Ep 178 – William Judas Law; Rat Patrol

On this episode, we discuss the Nauvoo Police Force and the perpetuation of the Danite system of law. Joseph Smith was afraid there may be a Judas or Brutus in the ranks of Mormon leadership and pointed the finger at William Law. Law becomes the focus of an assassination attempt, which he became aware of through a Danite who didn’t keep his mouth shut. An inquisition is held to determine if William Law is the “dough-headed” traitor in the ranks while spiritual wifery and Daniteism are discussed openly behind the closed door. How will William Brutus Marks fair in his tribunal? Tune in next week to find out!


An Interview with William Law

The Culture of Violence in Joseph Smith’s Mormonism by D. Michael Quinn

Nauvoo Expositor

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Have you heard a politician make a speech about rooting out corruption? They’re going to get elected and fight the entire system of corruption and restore power back to the people! It’s an old yarn we’ve listened to for a long time but rarely seems to go anywhere in spite of people generally wanting less corruption. We may disagree about the means to attain less corruption, but most of us would agree that it’s a good thing.

The Nauvoo Kingdom on the Mississippi had a corruption problem. Religion, politics, and money flowed all directions and many people were living in quite comfortable means by ill-gotten gains. The city, however, was led by an incorruptible white night who spoke for god. While Joseph Smith may have been a man, he was so much more than a man. He was an icon of perfection. He communed with Jehovah and secured the political power enjoyed by the Mormons for the past 5 years. He worked endlessly not for himself, but for the common good of the Mormon people. And all of those were lies that Jo worked very hard to keep true in the minds of ten-thousand Mormons living in the area.

However, there were others. Jo’s hold on power hadn’t come from being born into a royal family or owning many large businesses to buy himself into the highest caste of society, he’d hooked and crooked to claw his way to the top of his little criminal empire. Others who saw his rise and understood the darker human side of the prophet could turn traitor if the opportunity for their own rise opened.

Jo jealously guarded the power he’d worked for a decade and a half to obtain. Like any mafia villain, when he power was threatened or somebody close to him knew too much for their own good, only a few options existed for Jo to employ in order to keep his power comfortably in his own hands and keep from rumors about the criminal side of the Mississippi Kingdom from going public.

One of the greatest threats to Jo in early 1844 was William Law. A lot of conjecture exists about what happened, but William Law was the replacement in the church presidency for Freddy G. Willey when he died back in 1842. At that point, Law was raised to the highest-ruling body of church authority while holding the office of General of the Nauvoo Legion. When he attained this high position, he was allowed to learn about the greatest mysteries of Mormon theology, including polygamy. Something happened between William Law and his wife, Jane, and Jo and Emma. The record doesn’t tell us exactly what happened, and first-hand accounts conflict, but it’s reasonable to conclude that a deal was brokered between Jo and Emma that she could take William as a spiritual husband if Jo got Jane as a spiritual wife. The deal soured and the relationship between the Smiths and Laws was forever destroyed.

From that point forward, William and Jane Law increasingly became enemies of Jo’s criminal empire. They knew too much for their own good. Could they be trusted? Jo didn’t think so and devised a plan to have William put out of the way.

William was tipped off about the Danite plan to feed him to the Mississippi catfishes and he entered a complaint against the prophet. A special counsel was called in early January 1844 to determine if Jo had sworn out a secret oath with some of the Nauvoo police force to make Law disappear. This sets our scene for today as we’re going to read through the council minutes of what transpired. This special council meeting reveals so much of Nauvoo Mormonism and the way Jo conducted his criminal empire. We’ll discuss each event and the importance of it as each testimony is given and each person is called to the stand. This is the hearing to figure out if William Law was the dough-headed traitor Jo feared him to be. Dough head is a term we’re going to run into a lot today, but it doesn’t mean idiot like intuition would imply. Dough head or dough face back then referred to a person who’s head or face was made of dough and therefore pliable or moldable, especially politicians. Northern politicians who accepted slavery were seen as dough heads because their morals were moldable, usually with a little doe, meaning money. Jo trying to find out who the dough head here is him trying to root out the traitor who he saw as moldable to the directions of the Missourians, or any of Jo’s enemies for that matter, who wanted to arrest and execute him for being a tyrant.

