Ep 199 – Lawful Dissent
On this episode, we discuss the Law family. William, his wife Jane, and his brother Wilson, converted to the church in the mid-1830s and moved to the burgeoning city of Nauvoo in 1839. From that point forward, William and Jane were elevated to high-ranking levels of Mormon and city leadership. Joseph Smith and William Law became good friends and coworkers in Nauvoo government and military duties. But, something changed. By late 1843, William began to bristle about how much political influence Joseph Smith was gaining. By January of 1844, William was dropped from the Presidency of the church (Jo’s left-hand man). William, Jane, and Wilson Law eventually became looped together with the dissenter movement within the kingdom. They finally chose to act and formed their own sect of Mormonism in Nauvoo, collected affidavits of those wronged by the Nauvoo leadership and Joseph Smith, and established an adversarial printing press. The Higbees, the Fosters, and the Laws establishing this rival church and expose printing press would catalyze a sequence of events which would lead to the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
History of Hancock County by Thomas Gregg
History of Illinois by Thomas Ford
William Law Biography
Wilson Law Biography
JS Reflections and Blessings
An Interview with William Law
William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter by Lyndon Cook
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
The Higbees, the Fosters, and the Laws in May of 1844. Are you in the know, dear listener? Do you understand the gravity of what we’re talking about yet? Hopefully it’ll be clear by the end of today’s episode. Next episode is the big number 200 and we’ve got an exciting topic to discuss. But, first, we have to discuss the final pillar of our trio of insurrection, the Laws.
We’ve discussed the Fosters and the Higbees the last two episodes, but the Laws are certainly the most important of the trio to cover before next week so I saved them for last. We’ve talked about William and Jane Law, as well as William’s brother Wilson, on the podcast before. Back on episode 163 Live and Die by the Law we discussed them extensively and even got a bit into the controversy that caused them to diverge from the prophet. Today, however, we’re going to really get into the nitty gritty of what happened and how the Laws came to be the tip of the dissent spear which crippled the prophet and brought an end to his reign in 1844.
First, a little review of the background for the Law family. William and Wilson Law immigrated to Pennsylvania from their homeland of Ireland sometime before 1820 with their parents, Richard Law and Ann Hunter. The Law family moved to today’s Ontario Canada by 1833. Here is where William Law met Jane Silverthorn and they were married in June of 1833. William was 24 years old, Wilson was 27 and remained unmarried until the 1840s. William and Jane, as well as Wilson Law, all converted to the church in 1837 when it was in turmoil during the late Kirtland era of the church. The Laws, however, did not immigrate to Kirtland or even Missouri after Jo and the Quorum of Apostles were removed from Kirtland leadership and moved the church headquarters to Missouri. During this time, William Law was presiding elder of the Churchville branch of the church; his duties and time were occupied with leadership in Canada. The Laws remained in Canada for the entire Missouri-Mormon War of 1838.
Once the leadership had escaped from Liberty Jail and the Mormons were beginning to settle in Illinois, the Laws pulled the trigger and decided to move to Commerce, soon to become Nauvoo. This move was the result of a consolidation effort the leadership was making to bring as many people to Nauvoo as possible. Previous revelations had been given to spread out and diversify the church among different localities. But, Jo had learned an important lesson when he was forced to excommunicate the Missouri leadership to retain control in early 1838. When the people are all grouped together, it’s much easier to keep an eye on everybody and keep them under the thumb of the leadership of the One True Prophet.
In accordance with the consolidation efforts of the church, the laws moved to Commerce in late 1839. The Mormons began resettling and Joseph collected affidavits from hundreds of Mormons about their experience in Missouri. He took that folder of documents and presented it to congress and President Martin Van Buren. During his trip to D.C., this was the first time Joseph Smith and William Law set eyes on each other. While the Laws were headed west to Illinois and the Prophet’s posse east toward D.C., they met near Springfield and tarried there a few days. Here, Joseph and William Law cultivated the beginnings of a friendship which would eventually lead to William Law being called as second Counselor to the Prophet once Frederick G. Williams died and Hyrum had become Patriarch of the church to replace the deceased Joseph Sr., Big Daddy Cheese.
William Law showed great promise in the church upon his arrival to Commerce. His older brother, Wilson, tended to be a little less involved. Accordingly, the monumental revelation which became D&C 124 was produced in conjunction with the passage of the Nauvoo Charter by John C. Wreck-it Bennett. We’ve talked about D&C 124 a lot but it was the religious component of establishing Nauvoo while the Charter being passed was the secular component. D&C 124 being published when Nauvoo was officially recognized as a city ensured a constant and indivisible intermingling of church and municipal authority. William Law is named repeatedly in the revelation. Verse 82 commanded William Law by name to purchase stock in the Nauvoo House Association, which we’ve also discussed extensively, but was basically what Jo conceived of to become the Mormon Ritz in Nauvoo. 15 verses later reads as follows:
Let my servant William Law also receive the keys by which he may ask and receive blessings; let him be humble before me, and be without guile, and he shall receive of my Spirit, even the Comforter, which shall manifest unto him the truth of all things, and shall give him, in the very hour, what he shall say.
