Ep 169 – Council of Fifty Pt. 2 Conception, Conjugation, Conglomeration
On this episode, we dive into part 2 of our discussion of the Council of Fifty. What was it used for? Why was it convened? What transpired in the closed-door meetings? What documents do we have and how did they come to us? This episode is divided into 3 parts to help break down what we know about the Council of Fifty. 1) Conception; how did it come to be, what are the roots of this Council being formed, what’s the doctrinal basis for it? 2) Conjugation; the complete and total intercourse between church and state to accomplish a singular theocratic goal. 3) Conglomeration; the result of dozens leading thousands within a complex theology to one single goal, complete and absolute Mormon tyranny.
Church article on Seer Stones
Council of Fifty MormonThink
The Council of Fifty and Its Members by D. Michael Quinn BYU Studies
Joseph Smith journal 1842-44
Joseph H. Jackson 1844 expose
Sunstone History Podcast episode 12
John Whitmer History Conference
Protect LDS Children March on October 5, 2019
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
How does one talk about an issue that’s been systematically suppressed for over a century and a half? I’m not talking about something that’s been overlooked or ignored, I mean actively suppressed. When it comes to Joseph Smith being steeped in magic and the occult, the evidence for it was regarded institutionally as unimportant, like Isaac Newton having an extensive collection of books on alchemy in his library, which led to lack of emphasis, study, and ignorance by church historians, with only a few exceptions like B.H. Roberts. To the average historian, Joseph Smith having seer stones or his magic Jupiter talisman on his person at his death were just quirks of the man who was Joseph Smith; those artifacts had no real impact on him as a prophet of god.
As evidence for Jo’s magic worldview began to surface and be noticed by historians in the 1960s and 70s, the institution shifted. Artifacts the leadership of the church were ignorant of or regarded as unimportant or inconsequential began to take on a life of their own. Scholars began presenting alternative models of Mormon history beyond what Fawn Brodie had included in her controversial WWII-era book. Unable to answer tough questions about Jo’s magic roots, the institution shifted from ignorance and indifference to guarding anything controversial behind locked vaults. The institution has always kept close to its chest documents and artifacts that it views as controversial, but the magic stuff, and the exciting historical life it birthed, began to fall into the category of “suppress at all costs.”
Finally, with decades of scholars and historians writing and presenting extensively and exhaustively on the magic worldview and the occult artifacts that can be traced to the Smith family, the church opened the vaults for photographers to take pictures of the famed chocolate-colored seer stone, and the photos were released as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project in August of 2015.
Now, on the churchofjesuschrist.org page, you can find a history essay about the seer stones with a helpful little 5-minute video at the bottom. You’ll find a link to this in the show notes:
A little bit strange that we’re a bit unfamiliar with. The church transitioned from indifference on Joseph Smith magic, to hiding it, to now embracing this singular artifact with a litany of unofficial apologetic sources harmonizing early American occultism with the restoration. Throughout Jo’s career, his magic was minimized to keep tough questions away from the minds of the inquiring public. His use of magic after his death was further minimized by the Utah institution until it had essentially vanished from the collective memory of the average believing Mormon public. B.H. Roberts was really the only church historian who ever thought that magic and occultism influence Joseph Smith and the creation of the church until the 1980s and 90s. Now, because the church has painted itself into a corner, deliberately misrepresented pictures of the translation process with Jo having the gold plates in front of him, wearing the breastplate and glasses, with Oliver Cowdery there writing studiously, a legal complaint has recently been filed against the church for fraud. I’m not going to wade into it here, but Braden and I will probably explore it on a Glass Box episode in the near future.
The Council of Fifty is completely different in nearly every conceivable way. Instead of serving as the genesis of the church, it was the endgame. Instead of being minimized and eventually forgotten, the Council of Fifty was secretive from its inception and members could only be inducted by pledging death oaths of secrecy. Magic in early Mormonism requires cobbling together disparate sources and making inferences, whereas the Council of Fifty was explicitly created for one major purpose and the documentation surrounding it was initially extensive; actively sought after by historians; and actively known of and suppressed by the church. When the Council of Fifty was formed, it was only spoken of through hushed whispers and recounted in journal entries, sometimes in cryptic language. It was formed for the major primary purpose of being the government of god on the earth to usher in the millennium.
To discuss the Council of Fifty today, we’re going to break this episode down into three parts: Conception, Conjugation, Conglomeration. Conception; how did it come to be, what are the roots of this Council being formed, what’s the doctrinal basis for it? Conjugation; the complete and total intercourse between church and state to accomplish a singular theocratic goal. Conglomeration; the result of dozens leading thousands within a complex theology to one single goal, complete and absolute Mormon tyranny.
Conception: how did it come to be, what are the roots of this Council being formed, what’s the doctrinal basis for it?
The idea of a Mormon theocracy with Jesus as the sole dictator in chief runs to the very roots of Mormonism. It’s literally one of the 13 articles of faith that there will be a “literal gathering of Israel and… restoration of the Ten Tribes”. This literal gathering will be called “Zion (the New Jerusalem)” and it will “be built upon the American continent” for “Christ” to “reign personally upon the earth… and receive its paradisiacal glory.” Mormon theology is a literal Christian theocracy. Jo must have been tired of waiting around for Jesus to come back and nuke the planet, except for his chosen people, the Mormons, and build the kingdom of god, so Jo decided to set the gears in motion himself.
This secretive society that set itself up as the Mormon theocratic empire, has been known of since the inception of the church correlated history. It occupies so little time of Joseph Smith’s actual timeline and therefore receives comparatively little attention. Also consider everything else happening in Jo’s lifetime during 1842-44, he was a busy guy and often biographies and historiographies covering the period spend far more ink on polygamy, Masonry, and the endowment.
Personally, my knowledge of the Council of Fifty when I began this show could be summarized in 4 little paragraphs in No Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie. Beginning on page 356
Actually the hope of becoming Governor of the Federal Territory of Nauvoo was a mere detail of his ambition. Joseph’s utter capacity for contentment with a moderate success—a want that had betrayed him again and again and was in the end to ruin him—led him now into his most grandiose political maneuvers.
For many years Joseph had talked about building the Kingdom of God upon earth, and with his increasing success the idea seems to have been subtly transformed from a mere symbol to a thing of substance. As he came more and more to look upon Nauvoo as an autonomous state, the Kingdom of God assumed an unmistakably temporal nature. Finally, in the spring of 1844, Joseph began to organize a government to rule over what he hoped would eventually be a sovereign Mormon state. On March 11 he began selecting with utmost secrecy a council of fifty “princes” to form what one of them described as “the highest court on earth.” Few secrets in Mormon history have been better kept than the activities of this council, but it is clear that one of their first acts was to ordain and crown Joseph as King of the Kingdom of God.
The Council of Fifty was composed of men who had been reared in a tradition of militant democracy. They never dreamed of comparing their prophet with Aaron Burr, although it was the same fabulous opportunities that drove both men to destruction. What utterly disarmed Joseph’s followers was that he had brought God into his realm. And these men lived close to a Bible in which God’s servants had been kings.
When Joseph in a public speech on May 10, 1844 pronounced defiantly: “I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world,” only a handful knew that the kingdom had already been established. “It will not be by sword or gun that this kingdom will roll on,” he assured them, “the power of truth is such that all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel.”
Such a monumental event in Mormon history obviously has been overshadowed by more scandalous Nauvoo issues, but I would argue the Council of Fifty is the single most important issue of Joseph Smith’s life and ministry. The gravity of what this thing is has only recently come into focus. Like I said, when I started the podcast I knew next to nothing about it. Then, during Sunstone of 2015, I organized a hangout at Squatter’s pub in downtown Salt Lake City. Two of the attendees there were named Brandon and Heather King. They invited me to meet some friends of theirs in their lovely home and we had a wonderful evening. Brandon told me about a book he’d recently read by Jedediah Rogers titled “The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History” which intrigued me.
When I got home to Colorado at the time, a package came in the mail from the King residence, and lo and behold, it was a copy of the book with this note on the inside flap:
We love the podcast & how you bring life to our history.
Thank you for your work in making the world a better place
I thanked them dearly for their kind gift of this book, but that thanks came with a caveat. I knew I wouldn’t need the book for a while so I told them that this will come in handy when we get to 1844, at which time I would give them a proper thanks. Well, almost 4 years to the day after getting this copy in the mail, I can now officially say, thank you Brandon and Heather. Thank you for inviting me into your beautiful home with Brandon’s incredible landscaping, thank you for coming to the live shows and hangouts, and thank you for this book. I’ll be using it extensively for the short remainder of Jo’s history on the podcast.
How have historians known about this secretive society? If it was secret when it convened, participants were sworn to secrecy with threats of death, and any documentation about it has been actively hidden by the church, how have people known about it and what sources have they used to glean the little snippets of information about it? Mostly, knowledge of the Council of Fifty has come from contemporary journal entries of participants. The minutes themselves have historically been closed to researchers since they were committed to the first presidency’s vault in the late 1800s, but select researchers have had access to the minutes and to the journals of participants to form a small font of solid evidence about it.
Most notably, B. H. Roberts included allusions to the Council of Fifty in the Documentary History of the Church vol. 6. This is from the Dan Vogel edition of the History of the Church on page 288, under the entry for March 11, 1844, the day it was organized.
Monday 11.—At home till 9; then spent the day in council in the lodge room over Henry Miller’s house.
Present Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, George A. Smith, William W. Phelps, John M. Bernhisel, Lucien Woodworth, George Miller, Alexander Badlam, Peter Haws, Erastus Snow, Reynolds Cahoon, Amos Fielding, Alpheus Cutler, Levi Richards, Newel K. Whitney, Lorenzo D. Wasson and William Clayton, whom I organized into a special council to take into consideration the subject matter contained in the above letters, and also the best policy for this people to adopt to obtain their rights from the nation, and insure protection for themselves and children; and to secure a resting place in the mountains, or some uninhabited region, where we can enjoy the liberty of conscience, guaranteed to us by the constitution of our country; rendered doubly sacred by the precious blood of our fathers, and denied to us by the present authorities, who have smuggled themselves into power in the States and nation.
This was all B. H. Roberts included in the official History of the Church, but he cut out a significant portion from the day from Jo’s journal, which was used as the source for what we just read, which really puts into context what was meant by Jo when he referred to securing an uninhabited resting place in the mountains. The portion that was cut from Jo’s journal, but restored by the studios Dan Vogel is as follows:
Joseph asked, can this council keep what I say, not make it public, all held up their hands. Copy of the Constitution of the U. S.; hands of a select committee. No laws can be enacted but what every man can be protected from. Grant their petition, go ahead concerning the Indians and Southern states &c. Send 25 men by the Pinery through to Santa Fee &c, and if Houston will embrace the gospel. [We] can amend the constitution and make it the voice of Jehovah and shame the U.S. parley Pratt in favor. Hyrum concurred…
The first meeting Jo called every man to secrecy asking if he can trust them. They had a unanimous vote that they were sworn to secrecy and the first subject under deliberation for the Council of Fifty was to determine the next settlement land for the Mormons. Whether it be California, Texas, or somewhere else like Oregon, the Mormon leadership knew the Nauvoo settlement was a ticking time bomb. We’ll be discussing this extensively in a bit, but let’s continue to cover how elusive the Council of Fifty has been for historians of this century.
Various historians since the Fawn Brodie passage I read earlier have mentioned or studied the Council of Fifty. Most notably, Juanita Brooks, one of the most gifted historians of the 20th century, along with Robert Glass Cleland, edited John D. Lee’s journals. Juanita Brooks had a special fascination with John D. Lee and her work on John D. Lee was absolutely seminal in the secularizing of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Will Bagley in his Blood of the Prophets essentially calls his own groundbreaking book a second edition of Juanita Brooks’ work on John D. Lee. Brooks and Cleland’s work on John D. Lee’s journals was particularly revealing of the post-Joseph era of the Council of Fifty, as Lee’s journals cover 1848-1876. They published their work in 1955, which spawned a whole new era of Council of Fifty research. Following up on their work, James R. Clark published “The Kingdom of God, the Council of Fifty, and the State of Deseret” as an article in Utah Historical Quarterly in 1958. 1958 also saw Hyrum Andrus’s “Joseph Smith and World Government”, and Leonard Arrington’s seminal Utah history book through the lens of an educated economist, “Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints”. Building on this ever-growing body of political work and fragmentary history of the Council of Fifty, Jo Ann Shipps published her Ph.D. dissertation titled “The Mormon in Politics: The First Hundred Years” in 1965, and Klaus Hansen’s “Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History” has remained the largest seminal work focusing exclusively on the Council of Fifty. Hansen’s work was met with criticism for his hyperbole and sensationalism. Finally, in 1980, D. Michael Quinn entered the fray. His 1976 dissertation became the first book of the 3-volume series known as “The Mormon Hierarchy”. In The Mormon Hierarchy, Quinn dealt extensively with the Council of Fifty. Under the employment of Leonard Arrington, the church’s official historian during the 70s and 80s, Quinn gained access to a wealth of never-before-seen documents concerning the Council of Fifty, among a litany of other early Mormon subjects. Quinn revised his chapter on the Council of Fifty from The Mormon Hierarchy and published it as a standalone article in BYU studies in 1980, which also served as a historiography of the topic. I’ll also be pulling heavily from Quinn’s BYU article, which is hosted on ChurchofJesusChrist.org, for today’s show, in addition to some of these other resources.
All of this leads to Jedidiah Rogers publishing his book, The Council of Fifty: a Documentary History, through Signature Books in 2014. Besides revealing how much of a sausage fest Mormon history is, that list of publications over nearly 80 years reveals the primary issue with the Council of Fifty and what historians know about it. It’s a subject that’s been closed to research because of the secrecy and controversy of the council. This book summarizes the roadblock instated by the church when studying the Council of Fifty in a couple paragraphs and footnotes of the introduction:
Readers of this volume deserve to know specifically what documents the church withheld from me. They are: the Nauvoo founding minutes and notes relating to the Council of Fifty; the council minutes kept in Utah Territory; some official council records such as roll books for the years 1845, 1849, 1867, 1868, 1880, and 1882; and extant diaries for Horace S. Eldredge, Heber J. Grant, Moses Thatcher, and Brigham Young Jr. Fortunately, much—although not all—of this material is available from other sources such as the transcripts historian D. Michael Quinn prepared in the 1970s when he was allowed to see the originals. The principal exceptions are three small Nauvoo minute books titled “Record of the Council of Fifty or Kingdom of God” kept by recorder William Clayton from March to May 1844 and from February 1845 to January 1846. These were famously kept out of view of even archivists, locked in the LDS First Presidency Vault until 2010… I repeatedly asked to see these documents and was repeatedly denied permission.
And in the footnote we find this interesting passage:
I requested access to the Council of Fifty records in September 2012 and was informed the following month that my request had been denied. I renewed my attempt through informal conversation with church archivists at the 2013 Mormon History Association conference and was given permission to see a portion of the Council of Fifty Papers, 1845-1883, MS 3405—specifically the diaries of council members from the territorial period—but was informed that I would not be able to see the body’s official minutes. Church history librarians were helpful in suggesting other sources and providing access to periphery documents, and in at least two cases they agreed to proof an entry in my transcript against the original.
Signature Books’s editors requested permission to see the Council of Fifty Papers while they were proofing transcriptions against the original sources and were told via email of April 17, 2014, that although the records include minutes as late as the 1880s that would not be published as part of the Joseph Smith Papers, the archives nevertheless reserved the first right of publication and would not allow the public to view them for the time being.
Just like with the William Clayton Nauvoo Journals, the phrases “first right of publication” and “closed to research” left hook and uppercut the church has frequently used to bludgeon historians who’re asking about controversial documents. They’ve repeatedly asserted privilege of publication and sacrosanctity of documents to kick the can down the road in hopes that people will simply stop asking and they can continue to suppress the documents in their special collections and vaults. What the hell does a church need a vault for anyway? It’s a church, not an arms dealer.
Let’s begin with Quinn’s 1980 BYU studies article on the Council of Fifty. His opening seeks to take the wind out of the sails of anybody seeking to expand the intent and role of the Council of Fifty beyond what the documentation will support. Quinn is one of the most conservative and well-respected historians in the field so when he says we should view the Council of Fifty with as much complexity and understanding as possible, we should listen. Needless to say, Quinn believes that the evidence surfacing at the time about the Council of Fifty doesn’t require a rewriting of Mormon history, but a rewriting of those articles and books about the Council of Fifty so as not to sensationalize or distort our perspective.
Since the mid-1950s, several articles, graduate theses, and books have examined the existence and supposed role of the “Council of Fifty” in Mormon history, so that by now the Council of fifty is within the general awareness of a large proportion of Latter-day saints as well as interested non-Mormons. Unfortunately, these writers did not have access to documents presently available; and, in some cases, they did not consult important sources then available. Because casual examination can make anything appear monstrous under the academic microscope, scholarly studies of the Council of Fifty thus far have tended to distort insufficient evidence and sometimes to sensationalize their interpretations. Current research into the documents and historical environment of the Council of Fifty requires a rewriting of these scholarly and highly popular interpretations rather than a rewriting of Mormon history in light of these previous interpretations of the Council of Fifty.
He then boils the intent and role of the Council of Fifty to two points. Number one, “was to symbolize the otherworldly world order that would be established during the millennial reign of Christ on earth.” This is certainly true. I would add a small passage from the introduction of Rogers’ book to put that phrase into deeper context.
By 1844, fourteen years after the church’s founding, Smith’s home-grown religion had become not only a religious force but a political one, Smith himself feeling empowered to act boldly in the face of either outside resistance or internal dissent. In establishing what had been referred to as God’s earthly kingdom, he organized a secret political legislature he called the General Council or Council of Fifty, named after the number of men prescribed to comprise it. Its ultimate purpose was to establish a worldly kingdom that would usurp all others and receive Jesus at his Second Coming. Clayton believed the fifty replicated “the Grand Council amongst the Gods when the organization of this world was contemplated.”…
Mormons were to be center stage in the unfolding cosmic drama of the Parousia, according to Smith. Their work would be to build a city of God…
Smith envisioned it as a vehicle for expanding the church’s temporal influence. The theocratic government would serve as an important bridge to the Millennium, at which time they would hand over political power to Christ.
The apocalyptic millennialist idea that Jesus would reign as ruler of the earth upon his second coming wasn’t unique to Mormonism. However, the idea that the church needed to establish its own theocratic system of literal physical government in order to build the kingdom and thereby build the throne from which Jesus would reign upon his return, was a uniquely Mormon thing. Jesus, with his godly power, apparently needs help with making government. That, and he needs your money. Jesus always needs your money.
Quinn continues that the second intention or role of the Council of Fifty “involved its literal, practical functions.” He continues, “The Council was not a challenge to the existing system of law and government but functioned in roles familiar to American political science; special interest lobby, caucus, local political machine, and private organization governed the parliamentary procedures.” I’ll discuss that in a second because Quinn built a lot into that sentence that requires parsing. But he also says, “Because LDS leaders did not regard the Council of Fifty as subversive of American institutions, its existence was among common knowledge among Latter-day Saints as long as it functioned, and its deliberations were no more secret than were those of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.” After which he calls it, “a non-revolutionary political instrument,”.
Okay, I’m going to do my best to take Quinn to task here because I have some disagreements that are most-likely informed by my extreme dearth of understanding of Mormon history compared with his, but I can still offer my thoughts and opinions and let you, the skeptical listener, decide what makes sense for yourself.
To what extent the Council of Fifty was actually secretive to the every-day Mormon in Nauvoo can’t really be known. We can’t jump in a time machine or look into a seer stone to see what people talked about in the street every day. However, many institutions within Mormonism at this time were kept behind closed doors. People may have heard about the Quorum of the Anointed but they didn’t know what happened there. Mormons knew about Jo’s politicking and various church officials being sent to other states to electioneer for Jo, but they didn’t know what was actually being preached to the outsiders. There were a LOT of rumors about polygamy, but the average Mormon could never get concrete evidence that it was happening unless they were targeted to become initiates into the New and Everlasting Covenant. When Quinn says, “by now the Council of fifty is within the general awareness of a large proportion of Latter-day saints as well as interested non-Mormons,” that’s him projecting his own view of Mormon history on the larger population. In 1980, he knew a lot about the Council of Fifty, as did any other Mormon historian, and the number of people who know about it has since grown. But, to claim “a large proportion of Latter-day Saints,” are familiar with the Council of Fifty is baffling to me. At your next family meal, ask your believing loved ones about the Council of Fifty apropos of nothing. “Hey, pass the potatoes; what are your thoughts on the Council of Fifty,” and look at the blank stares around the table. Walk into church next week with a white apron and tell a guy that you just joined the Council of Fifty and you’re waiting for your gold watch in the mail. See what the reactions are. This is Mormon history that even ExMormons who know about polygamy, and the Book of Abraham, with access to Google know hardly anything about, even if they’ve heard the name before.
That’s my first contention with what Quinn claimed. Next, to his point about “The Council was not a challenge to the existing system of law and government but functioned in roles familiar to American political science; special interest lobby, caucus, local political machine, and private organization governed the parliamentary procedures,” calling the Council of Fifty “a non-revolutionary political instrument.” There is merit to this point. Jo was surrounded by a lot of smart people and he knew that. Jo valued their contributions to the deliberative process within the Council, which is captured by his concluding speech on the day it was organized.
CoF minutes courtesy of Quilliam Claypen:
It was encouraging to witness the union of feeling which prevailed on the subject and it was plain that although separated a long distance from each other yet the same feelings had run through the minds of the brethren here as was contained in the letters. Prest. Joseph said he wanted all the brethren to speak their minds on this subject and to say what was in their hearts whether good or bad. He did not want to be forever surrounded by a set of “dough heads” and if they did not rise up and shake themselves64 and exercise themselves in discussing these important matters he should consider them nothing better than “dough heads”. He gave some good advise which seemed to have due effect.
This democratic spirit lasted for a short time in the Council of Fifty. In the William Clayton Journal we find this interesting passage:
April 11, 1844 We had a glorious interview. President Joseph was voted our P[rophet] P[riest] and K[ing] with loud Hosannas.
The corresponding day’s minutes, also in the hand of Quilliam, describe the scene after Jo finished a fiery rant during which he broke a pointing stick in half from whacking it on stuff too hard:
After further instruction, the council voted to receive JS as “Prophet, Priest & King.” Rigdon appointed Samuel Bent chairman pro tem in order to propose taking a second expression of the vote, to be followed by shouts of “hosanna,” as an adjournment of the morning meeting. The council voted affirmatively and closed the meeting accordingly.