The Mayor directed the marshal to notify William Law and John Snyder that the council was in session, and informed the council that William Law had said to his brother Hyrum that the police had been sworn by him secretly to put Law out of the way.

A brief pause here to queue us in to the military aspect of Nauvoo. The Nauvoo Legion was the state-sanctioned militia Jo had been able to have approved by the Illinois State Legislature. But the Legion was just a militia and there was no reason to have them act as a police force unless Nauvoo was under martial law, which happened from time to time. The Nauvoo Police force was Jo’s personal uniformed bodyguard squad. I’ve talked to many people who say they are descendants of one of Jo’s personal bodyguards. I’m even a descendant of one of his bodyguards. Being Jo’s bodyguard merely meant members of the city police force whose primary job was to make sure nobody messed with Jo, you know, like it was a dictatorship or something.

The crux of the complaint filed by William Law was that Jo had made a secret pact with just a few of the Nauvoo City police force that they were practicing Danites, the shadow military from the Missouri-Mormon War era of 1838. As part of this secret oath, Law suspected Jo told them to kill him and never reveal to anybody that there was a secret group within the police force that operated outside the bounds of their regular duties.

Here’s Jo’s response to Law’s accusation:

“I have had no private conversation with any of the police, but the high policeman, Jonathan Dunham, and that was to request him to have especial care of my personal safety, as I apprehended attempts to kidnap me by the Missourians.”

So, Jo denied having made any secret pact with the Danite policemen, but to prove it he called on the policemen in attendance at the meeting.

He called on the policemen to say, if they had received any private oath from him, when they all said No!

Because of course they’d say no. Jo being a criminal kingpin was literally the issue underpinning this complaint by William Law and the police force wasn’t going to rat him out. They’d sworn oaths to stand by their brethren in defending the prophet to death, even if doing so came in conflict with the law. This is straight-up mafia family stuff right here.

Councilor Hyrum Smith said that William Law told him the police had sworn him (Law) to keep the secret, which was that he was to be put out of the way in three months.

Apparently William Law was under some kind of notion that Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith was more honorable than his younger brother prophet and confided in Hyrum that Law knew of a plot that the police were going to kill him around March or April of that year. Of course, when Hyrum knew there was a problem, that information quickly made its way up to the prophet.

The Mayor said he wished policemen to understand forever, that all he wanted was, that they should execute the ordinances of the city, and his order, according to law.

Whose law? That’s the real question here because Nauvoo had two sets of laws. One that the regular people followed, and the other that Jo and the leadership followed. Whose laws did Jo want the policemen to follow? Which set of laws would benefit Jo the most?

Several of the police called for the individual to be named who made the statement to William Law.

“Who’s the rat?!” That’s what this is. This is rat control to figure out who squealed and tighten up their lips. Jo wanted to immediately get to the bottom of who told Law that there was a plan to have Law removed. These policemen had sworn an oath to protect the prophet at all costs. Somebody violated that oath. Any leaks like this in a criminal empire is a massive threat.

The Mayor said he thought proper that William Law should come and make his statement to the council on oath.

The Mayor then said to the police, “If you see a man stealing, and you have told him three times to stand, and warned him that he is a dead man if he does not stand, and he runs, shoot off his legs; the design of the office of the police is to stop thieving; but an enemy should not be harmed until he draws weapons upon you.”

William Law came in, and was sworn to tell the whole truth, touching the case before the council.

William Law said he had been informed that some of the policemen had had another oath administered, besides the one administered to them publicly; {The two sets of laws I mentioned earlier} that one of them said there was a Judas in Gen. Smith’s cabinet, one who stood next to him, and he must be taken care of, and that he must not be allowed to go into the world, but must be taken care of; and he was not only a dough-head and a traitor like Judas, but an assassin like Brutus, that the idea had been advanced that the scriptures support such a doctrine.

William Law was told that Jo feared a dough-headed Judas at his right hand and reasonably feared he might be the person labeled as a traitor. William Law was in a massively high ranking in church and military leadership. Hyrum was Jo’s partner in crime, William Law was in the place of being the right-hand man, but he was a more moral and honorable person, not somebody a crime lord wants at his right hand because they’re a massive threat. Alderman Harris began his line of questioning with William Law.

Ald[erman]. Harris. Who is the person, and who told you?

Law. I am under obligations not to tell.

Ald. Harris. That is immaterial, you are bound to disclose the whole truth here by virtue of your oath.

