Andrew H. Hedges, Alex D. Smith, Brent M. Rogers. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church Historian’s Press, 2015. Hardbound, 7 ¼ x 10 ¼”, 676 pgs.
The last year of Joseph Smith’s life was both turbulent and incredibly productive. He served as the highly visible and determined leader of one of the largest cities in Illinois and of a church with members spread throughout the United States and other countries. With his influence at its peak he balanced roles as church president and prophet, mayor, judge, and militia leader, all while responding to escalating conflict. The journal entries reproduced in this volume of The Joseph Smith Papers illuminate Joseph Smith’s varied activities and his aspirations and struggles in the months leading to his violent death.
Covering May 1843 through June 1844, this volume features the conclusion of Joseph Smith’s second Nauvoo journal, kept by Willard Richards. During these months, Joseph Smith was often preoccupied with legal and political matters, particularly in his role as mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois, and chief justice of Nauvoo’s municipal court. Because of continued political struggles and conflict with their neighbors, smith and his advisers contemplated relocating the church to Oregon or the Republic of Texas. The Council of Fifty, also known as “the Kingdom of God,” was formed in part to lead this effort. At the same time, church leaders grew frustrated that their petitions to the nation’s leaders for redress of losses earlier suffered in Missouri continued to prove fruitless. In response, Smith declared his candidacy for president of the United States.
Joseph Smith gave more than sixty public addresses during this time, many of which are documented in this volume. The discourses covered topics such as salvation, resurrection, baptism for the dead, priesthood ordinances, a multitiered heaven, and humanity’s potential to become like God. At times, the teachings pushed the boundaries of what Smith’s listeners were prepared to believe. Smith also continued to introduce temple ordinances, including eternal and plural marriage ceremonies, to a growing number of people.
Controversial teachings, the practice of plural marriage, Joseph Smith’s growing political power, and other factors led to loud criticism of Smith and other church leaders, by both disaffected church members and prominent opponents in surrounding communities. Growing tensions resulted in threats and violence. The journal refers, for instance, to conspiracies again Joseph Smith’s life, led by those who were once friends. After Nauvoo civic leaders declared the anti-Mormon newspaper the Nauvoo Expositor a public nuisance and destroyed its press, Smith and several of his associates were arrested. On the afternoon of 27 June 1844, a mob swarmed the jail in Carthage, Illinois, where Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were being held, and killed both men.
This volume includes as appendixes two additional sources that shed light on the final two weeks of Joseph Smith’s life: an excerpt from Willard Richards’s journal for 23-27 June and an account of Smith’s 10-22 June activities made by William Clayton. Given these scribes’ proximity to Smith, their records provide invaluable primary source material for studying the events leading to his death.
The accounts in this volume allow readers to study Smith’s daily activities and personality as well as to better situate him and the faith he founded within nineteenth-century American history. Because of Richards’s idiosyncratic handwriting, many passages of this journal have been misread and misunderstood in the past. To provide the most accurate reading possible, experts in Richards’s handwriting have meticulously transcribed Smith’s journal according to the highest standards of documentary editing. Aided by comprehensive annotations, this final installment of Joseph Smith’s journals constitutes an essential primary source for research into the life of the first leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This is the final volume of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers.