Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormon America: The Power and the Promise/Chapter 1

Table of Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 1: Sealed with Blood"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, a work by author: Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling

Response to claims made in Mormon America "Chapter 1: Sealed with Blood"

Jump to Subtopic:


Response to claim: 3 - Joseph Smith organized the Council of Fifty to plan political future and had them anoint him “King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth"

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

April 11, 1844: Joseph Smith organized the Council of Fifty to plan political future and had them anoint him “King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth"

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event


Question: What was the Council of Fifty?

Joseph Smith received a revelation which called for the organization of a special council

On 7 April 1842, Joseph Smith received a revelation titled "The Kingdom of God and His Laws, With the Keys and Power Thereof, and Judgment in the Hands of His Servants, Ahman Christ," which called the for the organization of a special council separate from, but parallel to, the Church. Since its inception, this organization has been generally been referred to as "the Council of Fifty" because of its approximate number of members.

The Council of Fifty was designed to serve as something of a preparatory legislature in the Kingdom of God

Latter-day Saints believe that one reason the gospel was restored was to prepare the earth for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the Church was to bring about religious changes in the world, the Council of Fifty was intended to bring a political transformation. It was therefore designed to serve as something of a preparatory legislature in the Kingdom of God. Joseph Smith ordained the council to be the governing body of the world, with himself as chairman, Prophet, Priest, and King over the Council and the world (subject to Jesus Christ, who is "King of kings"[1]).

The Council was organized on 11 March 1844, at which time it adopted rules of procedure, including those governing legislation. One rule included instructions for passing motions:

To pass, a motion must be unanimous in the affirmative. Voting is done after the ancient order: each person voting in turn from the oldest to the youngest member of the Council, commencing with the standing chairman. If any member has any objections he is under covenant to fully and freely make them known to the Council. But if he cannot be convinced of the rightness of the course pursued by the Council he must either yield or withdraw membership in the Council. Thus a man will lose his place in the Council if he refuses to act in accordance with righteous principles in the deliberations of the Council. After action is taken and a motion accepted, no fault will be found or change sought for in regard to the motion.[2]

What is interesting about this rule is that it required each council member, by covenant, to voice his objections to proposed legislation. Those council members who dissented and could not be convinced to change their minds were to withdraw from the council, however, they would suffer no repercussions by doing so. Thus, full freedom of conscience was maintained by the council — not exactly the sort of actions a despot or tyrant would allow.

The Council never rose to the stature Joseph intended

Members (which included individuals that were not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) were sent on expeditions west to explore emigration routes for the Saints, lobbied the American government, and were involved in Joseph Smith's presidential campaign. But only three months after it was established, Joseph was killed, and his death was the beginning of the Council's end. Brigham Young used it as the Saints moved west and settled in the Great Basin, and it met annually during John Taylor's administration, but since that time the Council has not played an active role among the Latter-day Saints.


Question: Was Joseph Smith anointed to be "King over the earth" by the Council of Fifty?

Joseph was never anointed King over the earth in any political sense

Some people claim that Joseph Smith had himself anointed king over the whole world, and that this shows he was some sort of megalomaniac.

The Council of Fifty, while established in preparation for a future Millennial government under Jesus Christ (who is the King of Kings) was to be governed on earth during this preparatory period by the highest presiding ecclesiastical authority, which at the time was the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph had previously been anointed a King and Priest in the Kingdom of God by religious rites associated with the fullness of the temple endowment, and was placed as a presiding authority over this body in his most exalted position within the kingdom of God (as a King and a Priest).

Joseph was anointed as the presiding authority over an organization that was to prepare for the future reign of Jesus Christ during the Millennium

The fact that Joseph's prior anointing was referenced in his position as presiding authority over this body creates the confusion that he had been anointed King of the Earth. He was in fact only anointed as the presiding authority over an organization that was to prepare for the future reign of Jesus Christ during the Millennium. The fact that Joseph had submitted his name for consideration as President of the United States during this same period adds fodder for critics seeking to malign the character of the Prophet.


Response to claim: 10 - The temple rituals had many similarities to the Masonic rituals that the prophet had just learned

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

The temple rituals had many similarities to the Masonic rituals that the prophet had just learned.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources


Question: When did Joseph Smith demonstrate knowledge of the elements of the endowment ritual?

Joseph Smith knew of Nauvoo-era endowment ritual, phraseology, vestments, and theology at least a year before he ever became a Freemason

Critics have noted that Joseph's initiation into Freemasonry (15–16 March 1842) predates his introduction of the full temple endowment among the Saints (4 May 1842). They thus claim that Masonry was a necessary element for Joseph's self-generated "revelation" of the Nauvoo-era temple ceremonies.

