Ep 168 – Council of Fifty Pt. 1 William Clayton
On this episode, we begin our deep-dive series into the Council of Fifty. Joseph Smith’s theocracy required organizational structure; the Council of Fifty is how he planned on implementing it. William Clayton was called as scribe for the Council and we discuss his life and role in early Mormonism. Clayton’s journals have been a source of controversy and clandestine institutional secrecy for over a century and a half. We dive into why that is, the journals he kept, and the inner-workings of the controversy. This episode is a classic Naked Mormonism deep-dive and the length was required to do the issue proper justice. We have a quick guest appearance from Sandra Tanner to discuss the lawsuit filed by Andrew Ehat in the early 1980s.
Council of Fifty Minutes press release
Andrew Ehat v. Tanners
Andrew Ehat v. Tanners conclusion
An Intimate Chronicle; the Journals of William Clayton by George D.
James Allen/George Smith exchange
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
We are finally back to our historical timeline! Last week was the Next Mormons interview with Jana Riess and Benjamin Knoll but the week before that we discussed a prominent feature of 1844 history, Joseph Smith’s bid for President of the United States. I’ve previously made the case on this show that Jo represents the worst presidential candidate this country has ever seen; I even made that case to Tom and Cecil from Cognitive Dissonance Podcast in the wake of Trump’s election. Well, today, we’re going to discuss the underlying organizational tools that Jo put into place in order to run his expected theocracy, The Council of Fifty.
The Council of Fifty was to be Jo’s personal council upon his presidential election. Alternate historical timelines that don’t include Jo’s death in Carthage place this council as the central focal point of executing his leadership. Had Jo, by some stretch of imagination, been elected, the theocratic Council of Fifty is the system by which our government might operate today. Upon Jo’s death, the Council of Fifty didn’t dissolve; far from it. The Council perpetuated in Utah and operated as the theocratic territorial government that superseded the powers of secular territorial government, even though nearly every elected government officer in the Utah territory was one of Bloody Brigham’s cronies who was also a member of the Council of Fifty. In Utah, the lines delineating government and religion simply didn’t exist. Government and religious leadership were one in the same, with Brigham at the head.
Today begins a multi-part series on the Council of Fifty. Before we begin, here’s a quick disclaimer. When I started this show, episodes were every other week and they tended to run a bit long. Some episodes cracked the 2.5 hour mark without breaking a sweat because issues I covered required that much time to discuss exhaustively. Since then we’ve streamlined the show and I’ve tried to keep the main segments of shows to about an hour to make them less of a commitment and easier to tune in on a weekly basis. Well, the Council of Fifty requires the old school Naked Mormonism deep-dives. This is a massive topic and I’m going to crank out a lot of podcast hours to get you up to speed on the context and history of the Council of Fifty. That’s my way of saying that for this week, and the next few weeks, we’re going to run pretty long, probably longer than usual, so we can really deep-dive into the Council of Fifty and why it’s so important. Fans of the older format of the show, I hope this’ll scratch your itch. If you’re new to the show, episodes like this is what you can expect from time to time in the backlog. Let’s get started.
I simply cannot express enough how important the Council of Fifty is in church history. If you’ve been binge listening to the podcast and have maybe forgotten a bit of the material we’ve covered, or, for any reason, the podcast goes in one ear and out the other from time to time (I know that’ll sometimes happen to me when I listen to podcasts), this is an episode you don’t want to ignore or forget. Today’s show begins, arguably, the most important series of shows we’ve ever done that set the stage for the future of the podcast. The 7.5 hour Book of Mormon episode, the Masonry and Mormonism episode with Cheryl Bruno, even episode 1 with the birth of Joseph Smith, all those episodes pale in comparison to this upcoming Council of Fifty series. I cannot stress enough how important the Council of Fifty is. The Council of Fifty was the culmination of everything Jo dreamed of, but didn’t live long enough to see to its end. Jo always wanted to be king of a world that looked to him as sole governmental and religious authority. He aspired to become a Moses, a Mohammed, a religious prophet warlord that subjugated the American people under his arm of power. The Council of Fifty is how he planned on doing it. The rest of our historical timeline for the next decade, at least, of this podcast will have the cloud of the Council of Fifty hanging over it. That is how important this single historical issue is. Pay attention people, this is Mormon history you really don’t want to miss or forget. Any time in the future when I use the term “Council of Fifty,” it’s on you, the listener, to remember, or refer back to, what we discuss in this series to understand that phrase in its context. This is about as controversial and treasonous as Joseph Smith history gets.
Historians are lucky when it comes to the Council of Fifty. The original minutes have been preserved… sort of, we’ll discuss that in a little while. The Nauvoo-era minutes, in their entirety are available to historians today, but that hasn’t always been the case. They were originally written by a guy named William Clayton. William Clayton has come up in our timeline periodically before now. He was present during Joseph’s arrest in Dixon, Illinois in June of 1843. He was the scribe for the infamous polygamy revelation when it was given in July 1843 and married his sister-in-law, Margaret Moon, polygamously soon after. When she began showing with child, Emma Smith told William Clayton that he’s responsible for taking care of his coming daughter and his new secret polygamous wife. He’s been with us for a while now, but we haven’t really discussed him and his importance at length before. I would also argue that William Clayton doesn’t get the attention he deserves in Nauvoo history when compared with some of his contemporaries.
To understand the Council of Fifty, we need to understand the guy responsible for documenting the happenings in the closed-door meetings of the Council, William Clayton. Today’s episode will focus in on him, why he’s so important, and the controversy surrounding his writings, in order to springboard into our series on the Council of Fifty. We’ll even have a surprise guest this week for a few minutes!
First, how did William Clayton come to be tangled up with the Mormons? Clayton was born in Lancashire, England in 1814, 9 years younger than Jo, to Thomas Clayton and Ann Critchley. He made a good living as a bookkeeper of the Bashall’s Textile Factory into his early 20s when he met his first wife, Ruth Moon, and they were married in October of 1836. Then along came a spider we know as Heber the Creeper Kimball and his buddy, Orson Hyde, during the first mission trip of the apostles to England in 1837. Clayton found the Book of Mormon to be irresistible and was baptized with his wife; his parents, and siblings joined soon after. This was in October of 1837. This mission by Heber the Creeper Kimball and Orson L’Chydem was met with only marginal success, but if William Clayton was the only convert of the entire trip, the mission would be considered a resounding success. That’s how important this guy is. 2 months after getting dunked, Clayton was ordained a priest. In April of the following year, Clayton rose to the rank of High Priest, when he also became the second counselor in the British Mission Presidency. Clayton’s fellow members of the mission presidency were Joseph Fielding, a recent convert there in Lancashire, as president, and White-out Willard Richards as first counselor. Clayton and Joseph Fielding were the first England natives called to high leadership positions in the church overseas.
Clayton was good at basically anything he did. When he worked as a factory clerk, he was a good employee and made a solid living. When he was baptized, he quit his job to devote his life to full-time missionary service which resulted in him founding a branch of the church in Manchester. He continued to be a force for the church all over England; preaching, baptizing, holding public lectures at other churches, but where Clayton really shined was in logistics and record-keeping. Any time a scribe was needed for any church meeting, Clayton was there with his notebook and quill.
William Clayton will continue to occupy an increasing amount of our historical timeline as we progress through the remainder of Nauvoo history and into the Great Basin of Mexico on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. That means this guy needs a NaMo nickname. Now, I’ve spent some time on this and I think I’m happy with the decision so just run with me for a second here.
Okay, so William Clayton was really good at record keeping. His weapon of choice was the quill. He was also a member of the British upper-middle class before arriving in America and made a good living through his scribal duties. What better name than Quilliam?! Get it William always had his quill with him? Quilliam? Come on, that’s pretty good. And it sounds so high-society like a Francis or a Cornelius. Okay, so what about his last name?... Should I go full spoonerism with William Clayton being Quilliam Layton? That could work, but I feel like there’s something more I could do with his last name. I think I have a solution. Clayton was a Mason. Masons use clay to make bricks to build buildings. Clayton was always using his pen to build the kingdom of God so the best name for this guy has to be Quilliam Claypen. Get it? See what I did there?! I know, it’s lame, I can hear the head shaking and the facepalms, but let the name grow on you for an episode before drafting your angry emails for these stupid nicknames.
So… Quilliam Claypen was a man of eclectic and diverse interests. One of his two-dozen daughters remembered this about her father after his death and I’m quoting this from George Smith’s 1991 book, An Intimate Chronicle, which we’ll discuss extensively in a little while.
