too. Destroying the printing type was a civil violation, not a criminal one. And Joseph had permission and, one could argue, orders to call out the militia and impose martial law on Nauvoo.
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….
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 charged with 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.
Joseph’s increasingly public acts of illegal polygamy, combined with the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor and rising tensions between the Nauvoo militia and the state of Illinois, cause his last incarceration.
Except that none of that was illegal, as we just went over.
The actions of Joseph Smith raise several troubling concerns.
Such as? I’m not personally concerned by any of it. I’ve made my peace with all of this a long time ago. Some of you reading this may not have. I would encourage you to pray about it, and to ask Heavenly Father to expand your mind and understanding so you can see why this all happened the way it did.
Why would the prophet begin taking wives 10 years before receiving the official revelation?
This timeline is inaccurate. Joseph married his first wife, Emma, in January of 1827. He received at least the first portions of the plural marriage revelation in 1831. That’s only four years, not ten.
He married his first plural wife, Fanny Alger, in late 1835, another four years later, and approximately one year after an angel told him to get on with it. He then began being sealed to other wives in 1841, and the revelation was written down in 1843. Even if you count writing down the revelation as the date it was first received, that’s still only eight years after marrying Fanny Alger.
Why did he send men on missions and marry their wives?
He didn’t. Even if we go by the earliest date of two conflicting ones, Joseph was sealed to Marinda Hyde closer to her husband’s return than his leaving, and Henry Jacobs wasn’t on a mission when Joseph was sealed to Zina Huntington Jacobs. And again, these were sealings for the next life, not marriages for this one.
Why did he marry girls as young as 14 when he was nearly 40?
Because the girl’s father requested it. Again, this was a sealing, and there is no evidence whatsoever of sexual relations in that union or those with his other younger wives. Helen Mar Kimball continued to live with her parents and there is no record of her ever even being alone with Joseph afterward.
As for Nancy Winchester, we only have two late-in-life recollections from people other than her that she was ever even sealed to Joseph. We don’t know exactly how old she would have been or when it would have taken place, but there is no record of any sexual activity happening in that union, either.
Why would his closest friends take such great issue with his actions?
Most of them didn’t. Only William Law did. The rest of Joseph’s closest friends all stood by him.
Why does Joseph try to hide these actions from his wife, Emma?
Because Emma struggled mightily with the doctrine and it had been the source of incredible conflict within their marriage and within her relationships with the other women involved.
And why did he react so violently to those that tried to make his actions public?
When did he react violently? When a newspaper called for his death and then the death of every Mormon in Nauvoo? By gathering together with the city council and voting over a series of two lengthy meetings in which they consulted legal books and lawyers? It wasn’t a violent reaction, it was a measured one, and it was made after duress.
Does polygamy seem to be truly ordained of God?
To me, yes it does. Heavenly Father answered my prayers on this subject two decades ago. He’ll answer yours too, if you only ask.
Sarah Allen is relatively new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. An avid reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her friends lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises. That’s when she began sharing what she’d 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.