And later it reads in verse 107:
Let him assist my servant Joseph, and also let my servant William Law assist my servant Joseph, in making a solemn proclamation unto the kings of the earth, even as I have before said unto you.
Finally, in verse 126, William Law was called to an important office:
I give unto him [Joseph] for counselors my servant Sidney Rigdon and my servant William Law, that these may constitute a quorum and First Presidency, to receive the oracles for the whole church.
This placed William Law on a level of church authority equivalent with Hingepin Sidney Rigdon. The dude was in as exclusive of circles as he could be during the earliest days of Nauvoo being Nauvoo instead of Commerce.
William Law was also responsible for one of the public works projects in Nauvoo that was actually completed. He was put in charge of the grain and sawmill built in the city, which made him quite wealthy. What is interesting about this grain and sawmill is that it was initially slated to be driven by water power when the canal project was completed. This canal project would have diverted a small amount of water from the Mississippi through the center of Nauvoo’s mercantile district, thus providing endless sources of power for the planned factories that would be built. However, the canal project was conceived and agreed upon, but never got more than a few dozen feet dug before the whole project was abandoned. Instead, a steam-powered motor was purchased and brought to Nauvoo and was hooked up to the grain and sawmill so the Mormons could cut their trees into boards and grind their grain into flour. This grain and sawmill project was conceived in early 1841, but wasn’t tabled for completion until early 1842 where Jo’s Nauvoo journal records that on Monday, January 24, Jo met with William Law to inspect the lots designated for the mill. On that same day, Jo and Emma signed a deed to William Law for $700 for the said lots and the land was officially transferred to William Law with Jo’s younger brother, Samuel H. Smith, acting as Justice of the Peace to notarize the signatures.
William Law was also called as Registrar of the University of Nauvoo. The University of Nauvoo was sanctioned by the Nauvoo Charter, but was never formally created beyond forming a basic curriculum with a few standard textbooks. Whatever the intention of the University of Nauvoo was at inception, the benefits reaped from its existence amounted to granting honorary degrees to people who did favors for the Mormons. Law was the guy who handled the student records of the University. He alone approved people joining the University and their records while they were students. So, if a guy like James Gordon Bennett was printing some great articles about the Mormons in his paper, the New York Herald, William Law was the guy who accepted and processed the paperwork that gave James Bennett his honorary juris doctorate degree, even though the dude never went through law school, much less through the University of Nauvoo’s law school program, which it didn’t even have. This granted Law the ability to scratch the back of anybody who corruptly scratched the collective back of the Mormons, and the powers were exercised in a few notable cases like James Bennett’s.
William Law was also appointed to a criminal justice committee that was formed in October of 1840 as a result of the General Conference that first Sunday. As was required by the Nauvoo Charter, every act or ordinance passed in the city had to be published in the city newspaper immediately before it could take effect. The leadership bent this rule from time to time, but for the most part they stuck with it. Accordingly, printed in the first October of 1840 periodical of the Times and Season, we find the minutes from the conference which includes this:
The president [Joseph Smith] arose and stated that there had been several depredations committed on the citizens of Nauvoo, and thought it expedient that a committee be appointed, to search out the offenders, and bring them to justice.
Whereupon it was resolved, that, Joseph Smith, William Marks, Elias Higbee, Vinson Knight, Charles C. Rich, Dimick Huntington, [and] William Law compose said committee.
This committee was formed when the general topic of discussion during the conference was criminal justice. In the same meeting John C. Wreck-it Bennett spoke on the necessity of the brethren to “stand by each other and resist every unlawful attempt at persecution.” Bennett also added later in the same meeting that “many persons had been accused of crime, and had been looked upon as guilty, when on investigation it has been ascertained that nothing could be adduced against them,”. Criminality in Nauvoo was a constant issue that could never be controlled, but Bennett attempted to instate some form of checks and balances with the criminal underground in Nauvoo by proposing a motion; “it was resolved that no person be considered guilty of crime, unless proved so by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
What this resulted in was a conflict for William Law. What I mean by that is he was generally a good person and regarded in his life after Mormonism as a moral guy. However, the Nauvoo criminal justice system covered up a lot of crime. We’ve talked a lot on this show about how witnesses could be produced to reach all sorts of outcomes which were beneficial to the leadership of the church. William Law saw first-person how the Nauvoo Municipal court devolved into a banana republic court system to protect those in power and allow crime to propagate unmitigated. When it came to squashing dissent, the High Council and ecclesiastical punishment coupled with the Nauvoo Municipal system allowed for complete and total character assassination. We saw it last week with Chauncey Higbee when he was caught up in the Bennett expose scandal and was punished by the High Council and brought into the Nauvoo Court for adultery charges. William Law was present as a member of the criminal justice committee formed in Nauvoo. To what extent he approved of these tyrannical powers or he just remained silent is a matter of mystery Law took with him to the grave.