Victoria Clayton McCune said: “He was methodical, always sitting in his own armchair, having a certain place at the table… his person was clean and tidy; his hands small and dimpled. He wore very little jewelry but what little he had was the best money could buy… and his clothing was made from the best material. His children remember him best in black velvet coat and grey trousers and, in cold weather, a broad-cloth cloak in place of overcoat… his home was open always to his friends who loved to gather there for social hours. Civic affairs always interested him. He was a musician and played in the pioneer orchestra and that of the Salt Lake Theater.”
As tensions rose in Kirtland, Clayton missed it all. The Kirtland Safety Society Bank failed, the Kirtland Mormons were fed up with Jo’s controversial leadership, Jo and Hingepin Rigdon fled under the cover of night, and they set up shop in Missouri, excommunicating many of the leadership of the Missouri stake as a power grab. All the while, Clayton continued on in his efforts to make himself useful to the church in England. The Missouri-Mormon War of 1838 boiled over and Jo with a bunch of other Mormon leadership were confined in jails throughout the state.
The Mormons set up shop in Quincy and Commerce, Illinois; Commerce wasn’t yet Nauvoo at this time. In January of 1840, William Clayton’s decided it was best to begin keeping a journal. The first entry is completely unceremonious and reads as if he’d been keeping a daily journal his entire life:
[January 1, 1840. Wednesday.] Brother James Lea from Bedford has called in at T[homas] Miller’s and I have been with him to see his wife and children. One child is sick. He states that they left Bedford on the 22nd of June on [account] of his master wanting him to go to Leicester at about two hours notice, to keep open an Inn until his master could let it. After being there some time, his wife came to him and they remained at the Inn untill December when he determined to leave because he thought his master was trying to keep him there and he was loosing ground almost daily. He wanted to be amongst the saints. He states that when he entered the Inn it was merely as steward hence the Liquors &c was not judged and he did not know anything about untill he sent his master word that he would leave. Then his master brought in a heavy Bill against him which involved him in great difficulty. He was obliged to sacrifice his goods to get to Manchester. They both seem very humble. He acknowledges having been unfaithful.
This journal would come to be known as the Manchester Journal, although he titled it “England and Emigration. Historians James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander later published a typescript of this Manchester journal as Manchester Mormons: The Journal of William Clayton 1840-1842. While the journal is known as the Manchester Journal, only the first quarter of it was actually recorded in England because on September 8, 1840, Clayton’s time had finally come. He immigrated at the head of an immigration company across the Atlantic, to the Hudson Bay, through the newly completed Erie Canal to Buffalo, then a lake steamer to Chicago, after which he hired a horse-drawn carriage to get him to a ferry on the Mississippi which took him and his family the rest of the way to Nauvoo.
A lot of people were joining the Mormons in Commerce when the Claytons arrived in November of 1840. Notably, John C. Wreck-it Bennett made his way to Commerce just a few months prior to Clayton. Others joined the church out of land speculation interests. Others were simply sympathetic to the plight of the Mormon refugees from Missouri and joined the church in earnest because a religion that’s persecuted must be true. The fact of the matter is that all sorts of people joined the church for all sorts of personal reasons, and Jo was quick to welcome all. In the case of John C. Wreck-it Bennett, Jo’s open-door policy proved to be a detriment and a massive headache for the rest of his life after Bennett defected. However, in the case of William Clayton, Jo had a powerful new ally who was unwaveringly loyal. Not only was Clayton good with missionary work and could preach when required, but Clayton was insanely well-read and never put down his notebook. He was an incessant record-keeper with a powerful ability of mental recall. If something happened in Clayton’s life, he wrote it down.
We’ll be getting to this in a bit, but an important detail to mention here is that Clayton was a relatively faithful journal keeper. Historians know of 6 total journals that Clayton wrote. Each of the 6 journals have their own fascinating story and we’ll be getting to the controversy surrounding his journals in a bit. Back to his timeline.
Clayton arrived in Commerce, Illinois, which would become Nauvoo. He found himself among the Nauvoo elite rather quickly and on December 10th, 1840, Clayton sent a letter to the saints he left behind in Manchester, England, recounting his first meeting with the prophet Joseph Smith.
We have had the privilege of conversing with Joseph Smith Jr. and we are delighted with his company. We have had a privilege of ascertaining in a great measure from whence all the evil reports have arisen and hitherto have every reason to believe him innocent. He is not an idiot, but a man of sound judgement, and possessed of abundance of intelligence and whilst you listen to his conversation you receive intelligence which expands your mind and causes your heart to rejoice. He is very familiar, and delights to instruct the poor saints. I can converse with him just as easy as I can with you, and with regard to being willing to communicate instruction he says, ‘I receive it freely and will give it freely.’ He is willing to answer any question I have put to him and is pleased when we ask him questions.
Clayton was clearly smitten by Jo’s charisma upon first meeting him. Jo wasn’t an idiot, and his judgement was relatively sound, even if a bit eccentric as occasion required. But Jo also had the ability to recognize people’s strengths and utilize them for his own purposes. Clayton joined the Nauvoo Legion rifleman division, then was called to be clerk of the Iowa territory High Council in early 1841 and he served in that office until early 1842. On January 12, 1842, William Clayton was appointed to assist his friend from the England days, White-out Willard Richards, as temple recorder and as a scribe to Jo. He wrote in his journal the day his duties actually commenced:
[February 10, 1842. Thursday.] Brother [Heber C.] Kimball came in the morning to say that I must go to Joseph Smiths office and assist Brother Richards. I accordingly got ready and went to the ofice and commenced entering tithing for the Temple. I was still shaking with the Ague every day but it did not much disable me for work.
The final entry for this first journal came just 8 days later and ends as unceremoniously as it began:
[February 18, 1842. Friday.] Pained with tooth ache all day, heard Joseph read a great portion of his history.
In June of 1842, William Clayton’s life would experience a shift that would thrust him from the outskirts of Mormon leadership to operating in the shadow of the prophet every single day. Clayton took over the complete Temple scribal duties while White-out Willard Richards went on a brief mission to the Eastern states on June 29, 1842. For the remainder of Joseph Smith’s life, William Clayton became a victim of his own success because he was called to be Jo’s personal scribe on September 3, 1842 when he also became city treasurer of Nauvoo and Secretary pro tempore of the Municipal lodge. From September 1842 to June 1844 William Clayton would bear witness to the most important events in Joseph Smith’s life and provide his unabashed personal perspective of the events in his own journals.
Jo quickly recognized Clayton’s devotion and loyalty and spent increasing amounts of time with him. When Clayton began his rise through the ranks in June of 1842, it was a tough time for Jo. He’d sent Pistol Packin’ Porter Rockwell to kill Lilburn Boggs, which was a failure, he was on the lam from accusations of collusion to assassinate a public official, he’d introduced the endowment ceremony, Nauvoo had installed its Masonic lodge, of which Clayton was a member, the Book of Abraham was creating an uproar of excitement and a deluge of tourists wanting to see the mummies and papyri scrolls, and, most importantly, John C. Wreck-it Bennett had defected and resigned as mayor of Nauvoo and was collecting letters and correspondence to include in his upcoming expose, History of the Saints. The first half of 1842 was busy for the prophet and he was in search of a new confidant he could trust. In William Clayton, Jo found this new confidant. Beginning in September of 1842, all the way to Jo’s death, Clayton rarely left Jo’s side. If you approached the prophet on a random day of a random week, the chances were high that William Clayton would be either standing next to him or on a super-secret errand for the prophet. For whatever reason, during most of 1842 William Clayton didn’t keep his own personal journal. This may be due to the fact that he was keeping Jo’s journal and he thought it might be redundant to keep his own, or it may be that this 1842 journal is still suppressed to this day in some church vault nobody has access to. We don’t know for sure. But, from February to December of 1842, there simply isn’t a journal historians know to be extant. His first journal, the Manchester journal, was completed in February and he picks up his second journal on December 1, 1842 with this lone passage:
[December 1, 1842. Wednesday.] Attended [Masonic] lodge at night.
The next entry after this comes from January 20, 1843, nearly two months later. But let’s rewind a little bit. What did Clayton do during this time? What were his actual day-to-day duties? He was not only Jo’s personal scribe but his personal gopher. Go for this, go for that, write this letter and take it to whom it’s addressed. Clayton was the single most useful tool of the prophet from mid-1842 to June of 1844. Now, Jo had always had a scribe. It started with Martin Harris, Emma Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and John Whitmer with the Book of Mormon. Once the religion was started, Jo always had a scribe called to be his personal assistant. Cowdery remained his personal scribe for a time, then John Whitmer was called as a scribe and first official church historian. Then Frederick G. Williams was scribe for quite a while. After that was W.W. Phelps, Warren Parrish, Warren Cowdery, George W. Robinson, James Mulholland, Robert B. Thompson, Thomas Bullock, James Sloan, Willard Richards, and half a dozen other guys who were always close to the prophet. However, none of these scribes were as prodigious in their duties and loyal to the cause as William Clayton. Clayton also participated in plural marriages, being one of the first Nauvoo elite to take a second wife, which is an interesting story in and of itself. He performed the marriages of Almera Johnson, Lucy Walker, and a number of other women to Joseph Smith. He was the guy who wrote the plural marriage revelation that would become D&C 132. He recorded the first “second anointing” ceremony. He witnessed the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor and the meetings which led to its destruction. This dude was plugged in to everything that happened in Nauvoo while he was Jo’s personal scribe. In addition to writing Jo’s journal through 1843-44, he was writing his own journals.
