The topic that I discussed with Scott to talk about comes from the newly released Council of Fifty notes. As many of you know, the Joseph Smith Papers and the Church History Department, just recently, several months ago, published the annotated minutes from the Nauvoo era. There are all kinds of insights into early Mormon history, as well as late Nauvoo and early Brigham Young history that we get from those minutes. If you haven’t had a chance to look at them, it really is a powerful, powerful source for people who are interested in history
One of the reasons why is we rarely get to have from this period of Mormon history a kind of direct discussion that is kept the entire time they are having it. Often you are getting sometimes some highlights of a discussion, or you are getting what someone kept down as notes, but because William Clayton kept pretty good notes on what he was doing, you actually get to see a little bit of what their fears and what their concerns were, and what their angst [is].
One of the things that we get out of these documents that have never before been public, we have things that they discuss and say, and teachings that they present that have never been public before either. So I thought that might be of at least some interest to you and if I do a bad enough job Dan bats cleanup anyway and you can still leave here feeling good.
The Council of Fifty originates in early 1844, and for those of you who are really familiar with this period of Mormon history [for someone who studies it for a very long time just assumes that everyone is really familiar with it, because you study it all the time], but this is after Joseph Smith has declared himself to be a candidate for President of the United States. In 1843, Joseph has grown increasingly disenchanted with the political parties of the day. I am sure you are all familiar with Joseph’s visit to DC to try to get a redress of grievances from Martin Van Buren and from the Congress and the various petitions that they signed.
By mid-1842 Joseph seemed to be gravitating towards the Whig party, and the Whig party candidate, Henry Clay. Clay was a very well-known politician, the Great Compromiser, and he was seen as someone who was willing to defend the rights of the minority. I think Joseph had really put a lot of eggs into his basket. At any rate he decided to abandon the Democratic Party, I know it’s really hard to believe ,but almost every Mormon in the 1830s and ‘40s was a Democrat. This movement away is captured a little bit, you see a little bit of Joseph’s angst, in probably the greatest quote ever given by Joseph Smith, but also the one that now all of you are going to misuse in a High Priest Group. As he was giving this interview to David Nye Wyler of the Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette he says:
I have sworn by the eternal gods that I will never vote for another Democrat again; and I intend to swear my children, putting their hands under the thigh, as Abraham swore Isaac, that they will never vote a Democratic ticket in all their generations. It is the meanest lowest party in all creation…the lowest, most tyrannical beings in the world. They opposed me in Missouri, and were going to shoot me for treason, and I had never committed any treason whatever.
The Prairies, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons &c
(The Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, September 15, 1843)
Again, now you are going to take that out of context and abuse it!
You kind of get an idea of how disenchanted Joseph has become with the leadership of the Democratic Party, and he has written letters to all of the declared Presidential candidates, or all the people who think they might be running. It is hard to believe that their system for selecting a Presidential candidate was even more chaotic and difficult than ours. They simply had state delegations send people to a convention, and then they would argue and bribe and feed people whiskey to try to get votes on the convention floor. You never really knew who was going to be running.
Joseph wrote to all the people that had at least expressed interest in running, or people who thought they were running, and one by one by one, they all responded back to him—not all of them, but the ones that did respond—told him that they would not help the Mormons at all if they were to be elected. Finally one of the ones he received was from Henry Clay. So Joseph goes from thinking he could support Henry Clay as a candidate for President, and Henry Clay said in a very high-minded way, very sympathetic, “Oh, I felt so badly to see what has happened to your people, but as President there is nothing I could possibly do to help you out.”
After this, Joseph Smith will declare himself to be a candidate for President, earning him the undying hatred of both the Whigs and Democrats, so it probably wasn’t the best move politically for the Mormons. But it is in this context that Joseph is going to create the Council of Fifty. He has already declared himself a candidate for President, but at the same time, he knows that the Church is unlikely to find respite anywhere in the United States.
