Question: Was the destruction of the ''Nauvoo Expositor'' legal?

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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." [1] 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." [2]

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." [3]

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. [4]

History of the Church also describes this event [5]:

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." [6]

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.

Notes

  1. Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, (New York:HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), 16. ( Index of claims )
  2. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  3. John Dehlin, "Questions and Answers," Mormon Stories Podcast (25 June 2014).
  4. "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.
  5. 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''?
  6. History of the Church, 6:432. Volume 6 link