But one LDS author draws attention to the fact that there is much more to the history of the endowment restoration than critics of the Church are willing to admit.

Plenty of evidence...is available that Joseph Smith had a detailed knowledge of the Nauvoo temple ceremonies long before he introduced them in May 1842 and long before he set foot inside a Masonic hall...While Joseph Smith was translating the book of Abraham from Egyptian papyri, he wrote a series of short explanations for three of the illustrations that accompanied his translation. The Prophet noted that in Facsimile 2, figures 3 and 7 were related in some manner to "the grand Key-words of the Holy Priesthood" and "the sign of the Holy Ghost." When he came to figure 8, he explained that this area on the Egyptian drawing contained "writings that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God."...

Other writers have used the Facsimile 2 material to sharpen the chronological argument against Joseph Smith. Facsimile 2 and its temple-related explanations were first printed in the 15 March 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons, the same day that the Prophet received the first of three Masonic initiation rites. Latter-day Saints have traditionally argued that this issue of the newspaper was published during the day while the Prophet's Masonic initiation did not occur until that evening. Thus Joseph Smith must have had temple knowledge before he had Masonic knowledge. But critics point out that the 15 March issue of the paper was not actually published until 19 March, several days after the Prophet witnessed the Masonic ceremonies.

This is where terminology becomes crucial. Some claim that the phrases employed by Joseph Smith in the Facsimile 2 explanations are Masonic and that it was not until several days after his Masonic induction that Joseph Smith "first spoke of 'certain key words and signs belonging to the priesthood.'" These critics assume the terms are necessarily "Masonic," yet it must be remembered that Freemasonry's rites are little more than borrowed baggage. Then what about the supposedly incriminating timing of these incidents? This is precisely the point at which the entire argument falls apart. On 5 May 1841 William Appleby paid a visit to Joseph Smith, who read to him the revelation on temple ordinances, now identified as Doctrine and Covenants 124, that was received 19 January 1841. After the two men discussed baptism for the dead, the Prophet got out his collection of Egyptian papyrus scrolls and, while exhibiting Facsimile 2, explained to Appleby that part of the drawing was related to "the Lord revealing the Grand key words of the Holy Priesthood, to Adam in the garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and to all whom the Priesthood was revealed."

It is also clear from Doctrine and Covenants 124 that Joseph Smith was well aware of the main ritual elements of the Nauvoo endowment ceremony at least as early as 19 January 1841. (See D&C :124.) [3]

The note from Appleby is found in his journal under the date of 5 May 1841, a little less than a year before Joseph's initiation into the Masonic Lodge at Nauvoo. [4] There is a great deal more historical evidence that the Prophet Joseph Smith knew of Nauvoo-era endowment ritual, phraseology, vestments, and theology long before he ever became a Freemason.

In evidence of this fact, we find that upon his initiation into Masonry Joseph Smith was already explaining things which the Masons themselves did not comprehend. According to one witness:

"the Prophet explained many things about the rites that even Masons do not pretend to understand but which he made most clear and beautiful." [5]


Question: Why would Joseph Smith incorporate Masonic elements into the temple ritual?

There are two aspects of temple worship: The teaching of the endowment, and the presentation of the endowment

In order to understand the relationship between the temple endowment and Freemasonry it is useful to consider the temple experience. In the temple, participants are confronted with ritual in a form which is unknown in LDS worship outside of that venue. In the view of some individuals the temple endowment is made up of two parts:

  1. The teachings of the endowment, i.e., the doctrines taught and the covenants made with God.
  2. The method of presenting the endowment, or the "ritual" mechanics themselves.

It is in the ritual presentation of the endowment teachings and covenants that the similarities between the LDS temple worship and Freemasonry are the most apparent. The question is, why would this be the case?

Joseph's challenge was to find a method of presenting the endowment that would be effective

It is the opinion of some people that in developing the endowment Joseph Smith faced a problem. He wished to communicate, in a clear and effective manner, some different (and, in some cases, complex) religious ideas. These included such abstract concepts as

  • the nature of creation (matter being organized and not created out of nothing)
  • humanity's relationship to God and to each other
  • eternal marriage and exaltation in the afterlife

The theory is that Joseph needed to communicate these ideas to a diverse population; some with limited educational attainments, many of whom were immigrants; several with only modest understanding of the English language; all of whom possessed different levels of intellectual and spiritual maturity—but who needed to be instructed through the same ceremony.