In many ways, the Church is looking to leave the United States because they believe American democracy has failed them. They have been in multiple places, and everywhere they go, the very fact of their presence, their power, their political nature, their crazy religious ideas, are going to lead to opposition, and that opposition is at times violent and difficult.
In his declaration of his Views for Presidency we find some odd aspects of it. One of the most interesting is he states in the beginning of it, in the second paragraph, he makes an attack against slavery in the United States, which you would think is a pretty common thing in 19th century America. We think [that in] 19th century America the only thing they ever talk about is slavery. But it is not actually a major issue among most political parties. After 1820 it is rarely discussed on the national scene.
You can see this in the 1844 election selection. The two candidates they end up with is Henry Clay, a slave owner from Kentucky, and James Polk, a slave owner from Tennessee. Clearly no one is taking a very strong stance on this. Some newspapers look at Joseph and attack him for being an abolitionist for speaking out against slavery in this way.
As part of their discussions about pushing the Presidential campaign forward, and looking for a place where they might find respite, this is how the Council of Fifty is going to be organized, and how this record is going to be kept. I want to share with you some insights from it and some teachings that come from it. I will try to leave some time for some questions, although I guess if you run out of time for questions, you can run off the stage and no one knows you don’t know anything.
One of the things I found very interesting in the Council of Fifty is because they are talking about this Council and how a council should function, it actually gives us a little bit of an insight into at least what Joseph Smith believed of the proper function of a council.
How should a council function? In Mormonism today you might be aware that councils still exist. So maybe this is some good insight that we might be interested in. As I am quoting from this, some of this will be in first person, and some will be in third person, because William Clayton will at times be writing in first person for the person speaking, and then switch to third person, so I am not as schizophrenic as I seem.
Joseph first declared of the Council that he wanted everyone in the Council to speak their mind, exactly what they thought of any subject. And if they didn’t, he would consider them no better than dough heads. For Joseph, he believes that the whole point of having a council is that people are actually going to speak their mind, and say what it is that they think. If you are not going to speak your mind there is no point in having a council in the first place. The whole point is to be able to speak your mind.
He will later go on to say that once the Council has made its decision, that you should respect it. If you have a problem with the idea that is being discussed, you need to talk about it before they finally make the decision. One of the quotes that he is to going to leave us with is,
The reason why men always failed to establish important measures was, because in their organization they never could agree to disagree long enough to select the pure gold from the dross by the process of investigation.
Joseph understood that in this council, in this committee that he was meeting with, that there would be a tendency to want to find out whatever Joseph thought and then hurry and agree with him. Some of you may have been at some point been involved in a meeting or a council where that’s the case. Joseph is saying that actually undermines the whole point of getting people together. The point of getting people together is so that all of the viewpoints can be shared so that you can then determine what is the best course of action.
There is this quote about what you should do after you consent to something.
I don’t want any man ever to assent to any thing in this council and then find fault with it. Don’t decide in favor of anything until you know it.
One of the courses of action, questions, that they continually had was that they were supposed to be creating a new Constitution. Their plan was to leave the United States and go somewhere else where they could actually establish the kingdom of God and they could practice their religion without any threat of interference. To do this they wanted to write a constitution. As you can imagine, this is a pretty heavy task for this committee. If you are assigned to the Constitution for the Kingdom of God on Earth committee, it is a little bit more than the Redeem the Dead committee, right? The people assigned to this feel great trepidation. They feel almost as if “no matter what we do, we are going to be kind of wrong, because there is no way we are just going to come up with this.” So they actually asked Joseph, “Why don’t you just tell us what the Constitution should be and we will write it down, and that is what we will end up with?”
Joseph Smith explained why he wants them to put forth all of their efforts to come up with the best Constitution they can come up with first. He said that the committee was first appointed to bring forth all of the intelligence they could and when their productions were presented to him he could then correct the errors and fill in the interests where it was lacking.