Law. I am afraid to tell; one oath is as good as another.

This is an interesting exchange. Law was now on the stand in this special counsel sworn to testify under oath, being questioned by Jo the Mayor and one of his crony aldermen. But, of course, Law had likely sworn an oath to the person who informed him of the assassination attempt because if that information got out, the rat would be exterminated. But, of course, Jo held all the aces here.

The Mayor said he would protect him (Law); he was bound to tell.

Law. Said he would tell who told him and he might tell the name of the police. Eli Norton told me.

Ald. Harris. Was Eli Norton of the police?

Law. No; but he got his information from Daniel Carn, who is a policeman.

Unfortunately, the documents themselves, recorded by William Wines Double-Dub Phelps, don’t tell the full story or reveal the body language which communicated the deeper implications of what happened here. Essentially, Jo squeezed it out of Law who the rat was. Law had made an oath with the leaker to keep it secret, but Jo had a lot more power of William Law than this one random policeman rat. Law giving up the name so quickly reveals he feared Jo much more than some policeman.

The marshal was sent to bring Eli Norton.

Now, Jo was getting closer to the bottom of this. Law had given up his informant and the marshal was sent immediately to bring him before the tribunal. As the Marshal carried out his duty, Jo decided to take a moment to make a grand display of his honesty by asking all the policemen in the room if he’d ever had a private conversation with them, by implication asking if any of them in the room would openly rat him out. Whatever this looked like was apparently rather terrifying to some of those in attendance including Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith. I don’t understand the deeper implication of why it was so alarming, but I can only suspect it was due to the fact that each and every one of the policemen were so resolutely in lockstep behind whatever the prophet dictated. That, or maybe some of the policemen didn’t have as much resolve as the record dictates, which would have been even more terrifying to Jo and Hyrum, which also explains their individual speeches after the demonstration.

The Mayor said to the police, “On conditions I have had no private conversation with any of you, rise up and change the breech of your guns upwards,” when all arose and changed the position of their guns as indicated.

Counselor Hyrum Smith considered the matter very alarming, when he heard it,--he referred to Dr. Sampson Avard and John Carl’s treachery and false swearing in Missouri, and rehearsed what was said by the mayor to the police in the former council.

The Mayor said: “The reason why I made the remarks I did, was on account of the reports brought from Missouri jail by O. P. Rockwell—that my enemies were determined to get me into their power and take my life, and thereby thought they would accomplish the overthrow of Mormonism, and enable them to effect this they had secured the services of some of my most confidential friends whom I did not suspect, and who were living in Nauvoo, to deliver me into their hands, so that their religious organizations upon their old principles might stand, for they feared that Mormonism would destroy their present religions creeds, organizations and orthodox systems. They did not design to try me; but hang me,--or take my life anyhow—that they had a man in our midst who would fix me out, if they could not get me into their power without.”…

A recitation of the “persecution” Jo and the Mormons had suffered was always a good means to justify nearly any action and that’s what happened here. Hyrum talked about Dr. Sampson Avard betraying the Danites in Missouri when he swore out affidavits about the Danite’s existence to Missouri government officials and then Jo jumps off Hyrum’s screed to talk about how many times he’d been arrested, or kidnapped as he saw it, to face the law, or being hanged unlawfully as he saw it. After this dramatic scene transpired, the city marshal returned with the man William Law said leaked the assassination plot to him. Eli Norton was the guy who wasn’t a member of the police force, but he told William Law that Jo was devising a way to kill Law. It was Daniel Carn who was the member of the Nauvoo police force that told Norton, who told Law. First, Eli Norton took the stand.

Eli Norton sworn to testify the truth the whole and nothing but the truth.

[Norton:] all I know about a private oath is on intimation Bro[ther Daniel] Cairns said all that I have heard.—probably referred to what has been stated, about a doe head &c.

Question by the Mayor: Did Carn say, I had administered a private oath?

Norton: No! Did not say much about Law; did not say you had ever administered any private oath. Carn never intimated to me that Law must be put out of the way; did not call William Law’s name, nor any other name; did not say the policemen had received a private oath. Understood Carn to say they had received private instructions, and if a man could not keep a secret he was not worthy of a place in the church. Did not say the mayor had given him a private charge; did not tell where the danger was expected to come from; told me there were dough-heads about; did not say the dough-heads were in danger, but the mayor was in danger from the dough-heads.