In the afternoon meeting JS instructed the council on several principles. He spoke on the importance of religious tolerance and explained the significance of including council members who were not Latter-day Saints.
We’ll get to that point about including non-Mormons in the council in a little while, but how can the dictator of a theocratic council be crowned Prophet, Priest, and King, while still maintaining a fair system of checks and balances with the other members? It can’t be done. The Council of Fifty maintained this tradition of anointing their chairman as Prophet, Priest, and King all the way up to John Taylor, and possibly even Wilford Woodruff. Once again from Quinn’s 1980 article:
The anointing and ordination of John Taylor in 1885 as “King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on the Earth—over Zion & the Kingdom of Christ” is important as a verifying evidence. First, it corroborates the accuracy of earlier statements that Joseph Smith received the same ceremony at the hands of the Council of Fifty some forty years before. Second, it clarifies that Heber C. Kimball was alluding to Brigham Young’s having received the same ordinance when Heber stated:
The Church and kingdom to which we belong will become the kingdom of our God and his Christ, and brother Brigham Young will become President of the United States. (Voices responded, “Amen.”) And I tell you he will be something more; but we do not now want to give him the name: but he is called and ordained to a far greater station than that, and he is foreordained to take that station, and he has got it.
Although the exact date on which Brigham Young obtained the theocratic ordination of King, Priest, and Ruler over Israel is not presently known, he undoubtedly received it in the same manner that Joseph Smith did on 11 April 1844 and John Taylor did on 4 February 1885.
Mormonism is a religion that operated a sovereign sectarian government while rejecting the power of the larger secular government. This religious theocracy was chaired by men who are voted unanimously to be “Prophet, Priest, and King” “ruler over Israel on Earth—Over Zion & the Kingdom of Christ” and aspired to the highest elected offices of secular government. These issues should be troubling because every religion is inextricably tied to its own history. These sentiments are foundational to the church and survive subconsciously in some moderated form in the minds of believers and the leadership today. This. Is. Not. Okay. And it’s something we can never forget.
Nauvoo Mormonism was quintessentially anti-government, but not in the way radical Mormons are today where all government is evil and is going to take away muh guns! Nauvoo Mormonism’s anti-government was a far more complex and insidious anti-disestablishmentarianism form of anti-government. Ohio Mormonism took a hands-off approach to government, by in large. Missouri Mormonism, though, was where anti-government and Mormon exceptionalism really gained a foothold. The Mormon leadership operated in open defiance of the government. Jo was wanted in the state of Missouri until the day he died for high treason, a charge with plenty of evidence to prosecute him, which is why he never set foot back in the state after his escape in 1839. In Missouri, he prototyped his own military and political system with the Army of Israel and the Daughters of Zion. The Danites! The officials who would rule the Kingdom of Daniel, the great Kingdom of God. The Danites were Jo’s first official foray into sectarian government within the confines of a strictly secular nation. It failed because the Missouri militia was far-superior to the Mormon militia and Illinois became the new headquarters for the Mormon empire; the kingdom on the Mississippi. When that failed, the Mormons moved somewhere they expected to be completely left alone by the government, and they were for long enough to accomplish the true theocratic climax of religious exceptionalism and privilege that allowed genocide, slavery, sex trafficking, and iron-fisted totalitarian rule by one objectively evil human being who happens to have a city and 4 universities named after him. This is not normal. This is not okay. This is what happens when all human rights completely break down for a miniscule period of time.
Conjugation: the complete and total intercourse between church and state to accomplish a singular theocratic goal.
When the Mormons settled in Illinois and across the Mississippi in Iowa territory, they were only chummy with the government to the extent they could use it. They were super friendly to the Illinois state legislature when they wanted the Nauvoo charter rubber stamped through and it was approved. They were begging on their knees to get redress for lost property in Missouri when the Mormons billed the U.S. government $1.2 mn. The petition was denied and anti-government sentiment in public sermons grew to an all-time high. Jo and other Mormon leaders exchanged pleasant letters with Governors Carlin and Ford when they needed something like protection from Missouri sheriffs who came to Illinois to arrest and extradite Jo to answer for his Missouri crimes. These singular events coalesce to make my point that the Mormons only liked the government to the extent that it could benefit them. Otherwise, the majority of the Mormon populace, especially the leadership, were viciously anti-government. Take, for example, Jo’s public sermon on March 7, 1844, just 4 days before the Council of Fifty was formed.
As to politics, I care but little about the presidential chair; I would not give half as much for the office of President of the United States, as I would for the one I now hold as Lieut.-General of the Nauvoo Legion.
We have as good a right to make a political party to gain power to defend ourselves, as for demagogues to make use of our religion to get power to destroy us; in other words, as the world has used the power of government to oppress and persecute us, it is right for us to use it for the protection of our rights; we will whip the mob by getting up a candidate for President.
When I get hold of the eastern papers, and see how popular I am, I am afraid myself that I shall be elected; but if I should be, I would not say, ‘Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.’
The Government will not receive any advice our counsel from me—they are self-sufficient; but they must go to hell, and work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
There’s plenty more to the speech that has to do with his presidential platform that we aren’t going to discuss right now; the annexation of Texas, the freeing of slaves to “send the Negroes to Texas, and from Texas to Mexico, where all colors are alike.” In order to “set the Negroes free, and use the Negroes and Indians against our foes” for Texan independence from Britain. What a raging progressive Jo was. This isn’t the episode where we wade into Jo’s plans for the Native Americans and the freed slaves in a military uprising, although that will be an undercurrent of the 3rd section today.
The point I’m making here is that Jo didn’t view the Presidency as the climax of his aspirations, he saw it as a tool to accomplish a much larger end; that of building Zion. He wanted the Presidency so he could use the office to accomplish his great plans of becoming the modern American Moses. Joseph Smith lamenting demagogues using Mormonism to gain political power is truly a remarkable lack of self-awareness; that, or overt manipulation, on Jo’s part. But it shouldn’t strain credulity that an anti-government demagogue like Joseph Smith would use the office of president for his own personal gain instead of the height of career aspirations. This may seem hard to believe that a person might treat the presidency as a stepping stone or good business move, but I offer 1828 and 2016 as case in point studies of how it has happened before and will happen again.
When D. Michael Quinn says, “The Council was not a challenge to the existing system of law and government but functioned in roles familiar to American political science; special interest lobby, caucus, local political machine, and private organization governed the parliamentary procedures.” I simply can’t agree with him. Why did the Mormons need their own government? Was the American government not good enough for them? If the Council wasn’t a challenge to the existing system of law, why did Jo tell Quilliam Claypen to burn or bury the minutes when he gave himself up for arrest? The Council of Fifty minutes were evidence of committing high treason, a crime Jo had a long track record with; if those minutes fell into the hands of the Illinois prosecuting attorney during Jo’s impending trial after Carthage, that was all the government needed to throw a noose around his neck. The Mormon theocratic government was structured in a system that was familiar to American and the Saxon government which birthed the American system because it was effective and fills the necessary roles a government should. The Mormon government was the replacement for the secular government and that’s how it was viewed at the time.
More from the introduction to Rogers’ book that illustrates the mindset of the members who were inducted into the Council. Regardless of how we view it today, whether through minimalization or sensationalization, what the members wrote contemporary with the foundation should be considered the authoritative source for the point and role the Council of Fifty was to fulfill.