It is necessary for the Council to exhaust their wisdom, and except they do they will never know but they are as wise as God himself and ambitious men will, like Lucifer, think they are as wise as God and will try to lift themselves up and put their foot on the necks of others. There has always been some man to put himself forward and say I am the great I &c. I want the council to exert all their wisdom in this thing, and when they see that they cannot get a perfect law themselves, and I can, then, they will see from whence wisdom flows.
The very interesting teaching that Joseph demonstrates here is that in order for them to fully be able to accept the revelation when it comes they need to actually put forth all of their own effort so otherwise Joseph might present it to them and they would say, “Well, if I was doing this I would have come up with this.” Well, you did try and you didn’t come up with it. You already know what you could or could not come up with.
So the Council will labor on trying to create the Constitution. Eventually Joseph will give them what the Constitution is, and it is a revelation from God and it is only two lines. They did expend a great deal of energy without maybe that they might have viewed as not being essential energy but they do receive it by revelation from Joseph eventually.
In the conversation about these things you hear other people weigh in as well; for instance we get conversations from Brigham Young. The Council of Fifty minutes demonstrates as well as everything else in Brigham Young’s life, his absolute and complete devotion to Joseph Smith. His devotion to Joseph Smith is on display before Joseph dies; it is on display after Joseph dies. In fact, during one of the conversations after Joseph has been murdered, Almon Babbitt, (if you know Church history, you know that Almon Babbitt is a colorful person in Church history) will make some comments that Brigham Young perceives as criticizing Joseph Smith. Brigham Young interrupts the meeting and says, “Alright, I have made up my mind that I will never listen to someone speaking against Joseph in my presence.”
When they are talking about this concept of allowing revelation to dictate how their new kingdom might be formed, Brigham Young weighed in on some pretty interesting teachings that I think are pretty profound.
Brigham said that he felt as exalted as he could. He contemplated kings and governments as they are, and they sunk into oblivion when he compared them with this kingdom, which was only now in embryo, and it would soon send forth its influence throughout the nations. There would no doubt be a regular organization. He has heard much said on the subject of bringing forth the Constitution, but he considered himself to be highly honored to have this privilege of being accounted a fool. That when we had done all that we were capable to do, he could have the Lord speak and tell us what is right.
“There is a great deal already written, and we can form to ourselves independent of the word of the Lord, the best system of government on earth, but after all this, when we have done all, the Lord will make just right.” He can form a Constitution by which he is willing to be governed. He is willing to be ruled by the means which God would appoint.
Brigham: “He don’t believe that we can adopt laws for the government of the people in futurity. We can for the time being, point out laws for the present necessities.” He supposed
there has not yet been a perfect revelation given, because we cannot understand it, yet we receive a little here and a little there. He should not be stumbled if the prophet should translate the Bible forty thousand times over and yet it should be different in some places every time, because when God speaks, he always speaks according to the capacity of the people.
That is a pretty profound statement that Brigham is going to make there. He is actually going to reiterate this in several sermons he will give in Utah. The nature of revelation is such that God speaks to people as they have the ability to understand it. It is part of the reason why people shouldn’t fret too much over a revelation that says one thing and then a revelation later that says something a little bit different or a little bit more, because God speaks to people according to their capacity.
The starting point for the government of the kingdom is in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, but he does not know how much more there is in the bosom of the Almighty. When God sees that his people have enlarged upon what he has given us he will give us more. The starting point is here, but God has not come here, He has sent his agent, his minister to act in his name. And if he has got an agent to dictate to us here, the organization is here. When a man is clothed with authority to do all the business for those who sent him, what he does is right, and this is the kind of agent we have got, and God appointed him [speaking of Joseph]. We did not appoint him. If the Lord Almighty calls upon one of his servants as a minister, the nation to whom he is sent has no control over him whatsoever. If the Latter Day Saints believe that our prophet is fallen, what are they going to do? How will they help themselves? It is the prerogative of the Almighty to differ from his subjects in what he pleases, or how and when he pleases, and what will they do; they must bow to it, or kick themselves to death, or to hell. He [Joseph Smith] can disagree with the whole church as he has a mind [to], and how? Because he is a perfect committee of himself….He would rather have the pure revelations of Jesus Christ as they now stand, to carry to the nations, than anything else.