He wrote 3 Nauvoo journals that comprise volume 2 of all his 6 journals. These are simply known as the Nauvoo journals, but they include 3 separate thin notebooks. They cover from November 27, 1842 to January 30, 1846 and were inventoried in LDS archives in 1858 as “Journal of William Clayton, 1843-1844, 1842-1845, 1845-1846”. These Nauvoo Journals are where the controversy we’ll be discussing soon comes into play.
Journal 3 is known as the Nauvoo Temple journal. Clayton took over Heber the Creeper Kimball’s duties of temple recorder from December 10, 1845 to January 7, 1846, during which he recorded over 5,000 temple ordinance records for people pushing through to get their work done before the trek to Utah. Most of this journal was published in the 1880s in The Women’s Exponent by Helen Mar Kimball without controversy.
Journal 4 is known as Clayton’s overland trek journal titled in LDS archives as “Pioneer Trek West”. It describes his departure from Nauvoo, staying in Winter Quarters, and crossing the plains in the first wagon train to get into the great basin in July of 1847. Clayton’s view of the trip is very candid and faithful and truly it’s a beautiful journal held up by the faithful historical community as one of the best contemporary accounts we have of the overland trip of 1847 that began the Mormon settlement in the state of Deseret. This overland journal was published by the Clayton Family Foundation in 1921 and reprinted numerous times by other organizations and is largely celebrated in the community. It is the only of his 6 journals that hasn’t been hidden away or surrounded in controversy since it was written.
Clayton’s prominence in Mormon leadership quickly waned upon his arrival in Utah. There may have been some hard feelings between Bloody Brigham and Clayton because Clayton never gained access to Brigham’s inner circle the way he did Jo’s. His fifth Journal is interesting because there was a five-year gap between the end of his overland trail journal #4 and this Journal #5.
Journal #5 was created for a very narrow and specific purpose. Clayton was called on a mission with Bloody Brigham to survey some southern cities in the state of Deseret. He recounted intimate details of their trip including how good the soil was, the proximity of various cities to water sources, the look of the buildings, their trip to the capital of the state, Fillmore, Utah, and many other important details for inventorying the capital within the boundaries of the Kingdom of God. It also includes a census.
Finally, Journal #6 might just be the most fun of all of William Clayton’s journals. Journal 6 covers the short period from August 28, 1852 to March, 1853. This is known as the “Polygamy Mission to England” journal. The story behind this journal is amazing. William Clayton was known as one of the most outspoken advocates for polygamy. When it was announced from the pulpit in Utah in 1852 and printed in the Deseret News that same year, it suddenly gave free license for all Mormon elders to go on missions advocating for and teaching the doctrine. Because William Clayton was well-known in his community back in England and was well-respected, he was called on a mission to England to preach polygamy. But, there were other purposes for this mission.
This is all detailed in his journal, but when Clayton got to England, he was apparently a little too excited to teach polygamy to the remaining thousands of Mormons that had yet to migrate to Utah by 1852. It was met with mixed results. The mission also served as a purge to excommunicate those who didn’t believe in the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. The results are telling and I’ll read a brief excerpt from An Intimate Chronicle by George D. Smith about this mission. We’ll discuss this book, and the controversy surrounding it, extensively, in a bit.
The mission to preach plural marriage to the British Saints was a failure. Regarded as an objectionable practice in America, polygamy encountered similar resistance in England after its public announcement in the Millennial Star on January 1, 1853. British membership declined 60 percent from a nineteenth-century high of 33,000 in 1851 to 13,000 at the end of the decade. Although part of this decrease can be attributed to emigration, baptismal rates fell by 88 percent during the 1850s and excommunications from 1853-1859 totalled almost 18,000… Clayton later described this episode in his “unfortunate mission of 1852-3” as “the most unpleasant, and bitterest period of my life.”
Clayton’s preaching was too much for many of the British saints to handle and he was put on a week-long hiatus due to the people’s reactions to his sermons. He started back up again and was met with similar controversy and was sent home from this mission alone just 4 months after his arrival.
This mission was a scourge to Clayton’s standing in the church. He never held a high-ranking church calling after his disgraceful return in early summer of 1853, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He sent a letter to Bloody Brigham in 1856 pleading to be given some kind of church-related duty in order to magnify his office and ensure his blessings in the of the kingdom.
I have no expectation of ever gaining your confidence as formerly… but if I am wanted, be assured that it will give me joy and consolation to do any thing I can that you wish of me; for I fell[feel] and have felt as tho’ I was sadly out of my place.
I couldn’t find any response to this petition, and Clayton didn’t hold any prominent church leadership positions for the rest of his life.
Those are the details of his 6 journals and just a small glimpse into what the future of our historical timeline holds for William Clayton. He wrote a number of other pamphlets that fall outside the scope of our discussion today. Our focus is these journals. Clayton’s journals are simply incredible.
Let’s take this meta for a minute and discuss just how important journals are to early Mormon history, and the social science of history in general. They’re it! Journals are the single most important source historians have to construct historical theories. Letters are amazing. Letters are usually written from one person or several to one person or several for a specific point, or they’re a love letter, which is deeply crucial to contextualizing history. Land deed records are great for putting a specific person or family in a specific place at a specific time, as are census records. Birth dates and obituaries are extremely helpful for beginning and end of life data points. Autobiographical, or biographical, sketches and reminiscences are so very important to see a high-level overview but details are inevitably blurred by the passage of time. Dates can easily get messed up, the sequence of events can be easily conflated, and memories can be wholly fabricated. People can remember they were somewhere or saw something that they actually only heard from a friend. Each degree of these sources I listed all come after journals and diaries in importance and trustability. Why is that? Well, people don’t write their journals for people to read, they write journals for themselves. A journal is a trusted place where people can document what happened and their own thoughts about what happened, hopefully at the time it happened. Journals offer, not only hard dates for events, but the journal keeper’s reactions and thoughts to those events and sometimes even a contemporary account of dialogue between important individuals concerning important events.
When it comes to early Mormon history prior to the Bloody Brigham era, there are a few extant journals to which historians have access; those journals are cited frequently. In the Kirtland era, we have William McLellin, but he turned dissenter by 1837 and was no longer a friend and his journals reveal the issues. We have Wilford Woodruffs journals, which are volumes and volumes, something like 3000 pages of Woodruff journals comprise his entire collection. Eliza Snow kept a Nauvoo journal, but she was sporadic in her keeping of it. Maureen Beecher is credited as the foremost authority on Eliza Snow for her work in transcribing and publishing Snow’s Nauvoo Journal. There are a few others like Hosea Stout and those journal keepers vary in consistency and reliability, but none of those journalists were as close in proximity to Joseph Smith as William Clayton was from 1842 to 1844. William Clayton’s journals are truly the single most crucial source for contemporary Nauvoo history in existence for that time period, and many would argue that 1842-44 was the most important period of Joseph Smith history compared with the rest of his entire ministry.
So, let’s discuss William Clayton’s journals. If you google William Clayton journal, chances are the first thing that comes up is a press release from 2017 about the Church Historian’s Press announcing they would publish his Nauvoo Journals. Below that you’ll find his overland journal published in 1921 by the Clayton Family Foundation and below that you’ll find an interesting little book titled An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton written by George D. Smith and published in 1991. That’s the same George Smith who is the co-founder of Signature Books and creator of the trust that partially funds Sunstone, the Smith-Petit Foundation. That 1991 book of William Clayton’s journals is shrouded in controversy.
Let’s discuss the controversy. If you ever want a singular example of the church hiding away history or keeping controversial documents closed to researchers and historians, listen up because I’ve got a tale for you.
Of Clayton’s six journals discussed earlier, the controversy begins with his 2 books making up the Nauvoo journals, known as journal #2. It’s kind of confusing, but two different journals make up what LDS archives titles Journal #2. So, these 2 books have been known to exist by researchers for over a century. These two little volumes covering November 1842-1846 are some of the most controversial journals known to exist from this time period. So, how have researchers known that they exist?