Ritual and repetition are important teaching tools

Joseph Smith's very brief experience with Freemasonry before the introduction of the full LDS endowment may have reminded him of the power of instruction through ritual and repetition. Some people believe that Joseph may have seized upon Masonic tools as teaching devices for the endowment's doctrines and covenants during the Nauvoo era. Other people are of the opinion that since these elements were previously present in the worship of the Kirtland Temple they were not 'borrowed' by the Prophet at all.

Regardless, the use of symbols was characteristic of Joseph Smith's era; it was not unique to him or Masonry:

Symbols on buildings, in literature, stamped on manufactured goods, etc. were not endemic to Mormons and Masons but were common throughout all of mid-nineteenth century American society (as even a cursory inspection of books, posters, buildings and photos of the periods will bear out.) So, assuming [Joseph] Smith felt a need to communicate specific principles to his Saints, he might naturally develop a set of easily understood symbols as were already in familiar use about him. [6]


Response to claim: 12 - Disagreement between Joseph Smith and John C. Bennett was “their competition for nineteen-year-old Nancy Rigdon as plural wife...Smith excommunicated Bennett"

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

1842: Disagreement between Joseph Smith and John C. Bennett was “their competition for nineteen-year-old Nancy Rigdon as plural wife...Smith excommunicated Bennett."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader


Response to claim: 13 - The Council of Fifty was formed as a theocratic policymaking body “shadow government”

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

On March 11, 1844, the Council of Fifty was formed as a theocratic policymaking body “shadow government” (Flanders – RLDS historian) that functioned sporadically in Utah into the 1870’s.

Author's sources:
  1. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 127-128, 643.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Council of Fifty wasn't a "shadow government." It was designed to serve as something of a preparatory legislature in the Kingdom of God


Question: What was the Council of Fifty?

Joseph Smith received a revelation which called for the organization of a special council

On 7 April 1842, Joseph Smith received a revelation titled "The Kingdom of God and His Laws, With the Keys and Power Thereof, and Judgment in the Hands of His Servants, Ahman Christ," which called the for the organization of a special council separate from, but parallel to, the Church. Since its inception, this organization has been generally been referred to as "the Council of Fifty" because of its approximate number of members.

The Council of Fifty was designed to serve as something of a preparatory legislature in the Kingdom of God

Latter-day Saints believe that one reason the gospel was restored was to prepare the earth for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the Church was to bring about religious changes in the world, the Council of Fifty was intended to bring a political transformation. It was therefore designed to serve as something of a preparatory legislature in the Kingdom of God. Joseph Smith ordained the council to be the governing body of the world, with himself as chairman, Prophet, Priest, and King over the Council and the world (subject to Jesus Christ, who is "King of kings"[7]).

The Council was organized on 11 March 1844, at which time it adopted rules of procedure, including those governing legislation. One rule included instructions for passing motions:

To pass, a motion must be unanimous in the affirmative. Voting is done after the ancient order: each person voting in turn from the oldest to the youngest member of the Council, commencing with the standing chairman. If any member has any objections he is under covenant to fully and freely make them known to the Council. But if he cannot be convinced of the rightness of the course pursued by the Council he must either yield or withdraw membership in the Council. Thus a man will lose his place in the Council if he refuses to act in accordance with righteous principles in the deliberations of the Council. After action is taken and a motion accepted, no fault will be found or change sought for in regard to the motion.[8]

What is interesting about this rule is that it required each council member, by covenant, to voice his objections to proposed legislation. Those council members who dissented and could not be convinced to change their minds were to withdraw from the council, however, they would suffer no repercussions by doing so. Thus, full freedom of conscience was maintained by the council — not exactly the sort of actions a despot or tyrant would allow.

The Council never rose to the stature Joseph intended

Members (which included individuals that were not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) were sent on expeditions west to explore emigration routes for the Saints, lobbied the American government, and were involved in Joseph Smith's presidential campaign. But only three months after it was established, Joseph was killed, and his death was the beginning of the Council's end. Brigham Young used it as the Saints moved west and settled in the Great Basin, and it met annually during John Taylor's administration, but since that time the Council has not played an active role among the Latter-day Saints.


Response to claim: 13 - Joseph Smith was anointed “King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth"

The author(s) of MormonAmerica make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith was anointed “King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth."

Author's sources:
  1. D. Michael Quinn, April 11, 1844.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph was never anointed King over the earth in any political sense.


Question: Was Joseph Smith anointed to be "King over the earth" by the Council of Fifty?

Joseph was never anointed King over the earth in any political sense

Some people claim that Joseph Smith had himself anointed king over the whole world, and that this shows he was some sort of megalomaniac.