You get this statement from Brigham Young as they’re preparing. John Taylor is also going to weigh in. I’m trying to find a image of John Taylor without the neck beard; you can think of him at some point being young. And Taylor is going to also reiterate this, that revelation has to come through the prophet for this.
If they can get intelligence from God, they can arrive at correct principles; if not, they cannot. He was always convinced that no power can guide us right but the wisdom of God. It needed a revelation from God to show the first principles of the Kingdom of God. No-one knew how to baptize or lay on hands until it was revealed, through our chairman [Joseph Smith]. National affairs are equally as fallen and degenerate as religious matters. This nation is as far fallen and degenerate as any nation under heaven. When we were in the world, we were ignorant with regard to correct principles. We are now a little differently situated. We have a portion of the Spirit, but if we get the document anywhere right, it will be because God gives it, and if not, we know nothing but what either you, Joseph Smith, or God teaches us.
You get again this idea of devotion.
After Joseph Smith is murdered, the Council is going to pause in their meetings for quite some time. This is a very difficult blow to all of them, but when they meet again they’re going to still try to continue to carry out Joseph Smith’s wishes, and Brigham Young will just adamantly believe that everything he is doing is exactly what Joseph wanted to do, and what Joseph would have done had Joseph been there. They’ll actually have conversations like that in the Council, where the argument they’ll make for a position they take is, “This is what Joseph wanted.” So they very much feel like they’re trying to take up the mantle that Joseph has given them.
At the same time Joseph Smith’s murder really makes them feel, many of them feel, quite embittered towards, certainly, the way the country has acted towards them. One example of this is found with probably one of the most famous people in Mormon history, in fact has to be the most famous person in Mormon history who wrote absolutely nothing in his life. Porter Rockwell is totally illiterate; he doesn’t have the ability to even sign his own name; in fact, any Porter Rockwell document we have is an X with someone after signing Porter Rockwell, explaining who it was. So we actually for all the biographies that are written about Rockwell, and every fireside you’ve ever been to, none of that actually comes from Rockwell himself, because he wrote nothing. So you actually have very little that comes from him, and it isn’t a reminiscence of someone saying, “oh I remember crazy Porter Rockwell when he did this,” right? Here in the Council meeting because Rockwell speaks, and William Clayton jots it down as he’s speaking, you get a little bit of an insight into the character of Porter Rockwell, and you’re not surprised at what Rockwell has to say.
As they’re discussing the fact that even though Joseph has been murdered, mob violence is still rising up in and around Nauvoo. This did not end anti-Mormon sentiment in the area, and things are steadily declining, not getting better, for their position in Nauvoo. And as they’re discussing this, Rockwell says this:
I say yes to everything that is good and right. I was a friend to Joseph while he lived, and I am still his friend. He can’t avenge his wrongs himself, but I mean to avenge them for him, and if I get into trouble, I want you to help me if you can, [and this is how it’s actually written in the minutes] without criminating [sic] yourselves [which is probably exactly how he said it. And then probably in the best insight into his character that you could find, he said], “I love my friends, and I hate my enemies. I can’t love them if I would.
So maybe our view of Porter Rockwell isn’t as much of a caricature as it might seem. It certainly seems to fit the mold.
As I said, there’s a great deal of anxiety and sadness and loss among these people that you feel pretty palpably as you go through the minutes. They feel a loss, and not just as Joseph was a friend and as a leader but a loss of faith, really, in the institutions of the Government, which had already been going down pretty quickly, but here their Prophet and his brother had been murdered, and you have John Taylor again comment on this, and you can feel his bitterness at the loss of Joseph Smith, as he talks about it.