Eli Norton, having not witnessed the sequence of events in the special counsel up to this point, took the stand and simply denied everything. Of course, William Law must have been blown away by this because he just told Jo about the leaker because Law feared Jo’s power more than anything Norton or Carn might do to him. He was understandably frustrated and asked Norton directly about what Norton had told him. Law is the supposed dough-head who must be taken care of here.

Question by William Law: Did you not understand from brother Carn, that he was suspicious of some person near Joseph being a dough-head, and must be taken care of, and that that person was myself?

Answer: Yes. He [Carn] mentioned a dough-head as being very near Joseph, and he guessed you was the man, and I thought it might be that Daniteism was not done with.

Carn was afraid that Daniteism was not done with. Daniteism of course being the way Jo dealt with dissenters, the shadow military hit-squad Jo used to get rid of people. Norton told William Law that Law’s life was in danger explicitly because he thought Law might get a visit from the Danites.

Before getting to the next portion of Norton’s statement, which was removed from the History of the Church but has been restored from the original document thanks to the painstaking work of historian Dan Vogel, let’s discuss this in the meta for a second. The only reason this special counsel happened was because the Danites weren’t successful in putting William Law out of the way in the first place. Had they been successful and some of the more seedy characters within the Nauvoo police force were able to put Law out of the way, this hearing never would have happened. Law would simply be dead, the Nauvoo Expositor never would have been published, and Mormon history would look much different today. But, because Carn told Norton and Norton told Law that the Danites were out to get him, Law survived the attempted assassination and was able to air out his grievances to this special counsel. Phelps recording the statements made under oath here reveal many troubling trends in the Nauvoo criminal justice system. Not criminal justice system, criminal justice system. This entire tribunal reveals just how insanely corrupt Nauvoo under Joseph Smith truly was. Now, however, we get to the crux of the issue that caused Law to be put on a hit list in the first place. This next point in Norton’s testimony, and much of the remaining testimonies, reveals that the lines historians use to divide celestial marriage and spiritual wifery were actual far more blurry at the time.

[We] had conversation on Spiritual Wives.—I did not believe.—knew Bro[ther] Law was opposed, and in this conversation the doe head came in. Cairns Did not say Joseph had anything to do with spiritual wives or had taught any such things, did not say Bro[ther] Law had any thing to do with it.—there was no chain to the conversation,--he suggested there was another law. The law of God; [I] do not know who administered the other oath.

There was another law, the law of God. In the law of god, men get more wives based on their ecclesiastical standing and loyalty to the prophet, and the will of god is enforced by a shadow military system.

Mayor: Tell what you know that made you so alarmed about brother Law.

Answer: Cairns told me several times Daniteism was not down, [but] never said Mayor had any thing to do about Daniteism. Cairns said it was a good system. [He] said every Quorum had their teachings and they must not tell another quorum, [but] did not say I must take an oath to remain his counselor.

Each quorum is to remain in their lane and not tell another quorum what their conduct is. We’ve discussed extensively on this podcast how the evolution of Mormon authority and priesthood offices usually resulted in external factors requiring higher and higher offices Jo created for himself to be king over. The office of Elder was created in 1830 to be the ruling officers of the church, but when there were too many elders, suddenly we have bishops, priests, deacons, two different priesthoods, Aaronic and Melchizedek, 2 quorums of seventies, quorum of twelve apostles, high council, patriarchs, high priests, stakes and stake presidents, auxiliary presidencies, and a litany of other offices constructed into the lattice of Mormon authority, always with Jo at the top. This point in Norton’s testimony, which I will remind you was removed from the HoC for understandable reasons, reveals that an aspect of these different quorums was that they operated at different degrees with differing levels of knowledge of how the church ran. Deacons pass that sacrament, bishops handle local congregations, stake president handle regional conglomerations of wards, but to know what really happens behind closed doors, to see the blueprints and construction plans for Talos, you gotta be in the highest quorums. Segregation not only of duties, but of knowledge of the grand plans to overthrow the nation. Just because you’re a made man, doesn’t mean you get all the keys to the kingdom. As in Nauvoo, just like today, Mormonism is a need-to-know basis criminal empire religion.