To understand the pedigree of these two books, we need to take a little dive down the rabbit hole of the History of the Church. Yes, this is a podcast about the history of the church, but what I’m talking about is 7-volume set published by the church known as the authoritative source of the History of the Church, sometimes called the Documentary History of the Church. The project was begun under Jo’s direction in 1838 when the Mormons were gaining popularity and notoriety nationwide while increasing their missionary efforts overseas. Jo wanted an authoritative source that he and any missionaries could point to when investigators wondered about Joseph Smith or how the Book of Mormon came to be. The first-vision account in the scriptures of every Mormon quad out there includes Jo’s dictation of his first vision account and Gold Plate translation that was begun in 1838 and started to be published in 1842. In 1842, the church, under the watchful eye of White-out Willard Richards and John Taylor, published the first edition of the History of the Church in the church’s Nauvoo periodical, the Times & Seasons. It was a limited run. Only a small portion of the project was completed when Jo and Hyrum were killed in Carthage and everything was put on hold during the ensuing schism crisis. Then, beginning in Utah in 1847, White-out Willard Richards, then second counselor to Bloody Brigham Young, began the work of compiling the authoritative History of the Church, which they printed serially in the Deseret News and the England-based Millennial Star. White-out Willard Richards oversaw this project until 1854 when a guy named George A. Smith was brought in to wrap things up. George A. Smith served as senior editor for two years until the project was completed in 1856. The History of the Church project was in mid-1840 when George A. Smith took over so he’s almost solely responsible for the Nauvoo portion of the History of the Church. Now, George A. Smith is a controversial character in Mormon history. We’ll get to him eventually, but his background is that he was Jo’s cousin, bearing the Smith name and blue Mormon royalty blood. George A. Smith was also fast and loose with some of his editorial practices, bUUuuUUt this was arguably necessary because the project was so massive and it needed to be completed quickly. Without George A. Smith coming on as an official church historian and editor of the authoritative History of the Church, it may have taken another decade under a different editor to complete because White-out Willard Richards died in 1845 when George A. Smith was brought in on the project.
Now, why is this relevant to the William Clayton Nauvoo journals? Well, George A. Smith pulled heavily from Clayton’s journals to compile the final years of the Nauvoo History of the Church, volumes 6 & 7. After George A. Smith was done with Clayton’s journals, he returned them to church archives. From that time forward, Clayton’s 2 Nauvoo journal books have been closed to researchers. Now that the History of the Church had been published through church periodicals for over a decade and a half, Brigham finally signed off on the project and in 1858 they began publishing the complete 7-volume set as a standalone production.
Then in 1902, arguably the best historian who’s ever been employed by the church, B. H. Roberts, was tasked with revising and updating the history of the Church, which turned into a 10-year project and was completed and published in 1932. Fast forward to 2005, Dan Vogel picked up the project of restoring the History of the Church to true form from the original documents, which was published as the source and text critical edition of the History of Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2015; and I just got my set autographed by Dan at Sunstone. All the while, the William Clayton Nauvoo Journals have been sealed to researchers with only a couple of exceptions.
Strap in, people, because these exceptions are where the controversy about William Clayton’s journals gets really fascinating.
Under the direction of Howard Hunter, Leonard Arrington opened up the church vault to researchers in the 1970s in order to begin the massive process of creating what was known as New Mormon History. New Mormon History was Arrington’s pet project to deal with tough skeletons in the collective Mormon history closet in a faithful way. Apostles Boyd K. Packer, Mark E. Peterson, and Ezra Taft Benson shut the project down. However, for a brief period, historians D. Michael Quinn, James Allen, and Dean Jessee were briefly granted access to Clayton’s Nauvoo journals. Quinn only transcribed a small amount of Clayton’s Nauvoo journals and he only did it for his own private research.
However, Dean Jessee and Jim Allen were tasked with transcribing major portions of the 2 Nauvoo journal books separately. They found out that they were working on the same project and decided to combine forces by evenly splitting the work. Through Dean Jessee and Jim Allen, church-employed historians, the entire 2 books of Clayton’s Nauvoo Journals were transcribed into a 350-page double-spaced transcript in their entirety.
This project was only known by a few people at the time it was being completed, but word eventually got out. Everybody in the realm of Mormon history in the late 70s and early 80s went on high alert watching for a typescript of these Clayton Nauvoo journals to surface.
Now enters BYU graduate students Lyndon Cook and Andrew Ehat. Ehat and Cook were working on their dissertations which required extracts from the William Clayton Journals. Their research would later be published as The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Ehat and Cook needed Clayton’s 2 Nauvoo journals for some extracts on Jo’s sermons and revelations that only William Clayton had recorded. Here’s where the leak happened. Lydon Cook shared an office with a bishop. This guy noticed an odd little document on Cook’s desk. This document was an 88-page single-spaced transcript of Clayton’s Nauvoo journals taken from Dean Jessee’s and Jim Allen’s typescript. This guy snagged the document from Cook’s desk, made a copy, and replaced it; Cook was none the wiser. Copies of copies were made and immediately began circulating BYU campus.
A reckoning was nigh. Apostle Boyd K. Packer caught wind of what happened and all fingers pointed to Andy Ehat for not guarding his copy from unwashed hands. I haven’t found an actual version of this online so the story may be shrouded in some folklore, but apparently Packer completely lost his shit. The Clayton journals could harm the church and this was the era of New Mormon History. This was 1981. Sunstone was really gaining steam. Signature Books was becoming a force to be reckoned with. The work of secular historians outside the employ and control of the church were gaining popularity. The Clayton Journals could set a fire in the community that might never be snuffed out and Boyd Packer knew this typescript leak was a massive problem. Packer called Andy Ehat into his office and told him to recover every single copy. There’s even a story of Andy Ehat following a student at BYU campus who had a copy until he could corner him and demand the copy. The guy refused to give it up. Like I said, I couldn’t find corroboration of this story so it may be folklore.
It didn’t take long for this Ehat transcript to make its way into the hands of Jerald and Sandra Tanner at Utah Lighthouse Ministries, the leading force of so-called anti-Mormon literature in the 70s and 80s. One person’s anti-Mormon literature is the rest of the world’s academic history and the Tanners decided to publish the Clayton Nauvoo journals under the title of Clayton’s Secret Writings Uncovered; a controversial title for a controversial book. Now, remember, this was Andy Ehat’s 88-page copy of Dean Jessee’s and Jim Allen’s 350-page typescript, it was not the entirety of the Nauvoo Clayton Journals. Ehat’s 88-page copy was his own extracts from the full Jessee-Allen typescript with Ehat’s own notes.
Once that Tanners published their copy, Clayton’s Nauvoo journals caught fire in the Mormon history community. Andy Ehat sued the Tanners. There’s an interesting legal question here that Ehat’s lawsuit centered around, and it has to do with the exact details of the transcript they published. Ehat’s transcript was filled with his own notes. Those notes were copyrighted. However, the actual Clayton journals themselves weren’t copyrighted and therefore fell in the public domain as the author had been dead for over 100 years and the Clayton Family Foundation hadn’t filed the necessary paperwork to recopyright the work. The copy the Tanners published had Ehat’s notes redacted so as not to infringe on copyright, but the courts were forced to rule on the question of whether or not a document in the public domain, yet in a private collection, fell under the rule of copyright.
Ehat won the initial lawsuit under Judge Christensen, a believing Mormon, but the Tanners filed for an appeal. The Tanners won on appeal, which set the precedent that they could published private collection documents and journals if not copyrighted. Now, Ehat, the church, or anybody trying to suppress documents like the Clayton diaries, no longer had legal standing to sue people like the Tanners who publish suppressed or hidden documents.
I wanted to know more about this story so I decided to give Sandra Tanner a call. The audio here isn’t great because it’s a phone call, but Sandra’s memory is remarkable after more than 3 decades of the events transpiring. Here you go:
The depositions she alluded to and the entirety of the case is a topic for another day. I’ll read the issue of the Messenger that provided a summary of the case and announced the end of the trial after the court of appeals ruled in favor of the Tanners.
On April 28, 1983, the Mormon scholar Andrew Ehat filed a lawsuit against us (Jerald and Sandra Tanner) in an attempt to stop publication of some extracts from the diaries of Joseph Smith's private secretary, William Clayton. Because these diaries contain embarrassing material on the origin of polygamy and other matters, they have been suppressed in the vault of the First Presidency of the Mormon Church. In 1979-80 Mr. Ehat gained access to a copy of the diaries and made the revealing extracts. Ehat tried very hard to keep the material from falling into the hands of the critics of the Mormon church, but a member of a bishopric surreptitiously duplicated a copy which Ehat had given to Lyndon Cook and it was widely circulated by Mormon scholars at Brigham Young University. These extracts subsequently found their way into our hands, and we printed them in the book Clayton's Secret Writings Uncovered.