However, he did show signs of dissent starting to grow resulting from the polygamy. All evidence leads historians to conclude that William and Jane Law were die-hard monogamists. So, when Bennett began collecting data about polygamy, it caused the Laws to ideologically divorce themselves from the inner circles of church leadership that was trending toward polygamy. Publicly, however, William Law made numerous statements defending Joseph against the allegations Bennett made and even embarked on a mission to the Eastern States to set issues in order and preach the propaganda the church leadership had contrived to damage control the Bennett Meltdown.
It can’t be overstated how divisive of an issue polygamy was in Nauvoo. Joseph Smith pushed his two closest counselors away as a result of polygamy. When he made a mark of Sidney Rigdon’s daughter, Nancy, and when he attempted to prey on William’s wife, Jo turned them both into enemies. Rigdon and Jo reconciled; the Laws and Jo, however, did not, and the chasm between them grew from mid-1843 to early 1844.
Mid-1842 and the Bennett meltdown seem to be where William and Wilson Law sort of diverged. Wilson Law grew further away from the church than William. I believe William Law wanted to believe the allegations made by John Bennett were false. It’s worth taking stock of why he harbored that cognitive dissonance. Everything the Laws had in life, including all their social connections and personal wealth, was tied up in Nauvoo. I think they sincerely believed they were following the right religion, as will be evidenced by the end of today’s episode, but that Jo was a man with human failings. The fact that the Laws had so much tied up in Nauvoo likely put them in a place where they were uncomfortable with thinking about the church critically. Like when I talk to my parents about the church hoarding $124 billion and using that money to silence victims of sex abuse by church leadership. They’ve devoted their entire lives to the church. Everything they know is tied to the church. Every connection they have with any other human is almost exclusively within the context of the church, whether they’re neighbors my parents see every Sunday, or their other people living in a community of extremely high percentage of members, every interaction they have they assume that chances are pretty good the person they’re talking to are members. The church, for my parents, represents everything good in their life. It’s because of the church that they enjoy so many things in life. Examining the system that has made their life so good through a critical lens is impossible. They can’t question the church because that calls into question everything to which they’ve devoted their entire lives.
I believe that William and Jane Law were in the same boat. They’d completely given up everything they knew in Canada in order to move to the Mormon settlement on the Mississippi. When they arrived in Nauvoo with a train of wagons carrying supplies, the group of people who received them were sick, destitute, and traumatized. The friendships the Laws forged upon their arrival in Quincy and Commerce in summer of 1839 were friendships that none of us could ever understand.
Why, then, did Jo call William Law to the second-highest position of church leadership? That’s a deeper question I don’t think could be answered. Did he find that William Law, at age 30 was a motivated and ambitious person who would give everything to the church? Was Joseph attracted to Jane and called William to the presidency to get as close as possible to one of his marks? Maybe those are too simplistic of speculations. Maybe Jo saw somebody who was truly devoted and was smart enough to be effective with whatever task he was given. Maybe William and Jo became fast friends the way Jo did with many people and the connection Jo and William shared, in addition to the friendship Jane Law and Emma shared, was simply good chemistry. We can’t ever know. All we can do is speculate as to why somebody who was a relative newcomer to the movement was given a position equal with Sidney Rigdon who’d been there since the beginning.
Where Wilson Law was in all of this is a matter of question. He simply doesn’t have as many documents in church archives with his name on them and Wilson occupied a much less prominent position in church leadership. Therefore, we have to focus more heavily on William and Jane Law and merely speculate about Wilson Law as we go.
During William Law’s time in high-ranking offices within the church, Nauvoo Government, and the Nauvoo Legion, he was highly favored by the prophet. While Jo was in hiding to escape arrest, he recorded in August 1842 a series of visions he received; dreams is probably a better word for what’s recorded. He talks about his loved family, his wife Emma and how “many were the revibrations of my mind when I contemplated for a moment the many scenes we had been called to pass through. The fatigues, and the toils, the sorrows, and sufferings,” yet she “[is] here undaunted, firm and unwavering, unchangeable, affectionate Emma.” He then saw in his visions his brother Hyrum, “a natural brother” with “a faithful heart.” When he received these visions, Jo was on the small island in between Montrose on the Iowa side of the Mississippi, and Nauvoo on the other. A group of the most highly trusted Mormon elites, the who’s who of ultimate Mormons, visited the prophet in his rathole away from the view of the constables then staying in Nauvoo waiting to capture Jo. Whatever happened that night is reflected fondly in Jo’s reminiscences, but he wasn’t kind enough, or graphic enough, to leave behind any description.
My heart was overjoyed as I took the faithful band by hand, that stood upon the shore one by one. William Law, William Clayton, Dimick B. Huntington, George Miller were there. The above names constituted the little group. I do not think to mention the particulars of the history of that sacred night, which shall forever be remembered by me. But the names of the faithful are what I wish to record in this place. These I have met in prosperity and they were my friends, I now meet them in adversity, and they are still my warmer friends.
Something happened though. 1841, William Law and Jo were such good friends that Jo called him to be a counselor to the church presidency. 1842, Jo considered him to be one of his warmest friends who met him in his time of need when Jo was hiding from the law.