The next sentence wasn’t removed from the HoC, but it reveals the breakdown of Phelps taking notes based on the conversation that’s happening and that this clearly isn’t a fully-accurate recounting of everything which was said in the special counsel.

There was no chain to the conversation, but I drew the inference that brother Law was the dough-head from Carn’s conversation; but Carn did not name Law.

Now, Norton was done testifying about spiritual wives, Daniteism, dough-heads within the highest ranks of church leadership, and Daniel Carn, the policeman who supposedly told Norton about the plot to kill Law in the first place, was put on the stand.

Daniel Carn was sworn, said: “I told him [Norton] we were sworn and our duties specified. I said by the covenant we have made in Baptism we are bound to protect each other in righteousness. Daniteism is to stand by each other that is all I know about Daniteism.—Mayor said he was not afraid of any thing but a doe head in our midst. In our conversation we referred to spiritual wives and one thing brought on another.—I was asked who can that man be? I give my opinion.

Now, that previous passage was removed from the HoC because we can’t have pesky little facts like Daniteism and Spiritual Wifery getting out there, however, the next passage is what was included from Daniel Carn’s testimony that wasn’t removed from the HoC. I simply love this passage but I think it’s important to note the perception gained from reading the edited version versus reading the original documents as Dan Vogel has restored in his source and text critical edition of the HoC. If we read this tribunal as the original editors of the HoC determined, it would be rather benign and about finding out who the dough-head is. But, when read from the original document, this is one of the most telling and, frankly, troubling hearings in all of Joseph Smith Nauvoo history. The original documents reveal that Law’s suspicions and fear for his life were absolutely founded, that Jo would utilize a shadow assassin squad to remove a high-ranking church official who disagreed with him about polygamy. Law didn’t like Nauvoo Mormonism being run as a criminal regime and he was one of the few who could publicly oppose the prophet and his grand plans. Jo wanted to kill William Law and justified that desire by calling Law a Judas. This hearing was actually about rat patrol. Who was the Danite who leaked the plan to William Law? Who was the whistle-blower so we can seal up the Danite squad to be tight like unto a dish? But, with more than half of the testimonies removed from the HoC, you never get to see what this tribunal is really about. So, what was Jo mad about Carn doing here if we just read the published HoC? Well, it’s a rather fun little passage.

[“]I told brother Norton that certain men had been counseled by the Prophet to invest their means in the publishing the new translation of the Bible; and they, instead of obeying that counsel, had used their property for the purpose of building a steam-mill and raising a hundred acres of hemp, and the Lord had not blest them in the business, but sunk their hemp in the Mississippi river. I told him it was my opinion that brother Law was the dough-head referred to.

Dough-head? More like Dope-head! That’s what this tribunal is about if you just read the published HoC, but when we read the actual source documents, the entire issue become about much more than Jo being mad these guys were running a pot farm instead of investing money into publishing his translation of the Bible. You see how little edits like this change so much context? These tens of thousands of edits throughout the entire 7-volume set quantify into such a massive censoring of documents, it’s no wonder Mormons know nothing of their own history!

[“]Norton said Bro[ther] Law knew about the Spiritual wife system. I never intimated that Bro[ther] Law’s life was in danger, [but] I intimated that Bro[ther] Law might be the doe head; previously Bro[ther] Law and me had conversation about stories afloat on spiritual wives; he thought it was from the devil.—and we must put it down that he knew such a thing was in existence and [was] breaking up families &c[“]

Yeah, breaking up families is kind of part and parcel when it comes to polygyny. There’s only so many women to go around all these wealthy church leaders so of course they have to break up families to take their 30th wife. This is an important point though because everybody in the special counsel was aware that spiritual wifery and celestial marriage was a thing, especially William Law. The reason Law was a threat was because he was one of the few who was so vociferously opposed to Jo and Emma’s deal proposal that Jo feared he might turn Judas and go public with the accusations and print the revelation for all to see. Eventually that sort of happened in that the Nauvoo Expositor included numerous affidavits from people who were present when Hyrum read the revelation to the High Council, but if the text of that revelation got out there, it would spell the end of the Mormon empire and Jo’s career. He’d be arrested on adultery charges and go to prison. Law was a massive threat and he proved outside the control of Jo, unlike Hingepin Rigdon and others who were opposed to polygyny but chose to keep their mouths shut.