One of Smith’s counselors, Sidney Rigdon, reflected in an 1844 speech that he and the modern-day prophet “had things to say to one another that nobody else knew of—[how] all nations [would] flock to [their message]—whole nations [would be] born in one day---we talked such big things… We were maturing plans 14 years ago which we can now tell.”… (plans which we can now tell… what gave them license to finally hatch those plans? What changed? Jo running for president with Sidney Rigdon as his VP maybe?)
Council members may have believed, with Benjamin F. Johnson, that “the embryo kingdom of God upon the earth” would grow until it achieved its destiny of world domination.”…
Lyman Wight, a member of the pineries mission (which we’ll get into eventually) who was later sent to found a colony in Texas, believed “the Church stands regularly organized to bear off the kingdom triumphantly over the head of every opposition, and to establish Zion no more to be thrown down forever.”
This wasn’t supposed to be the kingdom of God during Joseph Smith’s presidency, this was to be the final system of government the earth would ever need.
Let’s discuss the membership of the Council of Fifty. How did a person move from a member of the general leadership of the church to becoming an inductee into the Council of the Kingdom of God? It was actually an interesting process. It was invite only and it required unanimous vote of the existing council to bring in any new members. They were always seated oldest to youngest in a circle from right to left of the President, who was Joseph Smith then Bloody Brigham Young after Jo’s death.
From Quinn’s 1980 BYU Studies article:
Admission to the Council of Fifty came in three stages, which could occur on one day or on three separate days—a man’s name was proposed (most often by the LDS President as standing chairman of the Council), and then voted on, and then the man was formally initiated into the Council. On the day of their admission, new members affirmed that they were in fellowship with all other Council members, and then an officer or the Council of Fifty proceeded in “giving them the ‘Charge,’ ‘The name,’ & ‘Key word,’ and the ‘Constitution,’ and ‘Penalty.’” Once admitted, men remained members of the Council of Fifty for life, unless they were dropped by the Council for disaffection. Not until 1882 did the Council add the option of release due to old age and disability.
This was all in addition to the person’s name, tokens, and clothing they received when going through the endowment ceremony. It’s unclear to me whether they used the same new name in the Council of Fifty as they received when they first took out their endowments, but that seems reasonable to me. What that means is this was the next level of ascendency in Mormon leadership that superseded all other leadership positions in the church. If you were allowed to join the Council of Fifty, that was leveling up in the clandestine shadow organization of the church. This was the Mormon version of the briefcase that teaches you about Xenu and the galactic confederacy. This is the Mormon space opera. The “charge, name & keyword constitution and penalty” were likely similar to those processes as included in the endowment, although likely slightly altered. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any sources that describe what the initiation ceremony was like when it came to the Council of Fifty because it was so secretive.
Who was eligible to become a member? Once again from Quinn’s 1980 BYU Studies article, which is excellent even if I disagree with a couple of his conclusions to a slight degree:
The first evident characteristic of the Council of Fifty’s membership is the extent to which Church office was important. From 1844 to 1884 the Council of Fifty included every contemporary member of the First Presidency except the disaffected William Law, every member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, every Presiding Patriarch except John Smith (b. 1832, son of Hyrum Smith), every member of the Presiding Bishopric except Jesse C. Little, and more than forty-four percent of the First Council of the Seventy. Of local officers during the period, forty-eight percent of the stake presidents and a much smaller percentage of the ward bishops were members of the Council of Fifty during their ecclesiastical service in these positions. This Church identity of members of the Council of Fifty was mentioned in an 1882 revelation:
Behold you are my kingdom and rulers in my Kingdom and then you are also, many of you, rulers in my Church according to your ordinations therein. For are you not of the First Presidency, and of the Twelve Apostles and some Presidents of Stakes, and some Bishops, and some High Priests and some Seventies and Elders therein? And are ye not all of my Church and belong to my holy Priesthood?
So, that’s what qualified a person to join. Once a person was on the inside, codenames and euphemisms were needed to maintain secrecy. The Council of Fifty was called by numerous names by numerous people throughout its existence. These names, more than any contemporary journal entry, reveal the true intent for the council. Reading from Quinn’s BYU studies article, which, as always, you’ll find linked in the show notes.
…the official, revealed name of the Council of Fifty is “The Kingdom of God and His Laws with the Keys and Power[s] thereof, and Judgment in the Hands of His Servants, Ahman Christ.” This name was too complex to be easily remembered or written, and so this organization had a wide assortment of shorter designations. Sticking closely to the revealed name, Heber C. Kimball and John Henry Smith called it “The Kingdom of God.” In a briefer reference to the full name, Joseph Smith, Willard Richards, and Heber C. Kimball mentioned it as Council of Fifty “The Kingdom,” and Heber C. Kimball sometimes called it simply “The K.” After referring to it three times as “Special Council,” the Manuscript History of the Church and the published History of the Church henceforth called it “the General Council.” George Miller and Franklin D. Richards designated it “Council of the Kingdom,” whereas William Clayton expanded that to “the council of the Kingdom of God.” Joseph Fielding in 1844 called it the “Grand Council,” whereas Lyman Wight in 1848 described it as the “Grand Council of the Kingdom of God,” “Grand Council of God,” and “Grand Council of Heaven.” John D. Lee exuberantly called it “councils of the Gods,” whereas Daniel Spencer and Robert T. Burton obliquely listed it as “Council of —.” In 1849 men like Joseph Fielding, Horace S. Eldredge, and John D. Lee called it “Legislative Council” but dropped that name in 1850 when Congress created Utah Territory with a civil legislature in which the upper house was called the Legislative Council. John D. Lee also described it as “Municipal department of the Kingdom of God,” which Brigham Young, Jr., echoed later as “Church municipal board.”
The identity of the Council of Fifty with the church was emphasized when Wilford Woodruff, Hosea Stout, and the Manuscript History of the Church called it “Council of Elders” and when Robert T. Burton called it “Council of the Presiding Authorities of the Church.” Orson Hyde more clearly stated this Church identity when he addressed a letter to the Council of Fifty on 25 April 1844 as “the Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” Also, the Council of Fifty sometimes carried the name of the Church President: “Joseph Smith’s Council,” “President Young’s Council,” or “President Taylor’s Council.”
All these different names for the same organization meant that the relatively undefined and fluid purpose of the council could quickly adapt to any issue or purpose that was needed at any given time. With ill-defined parameters from its inception, the Council of Fifty could evolve to become what the true full name of it was when it was first conceived; “The Kingdom of God and His Laws with the Keys and Power thereof, and Judgement in the Hands of His Servants, Ahman Christ.” The Kingdom of God, and god’s servants have the keys and powers of judgement in their hands. Judgement of the unrighteous, the heretics, the anti-Mormons in defiance of the Kingdom of God and His Laws, watch your back.
The next 2 paragraphs of Quinn’s BYU Studies article describe exactly what I mean with the fluidity and expansive power, along with some of the secrecy captured in the various names.
Because Joseph Smith admitted more than fifty men to his special council in the spring of 1844, most members called it Council of Fifty. Even this name had several variations: Brigham Young referred to it as “the fifty,” Shadrach Roundy called it “council of fifties,” Charles C. Rich wrote it as “council of ft,” Franklin D. Richards sometimes wrote it as “Council of 50—Kingdom,” Willard Richards and John D. Lee spelled fifty backwards and rendered it “Council of YTFIF,” Joseph F. Smith used the Roman numeral for fifty and wrote “Council of L,” George Miller called it “council of fifty princes of the kingdom,” whereas Willard Richards, Phinehas Richards, and David Fullmer designated it “The Quorum of 50.” One additional name for the Council of Fifty deserves separate consideration. Its members also called the Council of Fifty the “Living Constitution” or “Council of the Living Constitution.” Some writers have confused this with the name of the fifteen trustees of the Mercantile and Mechanical association of Nauvoo who were presented in a public meeting on 31 January 1845 as the “Living Constitution” of that association. The two “Living Constitutions” were as distinct as their separate organization dates. Although eight members of this business “Living Constitution,” were already members of the Council of Fifty’s “Living Constitution,” two others were never members of the Council of Fifty, and five other members of this 1845 business “Living Constitution” did not join the Council of Fifty until from one month to (in one case) twenty-two years later.