William Law, on the other hand, was beginning to falter in his loyalty to the prophet. In late 1843, William Law began to openly subvert public declarations by Jo about who the Mormons should vote for. The 1843 election was a divisive issue among church members. Jo had promised his vote to a guy named Cyrus Walker because Walker agreed to defend Jo in court when he was arrested by Sheriffs Reynolds and Wilson with order to convey Jo to Missouri and answer for the crimes in 1838 as well as the assassination attempt of Lilburn Boggs.
When it came time for the election, Jo promised that he’d vote for Walker, but Walker was a Whig who couldn’t promise the Mormons what the Democrat Hoge could. So, Jo pulled a fast one and the day of the election Jo called a public meeting to give the Mormons in Nauvoo a sermon.
Brother Hyrum tells me this morning that he has had a testimony to the effect it would be better for the people to vote for Hoge, and I never knew Hyrum say he ever had a revelation and it failed… I authorize all men to say I am a personal friend of Governor Ford.
But the meeting wasn’t over just yet. After Jo stepped down from the podium, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff himself took the stand and expounded on the revelation. No record survives of what he said specifically. After Hyrum finished, William Law took the stand in an epic display of insubordination. This is from Governor Thomas Ford’s History of Illinois:
William Law, another great leader of the Mormons, next appeared, and denied that the Lord had made any such revelation. He stated that, to his certain knowledge, the prophet Joseph was in favor of Mr. Walker, and that the prophet was more likely to know the mind of the Lord on the subject than the patriarch.
Hyrum took the stand again to respond to what William Law had just said about Jo being in favor of Cyrus Walker and “repeated his revelation with greater tone of authority.”
Then Jo took the stand again to clear the air.
[Joe Smith] there stated that “he himself was in favor of Mr. Walker, and intended to vote for him; that he would not, if he could, influence any voter in giving his vote; that he considered it a mean business for him or any other man to attempt to dictate to the people who they should support in elections; that he had heard his brother Hiram had received a revelation from the Lord on the subject;… brother Hiram [is] a man of truth; he had known brother Hiram intimately ever since he was a boy, and he had never known him to tell a lie. If brother Hiram said he had received such a revelation, he had no doubt it was a fact. When the Lord speaks, let all the earth be silent.
Now from History of Hancock County written by Thomas Gregg circa 1880.
That settled it. The election occurred on the next day. It is believed the prophet did, with a few others, vote for Walker, in the face of the revelation; but the body of his followers voted for Hoge, giving him 2,088 votes to Walker’s 733 in the county, and beating him in the district by 455 votes. This change of position at Nauvoo was not known in Adams county till after the election; so Mr. O. H. Browning, the Whig candidate in that district, received the Mormon vote there.
If William Law was experiencing cognitive dissonance before this election, this must have certainly spiked those dark feelings. Like I said, he’d given his whole life to the church and he obviously believed it was true. But, what he saw was a grand display of Jo abusing the pulpit to get political favors, which has always been a sticky issue in American politics. William Law taking the stand and telling the people to ignore Hyrum’s revelation and vote with the prophet is quite revealing. Jo and Hyrum had orchestrated this vote swap before they both took the stand that day. William Law taking the stand and telling the people to ignore Hyrum’s revelation threw a wrench in Jo and Hyrum’s plan to get the democrat elected. Oh to see the anxious looks exchanged between Jo and Hyrum as William Law was preaching against their scheme. Oh to be a fly on the wall.
This election sermon and the outcome of the votes being cast evidences when William Law really took a sharp turn away from the Nauvoo leadership. Rumors of polygamy were growing out of control even though the Bennett meltdown had been weathered. Two friends of William and Jane Law from their time in Canada had been married to Joseph while he was their guardian, that’s Sarah and Maria Lawrence, both teenage sisters. Polygamy was, in many ways for William Law, just a symptom of the problems arising with Joseph Smith.
In exploration of William Law’s reasons for turning defector, historian Lyndon Cook published an article titled William Law, Nauvoo Dissenter in the Winter 1982 edition of BYU Studies journal. In it, Cook cites 5 primary reasons for Law’s dissent.
According to his own statements…, William Law turned against the Mormon prophet because of William’s perception that (1) Joseph was totally ungovernable and defiant and was determined to obey or disobey the law of the land at his convenience (i.e., a claim to higher law); (2) Joseph united church and state, both as mayor of Nauvoo… and as an influential religious leader by manipulating or seeking to manipulate politicians for private purposes (i.e., breakdown of the rule of law); (3) Joseph had allowed the established judicial order of church government to be trampled under foot; (4) Joseph had attempted to control the temporal (financial) interests of the Mormon people by ecclesiastical authority; and (5) more importantly, Joseph had corrupted the Church by introducing “false and damnable” doctrines such as a plurality of Gods, a plurality of wives, and the doctrine of unconditional sealing up unto eternal life (i.e., Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet).
In view of these rising tensions, Joseph Smith and William Law slowly became enemies. Joseph could sense that William Law was a major problem and he’d recently been through the ringer by one of his previous closest advisors, John C. Wreck-it Bennett; Jo was determined to not make the same mistakes with William Law. Any person of Law’s rank defecting from the church posed a significant threat to the prophet and his inner-circle, just like with Bennett defecting.