The next question from William Law wasn’t a question so much as a retort against what Carn had said about Law’s claims concerning spiritual wifery.

[Question] By Law. Did I not say we have a good foundation because Joseph blew it all up before the High Council, and Hyrum before the Elders Quorum?

And that was true. The record states the Hyrum read the polygamy revelation, later D&C 132, to the high council but according to Law, Jo instructed the High Council on polygamy while Hyrum told the Elders Quorum. Regardless, polygamy was slowly bleeding into lower and lower ranks of church leadership, which only gave more weight to the rumors that Jo and Emma, through the Relief Society, were trying to keep at bay. They had to keep a constant tension. Publicly deny the practice, but allow rumors to go a little bit so women would be less surprised when they were approached for a polygynous proposal. This level of public dishonesty was required to maintain secrecy, yet maintain the practice behind closed doors of the greatest aspiration of Mormon theology. One man, millions of wives, and worlds without end.

Yes, said Cairns, [“]Law did not speak disrespectfully of Joseph or of the Church. I have had no secret conversation whatever with the mayor, and never received any charge except the one, with the rest of the police, before the city council. The council never heard any thing from me to endanger the life of any man.

Carn, understandably, was trying to say anything to remove any suspicion that he was anything but loyal to the prophet. Notably, Daniel Carn was a member of the Danites, inducted during the original formation of the society in Missouri. He knew the oaths they took to stand by the prophet and do whatever he commands, even if it comes into conflict with the laws of the land. If Carn could be branded as disloyal after swearing the Danite oath, he’d be gone before nightfall. Since the cat was out of the bag with discussing spiritual wifery in this tribunal, Jo chose to speak over Daniel Carn about the system and the importance of Danite oaths.

Mayor spoke on spiritual wife system and explained, The man who promises to keep a secret and does not keep it he is a liar, and not to be trusted. Esq[ui]r[e Daniel H.] Wells came to me the other night and said that he was satisfied and pleased with all I had said, I did say A[lderman] Wells.

Counselor H[yrum] Smith spoke at considerable length.

Polygamy was a secret, but not a very well-kept one. The fact that these men were openly discussing it in this special counsel reveals they were on a trajectory to make polygamy a public practice of the religion, but with so many other things going on like Jo’s presidential campaign, that would certainly make the practice much harder to go public with. We’re talking less than 2 decades after the petticoat affair here. The public’s perspective of sexuality and women’s purity would more align with William Law than Joseph Smith should Mormonism go public with it as they did in Utah.

Regardless, Jo and Hyrum both made speeches, only a few details of Jo’s are extant while Hyrum’s is absent. Jo’s sentiment is what matters here, a man who promises to keep a secret and doesn’t is a liar who can’t be trusted. Those who didn’t keep the secrets of polygamy like William Law, couldn’t be trusted. If Daniel Carn told Eli Norton about the plot to kill William Law and Norton relayed that to Law, neither of those guys could be trusted, in spite of Daniel Carn being a long-standing member of the Danites and a trusted insider with secret oaths. Jo was certain there was a Judas here and he’d concluded before the hearing even commenced that the Judas was William Law. Now, the question was, what did William Law have to say for himself in the face of all these accusations and grand standing by Jo and Hyrum?

Gen[eral]. W[ilia]m Law spoke [and] said there was no man in the city more zealous to support Mormonism than himself. I have ever been ready to stand forth one against 9, for the defense of Joseph, and am yet; if he lives till I shed his blood or strike a hair from his head he will live till he is as old as Methuselah.—and I firmly believe if I live till Joseph kills me or sets any one to kill me I shall live as long as I shall want to.

William Law’s proposal is that hey, Jo, we may have disagreements, but let bygones be bygones? If you live until I want to kill you, you’ll live to be an old man. If I live until you want to kill me, I’ll be an old man too, right? Right Jo? We can finally bury our weapons of peace here? Jo had insider information about Law making subtle moves to secure an escape upon his expose. Law owned a ton of property in Nauvoo being so highly ranked. In a later interview, William Law estimated his wealth at the time to be about $30,000, or about $1.027 mn in today’s money. He had “a large steam flour and saw mill and a store”. In the same interview he also talked about his brother Wilson Law, coauthor of the Nauvoo Expositor and the impact the paper had on them. “My brother had a fine brick two story building. By starting the Expositor we lost nearly everything.”