Living Constitution is an interesting name for the Council of Fifty. Having a book of living scriptures where revelations can be added at any time and new revelations trump the old, patterning the Mormon new world government with similar fluidity was a notable characteristic. This means the Council of Fifty, from its inception through its supposed death in Utah, was patterned after useful church characteristics coupled with structures present in the Constitution of the United States. This council wasn’t viewed as a pillar of religious government to help support the secular constitution of the nation, it was created as the replacement for the secular system of government. It was created to be the Kingdom of God on earth, there is simply no other way of viewing the evidence. What it eventually resulted in and the relative impotence of the Council after Jo’s death is a separate issue from what the intention was when it was founded.
The initial intent of the Council of Fifty is really what’s at issue here, not the result. The Council in Utah under Bloody Brigham’s reign was neutered as he extended his ever-expanding power grabs, but that’s a story we simply can’t get into today. In Nauvoo, the Council of Fifty was truly the culmination of all political and ecclesiastical power funneled into a single organizational body. This was exactly what Joseph Smith worked for his entire life.
Conglomeration; the result of dozens leading thousands within a complex theology to one single goal, complete and absolute Mormon tyranny.
The Council of Fifty wasn’t organized in a vacuum. It was formed to fulfill a few very specific functions. The Mormon leadership was constantly on the lookout for a good place to settle outside of the control of the U.S. government, which is an issue that will occupy an increasing amount of time as we move through the remainder of Jo’s life and into the schism crisis. It was also formed to electioneer for Jo’s presidential campaign. These, however, were the stepping stones required for the Council of Fifty to fulfill it’s ultimate role, the new world government, the theodemocracy of Zion. Jo winning or losing the election of President in the upcoming 1844 vote dictated the direction of the Council of Fifty. If he was successful, the Council would become the new government, if he didn’t win, the Council of Fifty would become the new territorial government for wherever the Mormons decided to settle. Then, it would use its influence to ally oppressed Native American tribes, freed slaves, and anybody unhappy with the federal government for any reason, to overtake the government by force. These aspirations are abundantly illustrated in speeches made in public fora by various church leaders as well as the Council minutes themselves.
From a speech by Hingepin Sidney Rigdon 2 weeks after the Council of Fifty was formed and a week after he was inducted as a member:
Vogel HoC 6:302
A word concerning power. History refers us back beyond Civilization in treating upon this subject. In consequence of power, there is strength and glory. Where there is no power it is like flies without any order or rule. I have viewed the nations of the earth and the way they are relaxing in power and the course they are pursuing. One hundred years will not pass away till there would not be a man or woman on the earth, and nothing but the hand of God can save it, and this is why God would send Elijah to do his work, for all the power the nations will soon have is to destroy each other. For soon nation will be against nation[,] party against party[,] the rich against the poor and the poor against the rich[,] until they are destroyed from under heaven.
Jo took the stand after Hingepin Rigdon:
In relation to the power over the minds of mankind which I hold, I would say it is in consequence of the power of truth in the doctrines which I have been an instrument in the hands of God of presenting unto them, and not because of any compulsion on my part… I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “repent ye of your sins and prepare the way for the coming of the Son of Man, for the kingdom of God has come unto you and henceforth the axe is laid unto the root of the tree, and every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, God Almighty (and not Joe Smith) shall hew it down and cast it into the fire.”
First meeting of CoF:
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.
William Clayton journal a month after the Council was formed.
April 13, 1844 A.M. at President Joseph’s recording Deeds. He prophecied the entire overthrow of this nation in a few years.
This was the plan all along. The entire overthrow of the American nation. This was far from the first time Jo prophesied of such calamitous events befalling the European imperialists. The introduction to the Book of Mormon states its intent explicitly:
…wherefore it is an abridgement of the record of the People of Nephi & also of the Lamanites written to the Lamanites…that they may know the covenants of the Lord that they are not cast off forever & also to the convinceing of the Jew & Gentile that Jesus is the Christ the Eternal God manifesting himself unto all Nations…
The Book of Mormon was crafted to convert the Native Americans to Christianity en masse who would then look to Joseph Smith as their prophet and follow his lead.
In a revelation dated to December 1832, less than 3 years into Jo’s ministry, he dictated a revelation that was canonized as D&C 87 in the 1876 version of the Brighamite D&C. This was one of the revelations that got the Mormons kicked out of Jackson County, Missouri in the first place.
3. For behold , the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations ; and thus war shall be poured out upon all nations.
4. And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshalled and disciplined for war:
5. And it shall come to pass also, that the remnants [Native Americans] who are left of the land will marshal themselves, and shall become exceeding angry, and shall vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation;
6. And thus, with the sword, and by bloodshed, the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquakes, and the thunder of Heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed, hath made a full end of all nations;
7. That the cry of the Saints, and of the blood of the Saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies.
8. Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.
Roughly 11 and a half after this revelation was given by the one true prophet, the Council of Fifty was organized with an endgame goal of being the military body that brought all these subjugated classes of people together to overthrow their white oppressors.
At the meeting of March 19, 1844, just one week after the Council of Fifty was formed, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith made a speech and it was recorded by Quilliam:
E[lde]r Hyrum Smith followed the chairman and said that the time was at hand when the prophecies should be fulfilled, when the nations were ready to embrace the gospel and when the ensign should be lift up and the standard to the people and he believed if we will set up the standard and raise the ensign the honest in heart of all nations will immediately begin to flock to the standard of our God.
The ensign, the nations ready to embrace the gospel, flock to the standard of OUR God; all these phrases are the culmination of everything Mormonism sought to be from its inception and was finally putting into tangible plans.
After Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith made his remarks, John Taylor made a few points that showed the intentions of the Council of Fifty didn’t stop at North America.
Er John Taylor addressed the council on the subject of the filfillment of the prophecies of Daniel showing that the time is at hand when the principles of eternal truth & righteousness shall prevail.117 He next took a view of the positions and prospects of the different nations of the earth. He referred especially to the United States England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Poland, Switzerland, Germany &c… concerning the situation of the different nations of the earth showing that they were ripe to receive the truth and that it is our duty and privilege to put them in possession of it and we are willing to do it.
Theocratic overthrow of the secular government was the intent of the Council of Fifty, regardless of whether or not it was able to accomplish those goals. If a guy kills somebody, that’s horrible. If a guy attempts to kill somebody but isn’t successful for any reason, the intent is the same and where the moral judgement should be focused. The Council of Fifty proved mostly impotent in executing these goals after Jo’s death, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge the initial intent based on the final result. The Council of Fifty was Jo’s theocratic empire. Full stop.
Earlier I stated that there were 3 non-Mormon members of Jo’s Council of Fifty. Who were they and why were they there? Why did Jo tell the Council that it was important to have them and what was their ultimate fate after Jo’s death? The three members are Edward Bonney, Marenus G. Eaton, and Uriah Brown.
First, let’s talk about Edward Bonney. He’s in the History of the Church a few times, a pretty low-level guy. Notably, he was at the trial as the prosecuting attorney when Jo burned down the Nauvoo Expositor printing press, which he called a “mock administration of law.” Other than that, Edward Bonney isn’t that relevant beyond simply being a non-member who was loyal to Joseph Smith for his own reasons.