Notably, William Law, in an interview taken for a Mormon expose published in 1885, Law discussed his and Jane’s reaction to learning about plural marriage. “Hyrum gave it [D&C 132] to me in his office, told me to take it home and read it, and then be careful with it, and bring it back again… [Jane] and I were just turned upside down by it,… We did not know what to do.” This confusion turned to resolve as 1843 turned into 1844.
Early 1844 marked a new year with rising tensions between William Law and Joseph Smith. Caught in the mix was Jane Law. The exact details of what occurred here and the timing are really hard to nail down. It also doesn’t help that the historical record is clouded with conjecture and public denials that anything occurred between Jane Law and Joseph Smith. We discussed this back on our episodes going through D&C 132, the polygamy revelation, but there is some evidence to conclude that Emma wanted William Law for a spiritual husband, possibly in exchange for Joseph taking Jane as a spiritual wife.
Whether or not this actually happened, the public consensus was that it did happen, largely aided by an expose written by Joseph H. Jackson and published in the Warsaw Signal.
He had frequently heard of the spiritual wife doctrine from the Gentiles, but he, not having heard such doctrine taught by Smith, set it down as a slanderous persecution against the church. When, however, this new revelation was made known to him, his eyes were opened, and at once, he indignantly rejected the doctrines as not of God, but of the Devil. Such was his vehemence and indignation, that it became apparent to Joe, that he had presumed too much on Law's faith, and that it would be idle to attempt to stuff him with the doctrine. There was no alternative, therefore for Joe, but to destroy Law's influence, and therefore a great bustle was raised and Law cut off from the holy order. This placed Law, who was particularly sensitive, in an awful dilemma, and so powerfully did the frequent lectures he received, work upon his nerves, that I entertained serious apprehensions that he would become crazed.
One Sunday morning, Joe and I had a long talk concerning Law, in which he avowed, not for the first time, however, his determination to put Law out of the way, for he had become dangerous to the church of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints, and that it was the will of God that he should be removed. He, however, wished to proceed in such a manner that he would be able to get Law's wife.
Then it details how Jo set up the Nauvoo city police on a night watch to catch William Law with his guard down, but it never worked. Then Jackson goes on to say:
Not only was his design to remove William Law, but also William Marks. The spite he had against the latter, arose from the fact, that he had endeavored to seduce the daughter of Marks, and she had informed her parents who were very wrathy, and Joe dreaded their influence. For this reason, he said that those individuals, if they were not checked, would ruin the church…
Wm. and Wilson Law having heard, by the vague information they had received, that either one of them, or Marks was the Judas whom Joe sought, armed themselves and went to Joe's house. On seeing them, Joe became desperately alarmed and gave every evidence of his apprehensions. They had a long conversation, in the course of which Joe made some abusive remark, which so exasperated Wilson Law, that he drew his pistol, and made Joe swallow his words in a hurry. So great was the excitement, that it was with difficulty that William Law and Hyrum Smith, could prevent Wilson from firing.
Joe seeing his plans foiled, determined on making capital of the whole affair, by raising the cry of persecution. Accordingly he called the City Council together, and in order to show the public that there was no ground for the rumors that had been afloat concerning the plot against Law, he brought all the forty guards up and questioned every man whether he had ever bound them by a secret oath. Every man appeared perfectly amazed, and not one had ever known of any such thing, nor did they know anything about the conspiracy against Law and Marks. This is part of Joe's game, whenever he is accused of secret plots, he calls his men, who are instructed to appear as foolish as possible, to disprove the accusation. In this instance they endeavored so hard to appear silly, that a sensible man might have detected the trick; but the faithful were convinced that Joe had been vilely persecuted and slandered, and that there was no ground whatever for the accusation against him.
This expose was written retrospectively from the events of early to mid-1844 and after Joseph and Hyrum Smith had died in Carthage. Jackson leaves out or only alludes to some important details. When Jo had considered William Law to be enough of a threat, Jo removed him from the presidency of the church in January of 1844. Well, William Law resigned from the presidency on January 8th, but to what extent his resignation was coerced is a subject that reasonable historians can disagree about.
According to William Law’s son, Richard, William confronted Joseph Smith about polygamy. “with his arms around the neck of the Prophet, was pleading with him to withdraw the doctrine of plural marriage… [William] pleaded for this with Joseph with tears streaming from his eyes. The Prophet was also in tears, but he informed [William] that he could not withdraw the doctrine, for God had commanded him to teach it, and condemnation would come upon him if he was not obedient to the commandment.”
There is a disputed document that’s only been made available to a few people. Apparently William Law kept a journal in Nauvoo for the last couple months of 1843 into the majority of 1844, which provides a window into his inner turmoil about this escalating conflict. Notably, however, is that the journal in question is not in church archives. Lyndon Cook was apparently granted access to the journal to write his 1982 BYU Studies article about William Law and Leonard Arrington, official church historian beginning the late 1970s, shared correspondence with the custodian of the document, a descendant of William Law. The person who held the journal in 1978 was a recent convert who told Leonard Arrington that her husband didn’t want the church getting ahold of the journal and various letters written by William Law. Ultimately, it is unknown where the journal currently is. Maybe the church successfully acquired it from the Law family descendants, maybe it remains in the family, maybe the journal is a fabrication to begin with. We just don’t know and historians don’t have access to the document to verify its pedigree or authenticity. However, Lyndon Cook’s article prints a number of extracts from the journal without providing photographs or holographic transcriptions of the document.