When the interviewer asked him about the property, William Law said this:

It would have been the smart thing to do, to remain quiet, sell our property without noise for what we could get and move away. That would have been smart, but I wasn’t cool and smart then. I wanted to do my duty and nothing else, and didn’t care for the consequences, not a bit. Many friends advised me to be smart and remain quiet, but I would not hear of it and spoke my mind whenever an opportunity offered. When the Smiths saw that we were against them, then they applied to us their usual system, that is, to freeze us out.

Jo knew William Law was considering liquifying his assets and leaving the Mormon kingdom. That could only mean one thing, Law was about to go public and expose Jo. Jo had survived the Wreck-it Bennett expose just a year and a half prior to this, he wasn’t ready for another round of dealing with an expose coming from a high-ranking and trusted member of the innermost Mormon circles.

Jo decided to hit William Law with the hard question head on.

Mayor: Did I ever tell you that any body had told me that [if] you would sell your property[,] you would blow up Mormonism?

Law.—Hyrum told me that.

The record doesn’t say anything more than that. I suspect it was a pretty uncomfortable moment because the only reason Law would have wanted to sell off his property in Nauvoo was if he was planning something big. Jo knew that. Hyrum knew that. William Law knew that. But, because Jo had total and complete control over everything in Nauvoo, after this hearing he took moves to “freeze” out the Laws, which William Law reveals in his later interview with Wilhelm Wymetal.

Secret orders went out that nobody could buy property without the permission of Joseph Smith, Hyrum or the authorities, as they called them, so our property was practically worthless.

At the end of the day, Law won. He had Jo in a vulnerable position because Law helped to build Talos. He knew the blueprints, he had knowledge of the greatest mysteries of the Mormon kingdom and had participated in many of the illegal affairs of the church. Law was standing on the high ground, but Jo’s armies and assassins had him surrounded in a modern re-creation of Samuel the Lamanite. There’s just a little left in the hearing.

Bishop Cairns said he had never conveyed the idea to father Norton that Joseph had said that Mr Law was the Doe head.

And by implication the Judas deserving of death by Danite bowie knife.

Mayor: Where a man becomes a traitor to his friend or country who is innocent, treacherous to innocent blood, I consider it right to cut off his influence so that he could not injure the innocent, but not right to meddle with that man without testimony, law and trial.


Jo was a fair and just dictator. He has no problem carrying out extralegal assassinations, but only after the person has had a moment to defend themselves in a court of law and provide their side of the story. Jo wrapped the hearing with a final speech. His final point reveals that at the end of the day he felt quite safe inside his little fiefdom because he was surrounded by loyal followers and Danites who would kill anybody who might become a problem in any sort of way. He was the mafia Don, and this was his way of telling Law and anybody else in attendance who may not be 100% loyal, that he wins every single time. He could shoot a man on Water Street in broad daylight and the people would still vote for him to be president.

The Mayor suggested the propriety, since Rockwell and others are clear, and we have the promise of protection from the Governor, and as the police are now well organized, that they put up their guns, and carry only small arms, and that the council pass such an order. The Danite system alluded to by Norton never had any existence; it was a term made use of by some of the brethren in Far West, and grew out of an expression I made use of when the brethren were preparing to defend themselves from the Missouri mob, in reference to the stealing of Micaiah’s images (Judges Chap. 18,) if the enemy comes, the Danites will be after them, meaning the brethren in self-defense.

The Mayor instructed the police to lay up their arms till further orders.

That part wasn’t removed from the HoC, even though most of what we read today was for understandable reasons. At the end of the day, when a believing person reads the published HoC, they see Joseph Smith is simply trying to remove any dough-heads from his closest circle of church leaders and they read a blanket denial of any existence of the Danites from the prophet. When we read this hearing from the original source text, a lot more pieces fall into place and this hearing comes into focus for what it truly was, rat patrol. Jo knew there was a rat, a Judas in his midst who would soon betray him, and he wanted that person dead. William Law was that person, but Law was able to put on a good affect and persuade Jo that he wasn’t an immediate threat. Which was true, but only true for a few more months because in less than 5 months from this hearing, William Law was the primary author of the Nauvoo Expositor which catalyzed the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and kicked off a schism crisis that shaped the face of American history from that time forward. It may not feel like it, especially when we read the HoC version of events, but William Law tactically won this tribunal. How do we come to that conclusion? Well, he survived. All he had to do was survive this tribunal and he bought himself some time, which was so desperately short. However, Jo was right. William Law was the Judas in his midst.