We felt the law did not support Ehat's charge of copyright violation and cited the following from Section 103(b) of Title 17, United States Code: "The copyright in a compilation or derivative work extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work, as distinguished from the preexisting material employed in the work, and does not imply any exclusive right in the preexisting material." Since Mr. Ehat's notes are composed of extracts from "preexisting" material (i.e., the diaries of William Clayton), we felt that he could not claim copyright protection.
On March 21, 1984, Judge A. Sherman Christensen commenced a trial which ended in a very unexpected way. On March 25 the Judge announced that we were correct in saying that Mr. Ehat had no copyright in the Clayton material: "2. That the plaintiff has no copyrightable interest in the so-called Ehat notes nor their ideas nor content, and that plaintiffs claim against the defendants for copyright infringement should be dismissed with prejudice." (Court Ruling, page 17) Instead of dismissing the case, however, Judge Christensen apparently felt that we should be punished in some way for printing the sensitive material. He, therefore, awarded $16,000 for what he said was "unfair competition" and damage to Ehat's reputation. We felt that Judge Christensen's decision was completely unjust and contrary to the law. Since Christensen was a Mormon, Andrew Ehat's lawyer, Gordon A. Madsen, apparently felt that he could capitalize on the religious issue. In the depositions he took from us, he asked questions to make it clear that we had left the church and were publishing sensitive church documents. This, of course, could create a great deal of prejudice towards us in the mind of a believing Mormon.
Finally, on December 30, 1985, the U.S. Court of Appeals For The Tenth Circuit ruled in our favor and completely overturned Judge Christensen's decision:
"Ehat's complaint asserted claims under the federal copyright statutes, on which the judge granted summary judgment for the Tanners. In addition, the complaint alleged state common law claims for unfair competition and unjust enrichment. Following a bench trial on these claims, the Court entered judgment for Ehat. On appeal, the Tanners assert that the district court erred in awarding damages on Ehat's common law claims because those claims are preempted by the federal copyright statutes. We agree....State law forbidding others to copy an article 'unprotected by a patent or a copyright...would interfere with the federal policy, found in...the Constitution and in the implementing federal statutes, of allowing free access to copy whatever the federal patent and copyright laws leave in the public domain.'... We cannot agree with the district court that Ehat's state claim was not within the scope of copyright because it was based on his right in the notes 'as a physical matter and property.'...the court awarded Ehat $12,000 for general damage to his reputation as a scholar-that claim is preempted as well....
"Ehat 'cannot achieve by an unfair competition claim what [he] failed to achieve under [his] copyright claim.'... Ehat's state law claim is preempted. The case is reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion." ("Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Utah" [D. C. No. 83-0593C], pages 2-4, 6-8)
Andrew Ehat's lawyer had originally argued before Judge Christensen that if he could not prove that there had been a copyright violation his entire case would fail:
"THE COURT: Do you concede that if the law is that the quotations of your quotation from the journal doesn't violate any proprietary interest of your client that your case fails?
"MR. MADSEN: I think it does. I think if they can say this is not copyright material and they therefore are at liberty to print it." ("Hearing to Quash Subpoena Duces Tecum and Objections," Sept 6, 1983, pages 10-11)
Mr. Madsen now argues that "uncopyrightable material" is also protected by law. After the U.S. Court of Appeals issued their decision against his client, Madsen submitted a "PETITION FOR REHEARING AND SUGGESTION FOR REHEARING EN BANC." He asked the Court to "rehear the appeal and reconsider the opinion heretofore rendered in this case..." He claimed that if the decision was allowed to stand, the result would be "intolerable" and "immoral." On February 10, 1986, the Court of Appeals responded…
"The petition for rehearing having been denied by the panel to whom the case was argued and submitted, and no member of the panel nor judge in regular active sercice [sic] on the Court having requested that the Court be polled on rehearing en banc, Rule 35, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, the suggestion for rehearing en banc is denied."
This was the end of the matter. Like I said, the actual case, the arguments, the depositions, all of that is the subject for another day. The result of all of this means that the Tanners or anybody else could print materials that were in the public domain, even if those materials are being suppressed from the public in a private collection. It’s a wonderfully fascinating case and it bodes well for the realm of Mormon history, and history in general. If you don’t want the world to see the sensitive material in some secret journal, the only insurance you have is to keep it close because if it gets out, there’s no legal recourse. Hot off the tails of this lawsuit came the inception of a new book which I’ve alluded to previously in the episode, An Intimate Chronicle.
Beginning in 1987-8, a historian named George D. Smith began cobbling together all of Clayton’s journals, the Manchester journal from 1840-42, the 2 Nauvoo Journals, the Nauvoo Temple Journal, the Overland Journal, the 1852 survey Journal, the 1852-53 England Mission Journal, and 3 other select writings from Clayton, into his book titled An Intimate Chronicle; the Journals of William Clayton. George D. Smith published An Intimate Chronicle through signature books. George Smith’s copy of the Nauvoo journals is based on the leaked copy published by the Tanners, corroborated and corrected by other leaked manuscripts, typescripts from D. Michael Quinn, and any other source which included Clayton’s Nauvoo writings, with some redundancies removed. This book supposedly contains an abridgement of about 85-90% of Clayton’s most controversial writings from the Nauvoo period, the last 10-15% remains closed to researchers and ripe for speculation and unmerited hype. But, even those numbers are a source of controversy that we’ll be getting in to momentarily.
George D. Smith’s Intimate Chronicles received a lot of flak when it was released. It was an abridgement, not a complete typescript of all the leaked Nauvoo writings of William Clayton. The major flaw in the Nauvoo Journals included in An Intimate Chronicle was the fact that Smith didn’t check his leaked copy against the holographs of the actual journals, which is standard practice among historians. But, nobody can access the journal holographs to check them because the church completely restricts access to them for any researcher for any reason. I’m sure George Smith would have LOVED to check his leaked copy against the actual holographs, but he was repeatedly denied access just like every other historian who’s asked.
Some other controversy about the book centered around his abridgement practices. As is the nature with an editor like George Smith, it was up to his discretion to decide what to, and what not to, include from the various journals. Immediately upon George Smith’s books being published, Jim Allen, the church historian who originally worked on the typescript of the Nauvoo Clayton Journals with Dean Jessee in the late 70s, wrote a review of George Smith’s book. Smith responded. Allen responded to the response, and Smith responded again. Their entire back and forth was reprinted in an article for Dialogue; a Journal of Mormon Thought in the Summer 1997 issue. The exchange is fascinating and I’ll include a link to it in the show notes for this week, but to watch these two scholars duke it out in a public forum is simply fantastic. Before reading a few excerpts, just to review. This all started with George Smith’s 1991 book that printed Clayton’s Nauvoo Journals based on the leaked content. Allen, when he wrote this, was one of two historians on the planet who’d even seen Clayton’s Nauvoo Journals in person, let alone typescripted and reviewed them for errors. Allen, when this was written, was arguably the foremost expert on Clayton’s Nauvoo Journals, and he took great exception with the way George D. Smith had written and edited Clayton’s journals. Here we go, first with the initial criticisms by Jim Allen.
Despite its strengths, several problems are inherent in this publication. "Journal 2" is so incomplete that it cannot be relied upon to provide a full or balanced perspective. "Journal 3" is not a William Clayton journal at all, but, rather, a Heber C. Kimball journal. And the abridgements of two previously published Clayton documents, "Journal 1" and "Journal 4," are so severe that the serious student of Mormon history will want to look at the originals anyway…
The most problematical document in this collection is "Journal 2: Nauvoo, Illinois, 1842-1846." The original three volumes which comprise this journal are owned by the LDS church and cover the period of 27 November 1842 to 30 January 1846. They constitute an immensely valuable source for understanding the life of Joseph Smith as well as the history of the church during its final years in Nauvoo. Clayton made significant observations, for example, on the tender relationship between Joseph and Emma Smith, as well as some of the tensions between them. He also wrote of Joseph's relationship with other people (both friends and enemies), efforts to institute plural marriage, and the recording of the revelation on plural marriage. Clayton kept the accounts related to building the temple, kept other church records, took care of many of Joseph Smith's business transactions, was involved in the prophet's political activities, participated in Nauvoo's cultural life, observed and helped out in the solution of the many problems that followed Joseph Smith's death, and was deeply involved in the preparations for leaving Nauvoo.2 Scholars should be wary of this "abridgement," however, for the editor did not have access to the original journals. Instead, he relied, for the most part, on highly selected excerpts compiled in 1979 by Andrew Ehat as notes for his specific research interests.