Here is a brief excerpt from that article containing William Law’s journal entry for the day he was released or he resigned from the church presidency.
William was further informed on 8 January 1844 that his rebellion had resulted in his being excluded from the anointed quorum and dropped from the First Presidency. While William considered these actions as “unjust and dishonourable,” he believed that his dismissal had released him from a compromising position: “I feel relieved from a most embarrassing situation. I cannot fellowship the abominations which I verily know are practiced by this man, consequently I am glad to be free from him.”
Once again, the document is disputed and historian Ben Park wrote a blog post back in 2017 calling the veracity of the claimed journal into question. However, it isn’t unreasonable to think that William Law would have started keeping this journal when he was beginning to calculate his removal from the church. His resignation or removal from the presidency and anointed quorum were milestones toward expose and apostasy from the church under Jo’s leadership.
This resignation event marks a hard turn away from the church leadership and may be the marker by which we can judge Jo coming on to Jane Law. It may have been that William learned of Jo’s advances on Jane in early January and resigned in protest. It was likely around this time that Jo attempted to orchestrate the assassination of William Law, which he corroborates in interviews and letter correspondences in the late 1880s.
Beyond that, according to Lyndon Cook’s reading of Law’s Nauvoo journal, William mulled over the doctrine and teachings of the church for quite some time.
William seemed willing to be freed from the incubus of polygamy, but it would take time for him to abandon Mormonism altogether. The next few days and weeks provided an opportunity for deep reflection. His diary reveals that he was racked with self-doubt, and he realized that the cardinal underpinnings of his faith in Mormonism were being wrecked. On 13 January 1844 he bewailed his awful condition: “What my feelings have been I cannot relate, various and painful at times almost beyond endurance; a thousand recollections burst upon my burning brain, the past, the present, and the future, disappointed hopes, injured feelings, where they should have been held sacred… these things are as poison’d arrows in my bleeding heart.”
This time of reflection after his removal from church leadership led to some harsh decisions a few months in the future. Whatever privately occurred between Jo and William Law in January of 1844, Jo publicly and privately considered William and Jane Law to be threats and looped them together with others who were threats to his leadership who we’ve recently discussed.
In the February of 1844 High Council minutes, Jo said “I know it by the Sp[irit] of the H Ghost—there is no man or woman can be saved upon any o[ther] principle—for what we don’t save in this probation we must save them in an[other] & [William] Law & [Robert D.] Foster… will never get out of hell until J[oseph] Smith unlocks it for them.”
In March of 1844, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith visited William Law in an attempt to smooth over the ruffled feathers. To no avail. A later visit in April of 1844 from Almon W. Babbit resulted in the same opposition. What William Law wanted was something that Jo and the leadership were not willing to give up. Law wanted the leadership to give up polygamy and the more esoteric practices and doctrines of the church. Law wanted Jo to declare from the pulpit that he’d been teaching polygamy and to disavow the practice and cease it completely. Jo would never do this. Thus, the visits from church leaders revealed to William Law that more drastic measures were necessary. On the flipside, Law’s repeated refusal to reconcile differences revealed to Jo and the leadership that Law was too dangerous and something was bound to break. Pressure was building, who or what would be the fault line?
Jo made a bold move on April 18, 1844, just a week after the King Follett Discourse was given at that month’s General Conference. The High Council decided to excommunicate both William and Jane Law… in absentia.
From Lyndon Cook’s 1982 article:
The trial of excommunication (18 April 1844) involved thirty-two male members. Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and Sidney Rigdon were conspicuously absent; and while Church Bishop Newel K. Whitney did participate in the trial, it was Brigham Young, President of the Twelve Apostles, who presided. Because William Law had been “dropped” from the First Presidency by the Prophet in early January 1844, the court handled the case as if William were a private member. Law argued that such was not the case. He insisted that without being convicted of wrongdoing he was still a member of the Presidency, and he protested that he could not be summarily excluded from the Church in absentia.
William Law learned of his excommunication from William Marks the day after the trial. Law’s democratic individualism and Irish passion were registering high marks as he recorded his sentiments in his diary: “We consider this cutting off as illegal, and, therefore corrupt.” Nettled that he had been excluded from the Church without being officially charged or notified, William demanded in writing the names of his accusers, the nature of the indictment, “who the witnesses were, [and] what they proved.” The following day William Law asked Willard Richards, the Prophet’s clerk, for a transcript of the minutes of the trail but was informed that “there was no record.” An entry in Law’s diary summarized his evaluation of these actions: “By the above the Church has as a body transgressed the laws of the Church and of God & every principle of justice and are under deep transgression.”