In regard to the situation of the world as it now exists I don’t care a damn because they’re as corrupt as the devil. We have no benefit [sic] from the laws of the land, and the only reason why they don’t cut our throats is because they dare not. As Brother [Heber C.] Kimball says I don’t care how often the bucket is turned up. Some cry out it will bring persecution–
So he’s responding to the fact that some people feel like if they take a more hardened stance against the persecution they’re facing, that it will cause people to persecute them, and John Taylor thinks that’s a pretty specious argument given what’s already happened. He says, I don’t care,
but they cannot lie about us or persecute us any worse than they’ve done. I go in for whipping the scoundrels when they come in our midst, and then if any of them come near me I will use my cane on them, and I want my brethren to do likewise.
He goes on to speak specifically about some local constables that he believes are violating their oath of office, but he says that
We know we have no more justice here. No more than we could get at the gates of hell, and the only thing that we have got to do is take care of ourselves. As to the other thing which has been proposed about seeking out a location in the West, I don’t care how soon it goes into operation. People talk about law and justice. I go in for giving them the same kind of justice they give us…. I go in for a company being sent out to find out [a] place where we can establish the Kingdom, and erect the standard and dwell in peace and have our own laws.
So you kind of get from this statement here of John Taylor, you get a little bit of this – you’ll certainly see this in Taylor’s publication in the Times and Seasons as well – that there is a real sense of loss and bitterness. They feel like they’re being driven out of the nation. In fact, if I go back here, to the places that they’re considering as locations to move, you can see that all the places they’re considering, they’re deliberately considering them because they’re not in the United States. The plan is to get out of the United States. We’ve tried the United States, the United States in New York, that didn’t work, we tried Ohio, didn’t work; tried in Missouri, didn’t work, and here we are in Illinois and it’s not working. And so the idea is that if we can get outside of the United States, then maybe we can finally live our religion in peace.
For a long time they’re actually really considering going to Texas. They send representatives there; they discuss it, they talk about it for quite some time. But in the end, the reason why they dropped Texas as a possibility isn’t because they’ve ever been there in the summer; it’s because they (I apologize if you’re from Texas, but not really, because you’ve been there, too)… the main reason why they decided to drop Texas as a possible place is they’re actually in the midst of a meeting discussing a possible removal to Texas when a messenger comes into the meeting and says Texas has just been annexed by the United States, and they immediately drop it as an option. The whole point is to get out of the United States. You go to Texas, you’re still under the same jurisdiction, of the same laws, of the same judges, of the same President who will do nothing to help us in the persecution we face. And so the upper California, the portion of Mexico that is certainly occupied by Native Americans but essentially unoccupied by whites, is what then becomes the focus of their plans.
There are obviously lots of things I could share, but I want to have a few minutes for questions despite my attempt to go over and so the last thing I want to share is probably the most beautiful aspect, the most beautiful teaching that I found going through the minutes, and that is Joseph Smith while still alive is going to give a pretty lengthy discourse on the ideas of tolerance and religious freedom and in opposition to religious bigotry. As they’re talking about forming this new Council, Joseph deliberately wants non-Mormons to be a part of it. He wants it to be inclusive because he wants this to be a Kingdom that’s inclusive of many people. He believes he’s setting up the political Kingdom of God on earth, for Jesus to take when Jesus returns again, and so because of that, Joseph will speak pretty freely; in fact William Clayton records that while Joseph is talking about this, he’s kind of beating a ruler on his hand and on the table as he’s talking, and eventually snaps it over his knee.