Then Allen discusses the travesty of Clayton’s journals leaking and the ensuing chaos when the Tanners printed it and were sued by Andy Ehat. He likens the spread of Clayton’s leaked journals to “…the proverbial feathers tossed to the wind, duplicates spread rapidly”. The most notable detail of Allen’s critical review is he comes honestly by the fact that George Smith had no access to the original Nauvoo Clayton Journals. They’re closed to researchers! Nobody has access to them! George Smith, in his introduction to the book laments that he was unable to gain access to the Clayton Journals in question. Everybody knows that Smith’s book would have been so much better if he had full unencumbered access to the journals, but then Allen uses it as a critical attack against Smith. Only Jim Allen and Dean Jessee know the extent to which Smith’s book is lacking compared to the full journals and Allen is nice enough to give us approximate percentages.
Smith's introduction to this journal leaves some misleading impressions about its full content. He says, for example, that the Ehat excerpts comprise "approximately one-half of the original holograph journal" (lvi, note). Since he never saw the holograph, however, he had no way of knowing that there are actually 1,170 daily entries in the three journals. Smith provides a full, or nearly full, reproduction of 102 entries (8.7 percent) and partial reproductions of another 254 (21.7 percent). Considering all the omissions from the partial entries, it is safe to estimate that less than 25 percent of the whole is included in this publication. Scholars should be very cautious when they try to interpret what is there, for 75 percent of the whole is missing.
Allen’s criticisms are warranted, but only because the church is hiding Clayton’s Nauvoo journals! It didn’t have to be this way. They could have granted George Smith access to the journals or published the journals themselves, but instead Smith had to rely on copies of copies of excerpts from one person’s own specific personal research to attempt a reconstruction which Allen notes is barely 25% complete. Allen’s original critical review summarizes his thoughts on the Nauvoo journals with this:
The result, so far as An Intimate Chronicle is concerned, is an abridgement that leaves the worst kind of imbalance. It is not a scholarly abridgement based on a consistent rationale concerning what is important enough to include or insignificant enough to leave out. All these issues raise questions about the propriety of republishing the excerpts at all. Working without permission to study the original documents doomed their editor to the production of a manifoldly flawed volume…
An Intimate Chronicle brings together, mostly in abridged fashion and often relying on secondhand sources, several documents produced by William Clayton. Most of the collection has been published elsewhere, but having it available in one volume, even though the abridgement sometimes leaves misleading impressions, provides students of Mormon history with a modest tool for studying some aspects of Clayton and his times. But it must be used with caution.
These are fair criticisms but mostly were of necessity because George Smith, along with every other historian who isn’t Jim Allen or Dean Jessee, are still completely denied access to Clayton’s Nauvoo Journals. Smith’s reproduction of Clayton’s Nauvoo Journals is flawed through almost no fault of his own. Allen did take issue with some of the editing and abridging choices by George Smith, but I leave those up to the reader to interpret whether or not Smith’s edits were merited or reasonable. Now, George Smith responded in an article to this criticism, titling it A Response: the Politics of Mormon History, so you know this is going to be good. Here are a few excerpts:
Though he acknowledged some value in having all of Clayton's journals together, Allen pronounced my abridged presentation inadequate to provide either sufficient balance or scholarship and implied that it would have been better not to have published the book at all… He may be an expert on Clayton, but I believe a more impartial reviewer would have commented differently. Ultimately, his review reveals more about the contemporary politics of research into Mormon history than it does about my editorial treatment of William Clayton's journals… Thus Allen dissented from the generally warm welcome the book received from readers, reviewers, historians, libraries, and the public. Even so, his voice commands a serious hearing. For within the Mormon historical community, he is a visible and respected scholar… as I noted in the introduction to An Intimate Chronicle, I was unable to access the complete text of Clayton's important Nauvoo Journal, a fact that Allen misuses in his attempt to discredit the entire compilation… Insofar as Allen questions my specific abridgements, I am happy to discuss them. But his blanket characterization of the entire book as a "modest tool" completely ignores the criteria upon which I based what to include and exclude as well as difficulties necessarily imposed by my limited access to the Nauvoo Journal. In fact, Allen calls Clayton's Nauvoo Journal "the most problematical document in the collection ... so incomplete [it] cannot be relied upon" for "full or balanced perspective." As Allen knows, this journal is indeed a special case… Although An Intimate Chronicle made a vital part of Clayton's Nauvoo Journal available to readers, more than had been published before, the value of the volume would unquestionably have been enhanced had I had access to the entire document or been able to publish other entries that I acquired information about. But Allen's judgment of the book fails to mention pertinent context for this particular journal.
The next point in Smith’s counter to Allen’s review is simply incredible. Apparently Smith had asked for Allen’s collaboration in the Nauvoo Journal portion of the book, but was denied. Allen and Smith working together would have bolstered the Nauvoo portion of Clayton’s journals and Allen was arguably the foremost expert on those journals at the time. However, because Smith had been a skeptical and respected historian for well over a decade by the time An Intimate Chronical was out, Allen didn’t agree to collaborate. The way the interactions are portrayed by Smith certainly reveals that Allen was working in the shadow of the ivory tower in Salt Lake City; he couldn’t act freely as a true historian because his employer wouldn’t allow it. This passage certainly brings the title of Smith’s rebuttal, The Politics of Mormon History, into focus. Here we go:
In 1988, early in my work on the journals, I invited Allen to collaborate, because of his own interest in Clayton. In fact, in 1979 Allen, at the time Assistant LDS Church Historian, had been among a handful of researchers permitted to examine Clayton's original Nauvoo Journal, and over a three-week period he and colleague Dean C. Jessee had typed a 300-page, double-spaced typescript of the journal. The next year, when he moved along with other members of the LDS historical department to the BYU campus, he took his typescript with him. But according to his own sworn testimony, Allen had only received official permission to "use" the Nauvoo Journal, not to make his own copy of it.14 By the time I began work on An Intimate Chronicle, the Nauvoo Journal had never been published in its entirety, and Allen was a natural choice to participate. When we first spoke about it just prior to the Mormon History Association meeting in May 1988, he was enthusiastic. Only one obstacle remained to his involvement, a task that came with his roles as Assistant Church Historian and a member of the BYU faculty: to publish his typescript, he believed he first had to obtain permission from the current Church Historian and managing director of the historical department. Over the next six months Allen's disposition toward the project changed significantly. When I visited him in his BYU office on 5 December of that year, he said he could not talk about Clayton, could not offer any help, asked me not to mention his name in connection with the publication of the diaries, and cautioned me that the meeting we were having "never took place." The next time I saw him, on 21 February 1990, he denied ever having asked for permission to edit the Nauvoo Journal. He then gave some warning advice about the project, and we agreed that since he had provided me with no help there would be no acknowledgment of him in my publication. In An Intimate Chronicle I explicitly noted that Allen and Jessee "have not shared this [their typescript] with the editor" (lvi, nl26).
The meeting never took place about the Clayton Nauvoo journals. How can we trust the church to be honest about its history when this is how one of their historians treated an independent historian who was working in earnest to publish an integral piece of Nauvoo history? Smith continues his scathing response to Allen:
…the portion published in An Intimate Chronicle comprises significantly more of the original holographic text than the 25 percent Allen erroneously asserted in his review. Allen both undercounted the published Nauvoo Journal entries and ignored my description of omitted entries. His calculations were based on the number of entries printed compared to the total entries in the journal… Though Allen objected to it as "misleading," I stand by my estimate based on a comparative page count adjusted for spacing that "approximately half" of the text of the Nauvoo Journal appears in An Intimate Chronicle. Now that the way has been paved, hopefully Allen (or others) will soon publish a complete copy of the Nauvoo Journal.
Smith wasn’t done with Allen but he next takes aim at the church as an institution keeping these Nauvoo Clayton journals secret. Smith’s mind is a weapon in this next passage:
Underlying the barriers to my examination of all the original Clayton manuscripts is the fact that LDS church leaders continue to refuse unrestricted access to selected sources of our common history. Such policies make Allen's debate over scholarly handling meaningless: church leaders choose who has access and how they use the information they get. And for all his assertions regarding my lack of scholarly responsibility, Allen strategically failed to inform readers that his own typescript copy of the Nauvoo Journal was not "authorized," since he did not receive permission to use the handwritten journal left with him in his office and there make a full verbatim typescript of it.15 Ironically, Allen's own unauthorized typescript became the source of a portion of the "unofficial" copy he now criticizes me for having used… Unauthorized personal use such as Allen himself has made of Clayton's Nauvoo Journal is but one manifestation of the clandestine and arbitrary process imposed by restricted access; but it does not even contribute to the scholarly responsibility Allen calls for. Furthermore, what is there to hide? By most accounts, the most "explosive" material in the Nauvoo Journal had already been published.