The Council of Fifty, while established in preparation for a future Millennial government under Jesus Christ (who is the King of Kings) was to be governed on earth during this preparatory period by the highest presiding ecclesiastical authority, which at the time was the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph had previously been anointed a King and Priest in the Kingdom of God by religious rites associated with the fullness of the temple endowment, and was placed as a presiding authority over this body in his most exalted position within the kingdom of God (as a King and a Priest).

Joseph was anointed as the presiding authority over an organization that was to prepare for the future reign of Jesus Christ during the Millennium

The fact that Joseph's prior anointing was referenced in his position as presiding authority over this body creates the confusion that he had been anointed King of the Earth. He was in fact only anointed as the presiding authority over an organization that was to prepare for the future reign of Jesus Christ during the Millennium. The fact that Joseph had submitted his name for consideration as President of the United States during this same period adds fodder for critics seeking to malign the character of the Prophet.


Response to claim: 16 - Joseph "could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism’s earthly king"

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

Quinn re. Expositor: “He could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism’s earthly king.”

Author's sources:
  1. the authors are quoting the opinion of another author, D. Michael Quinn

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is simply hyperbole on the part of the author.


Question: Was the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor legal?

The destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor led directly to the murder of Joseph and Hyrum

It is claimed by one critic of the Church that Joseph "could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism’s earthly king." [9] Another claimed that "When the Laws (with others) purchased a printing press in an attempt to hold Joseph Smith accountable for his polygamy (which he was denying publicly), Joseph ordered the destruction of the printing press, which was both a violation of the 1st Amendment, and which ultimately led to Joseph’s assassination." [10]

The Expositor incident led directly to the murder of Joseph and Hyrum, but it was preceded by a long period of non-Mormon distrust of Joseph Smith, and attempts to extradite him on questionable basis.

The destruction of the Expositor issue was legal; it was not legal to have destroyed the type, but this was a civil matter, not a criminal one, and one for which Joseph was willing to pay a fine if imposed.

Joseph seems to have believed—or, his followers believed after his death—that the decision, while 'unwise' for Joseph, may have been in the Saints' interest to have Joseph killed. For a time, this diffused much of the tension and may have prevented an outbreak of generalized violence against the Saints, as occurred in Missouri.

The destruction of the first issue was legal, but it was not legal to destroy the printer's type

It is claimed that "When the Laws (with others) purchased a printing press in an attempt to hold Joseph Smith accountable for his polygamy (which he was denying publicly), Joseph ordered the destruction of the printing press, which was both a violation of the 1st Amendment, and which ultimately led to Joseph’s assassination." [11]

The destruction of the Expositor issue (i.e., the paper itself) was legal; it was not legal to have destroyed the type, but this was a civil matter, not a criminal one, and one for which Joseph was willing to pay a fine if imposed.

Joseph did not unilaterally order the action against the Expositor—it was the Nauvoo City Council (which included non-Mormons) which reached the unanimous decision. Having reached that decision, Joseph Smith then issued an order, as mayor, to carry out the Council's decision. As described in the Church's 2011 Priesthood/Relief Society manual:

On June 10, 1844, Joseph Smith, who was the mayor of Nauvoo, and the Nauvoo city council ordered the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor and the press on which it was printed. [12]

History of the Church also describes this event [13]:

I [Joseph Smith] immediately ordered the Marshal to destroy it [the Nauvoo Expositor] without delay, and at the same time issued an order to Jonathan Dunham, acting Major-General of the Nauvoo Legion, to assist the Marshal with the Legion, if called upon so to do." [14]

The First Amendment is irrelevant to this discussion. In 1844, the First Amendment only applied to federal law; it had no application to state or local law until the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War.


Question: What caused William Law to apostatize from the Church and turn against Joseph Smith?

William Law in 1836: "I assure you I have found [Joseph Smith] honest and honourable in all our transactions which have been very considerable"

A Canadian, William Law joined the Church in 1836 and moved to Nauvoo in 1839. After having lived near Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, William wrote to a friend:

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 who ever is guiltless throw the first stone at him, I shant do it.[15]

William Law in 1844: "I cannot fellowship the abominations which I verily know are practiced by this man [Joseph]"

8 January 1844
William Law released as Second Counselor in the First Presidency; Joseph Smith noted that William “was injuring him by telling evil of him…” William considered his release to be “illegal,” since he had been called “by revelation,” but wrote “I cannot fellowship the abominations which I verily know are practiced by this man [Joseph], consequently I am glad to be free from him."[16]


One of William’s key concerns seems to have revolved around plural marriage

His non-member son, Richard, later recounted:

About the year 1842, he was present at an interview between his father and the Prophet Joseph. The topic under discussion was the doctrine of plural marriage. William Law, with his arms around the neck of the Prophet, was pleading with him to withdraw the doctrine of plural marriage, which he had at that time commenced to teach to some of the brethren, Mr. Law predicting that if Joseph would abandon the doctrine, 'Mormonism' would, in fifty or one hundred years, dominate the Christian world. Mr. Law pleaded for this with Joseph with tears streaming from his eyes. The Prophet was also in tears, but he informed the gentleman that he could not withdraw the doctrine, for God had commanded him to teach it, and condemnation would come upon him if he was not obedient to the commandment.

During the discussion, Joseph was deeply affected. Mr. Richard S. Law says the interview was a most touching one, and was riveted upon his mind in a manner that has kept it fresh and distinct in his memory, as if it had occurred but yesterday.

Mr. Law also says, that he has no doubt that Joseph believed he had received the doctrine of plural marriage from the Lord. The Prophet's manner being exceedingly earnest, so much so, that Mr. Law was convinced that the Prophet was perfectly sincere in his declaration.[17]

William Law was excommunicated

18 April 1844
William Law excommunicated. Austin Cowles of the Nauvoo high council, James Blakeslee, Charles G. Foster, and Francis M. Higbee joined him in leaving the Church, and he was supported in his opposition to Joseph by his brother Wilson.[18] They announced the formation of a ‘reform’ Church based upon Joseph’s teachings up to 1838, with William as president.

William even decided that Joseph Smith’s opposition to Missouri (and the treatment the Saints had received there) was “unChristian"!

The hostile spirit and conduct manifested by Joseph Smith, and many of his associates towards Missouri . . . are decidedly at variance with the true spirit of Christianity, and should not be encouraged by any people, much less by those professing to be the ministers of the gospel of peace.[19]

Williams had financial quarrels with Joseph

William had economic quarrels with Joseph, and was probably too fond of his own financial state, rather than helping the poor of the Church. William and his brother Wilson had bought the higher land on the outskirts of Nauvoo; the Church (through Joseph) owned the land in the river bottom. Joseph declared that new arrivals should purchase lands from the Church (this was in part an effort to help liquidate the Church’s debts), but William objected to this plan as prejudicial to his own financial interests.[20]

Hyrum presented Law and his wife with the revelation on plural marriage, which affected Law greatly

William was probably also troubled by the death of his wife and daughter even after Church leaders had prayed for them. Hyrum presented Law and his wife with the revelation on plural marriage. Long after the fact, William reported his reaction:

Hyrum gave it [the revelation] to me in his office, told me to take it home and read it, and then be careful with it, and bring it back again…[My wife Jane] and I were just turned upside down by it…We did not know what to do.[21]

Law ultimately called Joseph a "demon"

It is not clear whether Jane and William Law were ever sealed. Alexander Neibaur and Hyrum Smith both reported that Joseph told William he could not seal him to Jane because the Lord forbade it; Neibaur indicated that this was because William was “a Adulterous person.”[22] There is no evidence of this other than Neibaur's statement however.

In the clash that followed, William began “casting the first stone,” at Joseph’s supposed failings, and the man which he had once admired as honourable and without cause for complaint became, in his newspaper, a “demon,” a power-mad tyrant, a seducer, and someone who contributed to the early death of young women.


Question: Did Joseph Smith or his associates attempt to reconcile with William Law before he published the Nauvoo Expositor?

Prior to the publication of the Expositor, Hyrum Smith, Almon W. Babbitt, and Sidney Rigdon attempted to reconcile William Law to the Church

William Law announced he would reconcile only under the condition that Joseph publicly state that the practice of polygamy was "from Hell":

I told him [Sidney] that if they wanted peace they could have it on the following conditions, That Joseph Smith would acknowledge publicly that he had taught and practised 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.[23]

The Nauvoo Expositor declared that Joseph was "“blood thirsty and murderous...demon...in human shape”

Shortly afterward, on 7 June 1844, the first (and only) edition of the Nauvoo Expositor was published. It detailed Joseph’s practice of plural marriage, and charged him with various crimes, labeling him a “blood thirsty and murderous...demon...in human shape” and “a syncophant, whose attempt for power find no parallel in history...one of the blackest and basest scoundrels that has appeared upon the stage of human existence since the days of Nero, and Caligula.”[24]


Question: How was the decision reached to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor?