So you can see Joseph a bit exercised as he’s saying this. This is what Joseph is saying at the time:
For the benefit of mankind and for succeeding generations, Joseph wished it to be recorded that there are many men of this honorable Council who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, neither do they profess any creed or religious sentiment whatsoever. To show them the organization of the Kingdom, men are not consulted as to their religious opinions, or notions of any shape, form whatsoever. We act upon the broad and liberal principle that all men have equal rights, and ought to be respected, and that every man has a privilege in this organization of choosing for himself voluntarily his God, and what he pleases for his religion. Inasmuch as there is no danger that every man will embrace the greatest light, [this is the teaching that Joseph gives in Nauvoo on another occasion as well, when he’s asked why does he allow preachers from other religions to come and preach to the people, he simply says that he doesn’t believe the preachers are going to deliver any more light than he has for them. People will come back to where the greatest light is.] God cannot save or damn a man, only on the principle that every man acts, chooses and worships for himself. Hence the importance of thrusting from us every spirit of bigotry and intolerance towards a man’s religious sentiments, that spirit which has drenched the earth in blood. When a man feels the least temptation to such intolerance, he ought to spurn it from him. It becomes our duty on account of this intolerance and corruption, because it is the inalienable right of a man being to think as he pleases, to worship as he pleases, being the first law of everything that is sacred. It is our duty, then, to guard every ground all the days of our lives. I will appeal to every man in this Council, beginning at the youngest, that when he arrives at the years of a hoary age, he will have to say that the principles of intolerance and bigotry never had a place in this Kingdom, nor in my breast, and that he is even then ready to die, rather than to yield to such things. Nothing can reclaim the human mind from its ignorance, bigotry, superstition etc, but the grand and sublime principles of equal rights and universal freedom to all men. We must not despise a man on account of his infirmity. We ought to love a man more for his infirmity.
To me that’s one of the most beautiful sentiments of the 19th century.
Nothing is more congenial to my feelings and principles than the principles of universal freedom, and it has been from the beginning. If I can know that a man is susceptible to good feelings and integrity, and that he will stand by his friends, he is my friend. The only thing that I’m afraid of is that I will not live long enough to enjoy the society of these my friends as long as I want to. Let us from henceforth then drive from us every species of intolerance. When a man is free, he is then capable of being a critic. When I’ve used every means in my power to exalt a man’s mind, and have taught him the righteous principles to no effect, and he is still inclined in his darkness, yet the same principles of liberty and charity would ever be manifested by me as though he had embraced the Gospel. Hence in all Governments and political transactions a man’s religious opinions should never be called into question. A man should be judged by the law independent of religious prejudice. Hence we want in our Constitution those laws which require its officers to administer justice without regard to a man’s religious sentiment, or to thrust him out of office.
You get a little bit of an insight there of course; Joseph is someone who has suffered through religious intolerance and persecution from the time he first told anyone about the First Vision. All throughout the growing persecution that would at least in part eventually lead to his murder only a few months later. He has very strong feelings about this, and a beautiful sentiment that he expresses, that even if you’re not able to convince everybody of the truthfulness of the things you have to share, even if they still don’t accept it, even after you’ve laid out all of the best arguments you can possibly lay out, you should still love those people. They’re still God’s children. We’ll all eventually know who we really are one day, and arguments about things today might seem much more semantic in that sense. So I thought I’d share that because I think that it is a great demonstration of Joseph Smith’s character.
I’m often asked about Joseph Smith, having worked on the Joseph Smith Papers, and one of the things in his character that always comes through to me is his great love of other people. He was a lover of other people; he loved being around other people; he loved to be with other people. He loved to see other people happy, and oftentimes his love of other people led him to make terrible decisions, which as an historian you can look back and say, “No, don’t trust John C. Bennett, he’s…!” But I believe that whatever one thinks of Mormonism, the sentiment that we should not despise someone because of their infirmity, but that we should love them more, simply because they are infirm, is a beautiful sentiment that anyone can get behind. Anyone, whether they are a member of the Church or not, whether they feel their way inside of the Church or they feel themselves falling out, the love that we can show to one another I think is something we should all take away from the teachings of Joseph Smith.
I will now stop and let you ask any questions.
Q1. Do you think then that we should stop saying that the Lord chose the United States to restore the Gospel since there was religious freedom, since clearly our religion was so sorely persecuted?