It wasn’t just William Law, but also Robert D. Bob the Builder Foster, Wilson Law, William’s brother, Jane, William’s wife, and a guy named Howard Smith who were all excommunicated that day. What was William Law to do? He had been removed from the Presidency, he and Jane had been excommunicated, the prophet had directed that nobody was transact any business with the Laws in order to starve them out. William Law believed the church was true but that Joseph was a fallen prophet in addition to being an unlawful tyrant. What could William Law do under these circumstances? Save the gospel from the despot who’d sullied it.
Ten days after these people were excommunicated, Jo’s journal reads as follows:
28 April 1844
There was a meeting at Gens. Wm. & Wilsons Laws—near the saw mill—of those who had been cut off from the church & their dupes—Several affidavits were taken and read against Joseph and othe[r]s—Wm Law. Wilson Law. Austin D Cowles John Scott sen. Francis M. Higbee, D [R] D. Foster and Robert Pie[r]ce. Were appointed a committe[e] to visit the diff[er]ent famili[e]s of the city & see who would joinn the new chu[r]ch—(IE) it was decided that Joseph was fallen—prophet. &c--& Wm Law was appointed in his place. Austin—Cowls & Wilson Law Coun[c]illors—R. D Foster & F M. Higbee to the 12 apostles.--&c as report Says—El—James—Blake[s]ly prea[c]hed up Joseph in the A.M. & PM. joind th[e] anties [anti’s]—Cha[rle]s Ivins Bishop
On April 28, 1844, William Law formed a new Mormon religion and was appointed the new prophet, seer, and revelator of it. This newly formed church was called “the True Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”… real original, Bill. Not only was a new church formed right under the thumb of the prophet, they also appointed a new quorum of apostles, a new bishop, and William Law appointed counselors in Austin Cowles and his brother Wilson Law. In addition to organizing this market competitor, the primary purpose of the meeting was to allow an open space for those frustrated, disenchanted, or altogether infuriated by the wrongs they’d suffered by the Nauvoo government and church leadership, because they were run by the same people, to air out their grievances. A dissenting church being formed in Nauvoo with the express purpose of calling Jo’s leadership into question and documenting his behavior was the greatest threat the prophet had experienced in his entire ministry.
You see, Jo had dealt with competitor churches organized by those who’d been excommunicated before. But, this was different. His conduct in the past had been excusable by extreme mental plasticity, but what he’d done in Nauvoo… what he’d BECOME in Nauvoo, was much harder to justify than any other time.
I can imagine that it’s tough for a demagogue to get a good night’s rest. The tossing and turning from a racing mind must have worn on him as much as any other tyrant throughout history. Joseph lived under a constant threat of exposure for his illegal and immoral acts. Never had that threat been more present than when William Law, who’d previously been Jo’s left-hand man, formed his own religion calling himself a prophet. This True Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was exactly the mainstream Mormon church that folks would be searching for when they were tired of the constant outrage and scandal coming from Jo’s church. It held to all the same teachings as Mormonism of 1841, but didn’t practice the more controversial doctrines of plural wives, sealing, endowments, infinite regression of a council of gods, and anything else that other Protestant considered anti-Christ or anti-Biblical. Jo was off the rails, William Law’s church was a new set of rails.
What did this new church have planned? What would they do with the information they collected from all the defectors from the faith? Well, as we read at the end of the last two episodes about the Fosters and Higbees, Jo’s journal tells us that the threat was imminent and very real.
May 7th, 1844.
An opposition printing press arrived at Dr [Robert D.] Fosters fr[o]m Columbus ohio. as report says
As soon as this press arrived, Robert D. Bob the Builder Foster set it up and made the first printing of the most consequential printing press in Mormon history second only to the E.B. Grandin company press in Palmyra.
Prospectus of the Nauvoo Expositor
The Expositor will be devoted to a general diffusion of useful knowledge, and its columns open for the admission of all courteous Communications of Religious, Moral, Social, Literary, or Political character, without taking a decided stand in favor of either of the great Political Parties of the country. A part of its columns will be devoted to a few primary objects, which the Publishers deem of vital importance to the public welfare. Their particular locality gives them a knowledge of the many Gross abuses exercised under the “pretended” authorities of the Charter of the City of Nauvoo, by the Legislative authorities of said city; and the Insupportable OPPRESSIONS of the MINISTERIAL powers, in carrying out the Unjust, Illegal, and Unconstitutional Ordinances of the same. The Publishers, therefore, deem it a sacred duty they owe to their country and their fellow citizens, to advocate, through the columns of the EXPOSITOIN, the UNCONDITIONAL REPEAL OF THE NAUVOO CITY CHARTER—to restrain and correct the abuses of the UNIT POWER—to ward off the Iron Rod which is held over the devoted heads of the citizens of Nauvoo and the surrounding country—to advocate unmitigated DISOBEDIENCE to POLITICAL REVEALTIONS, and to censure and decry gross moral imperfections wherever found, either in the Plebian, Patrician, or SELF-CONSTITUTED MONARCH—to advocate the pure principles of morality, the pure principles of truth, designed not to destroy, but strengthen the main-spring of God’s moral government—to advocate, and exercise, the freedom of speech in Nauvoo, independent of the ordinances abridging the same—to give free toleration to every man’s Religious sentiments, and sustain ALL in worshiping their God according to the monitions of their consciences, as guarantied by the Constitution of our country, and to oppose, with uncompromising hostility, any UNION OF CHURCH AND STATE or any preliminary step tending to the same—to sustain ALL, however humble, in their equal and Constitutional RIGHTS—and oppose the sacrifice of the Liberty, the Property, and the Happiness of the MANY, to the Pride and Ambition of the FEW. In a word, to give a full, candid, and succinct statement of FACTS, AS THEY REALLY EXIST IN THE CITY OF NAUVOO—Fearless of whose particular case the facts may apply—being governed by the laws of Editorial courtesy and the inherent dignity which is inseparable from honorable minds, at the same time exercising their own judgment in cases of flagrant abuses, or moral delinquencies—to use such terms and names as they deem proper, when the object is of such high importance that the end will justify the means. In this great and indispensable work, we confidently look to an enlightened public to aid us in our laudable effort.