After this passage, Smith goes into various technical detail about a couple of the other journals beyond the 2 Nauvoo books, even taking Jim Allen to task for his own editing practices of various Clayton Journal entries. George Smith finally summarizes his response to Allen’s criticisms with the following:
Clearly I am disappointed with what I see as Allen's lack of scholarly balance. In fact, I believe he managed to accomplish what he accused An Intimate Chronicle of doing: he wasted an opportunity to provide a useful research document. He reflected the attitude of those church officials and historians who call for the restriction of important historical materials. After refusing to contribute to the publication of these important historical journals, and then actively discouraging the process, he turned judgments about historical standards to political ends. He raised issues— some legitimate, some spurious—of sources and balance rather than addressing underlying problems of restricted access which have borne upon his own career as well as the publication of William Clayton's journals. In assuming this role, Allen failed to take advantage of an opportunity to speak out against the policies which weaken the practice of good scholarship among Mormons.
Smith’s responses to Allen’s criticisms fall under two basic categories.
- the editorial and historical practices Smith used to make a concise copy of Clayton’s journals were warranted and necessary, even if context is lost in some respects. 2) and I would argue this is the most important issue; Allen and every other church or BYU historian choose to politicize and restrict access to crucial sources at the behest of the institution because they can’t stand controversial materials surfacing. As Smith says, these weaken the overall practice of Mormon historical studies and diminish good scholarship among Mormons. I would add that keeping certain documents secret out of fear they may harm the beliefs of members infantilizes them. The average chapel-attending Mormon can’t be trusted with the content of William Clayton’s journals, so we simply choose to not publish them and hide them away from historians until the journals eventually leak. This is not history, it’s politics and apologetics, which have no place in the field of academic history. Even when George Smith repeatedly asked for Jim Allen’s assistance in compiling An Intimate Chronicle, Allen repeatedly refused, had a personal meeting with Smith and told him that the meeting they had never happened.
I want to pick up on one response Smith offered to Allen and briefly comment. Smith said: “Furthermore, what is there to hide? By most accounts, the most "explosive" material in the Nauvoo Journal had already been published.” By most accounts is a tricky phrase. By who’s reckoning? Who has seen the entire Nauvoo Journals, read the entire transcript from Andy Ehat published by the Tanners, and read Smith’s An Intimate Chronicle to know if, indeed, the most explosive material has already been published? Explosive by what or whose standards? I’ve talked to three separate historians at separate times who’ve all parroted that same line, but they don’t actually know for sure. The only people who know for sure are Jim Allen and Dean Jessee. Dean Jessee was born in 1929 so he’s been phasing himself out of the realm of Mormon history for the past 2 decades. Jim Allen, however, was the only person who publicly and officially responded to George Smith’s book on the William Clayton Journals and he’s arguably the only human on the planet who could make the judgement on whether or not the most “explosive” content has already been published. Besides, what’s explosive to Jim Allen may be run of the mill for many other historians and what he thinks merits absolutely no mention may be groundbreaking for other historians. I simply don’t trust Jim Allen’s judgement on what is “explosive” or not, just like we can’t trust the repeated assertions of George Smith and plenty of other historians who claim all the “explosive” stuff is out there, because they simply don’t know. None of us know because the church still continues to hide Clayton’s controversial Nauvoo Journals.
In view of George Smith’s heated response and general commentary on the politics of Mormon history, Jim Allen wrote a response. His response focused almost exclusively on the Nauvoo Journals and the editing practice Smith used to contain them in An Intimate Chronicle. Remember, all George Smith had access to was Andy Ehat’s leaked transcript and he made various estimations on the completeness of Clayton’s Nauvoo Journals in An Intimate Chronicle based on numbers alone. Smith calculated that Dean Jessee’s and Jim Allen’s transcript was either 300 or 350 double-spaced pages, while Andy Ehat’s was 88 pages single spaced. He assumed with redundant material and meaningless entries like “It was sunny out” being removed, that he had roughly 50% of the total Nauvoo Journals and nearly all the “most explosive” material included. Allen claimed, based on his own calculus, that Smith only included roughly 25% of the Nauvoo Journals and Allen’s response to Smith’s response reiterated this calculation. He once again asserted this in reference to the dearth of actual material included in the Nauvoo journal section of An Intimate Chronicle:
For these reasons I felt it important to warn prospective readers that "Journal 2" is not a real "abridgement" based on the same consistent rationale that governed Smith's abridgement of the other journals in An Intimate Chronicle. Rather, it is an often misleading "agglomeration of unconnected ... and out-of-context excerpts." This is not a criticism of Smith's editing, for he did a good job with what he had before him. It is simply part of my concern over whether this journal should have been published at all in that form.
And of course he questions whether it should have been published at all because he was sworn to secrecy about his own transcription project and the only material the public has about Clayton’s Nauvoo journals came from a leak that church officials and historians tried to seal up until the Tanners got a copy. In no world would Jim Allen have wanted Clayton’s Nauvoo journals published, regardless of how complete the transcript was.
After this, Allen gives his side of the story when he was approached by George Smith to collaborate on publishing the Clayton Journals. He gives his recitation of events from 1988, when the project was conceived, and relates the enthusiasm he felt about publishing the journals. Then things took a turn:
My response to that early contact was "yes," but only if Signature Books could get approval from the church to publish the Nauvoo journals. Later, on 11 November, George Smith telephoned me, affirming Signature Books's plans to publish all the Clayton journals. It is not clear from my notes that he specifically invited me to collaborate, but my memory says that this is what happened. I also remember that I expressed some "excitement" at the possibility of getting the Nauvoo diaries published, for I thought they would make a valuable contribution to scholarship. I make a point of this because of Smith's comment that my disposition had "changed significantly" by 5 December. I made it clear from the beginning that I would love to see the journals published but that I did not want to participate in such a venture without church permission. Later in November I had a conversation about the Clayton journals with Elder John K. Carmack (Assistant Executive Director of the LDS historical department). It was clear from that conversation, however, that it would not be possible to obtain permission at that time, so I dropped the matter. On 5 December George Smith came to see me in my office, and we also had lunch together. I told him, again, that I did not want to be involved, for I thought it was improper to publish the Nauvoo journals without church permission. Although I certainly showed less enthusiasm in December than I did in May, my basic position did not change.
Understandably, the meeting, according to Jim Allen’s notes, didn’t occur the way George Smith reported it, nor did the part about Allen telling Smith the meeting never happened. We can’t know for sure what happened here so I’ll leave it with you, the skeptical listener, to think what you’d like. Allen summarizes his critiques after getting into some technical detail of Smith’s editing and abridgement judgements.
In summary, then, I appreciate George Smith's meticulous work in ferreting out considerable new information about William Clayton, and I recognize that some parts of An Intimate Chronicle deserve more praise than I gave. At the same time I feel that his publication of the Nauvoo journal was professionally irresponsible, and I still question whether the Nauvoo "Temple Journal" may legitimately be considered a Clayton journal at all. I hope this response to Smith's critique has shed additional useful light on our differences, and I thank the editors of Dialogue for this opportunity.
The final blow came from George Smith titled “A Rejoinder”. It’s 2 paragraphs. It’s clear Smith was done dealing with Allen and they had gone enough rounds in the academic ring for this exchange to be over.
JAMES ALLEN HAS DONE AN EXTRAORDINARY job of placing William Clayton before the Mormon community. That is why I wanted to involve him in helping to prepare the journals for publication. But even with that accomplishment, the question arises: What should one say to an historian, however well-meaning, who advocates depriving a community of its history? We should not be diverted by Allen's specious arguments about whether Clayton's valuable Nauvoo temple record should have been published somewhere else (it would not have been), and whether one should await the reluctant acquiescence from a church repository when one has permission to publish from family members who hold the literary rights to the manuscript. I suspect Allen is speaking on behalf of the silent but incessant voice of those church authorities who did not want this important document published. The community is ill-served by an elitist system which allows one historian to hold a document and, with feigned impartiality, then issue judgements which fault others for not having the same access… I hope he will now redeem his role as a highly qualified historian by encouraging and cooperating with efforts to make the entire journal available. Any goal less than full access to the historical record is ultimately unacceptable. I hope the six Clayton journals abridged and collected in An Intimate Chronicle will further the process of an open Mormon history. (mic drop)
This entire exchange between academics surrounding such an important and controversial original source of Nauvoo history is wonderfully fascinating. Like I said, you’ll find a link to the entire Dialogue article in the show notes and I encourage you to read it in order to understand how civility can remain in disagreements even among ideologically opposed historians.
So, where does that leave us when it comes to Clayton’s Nauvoo Journals? In 2017 the sphere of Mormon History once again ignited with an exciting announcement. The Church Historian’s Press, in conjunction with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, announced they would release the full Nauvoo Clayton Journals, complete with transcript and high-resolution scans openly available to all interested researchers. They didn’t announce a deadline, however, and the project has been pushed to the back-burner until the entire Joseph Smith Papers Project is concluded. That means we’ll hopefully gain access to the final 10-15% of Clayton’s hidden writings in 2021 or 2022 if all goes according to plan.