A1. That is a great question. I have no ability to deliver what we should or should not say. As a historian, and I am not a very good one at that, I can merely state what the records say. In my opinion, the fact that the United States was the place that the Church was restored is still something we can talk about. Clearly the United States had greater freedom of religion than other places at the time. You can ask the many people who are executed or thrown in prison in Europe for expressing different religious views, how much religious freedom they had. I think that we should probably modify a little bit the way that we talk about it. For Mormons today, American Mormons, we kind of have competing ideas. Most American Mormons feel very strongly their American patriotism as well as their Mormonism. They often want to see those two things expressed at the same time, and they often are. So it becomes a little bit difficult when we read about anything in the 19th century, because however much the United States might have been the land of freedom when the Church was founded, by the time of Joseph Smith’s murder they had come to the conclusion that the problem in the United States was that minority rights were not protected. And what good is it to say that you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, if in fact anyone can take away your right to your freedom of religion, your liberty, if you’re in Liberty Jail, or your life, in fact, which is what happened. Clearly the Church was restored in the United States, and that is the fact of the matter. But you should probably also not be surprised to find Wilford Woodruff in the 1860s grumbling about how sinful the United States is, because at that point they feel pretty strongly against the actions that have been taken.
Q2. After Joseph Smith’s death, is there discussion in the Council of Fifty about who will succeed, and how the next leader will be chosen?
A2.There is a great discussion in it. Of course, the Council of Fifty is functioning as an independent body, separate from the Quorum of the Twelve. Often it doesn’t appear very separate, because all of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve are members of the Council of Fifty, so they will often transact business that falls along similar lines. They will have a discussion in their earliest meetings after they get back together, in which they will unanimously select Brigham Young to be the new chairperson of the Council. He will take up exactly where Joseph is, and actually all of the people in the Council will go around making the statement to the effect of “Yes, Brigham Young is the person who should lead us now.” They do have some bit of discussion about the other succession crisis that’s going on at the time, and so they will talk about Rigdonism, and things like that, in the Council, but they’re talking about them more as outside events. There’s no discussion in the Council of, “What do you think? Is Sidney Rigdon the guy?” They don’t have that discussion in the Council.
Q3. Though we chuckle at some of the understandably strong LDS pronouncements after the martyrdom, aren’t these sentiments what led to the Mountain Meadows massacre?
A1. That would certainly be a gross oversimplification of the Mountain Meadows massacre, and whoever wrote the question, of course, you only had a small space to write it in. There are a myriad of both aggravating and mitigating events surrounding the Mountain Meadows massacre. To say that had John Taylor not been mad at the United States that Joseph Smith was murdered, the Mountain Meadows massacre wouldn’t have occurred, would probably not be a very accurate statement. That people who leave the United States have a shared collective memory of both mobs and organized military units conducting widespread depredations, murders, rapes, house burnings, farm burnings; if they hadn’t had that, then that would probably be a much more deciding factor. Certainly there’s the case anecdotally, and you can get Rick Turley up here and have him speak about the Mountain Meadows massacre far better than me, there certainly is the case that some of the rhetoric leading up to the massacre in part it surrounds the fact that they are a people that have been persecuted and driven out. And so when people say things to the effect of, “There’s an army on the way to destroy you,” you take it seriously, if you’ve gone through Haun’s Mill. You don’t say, “Well, maybe.” You actually consider it a serious threat. There’s no excuse for the horrific murders at Mountain Meadows. There are babies that are murdered, and there’s no way to make that OK. It is terrible, it is horrific, it is a massacre and it’s hard to deal with. Well-intended people sometimes make horrible, horrible, horrible mistakes. Unfortunately in this case the mistake they made was murder. And so I don’t think that it’s purely on the basis of any statements that are made. Far more is the fact that it is the shared collective experience of ongoing persecution that has a psychological effect on people that are there.
Q4. At what point in Joseph’s development did he transition from a 3rd grade expression to becoming an eloquent orator and a profound thinker and philosopher?