Destruction of Expositor

8 June 1844
Nauvoo city council meets regarding the Expositor.
10 June 1844
The city council declares the Expositor a public nuisance and threat to the peace. This was not mere exaggeration; there were sixteen episodes of mob violence against controversial newspapers in Illinois from 1832 to 1867, and so the leaders’ fears of civil unrest were likely well-founded. The city council therefore ordered the press and the paper destroyed.[25]
This was done. The decision to suppress the Expositor, while legal for the day, worsened a tense situation (in the years following the Expositor suppression, similar tactics would be used in 1862, 1893, 1918, and 1927).[26]
Historically, presses which violated community ideas of what was proper were a genuine risk to the public peace. Elijah Lovejoy, an anti-slavery editor of The Saint Louis Observer was killed by a pro-slavery mob in 1837.[27]
Joseph and the city council might well have had memories of what happened in Missouri when some members of the Church became frustrated with the lack of legal redress for their mistreatment by Missouri citizens.
Missouri probably also set the stage for the legal decision to suppress the press. In 1833, the Evening and Morning Star, the LDS paper in Independence, was subject to being "razed to the ground" at the unanimous decision of the mob committee established to drive out the Mormons.[28] The mob's ultimatum later stipulated that the Mormons were not to publish anything before leaving.[29]
The law of the day probably gave Joseph and the council the right to destroy the offending issue; however, since they had also ordered the press and type destroyed, they violated property laws. Joseph later said he would be happy to pay for the damages.[30] Critics are inconsistent when they complain about the Nauvoo city council's decision to suppress the Expositor (an action that was legal) and yet do not also acknowledge that Mormon presses had been destroyed by mobs acting with no legal authority whatever.
Despite the fact that the Expositor's suppression was legal, the destruction of the press appeared high-handed to Church critics, and other newspapers began to call for the Mormons’ expulsion or destruction. Joseph and others were arrested on charges of “riot.”


Response to claim: 16 - "With the backing of his Council, Smith ordered that the new press be smashed"

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: With the backing of his Council, Smith ordered that the new press be smashed and all possible copies of the press run destroyed.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The statement is structured by the authors to lead the reader to an incorrect, and more sinister, conclusion. See Quote manipulation

D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 645.


Question: Why did the Nauvoo City Council feel it was necessary to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor?

One member recorded that Joseph told him that the destruction of the press was necessary for the Saints’ safety

It is claimed that Joseph "could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism’s earthly king." [31]

The reality was that the Joseph and the City Council were concerned that the paper would cause turmoil among the Saints.

One member stated,

Brother Joseph called a meeting at his own house and told us that God showed to him in an open vision in daylight [meaning that this was not something he had just conjured up in dreams of the night] that if he did not destroy that printing press that it would cause the blood of the Saints to flow in the streets and by this was that evil destroyed.[32]

Joseph foresaw his own death as a result of the turmoil that was already occurring

Given Joseph’s numerous presentiments of his own death, it may well be that he knowingly chose this course of action to spare the members’ lives at the cost of his own. Said Joseph to Elizabeth Rollins:

I must seal my testimony with my blood.[33]

And later:

Some has supposed that Br Joseph Could not die but this is a mistake it is true their has been times when I have had the promise of my life to accomplish such & such things, but having accomplish those things I have not at present any lease of my life I am as liable to die as other men.[34]


Response to claim: 17 - Someone slipped a six-shooter into Joseph Smith's jail cell that he later fired into the attacking mob

The author(s) of Mormon America make(s) the following claim:

Someone slipped a six-shooter into Joseph Smith's jail cell that he later fired into the attacking mob.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct, and is documented in the History of the Church. Joseph wounded three people in the attacking mob as they attempted to break through the door.


Question: Is it possible that Joseph Smith is not a martyr because, while in jail, he had a gun and he had the temerity to defend himself?

Joseph and Hyrum were martyrs by the accepted definition of the term—they suffered death for their beliefs

It seems clear that:

  1. Joseph and Hyrum were martyrs by the accepted definition of the term—they suffered death for their beliefs. (Note that martyrs can die for worthy or ignoble causes, but this makes them no less martyrs.)
  2. The Church has not hidden this fact, but published it from the beginning and includes it in the History of the Church twice.
  3. Joseph was not guilty of murder, because no one died from his shots, and his actions would have been justifiable as self-defense and defense of others even if deaths had resulted.

Critics of Joseph Smith redefine the term "martyr"

In order to make their argument tenable, the critics must do three things. First, they must take some creative liberties with the English language. In this case, the word being redefined is the term martyr. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines a "martyr" as

“a person who chooses to suffer or die rather than give up his faith or his principles.”[35]

The online resource, Dictionary.com, defines a martyr as

“one who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce religious principles.”[36]

Both are nearly identical and fairly standard definitions, and neither includes a requirement or qualifiers of any sort. However, some anti-Mormon writers have taken the term martyr and subtly changed its definition to suit their own needs. The new definition would probably read something like this: Martyr: a person who chooses to suffer or die rather than give up his faith or his principles without any resistance or effort at self-defense on his part whatsoever.