During this entire 4-decade-long fiasco, and for decades before Dean Jessee and Jim Allen made their 350-page typescript, dozens of independent historians have been harshly critical of the church suppressing these secret journals. The church has been hiding the content of William Clayton’s journals since the late 1850s; historians have known they’ve existed in church archives for over 150 years. This is inexcusable. This is the church hiding their own history because Clayton’s journals reveal a side of Nauvoo history with a completely candid approach to the most controversial time of Joseph Smith’s life. Other journal writers like Wilford Woodruff, Hosea Stout, and Eliza Snow, are very cryptic in their references to polygamy, theocracy, and the inner-workings of the Nauvoo empire. Clayton spells it all out, especially what average every-day polygamy in Nauvoo looked like while he was living it.
How did we get here? How did we begin with talking about some of the most controversial aspects of Mormon history and end up with 2 scholars bickering about some guy’s journal? Well, William Clayton was responsible for the Council of Fifty minutes. He was the scribe. William Clayton was the guy responsible for recording what took place in the meetings of the Council of Fifty.
Now, we’ll be getting into what the meeting minutes contained in the next few weeks, but suffice it to say, the content is absolutely treasonous against the United States at the same time Jo was running for President of the country. If the minutes ever got out, he’d instantly be arrested and hanged for high treason. There’s no other way around that fact. William Clayton kept the minutes for the Council of Fifty from March to June of 1844 when the Nauvoo Expositor was published. The Council of Fifty agreed to burn the Nauvoo Expositor printing press down, details of which are present in the minutes and Clayton’s Nauvoo Journal, and Jo went into hiding to evade arrest. 3 days before Jo and Hyrum Smith gave themselves up to state authorities and were incarcerated at the Carthage Jail, Jo told William Clayton to “burn the records of the kingdom, or put them in some safe hands and send them away or else bury them”. Clayton elected for the last of these and buried his notebook containing the minutes. The minutes remained interred underground in Nauvoo for a little over a week. Jo and Hyrum were assassinated on June 27, 1844, and a few days later, William Clayton exhumed the minutes.
Unfortunately, the water table in Nauvoo, especially during June and July, is crazy. The minutes were so badly damaged that only small fragments survived. William Clayton, the studious and tenacious record-keeper he was, reconstructed the minutes into a new notebook from the fragments that survived, his own daily journal, and from his own memory. Those minutes were brought across the plains with Clayton’s personal effects and interred in the church historian’s archives. In September 2016, The Joseph Smith Papers Project published the minutes.
We’ve discussed William Clayton extensively this episode but our real focus is the Council of Fifty as we begin this series. William Clayton, as scribe, is the sole person responsible for historians today knowing what happened in those closed-door meetings. But what was the actual purpose of the Council of Fifty?
According to the church’s own article about the release of the minutes:
As explained in information text displayed in the exhibit, the Council of Fifty was organized by the Prophet Joseph Smith on March 11, 1844, “to establish a government or a new home outside of the United States where the rights [of Church members] would be protected. It was referred to as the Council of Fifty because it had approximately 50 members.”… The content of the minutes for many years has been the subject of intense speculation by persons interested in Church history because the document has not been available for public inspection. The minutes became part of the collection of records of the First Presidency, where they remained throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, until they were transferred to the Church History Department in 2010.
And, indeed, the minutes have been a place of speculation and excitement for historians for well over a century, but only now are the minutes accessible to people who don’t have to get church authorization. Now, anybody, yours truly included, can read through William Clayton’s entire reconstruction of the minutes and pick out the gems for those interested in the content. With that in mind, let’s read the first day’s minutes when the Council of Fifty was first convened on March 11, 1844.
Monday March 11th. 1844 The council met in the room over brother Henry <W> Millers house at 9 o clock A.M. The brethren continued to express their views on the foregoing subjects and many others of importance. All seemed agreed to look to some place where we can go and establish a Theocracy either in Texas or Oregon or somewhere in California &c. The brethren spoke very warmly on the subject, and also on the subject of forming a constitution which shall be according to the mind of God and erect it between the heavens and the earth where all nations might flow unto it. This was considered as a “standard” to the people an ensign to the nations &c. E[lde]r Lucian [Lucien] Woodworth was very sanguine for the measure to be carried into effect. He said he had long desired it and now inasmuch as it had been proposed to organize this meeting into a council he was in favor of its being organized on an eternal principle after the order of God, every member of it to be bound to eternal secrecy as to what passed here, not to have the privilege of telling anything which might be talked of to any person even to our wives, and the man who broke the rule “should lose his cursedhead”. He finally offered this as a resolution which was passed unanimously and became a law of the council. Prest. Joseph gave much instructions on many subjects & laid down the order of organization after the pattern of heaven. The following brethren being present they were all unanimously admitted members of the council to wit. President Joseph Smith was received as our standing chairman. Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, Willard Richards, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith, Wm W. Phelps, Lucian Woodworth, George Miller, Alexander Badlam, Peter Haws, Erastus Snow, Reynolds Cahoon, Amos Fielding, Alpheus Cutler, Levi Richards[,] Newel K. Whitney, John M. Bernhisel, Lorenzo D. Wasson and Wm Clayton. These brethren were all seated in order according to their ages the oldest member being seated at the right hand of the chairman and forming a semicircle in front of the chair the youngest member seated at the left of the chairman. Whenever any resolution was offered to the council all the members had to vote viva voce beginning at the oldest and on down to the youngest. Willard Richards was appointed Recorder and Wm Clayton Clerk. After this organization and all having taken their seats the chairman continued his instructions. He said it was universally necessary before any resolution could become a law to have the vote of all the members of the council unless some of the members should be absent on business for the council. The most perfect harmony prevailed during the whole of this council and the brethren all feel as though the day of our deliverance was at hand.
The day of the Mormon theocracy was at hand. That was the purpose of the Council of Fifty. The minute book itself is titled “Record of the Council of Fifty or Kingdom of God”. This was what Jo had built up to his entire life, had been aspiring to for nearly 14 years of ministry, and was now putting into actual plans. Jo was ready to be ruler of the world. He would be crowned King of Israel by this council. When the church’s own website says this was created for the purpose of ensuring the rights of the members, that’s not the freedom to preach Mormonism in the public square, those were the rights to build a Mormon theocracy without the government squashing the movement as had happened so many times during Jo’s life. The Council of Fifty was organized to figure out how to subjugate the American continent under the will of the almighty prophet, Joseph Smith. If his bid for President of the United States was successful, his cabinet and every government office would be filled by members of the Council of Fifty and he would have made every effort to make Mormonism the State religion of America. If his campaign wasn’t successful, he’d march the Mormons thousands of miles across the continent to a land where they wouldn’t be bothered and could build their kingdom in peace, only to return to overtake the American government by a force of tens of thousands of Mormons allied with tens of thousands of Native Americans who would no longer accept colonialism.
Joseph Smith would stop at nothing to become the ruler of this country. The Book of Mormon set the dominos in place, the Council of Fifty pushed the first one over, setting off a chain of events that shaped American history from that time forward. This series is arguably the most important series we’ve ever done on this podcast because it sets the tone for Mormonism during the remainder of the 19th century. The blueprints Jo laid in the meetings of the Council of Fifty became Bloody Brigham’s construction manifesto in Utah where he ruled the Mormon theocratic empire with an iron fist. Jo set in motion a chain of events that led to the extermination and conquest of tens of thousands of Native Americans, slavery and sex trafficking, open defiance against the United States government, high treason, murders and mysterious deaths, colonialism in its truest form, complete and total intertwining of religious and secular territorial governments; all of which formed the Utah we know today. The mere existence of the Council of Fifty was an act of treason against the United States, the meetings behind closed doors laid bare the true intentions of Jo’s Mormonism, to build Zion on the American continent, that the earth may be renewed and receive its glory of theocratic rule once and for all. The last official meeting of the Council of Fifty was in 1884, but there’s no evidence it was actually dissolved after that meeting. Strap in, folks. These next few weeks will reveal the true face of the demon living behind the granite white façade of the Mormon empire.
Reed Arrington reminder next weekend
Alex Smith was working on WC journal publication. Alex was pulled from project until JSPP is complete.
Joseph Anderson under Heber Grant wants to see Council of Fifty minutes. Told to ask Joseph F. Smith, turned down. Under Arrington people were asking to see them, turned down. Even Arrington wasn’t granted access.
Last charge, when Jo told council they were his successors. No contemporary source. In 1845 Orson Hyde claims Last Charge happened spring 1844.
Quest For Empire Klaus Hansen did dissertation on everything we know about CoF without seeing minutes.
As part of JSPP, they considered CoF minutes were part of JSPP, scanned and published 2016-7.
Why is WC journal so important? He was much more open about polygamy.
Journal after overland was very sporadic.
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