Now let’s talk Marenus G. Eaton. This is a fascinating individual and I think he deserved a place in the Council of Fifty. Marenus Eaton was allowed to join the Council soon after filing an affidavit on March 27, 1844. This affidavit let Jo know he could trust Marenus Eaton. What did Eaton’s affidavit say?
Vogel HoC 6:309
[Eaton] deposeth and sayeth,… Joseph H. Jackson… Dr. [Robert D.] Foster and one of the Higbees, I think Cha[u]ncey L. Higbee, were in the store. The said Joseph H. Jackson, together with the said R. D. Foster and said Higbee… invited me into the room where they were then sitting. I immediately complied.
Soon after I went in, the said Higbee commenced talking about the spiritual wife system. He said he had no doubt but some of the Elders had ten or twelve apiece. He said they married them whether the females were willing or not,…
After which, there’s a line in the affidavit that literally says [Here follows some expressions too indecent for insertion]. Then Dr. Bob the Builder Robert D. Foster told the affiant a story of how these guys are able to turn wives against their husbands by “trying to poison your wife’s mind against you,”. The affidavit continues:
The [men] then remarked that they were about to hold a secret meeting to oppose and try to put a stop to such things. The said Joseph H. Jackson also said that if any person undertook to arrest him he should… cut them.
The said R. D. Foster further said he was afraid of his life and dare not be out nights.
The said Higbee said he had not a doubt but there had been men killed in Missouri who had secrets that they were afraid they would divulge. He said he was afraid of his life.
The said Jackson further said he should not be surprised if there should be a real muss and an insurrection in the city in less than two months, and that if a disturbance should take place the Carthagenians and others would come and help them.
Marenus G. Eaton told Jo about an impending insurrection led by Dr. Bob the Builder Robert D. Foster, Chauncey L. Higbee, and Joseph H. Jackson, which went well with another affidavit that day from A.B. Williams which told about the same conspiracy along with the laws, but also explicitly says “[they] were red hot for conspiracy, and he should not be surprised if in two weeks there should not be one of the Smith family left alive in Nauvoo.”
Marenus G. Eaton was a double agent. Trusted enough by the conspirators AND the Council of Fifty leadership that he gained entry into the secret meetings of both and exchanged information both directions. So, boom, Jo wanted Eaton in. But, there’s another wrinkle to Marenus Eaton, because in September 1844, the state of New York filed a requisition with the State of Illinois to arrest and extradite him to New York for…. Wait for it….. COUNTERFEITING!!! Yes, Eaton was a double agent for Jo and he was a Bogus maker who helped finance the Mormon empire with counterfeit coins. He was a star pupil of the Council of Fifty and among many fellow criminals in those closed-door meetings.
But, Marenus Eaton isn’t the most interesting of the 3 non-Mormon members of the Council of Fifty, that honor goes to Uriah Brown. You see, Uriah Brown was an inventor, a guy ahead of the technology of his time, but very forward thinking in his designs. In 1844, Brown was in his early sixties and he’d probably been an inventor and tinkerer his whole life. The September 1844 Joseph H. Jackson expose illustrates what Brown was planning, which illustrates why Jo saw him as such a powerful non-Mormon ally.
There was a Mr. Brown, formerly of Rushville, with whom I became acquainted in Nauvoo, soon after my arrival there. This man has a wonderful genius for invention, and has planned a sub-marine battery and steam fire ship, which, to all appearance, is capable of great execution. He stated to me, that he had been operating for 21 years, in perfecting this work, but had not the means to bring the matter before the nation, and that Joe made him a propusition, which had caused him to remove to Nauvoo. This proposition was, to furnish the means to take him, together with G. A. Adams and Orson Hyde, to Russia, where the invention would be laid before the Emperor; and as Joe had great faith in its success, he expected a large sum for the secret, Which Brown and Joe were to divide.
Brown was using Jo and his incredible resources to get this submarine invention off the ground. However, Jackson claims that Jo was using Brown for his own ends that played into a much larger plan.
This was palmed off on Brown, but was far from being Joe's real object. His real object, as he disclosed it to me, was this: He would first run for President, and thus be be able to prove to the Emperor of Russia his strength in the Union. He would then send G. A. Adams, Orson Hyde, and Brown to Russia, and after the utility of the invention had been fairly proved to the Emperor, Joe's proposition to him was to be submitted: which was to form a league for the overthrow of the powers that be. Now this may seem too ridiculous for any man to imagine possible; nevertheless, no one acquainted with the excessive vanity of Joe Smith, will doubt but that he in reality believed that he could form even so preposterous a union. Joe's idea was, that by the aid of Brown's invention, he could introduce himself to the Emperor, and having the strongest faith in the efficiency of the new discovery as an instrument of warfare; he imagined, that if His Majesty could once see the wonderful work, that he would be willing even to take him as a partner in the benefits, for the sake of its advantages. As wild as this scheme may seem, it is no wilder than many that have characterized Mormonism from its infancy.
Uriah Brown didn’t just have plans to build a submarine, but also a “invention of liquid fire to destroy an army or navy,” which Jo VERY CLEARLY wanted in his hands. A submarine and a flamethrower, we can see how useful Uriah Brown was to Joseph Smith and why he was the third non-Mormon member of the Council of Fifty.
Jo intended to use the Council of Fifty in a violent overthrow of the American Government. The Council provided plenty of tools for him to accomplish this. In the meeting of March 19, 1844, White-out Willard Richards presented a resolution to the Council of Fifty that was approved:
Resolved that a “communication be made immediately to the General Government through our representative, Mr [John] Wentworth, specifying that General Joseph Smith will protect the Texas and Oregon from all foreign invasion if the General Government will authorise him to raise volunteers in the United States for that purpose”
What did this resolution actually mean? Well, White-out Willard Richards sequestered himself away in the evenings to draft it up for presentation to the High Council, which he did one week later. This is a long read and I’ve cut a ton of superfluous information, but there are so many important nuggets to pull from here so please bear with me. From the Vogel HoC 6:304-7:
To the Honorable, the Senate and House of Representatives of the Untied States of America, in Congress assembled:
Your memorialist, a free-born citizen of these Untied States, respectfully showeth, that from his infancy his soul has been filled with the most intense and philanthropic interest for the welfare of his native country… he has designed universal peace and goodwill, union and brotherly love to all the great family of man, your memorialist asks your honorable body to pass the following
An Ordinance for the protection of the citizens of the United States emigrating to the adjoining Territories, and for the extension of the principles of universal liberty.
Whereas, many of the citizens of these United States have migrated, and are migrating to Texas, Oregon, and other lands contiguous to this nation;… Joseph Smith has offered and does hereby offer these United States, to show his loyalty to our confederate Union and the constitution of our republic; to prevent quarrel and bloodshed on our frontier; to extend the arm of deliverance to Texas; to protect the inhabitants of Oregon from foreign aggressions and domestic broils; to prevent the crowned nations from encircling us as a nation on our western and southern border, and save the eagle’s talon from the lion’s paw,… to open vast regions of the unpeopled west and south to our enlightened and enterprising yeomanry,… to break down tyranny and oppression and exalt the standard of universal peace… therefore, that the said memorialist may have the privilege, and that no citizen of these United States shall obstruct, or attempt to obstruct or hinder, so good, so great, so noble an enterprise to carry out those plans and principles as set forth in this preamble; and be shielded from every opposition by evil and designing men:--
Sec. 1. Be it ordained by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, that Joseph Smith,… is hereby authorized and empowered to raise a company of one hundred thousand armed volunteers,… for the purposes specified in the foregoing preamble, and to execute the same.