The first number of the Expositor will be issued on Friday, the 7th day of June 1844.
FRANCIS M. HIGBEE
CHAUNCEY L. HIGBEE
ROBERT D. FOSTER
CHARLES A. FOSTER
There’s a very specific shirt in my dresser that I like to wear. I got it back in October 2018 from a very special place. Annie and I spent a month in Europe and one of the first stops we made was Lutherstadt Wittenburg. This is the town in which Martin Luther published his translation of the Bible, first of the New Testament in 1522, then of the complete Bible with apocrypha in 1534. According to legend, the Wittenburg chapel is also where Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the catholic chapel. I know the story is disputed, but legends usually are even if they contain kernels of truth. Wittenburg has changed hands a few times since Luther and Philipp Melanchthon spent years translating the Bible, not from the Latin Vulgate, but from the Greek and Hebrew, using as original of sources as they had access to. Today the town is a tourist destination and for many viewed as a Protestant pilgrimage, almost a holy land. It’s a beautiful city and I couldn’t help but buy a T-shirt from one of the local shops with Martin Luther on it. He isn’t recognizable to anybody other than religious history junkies like yours truly so whenever somebody asks me “who’s that,” I respond with, “he’s my spirit animal.”
I know, most people’s spirit animal isn’t a human. Maybe it’s an eagle, or a fox, or like Annie, maybe your spirit animal is a sloth. Humans are animals and Martin Luther is my spirit animal. Martin Luther crippled a millennium long theocratic empire with nothing more than information. He took information that was exclusive and tightly controlled and gave it to the people in a way they could understand. That information was claimed to be the literal word of God and Catholicism had leveraged that exclusivity to establish and maintain a theocracy larger and more powerful and wealthy than nearly any other empire humanity has ever seen.
No sword, chariot, or horse-archer could legitimately threaten the complete and total power of Catholicism for over 1000 years. One person comes along with one book and strikes a fatal blow. Owing to the power of the printing press, the German translation of the Bible from the original languages could be purchased by anybody. It wasn’t long before every bishop was on an even battlefield with anybody else who was literate. They now had equal access to the claimed word of god. Everybody could access information equally. No longer was Catholicism the only middle-man between people and their deity. Rampant corruption caused by indulgences feeding the monster were brought into question as there was no biblical defense for the practice.
Just by publishing information via the printing press, an overwhelming empire around which society had been constructed was rendered a vestigial cancer. The power of the printing press has never been truly quantified. The democratization of information and rapidly increased literacy rates have been the building blocks of society as we know it since the enlightenment. The enlightenment itself wouldn’t have happened without the printing press. Medicine, geology, all the sciences, music, theater, all the arts, novels, textbooks, all the quantitative knowledge of humanity, none of these would be what they are today without the printing press. Everything we enjoy in society is because of the printing press. It is a tool of unmatched impact and power.
A printing press made Joseph Smith who he was. It started with the E.B. Grandin Press in Palmyra printing 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon. After that, a printing press was never far from his hand. The Evening and the Morning Star, the Messenger and Advocate, the Elders’ Journal, the Millennial Star, the Times and Seasons, The Gospel Reflector, The Wasp, and The Nauvoo Neighbor all worked to build the Mormon empire. The information produced by these printing presses continually elevated Joseph Smith to a higher, and higher, and higher lattice of religious power.
The higher the tower, the harder it falls. What these 7 publishers proved to us is that no matter how powerful an empire becomes; it is always vulnerable to truth. Yes, a printing press placed Joseph Smith in the public light, gained him a following, made him obscenely wealthy, and provided for him a fast and hard lifestyle few ever get to enjoy. But another printing press would bookend his public life as prophet, seer, and revelator. The pen is mightier than the sword and a printing press does the work of a thousand pens every minute.
One doesn’t end an empire by force. The only true end to any tyrannical reign is infection. You can’t hit it head on, so you make it sick and weaken it from within. The Nauvoo Expositor, and the infection caused by its 7 publishers, would prove to be the fatal blow that Joseph Smith’s empire couldn’t overcome.
Kent Judkins ANONYMOUS message
Psych event hopefully in September
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