The summary of events recounted in Jo’s journal for that day is quite interesting and reveals how much this hearing was whitewashed to remove any of the deeper details we’ve discussed today.

The council spent nearly the whole day in investigating the subject, and examining these two witnesses. The police were all sworn and cross-examined by William Law and the aldermen; and the result showed nothing but imagination, having grown out of the surmises of Daniel Carn; upon which Law became satisfied, shook hands with me, declaring he did not believe a word of the story, and said he would stand by me to the death, and called the whole council and the police to witness his declaration.

I’m sure things ended completely amicably between Jo and Judas Law with them shaking hands and letting friends be friends. They went on to have a wonderful few years together as respectable friends and then Judas Law and Jo parted ways as friends. They occasionally visited each other in their elderly years and reminisced on the good ol’ days of Nauvoo over strong tea. Oh, wait, that’s exactly what didn’t happen because this little tribunal was a microcosm of what lay in store with Judas Law and Brutus Marks.

Jo wasn’t an idiot. A colossal failure, an opportunist, overly ambitious to the point of his own undoing, yes. But an idiot, he was not. Jo knew there were people around him who knew too much that he couldn’t trust. Judas Law being called on trial here was a result of what Jo did in December of 1843 to attempt some kind of controlling mechanism over these loose ends. From D. Michael Quinn’s 2011 Sunstone article The Culture of Violence in Joseph Smith’s Mormonism:

In December 1843, Joseph Smith organized the “Police Force of Nauvoo,” with Jonathan Dunham and Hosea Stout, former Danites, as captain and vice-captain. Among the forty police were such other Danites from Missouri as Charles C. Rich, John D. Lee, Daniel Carn, James Emmett, Stephen H. Goddard, Abraham C. Hodge, John L. Butler, Levi W. Hancock, Abraham O. Smoot, Dwight Harding, and William H. Edwards. Several members of the police force continued to double as Smith’s personal bodyguards.[xx]

These Mormon policemen were proud of their Danite background. According to one complaining Mormon at Nauvoo, policeman Daniel Carn “told me several times [that] Daniteism was not down . . . said it was a good system.” Carn laconically replied (in Joseph Smith’s presence): “Daniteism is to stand by each other [—] that is all I know about Daniteism.”[xxi]

As mayor, Joseph authorized his police to kill “if need be,” and then said his own life was endangered in December 1843 by a “little dough-head” and “a right-hand Brutus.” The latter remarks put the police on notice to look for Mormon dissenters as traitors. Within a week, Nauvoo’s police left Smith’s second counselor William Law and Nauvoo’s stake president William Marks under the terrifying impression that Smith had marked them for death.[xxii] Both were foes of the Prophet’s secret practice of polygamy.

Today we’ve discussed William Judas Law extensively and we’ll get into William Brutus Marks’s trial next week. Suffice it to say Jo was a mafia boss who had everything to lose. More than a mafia boss, he was a cornered animal who feared for his existence. But this cornered animal had more than superior physical power to overwhelm his inferior beta males, he had access to superior social and political power.

In many ways, Jo’s tale is as old as time. He was a country bumpkin who saw a way to gain wealth and power and seized every opportunity provided. Once that wealth and power was acquired he had to jealously guard it from those who threatened him. Judas Law and Brutus Marks were massive chinks in the armor of the Mormon empire colossus growing in the shadows of Nauvoo’s darkest alleys. He was a dictator with his own military, assassin squad, harem of wives and concubines, following of thousands who would die for their divine leader, and he controlled everything that happened in multiple cities and dictated the direction of the lives of each and every believing Mormon living in 1844. He had people willing to lie under oath for him, take a bullet for him, and walk thousands of miles across the country for him. He had everything but it was never enough.

Power begets power, wealth creates wealth. Dogmatic fealty creates radicalism. Jo had all these variables turned up too high and his power was insecure as he continued to expand and grow his empire. His system was simply not sustainable with so many threats and social forces pushing against that expansion. He couldn’t possibly manage this chaos for much longer, could he? With so many threats, it was nearing time for somebody to step in who could channel that chaos into order.

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