Sec. 2. And be it further ordained, that if any person or persons shall hinder or attempt to hinder or molest the said Joseph Smith from executing his desings in raising said volunteers and marching or transporting the same to the borders of the United States and Territories,… shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars each for every offense, or by hard labor on some public work not exceeding two years.
Sec. 3. And be it further ordained,… the said Joseph Smith is hereby constituted a member of the army of these United States, and is authorized to act as such in the United States and Territories,…
Sec. 4. And be it further ordained, that nothing in this ordinance shall be so construed by any individual or nation as to consider the volunteers aforesaid, as constituting any part of the army of the United States;
Sec. 5. And be it further ordained, that the said Joseph Smith shall confine his operations to those principles of action specified in the preamble of this ordinance.
And your memorialist will ever pray, &c.
Imagine that. Imagine Joseph Smith with submarines, flamethrowers, and 100,000 American soldiers leading millions of Native Americans and freed slaves as the one true Mormon army of God. Anybody who opposed or molested him for any reason, they’d be fined $1,000 and thrown in labor camps. As insane as it sounds, there’s every indication that this was Jo’s dream. Jo dreamed of overthrowing the government and becoming king of the world. I dream of owning Jay Leno’s collection one day, but it’ll never happen. But, because dreams and final aspirations aren’t realistic doesn’t mean we can’t learn a lot about a person by understanding what their unrealistic dreams are. Jo’s final dreams would never become a reality because, let’s face it, he could never pull it off, but, once again, it’s the intent here that’s truly important. This whole ordeal reminds me of something I saw in a movie once.
Jo, and everybody in those Council of Fifty meetings, knew how dangerous the meetings were. These were the height of treason against the nation. This was insurrection. This was the earliest stages of an uprising. If any member of the government caught wind that these meetings were going on, that a sovereign theocracy planned to burn the nation to the ground, the entirety of the U.S. militia forces would descend on Nauvoo before nightfall. The criminal intent to carry out high treason would land every one of these guys a slot in the gallows. These were capital offenses, and the members of the Council of Fifty knew that.
These Minutes recorded by Quilliam Claypen were plutonium. When Jo gave himself up for arrest and was taken to Carthage prior to the shootout, he knew that if the Council of Fifty minutes fell in the hands of the court at his hearing, he’d be taken out back and shot like ol’ yeller. Quilliam’s journal tells what Jo commanded him.
June 22, 1844 Joseph whispered and told me either to put the r[ecords] of K[ingdom] into the hands of some faithful man and send them away, or burn them, or bury them. I concluded to bury them, which I did immediately on my return home.
Then, Carthage happened, Jo and Hyrum were both dead. 7 days after the Carthage shootout, Quilliam’s journal contains this passage.
July 3, 1844 … at the Temple Office and after went to dig up the Records. Water had got into the place where they were and they were damaged.
Quilliam set himself to the task of reconstructing the minutes for days at a time after that, which were all written into three little notebooks. These notebooks, along with the records of the Utah-era Council of Fifty, could burn anybody who touched them and were always kept tight to the scribe’s chest.
Although the records of the Council of Fifty had been in the personal custody of William Clayton as Clerk of the Kingdom in the 1840s, in Utah the custody passed among various officers: in 1857 President Brigham Young had them in his personal custody and gave them to the Church Historian’s Office, by 1880 the recorder George Q. Cannon had them locked in a box in Utah and took the key with him wherever he went, and in 1884 the records were in the possession of reporter George F. Gibbs.
All these records survive in the Church’s first presidency’s vault to this day. The three little notebooks written by Quilliam remained in that Vault until the Joseph Smith Papers Project published them in 2016 after over a century of independent scholars and historians frequently requesting access and being denied nearly every single time.
When Brandon and Heather King gave me this copy of Rogers’ Council of Fifty Documentary History, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what I’d find. I honestly didn’t know what the Council of Fifty really was. When I became friends with Joe Geisner at Sunstone 2016, he told me to be on the lookout for the Council of Fifty minutes being released. At JWHA in September 2017 in Nauvoo, Joe told me that the Council of Fifty minutes were an absolute bombshell. I interviewed him along with Bill Shepherd and Michael Marquardt about the Nauvoo criminal empire and Joe continued to blow the horn that the Council of Fifty minutes are the most explosive thing the church has ever published. Ever. I heard him say the words, but I didn’t understand what they really meant until cracking this book and starting to read the minutes on the JSP.org. The Council of Fifty, and what transpired there, is earthshattering to Mormon history.
We can chat all day about how cookey the Book of Abraham is or how there are anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, those conversations are worthwhile and they’re problematic to the orthodox system of Mormon belief. The Council of Fifty should shatter every illusion that Joseph Smith was a good or moral human being. He put into motion plans that included the slaughter and militaristic subjugation of millions of Americans. Other explosive documents have been released or opened to researchers including the Wilford Woodruff journals, the George Q. Cannon journals, although that last one is pretty strict as to who can see it, but these journals include redactions. Certain names and events are redacted, mostly having to do with polygamy and second anointings. Sure, that’s fine, redact away Mormon church, because the most incredibly explosive and evil material is openly available to every researcher on the planet with absolutely no redactions. The Council of Fifty should send a shudder through the body of every believing Mormon who loves their religion AND their country.
Joseph Smith was an apocalyptic millennialist preacher. Those kinds of preachers were a dime a dozen in the 19th century and there are even more of them today. But what sets Jo apart from all his contemporary apocalypticists is that he didn’t just look forward to the end of the world, he tried to bring the world to an end by himself. He wanted the world to lay in ruins so Christ could return and reign personally over the new order that Jo and his acolytes had built on the corpses of any apostate, gentile, or patriot who opposed them. This bloody Mormon crusade wasn’t just something he dreamed of doing, it was what he intended on doing. He acted on his dreams. Joseph Smith sought to condemn and obliterate the American dream of liberty, prosperity, and freedom of religion because his dreams were better for everyone, even if attaining those dreams came at a huge cost of human life.
I can’t think of a single example in human history where religious exclusivity forced upon a people by a government was ever a good thing or better for those living under that heavy theocratic arm. I can think of absolutely 0 examples where a religious leader crusading and converting by the sword or artillery cannon was ever a good thing in our human history. This is Mormon supremacy. The Council of Fifty was the scaffolding upon which that Mormon supremacy was to be built.
When I introduced this series, I told you that this is arguably the most important series we’ve ever done on the show, even moreso than the Book of Mormon episodes, the Mark Hoffman episodes, the Book of Abraham episodes, and yes, even more important than episode 1 with the birth of Joseph Smith. I stand by that assertion. The Council of Fifty deserves more attention. The role of the Council of Fifty shifts over time, mostly as a result of Bloody Brigham’s insatiable thirst for power, but for Joseph Smith history, the Council of Fifty weighs heaviest on Jo’s legacy than any other single item. Mormon history is rife with these issues that should turn any believer’s spine into broken glass. Joseph Smith was a terrifying and evil human being, made all the more insidious by his approachable and loveable charisma and his complex theology. Creating a religion is not a moral thing. Joseph Smith was not a moral human because he was a self-proclaimed prophet. I can scarcely find examples within his history where he ever acted with a single iota of selflessness or altruistic morality. The flipside of that is the most troubling. He wasn’t moral when he started his religion, but he utilized that religion as a weapon to use, abuse, and kill people. His ultimate goals required the blood sacrifice of millions of people, yet every Sunday, millions of people sing Praise to this Man who communed with Jehovah. Yeah, sure, praise to this man, knock yourself out Mormons. I’d rather spend my life fighting evil than being accessory to it.
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