A4.That’s a really good question. We often say that Joseph Smith had a 3rd grade education. I don’t know if he really had that. It’s not like he went to grade school. Joseph is always intelligent. I think anyone who’s a teacher can tell you that you can tell native intelligence inside of one of your students. Just because they don’t know how multiplication tables work, that’s not actually evidence of someone not being intelligent. Once they’re taught them, then they can use them, right? So Joseph, as is stated, only has the ground rules of those things, but he really sets himself to work trying to educate himself. You see this with their early attempt to learn Hebrew, Joseph becomes pretty well read, and by the time he’s in Nauvoo he seems to be reading a great deal, and that is all being soaked up. But if you read a letter from 1833, he writes a letter to the Church in Missouri in 1833 where he’s talking about the good doctor, Philastus Hurlbut, and there’s probably not a grammatically accurate sentence in that letter, and there’s almost no correct spelling. Even “doctor” is spelled wrong. Even Hurlbut is spelt wrong, which I’m fine with. Obviously spelling is a little bit more fluid in the 19th century, sometimes people say, “Oh, it didn’t matter how they spelt things.” That’s not really accurate – they do have a way of spelling things, and it’s a pretty standard way of spelling things. You can see this from newspapers. You don’t pick up a newspaper and it spells Church with an “i”. Honestly that is one of my favorite misspellings of Joseph’s, early on in his life when he’s writing something, a lot of the time he misspells Church with an “i”; he spells it “Chirch”. He also misspells Edward Partridge’s name all the time, leaving the “r” out – instead of writing Partridge he writes Patridge. Joseph’s from Vermont, so my guess is that he has a kind of New England accent – he doesn’t have a Utah accent. So I know that for many of you that’s going to cause you to lose your faith, to think of Joseph saying, “Me and Edward Patridge gonna go to the chirch, maybe catch a Sox game”. I don’t know if that’s how he was talking about it, but Joseph, you can see in his writing that he certainly is becoming more well-read. He certainly is understanding – even his efforts to alter and update the Book of Mormon in 1837, it’s almost purely on the grounds of “I’ve learned that you probably shouldn’t use the word “that” there,” and he’s trying to change it to make it more grammatically accurate. The best change that he makes in the 1830s to the Book of Mormon is he takes out dozens of “and it came to pass”. So as often as you read it, it was actually way more than that. So he certainly becomes more proficient as time goes on, which is something you might expect from someone. Although I would say that still reading a letter from 1838, you would have a very hard time comparing that to the Book of Mormon and saying, “oh, this is the same level of writing”, even when he’s making the effort.
I apologize if I didn’t get to your [question]; clearly I deliberately didn’t do it because we believe in conspiracy theories.
Q5. What lessons from the Council of the Fifty can we apply to our ward and stake councils?
A5. Kind of the ones that were presented there. I don’t know that we’re trying to run our ward and stake councils the way that Joseph talks about it. I know I’ve been in some where they weren’t run that way. I’m not saying this just because I’m a former bishop here. I had a former bishop from Colorado when I was getting a PhD there – I was never in his ward council because he never thought I was worthy, because I was getting my PhD in history.
I think one of the takeaways is that there is a real rush in any meeting, it’s not just a Church meeting, in any meeting where you know people have different ideas and different personalities, there’s a real tendency among, especially people trying to live a Christ-like life, and I’m not saying I’m one of those people, to try to be agreeable for agreeableness’s sake, and when someone says, “I think we should hold a pool party for a ward fundraiser”, and you’re thinking to yourself, ”That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life,” and instead you say, “Yeah, let’s do that”. And I think that what Joseph really wanted brought to the fore is not that people should have long drawn-out arguments, but that people should honestly express what they really feel, listen to what other people actually have to say, and then yes, you are going to have to come to a consensus. This isn’t like Martin Luther saying, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” over the pool party, but that you can’t properly make the best decision without everybody’s input. Another example of how valuable Joseph thought other people were! You had to have the input of everybody, because only then, in the hashing out could, you actually say, “That was a really good idea, but you know what, if we add a little bit of …. That’s actually an even better idea.” So he certainly thinks councils should function to be honest, to be open, and yes, another takeaway is once the Council has made a decision, don’t be the person going out of the ward council saying “Well, I think the Relief Society made a really big mistake on that,” and telling everybody in the ward; that once the decision is made, try as best you can to support it, and I think that’s a pretty good takeaway.