Critics are free to use such a definition, but it belongs to them alone; it is not the standard use of the word, and not what Church members mean when they refer to the "martyrdom" of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage.

Throughout Christian history, "martyrs" have been understood to be those who suffered quietly, and those who resisted, even with violence, and even to the death of those who persecuted them for their beliefs.

The first anti-Mormon argument thus focuses on the fact that Joseph had a firearm and that he used that firearm to defend himself. Is it possible that Joseph's announcement that he was going “as a lamb to the slaughter” is false, since he fought back?

Anyone who has ever worked on a farm or in a slaughterhouse knows that sheep do not go willingly to the slaughter. They kick and buck, bleat, scream, and make every attempt to escape their fate. In fact, they make such a haunting sound, that the title of an extremely popular Hollywood film was based on it: The Silence of the Lambs. The term “lamb to the slaughter” simply refers to the inevitability of the final outcome. No matter how valiantly they struggle, the fate of the sheep is sealed. If we apply this understanding to Joseph Smith and his brother, it is clear that they truly were slaughtered like lambs. Fight as they might, they were doomed.

Ensign (June 2013): 40, shows Joseph with the pepperbox pistol he would fire to defend himself and others prior to his murder.


Question: Is it true that Joseph killed two men by firing at the mob?

The attackers who were hit by Joseph were not killed (as was first reported in some Church publications) but only wounded

Joseph fired his gun six times (only three shots discharged) and he hit two of the mobbers, which John Taylor later mistakenly stated had died. Was Joseph a murderer?

Joseph's actions were clearly self-defense and defense of others under the common law. However, this point is moot since the attackers who were hit were not killed (as was first reported in some Church publications) but only wounded. They were alive and well at the trial held for mob leaders, and were identified by witnesses. Their good health allowed them to receive gifts because of their role in the assault on Joseph, Hyrum, and the other prisoners.

According to Dallin Oaks and Marvin Hill:

Wills, Voras, and Gallaher were probably named in the indictment because their wounds, which testimony showed were received at the jail, were irrefutable evidence that they had participated in the mob. They undoubtedly recognized their vulnerability and fled the county. A contemporary witness reported these three as saying that they were the first men at the jail, that one of them shot through the door killing Hyrum, that Joseph wounded all three with his pistol, and that Gallaher shot Joseph as he ran to the window.[Hay, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," 675] According to Hay, Wills, whom the Mormon prophet had shot in the arm, was an Irishman who had joined the mob from “his congenital love of a brawl.”[Statement of Jeremiah Willey, August 13, 1844, Brigham Young correspondence, Church Archives.] Gallaher was a young man from Mississippi who was shot in the face.[Hay, "The Mormon Prophet's Tragedy," 669, 675. Another source says Wills was a former Mormon elder who had left the Church. Davis, An Authentic Account, 24.] Hay described Voras (Voorhees) as a “half-grown hobbledehoy from Bear Creek” whom Joseph shot in the shoulder. The citizens of Green Plains were said to have given Gallaher and Voras new suits of clothes for their parts in the killing.[Statement of Jeremiah Willey, August 13, 1844][37]


Question: Has the Church hidden the fact that Joseph fired a gun while in Carthage Jail?

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not aware of all the excruciatingly minute details of the history of the Church

Mob fires at Joseph Smith in the upper window at Carthage Jail.

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and this is especially true of new members or less-active members) are not aware of all the excruciatingly minute details of the history of the Church. It has become a common tactic among some anti-Mormon aficionados of Mormon history to use this historical ignorance as a weapon. These writers often claim to “expose” these minor events of Church history in a sensationalistic attempt to shock members of the Church with “hidden” revelations or “secret” accounts about various episodes in Church history. They will often claim that the Church has kept this knowledge under wraps for fear that if it was generally known it would cause many members of the Church to immediately renounce their faith and result in the ruination of the Church.

Joseph's attempt to defend himself using the gun is clearly described in History of the Church

Unfortunately for the critics, Joseph's attempt to defend himself, his brother, and his friends, and his possession of a pepperbox gun, is clearly spelled out in the History of the Church:

In the meantime Joseph, Hyrum, and Elder Taylor had their coats off. Joseph sprang to his coat for his six-shooter, Hyrum for his single barrel, Taylor for Markham's large hickory cane, and Dr. Richards for Taylor's cane. All sprang against the door, the balls whistled up the stairway, and in an instant one came through the door.

Joseph Smith, John Taylor and Dr. Richards sprang to the left of the door, and tried to knock aside the guns of the ruffians...

Joseph reached round the door casing, and discharged his six shooter into the passage, some barrels missing fire. Continual discharges of musketry came into the room. Elder Taylor continued parrying the guns until they had got them about half their length into the room, when he found that resistance was vain, and he attempted to jump out of the window, where a ball fired from within struck him on his left thigh, hitting the bone, and passing through to within half an inch of the other side. He fell on the window sill, when a ball fired from the outside struck his watch in his vest pocket, and threw him back into the room.[38]

The next volume of the History of the Church tells the story from John Taylor's point of view:

I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, 'Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!' He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged.[39]

If the Church wished to hide these facts, why did they publish them in the History of the Church not once, but twice?


Notes

  1. See 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16
  2. Andrew F. Ehat, "'It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth': Joseph Smith and the Constitution of the Kingdom of God," Brigham Young University Studies 20 no. 3 (1980), 260-61.
  3. Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site (citations omitted)
  4. William I. Appleby Journal, 5 May 1841, MS 1401 1, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  5. Horace H. Cummings, "True Stories from My Journal," The Instructor 64 no. 8 (August 1929), 441.; cited in Matthew B. Brown, "Of Your Own Selves Shall Men Arise, Review of The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship by David John Buerger," FARMS Review of Books 10/1 (1998): 97–131. off-site
  6. Allen D. Roberts, "Where are the All-Seeing Eyes?," Sunstone 4 no. (Issue #5) (May 1979), 26. off-site off-site(emphasis added)
  7. See 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16
  8. Andrew F. Ehat, "'It Seems Like Heaven Began on Earth': Joseph Smith and the Constitution of the Kingdom of God," Brigham Young University Studies 20 no. 3 (1980), 260-61.
  9. Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, (New York:HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), 16. ( Index of claims )
  10. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  11. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  12. "Chapter 46: The Martyrdom: The Prophet Seals His Testimony with His Blood," Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (2011), 528–40.
  13. It should be noted that History of the Church was begun after Joseph's death, and was written in the "first person," as if Joseph himself had written it. For further information on this, see Question: Who is the author of ''History of the Church''?
  14. History of the Church, 6:432. Volume 6 link
  15. William Law to Isaac Russell, 29 November 1840, Archives Division, Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), 11; cited by Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1997), 173.
  16. William Law, "Record of Doings at Nauvoo in 1844" (William Law's Nauvoo diary), as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), 46; cited by Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1997), 176.
  17. Joseph W. McMurrin, "An Interesting Testimony / Mr. Law’s Testimony," Improvement Era (May 1903), 507–510.
  18. Wilson may or may not have been a member. He was not a member when he came to Nauvoo, but is later mentioned as having been “excommunicated.” We have no record of his baptism.
  19. Nauvoo Expositor, “Resolution 4”, (7 June 1844): 2; cited in Lyndon W. Cook, "William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter," Brigham Young University Studies 22 no. 1 (Fall 1982), 47–72.
  20. Cook, "Nauvoo Dissenter."
  21. Dr. W. Wyl interview with William Law in Shullsburg, Wisconsin, 30 March 1887, published in The Salt Lake Daily Tribune, 31 July 1887, 6; cited by Cook, "Nauvoo Dissenter"
  22. See Cook, "Nauvoo Dissenter."
  23. William Law, "Record of Doings at Nauvoo in 1844," 13 May 1844; cited by Cook, "Nauvoo Dissenter"
  24. Francis M. Higbee, “Citizens of Hancock County,” Nauvoo Expositor (7 June 1844).
  25. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor,” Utah Law Review 9 (1965):874.  (Key source)
  26. Oaks, 897–898.
  27. "Today in History, November 7," United States Library of Congress. off-site
  28. Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1922), 134. See also Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:390–395. Volume 1 link; Anonymous, "A History, of the Persecution, of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints in Missouri," Times and Seasons 1 no. 2 (December 1839), 18. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  29. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:338–339. Volume 1 link
  30. James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2nd edition revised and enlarged, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1992[1976]), 208. ISBN 087579565X. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  31. Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, (New York:HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), 16. ( Index of claims )
  32. Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), 114; citing Diary of George Laub, BYU Special Collections, 18.
  33. Journal of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, BYU Special Collections, 7; cited by Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), 103.
  34. Joseph Smith, Discourse of 9 April 1842, Wilford Woodruff Diary; cited in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 112.
  35. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition (New York: World Publishing Company, 1970), 870.
  36. Dictionary.com website, s.v. "martyr."(accessed May 7, 2003).
  37. Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy, the Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1979), 52. ISBN 025200762X.
  38. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:617–618. Volume 6 link
  39. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 7:102–103. Volume 7 link